As a new dad in late 2020, I was struggling to figure out pandemic parenting and the challenge of disposing of ‘disposable’ diapers while living in Kerala through the lock-downs. That’s when a friend sent us a SuperBottoms care package containing cloth diapers, dry-feel langots, and a WhatsApp contact card. Our back-yard landfill stopped growing, and my daughter’s rashes cleared up.
Three years later, SuperBottoms has become one of India’s fastest-growing D2C brands, with a 20 lakh strong customer base and a Series A funding of Rs.22.5 crore in 2022. All this while my daughter continues to wear the reusable, size-adjustable cloth diapers we received.
According to this Entrackr report, SuperBottoms registered a 64.4% growth in its operating revenue to Rs 21.07 crore in FY21 from Rs 12.82 crore in FY20. The firm reported a 10X jump in its losses to Rs 2.32 crore in FY21 from Rs 23 lakh in the preceding fiscal year (FY20).
CEO and founder Pallavi Utagi shares with us some solid advice and ingredients for the company’s super-charged growth story.
Leveraging Mom-Communities for Launch and Product Testing
SuperBottoms began in 2016, as a solution to a personal problem.
Utagi was a new mother who wanted an eco-friendly alternative to disposable diapers, but found only hard-to-tie, leaky cloth diapers in the Indian market. The design and material of modern cloth diapers available in the US required modifications to suit the Indian market.
Utagi had 100 diapers made by hand, christened them ‘SuperBottoms’ and turned to Facebook parent groups for product testing and feedback. She also hosted cloth diapering sessions on local WhatsApp groups, and participated in local events such as sustainability pop ups.
SuperBottoms won its first customers from these local mom groups, building trust with a free trial policy that covered even used diapers. Despite being open to potential misuse, the policy never exceeded 2% of sales and remains in place even now.
Early Lessons: Failing at Retail, Pivoting to Digital for Customer Education
After validating the initial product, Utagi tried launching SuperBottoms through physical retail channels, but learned the hard way that retailers are hesitant to experiment with new products. Even when they did stock SuperBottoms, they showed little interest in educating customers about cloth diapers.
Utagi pivoted to selling on Amazon, eBay, and a D2C, self-coded website. Drawing on her experience with managing brands like iPill and iSure at Piramal Healthcare, Utagi also launched a WhatsApp helpline, which enabled SuperBottoms to make customer education a core part of the experience from the start.
The approach worked, and by 2018, the company had ₹15-20 lakhs in sales with only word-of-mouth marketing, but the going was tough. Utagi recalls going to the local post-office during her lunch break and shipping SuperBottom products.
SuperBottom’s big break came when Utagi got a call from the office of Kunal Bahl, co-founder of Snapdeal. Kunal and his wife used SuperBottoms for their baby and wanted to invest. This first investment from Titan Capital, says Utagi, pushed her to take the leap into making her passion project into a full-fledged business.
Marketing Strategy: Community First, Category Creation via Influencer Marketing
After securing investment, Utagi focused on hiring a team and initiating paid marketing. SuperBottoms set up a marketing strategy with four pillars:
- Community outreach
- Digital and social media ads
- Influencer marketing
- Limited offline advertising, such as using an agency with a network of televisions in pediatrics clinics.
By this point, SuperBottoms had launched a community called Parent Tribe, where members could answer each other’s questions about cloth diapers. The thriving community currently has over 77,000 members and has been a critical piece of the brand’s growth in many ways. Utagi even used the community to hire digital marketers who were on maternity leave and could work part-time.
Creating a Category
Most of SuperBottom’s content focuses on educating parents about the benefits of cloth diapers, as well as showing them how to tie them and maintain for repeated use. The content features its own team and community members, as well as influencers.
Wasn’t the team concerned that mothers would perceive influencer promotions as inauthentic? Utagi points out that creating a new category, as SuperBottoms has, requires many voices which have wide reach. “We used influencers more for category creation and less for brand awareness,” she says.
Today SuperBottoms has 220,000 followers on Instagram and the posts now increasingly feature happy customers and their babies.
No Guilt Messaging
SuperBottoms ensures that all its campaigns have non-judgmental, positive messaging. The company’s Women’s Day campaign was called ‘Quit the Guilt’ and asked mothers to stop feeling bad about their parenting choices, whether it was breastfeeding or even using disposable diapers because they can’t find the time or energy to wash cloth.
Creating Trust & Loyalty
According to Utagi, the biggest driver for success has been SuperBottoms’ relentless focus on building the category of cloth diapers, not just their own brand.
The company has cultivated a network of over 250 mothers who are spread across the country and act as brand ambassadors in big and small WhatsApp groups. Whenever someone asks about baby rashes or diaper issues, these moms step into help and educate parents about cloth diapers. This grassroots approach has helped SuperBottoms build a loyal customer base, who doesn’t regard it as just another baby brand.
This reputation and trust is helping the company weather competitive challenges. For example, after acquiring Hong Kong-based cloth diaper brand, Charlie Banana, Proctor & Gamble launched it in India in 2020. According to Utagi, SuperBottoms is still thriving, because the brand continues to educate customers and expand the category, while competitors focus on grabbing market share.
Codifying Brand Values Early and Sticking to Them While Growing
How can a brand grow exponentially when its core product emphasizes reusability? This was one of our core questions for this case study. The SuperBottoms answer has been to stay true to their original mission of sustainability and find more products that fit it.
In early 2020, SuperBottoms hired a boutique brand consultancy, Awchat & Olsen. In addition to creating visual assets for the brand, the exercise also identified and articulate brand values by interviewing customers and team members. Utagi says that much more than lip-service, these values guide their business and hiring decisions.
Expanding product range
While the company’s mission, ‘Make cloth mainstream,’ inherently restricts product expansion options, customer feedback provides valuable insights.
Numerous mothers inquired about the possibility of a menstrual product range, prompting SuperBottoms to launch period underwear. This new addition has became the company’s third best-selling product, following cloth diapers and potty-training pants.
What About Dads?
This was one burning question I had at the end of our interview. The answer was predictable but had a very slender silver lining. Despite the brand’s best effort at addressing ‘parents’ instead of moms and running campaigns that showed dads changing diapers in different environments, 99% of SuperBottoms customers who contact the helpline are moms, with the occasional dad receiving much fanfare from the team.
However, Utagi says their website analytics show 50% of visitors are men. How to interpret this statistic is anybody’s guess.
Pallavi Utagi’s Advice for Entrepreneurs
- You have to be consistent and patient. People will post a few times on social media and then say it’s not working out. You really need to be patient, especially if you want to create a brand that won’t go down with the market every time it fluctuates
- Getting the right investors is crucial because there are investors who won’t have the patience to understand that brand and category building takes time. We got lucky with DSG as they are patient investors who didn’t pressure us for quick results, allowing us to build the category patiently.
- Always aim to simplify concepts. When you’re creating a new product category out of something with a cult-like following, there’s a tendency to make things even more complex as a mark of its uniqueness. If you want to go mainstream and get out of the niche, you have to simplify.