Dhimant Parekh and Anuradha Kedia Parekh founded media platform The Better India, (TBI) in 2015. In a world full of sensational headlines, the duo’s objective was to showcase positive news, unsung heroes and grassroots innovation. Parekh says The Better India now boasts 90 million unique visitors a month and has been profitable since 2016, with the bulk of its revenue coming from co-branded content and advertising. The company has raised a total of $3.5 million in funding.
Given that TBI’s core audience includes thousands of small enterprises, it decided to launch a curated marketplace in 2018 to encourage ‘responsible shopping.’ The marketplace would benefit small companies, as well as self-help groups and NGOs who created products but lacked access to consumer markets. However, marketplaces are notoriously difficult to run, and TBI faced challenges on multiple fronts – curation, content and cataloguing, fulfilment, marketing, and of course, getting sellers up to speed with digital commerce, inventory management and compliance. Eventually, TBI shut down its experiment in March 2020, deciding to develop products on their own.
Once Bitten, Twice Better
The company’s second attempt at commerce is a line of eco-friendly home-cleaning products including a floor cleaner, toilet cleaner, dish-wash and laundry liquid. Christened ‘The Better Home,’ the brand’s proposition is that the products are free of harmful chemicals and toxins found in common household cleaners. They are also vegan and cruelty-free. The toilet cleaner and floor cleaner have a GreenPro certification.
The Better Home hit a monthly revenue of Rs. 1 crore in October 2020, just nine months after launch. 70-80% of this revenue, claims the company, comes from subscriptions, where customers pay ₹799 to ₹1399 per month for a box with four to eight products.
Community is King
With 90 million potential users, the The Better Home team took a community-led approach to launch. They shared prototypes, updates on manufacturing, early designs and even samples with the community. It was a period of feedback, questions, and eventually, pre-booking. “We sold thousands of products, even before the launch of our store,” beams Parekh.
The team chose to host The Better Home at shop.thebetterindia.com, instead of an independent domain, given the parent site’s existing domain authority and the close connection between the content and product brands.
“Hosting The Better Home on The Better India reinforced the umbilical connect between our content, community and commerce.”Dhimant Parekh, Founder & CEO, The Better India & The Better Home
Built to appeal to the environmentally-conscious customer, the content on the site explains why these cleaning products are – well – better. This ranges from user videos, to an explanation of how the company aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030. There is even a ticker that details impact on the planet.
Listening and Learning
The Better Home’s site was live for just two months, before the lockdown was imposed in March 2020. In this time, says Parekh, they gathered three critical insights from their customers.
- The site launched with kits that included pre-selected products. Customers pushed back, saying they wanted the flexibility to select the products that go into their kits.
- The packaging design was confusing.
- The eco-conscious audience asked why the products were packed in plastic bottles.
Each of these had important implications for both the digital and physical products and the team used the lockdown to address both.
1. Flexibility to Pick Products
The Better Home initially offered pre-configured kits of four, six or eight products. Acting on customer feedback, they added the ability to create your own kit. This meant changes to the tech stack as well as to packaging – since different product combinations required differently sized cartons.
By nature, subscriptions are generally unchanging over their duration, but customers were asking for a different model – one that allowed them to change products every month, if needed.
“The challenge was to retain the order as a subscription, despite change of frequency and value. We rehauled our technology architecture to allow this flexibility. Customers can now customise each month’s order, and the monetary value can vary from ₹646 to ₹920 for a pack of four. This has worked for us, since 70-80% of our orders are now subscription-led.”Saurabh Pandey, Chief Marketing Officer, The Better India / The Better Home
To make it easier for people to figure out what exactly they need, the company built a Typeform-led buying guide. This will soon be converted into an on-site native feature, which will end with an actual configured box.
2. Who is the Real User?
Initially, the minimalist, monotone packaging of the products meant that one product could be differentiated from the other only via text. This ignored the reality that the end user of the cleaning products was often the domestic staff.
The company re-designed the packaging so products could be differentiated by colour and also added icons that showed the end-use the product was meant for.
3. Plastic Pains
As feedback from early users rolled in, one of their main concerns was the plastic bottles the product was packed in. The Better India team had to create a sustainable circular loop, where they could guarantee that no bottles would end up in landfills. To do this, they started a re-use programme, where after the first purchase they ship the products in refill pouches. They also allow customers to return the plastic refill pouches and work with NGOs to ensure that they are recycled.
All these efforts required significant investment in technology as well as teams and processes, but the team is convinced that it will pay off long-term.
Communities within Communities
Most marketing efforts for The Better India, continue to focus on The Better Home’s community across social media and website. The connect between the media and the product brand is proving to be a marker of trust, and is emphasised on all interfaces. A survey of customers who opted for the subscription found that ‘trust in The Better India’ was their primary reason for subscribing.
The team also maintains a Whatsapp group called, The Better Homies, where customers can discuss all aspects of an eco-friendly lifestyle – from growing their own food to sourcing sustainable products. This author was part of the active group, which saw twenty plus messages a day. Parekh is vigilant about not using the platform as a sales channel and views it as a place to listen, and perhaps start a sustainability movement. The group started in September 2020 and has maxed out at two hundred and fifty members, forcing the company to start a second one. At the time of writing, there are no plans to migrate to a non-Whatsapp platform.
While new products like scrubbers, are in the offing, the company is keen on getting the current products right first and the ambitious vision is to hit Rs.45 crores by FY21. The brand has also signed on Dia Mirza as a celebrity brand ambassador.
Says Pandey on the association, “The objective of the celebrity endorsement is to reach out to a base outside The Better India community. Dia was really the default choice for us because she is the perfect ambassador of the values The Better Home stands for. We have seen a significant increase in awareness and uptake because of this.”
Parekh is clear that the roadmap for The Better Home will continue to focus on community. The Better Home retails on mainstream marketplaces like Amazon and Flipkart, as well as niche ones like Prakati, but a healthy 90% of sales comes via their own website, allowing them to stay close to customers.
I ask him the question that is top-most on my mind: Can any media platform with a large community pivot easily to commerce? He dismisses the hypothesis.
“The key is to offer something that strongly ties-in with the values of your content, because every community has its own unique qualities and needs. The offering HAS to be an organic extension of the brand/content philosophy, it cannot be just an avenue for monetisation.”Dhimant Parekh, Founder, TBI/TBH
- Everyone wants a community but doesn’t have the patience to nurture one. A community is about a shared passion (Check this other case study for Headphone Zone). You don’t need a formal platform, you just need to stand for something and put your money where your mouth is.
- Keep an ear on the ground for what customers are saying, move fast, iterate and get feedback as quickly as possible. Too many products over-index on feature development, without checking if they address a customer need.
- Recurring revenue is the holy grail of e-commerce.
- When you neglect your owned channels completely, in favour of bigger marketplaces, you are foregoing a wealth of customer insights.