The Cutting Edge

A men’s groom­ing start-up has re­vived a clas­sic prod­uct to make sure tra­di­tional shav­ing is back in style


Ki­ran Gowda works as a man­ager at a well­known 5-star ho­tel in the her­itage city of My­suru – a city of palaces that draws nearly as many vis­i­tors as does the Taj Ma­hal. One of the pre­req­ui­sites of Gowda's job is that he should be ‘well-groomed and pre­sentable at all times’ while at­tend­ing to the up­mar­ket clien­tele.

“It is an un­writ­ten code, which means one has to sport a clean-shaven look and wear im­pec­ca­ble clothes. So, dur­ing the peak tourist sea­son, when I spend 10-12 hours on the job, I end up chang­ing my clothes and shav­ing at least twice a day,” says Gowda.

But he re­cently faced a prob­lem that com­pelled him to change his shav­ing rou­tine. In spite of us­ing a multi-blade car­tridge ra­zor of a pop­u­lar com­pany, Gowda ended up with a ra­zor burn that turned into an an­gry red welt and then be­came an in­fected pus­tule. The in­fec­tion did heal even­tu­ally, but he took a friend’s ad­vice and opted for a sin­gle-blade, double-edged safety ra­zor from Bom­bay Shav­ing Com­pany ( BSC).

“I had never heard of them. They sold some­thing called the ‘six-part shav­ing sys­tem’, which in­cludes a ra­zor, a blade, a brush, pre-shave scrub, shav­ing cream and post-shave balm. Used to slap­ping on some shav­ing foam and run­ning a multi-blade car­tridge over it, this was a rev­e­la­tion to me. I loved it,” says Gowda.

That is the kind of feed­back the com­pany thrives upon in a mar­ket that is still niche. While the over­all per­sonal care mar­ket in In­dia is es­ti­mated to be `65,000 crore, the men’s mar­ket is worth about `25,000 crore. The trend is chang­ing, though. As per a Euromon­i­tor re­port, men’s groom­ing mar­ket in In­dia rose to `9,000 crore by 2016 com­pared to `1,200 crore in 2010.

A New Twist to Old Rit­ual

In spite of a mar­ket grow­ing at 20-25 per cent per an­num – choos­ing the busi­ness had not been easy for 29-year-old Shan­tanu Desh­pande, co-founder and Chief Ex­ec­u­tive of BSC. An IIM- Lucknow alum­nus, he had a strong in­ter­est in fast mov­ing con­sumer goods ( FMCG) and re­tail even when he worked for McKin­sey. “Af­ter four years at McKin­sey, I quit in Au­gust 2015 to launch my

own ven­ture.”

He was toss­ing around ideas when a friend from the US told him about Dol­lar Shav­ing Club and Harry’s. The former was even­tu­ally ac­quired by Unilever in 2016 for $1 bil­lion. That gave him a nudge to­wards a groom­ing prod­uct that men can’t do with­out.

How­ever, re­viv­ing a tra­di­tional shav­ing prod­uct that had been the norm till the early 1990s and then largely lost its im­pact had sur­prised many. Back in those days, the prod­uct was pocket friendly, but of­ten led to painful nicks and cuts. So, first came the dual blades and then the mul­ti­ple blades with added safety fea­tures, lead­ing to present-day car­tridges.

But here is the catch. While the ra­zor is cheap, the re­place­ment car­tridges are quite ex­pen­sive. The multi-blade car­tridges are safe, but some purists think “they don't pro­vide a close enough shave”. In con­trast, the double-edged safety ra­zor of­fers the good old fine shav­ing – a slow, com­fort­able, lux­u­ri­ous shave that may last the en­tire day. With global brands like Merkur fol­low­ing the same USP and re- emerg­ing as a mar­ket leader, Desh­pande, too, saw an op­por­tu­nity for dis­rup­tion. He roped in his friends – Rau­nak Munot, Deepu Pan­icker and Ro­hit Jaiswal – as co-founders, and they took about a year to fi­nalise the prod­uct and the strat­egy. Bom­bay Shav­ing Com­pany was for­mally launched in June 2016.

Ask why they put ‘ Bom­bay’ in the com­pany name and you get an enig­matic re­sponse. Well, all the co-founders are from Bom­bay ( they won’t call it Mum­bai); the city is a blend of the old and the new (that’s what their com­pany stands for) and it is one of the four best-known In­dian words glob­ally, the other three be­ing Taj, Hi­malaya and Gandhi.

On a se­ri­ous note, BSC will tell you why it is dif­fer­ent. In con­trast to the mar­ket leader, which em­pha­sises that more blades are bet­ter for a smoother shave, BSC claims its double-edged sin­gle blade pro­vides a closer and more com­fort­able shave. “The in-house de­sign is the key to suc­cess. The blade’s tol­er­ance has to be be­tween 70100 mi­crons to en­sure the level of qual­ity shave we aim for. We have put in a lot of ef­fort to un­der­stand the dif­fer­ent skin types to de­velop ap­pro­pri­ate so­lu­tions,” says Desh­pande. The man­u­fac­tur­ing is out­sourced, but the CEO claims that the process IP de­vel­oped is not easy to repli­cate.

Of Money and Growth

BSC man­aged to raise `3.7 crore in Oc­to­ber 2015 from a clutch of 25 an­gels, in­clud­ing 11 former McKin­sey col­leagues who had worked with Desh­pande. One of the early in­vestors is Subra­ma­nian Ra­mado­rai, former CEO, MD and Vice Chair­man of Tata Con­sul­tancy Ser­vices. Com­ment­ing on the funding, Ra­mado­rai says, “What is ex­tremely ex­cit­ing about the Bom­bay Shav­ing Com­pany is its un­der­stand­ing of con­sumers. The com­pany has set out on a jour­ney to build­ing world-class, thought­ful prod­ucts. And the team has dis­played ra­zor­sharp ex­e­cu­tion skills over the past year. The healthy mar­gins al­low them to build a busi­ness with lim­ited de­pen­dence on ex­ter­nal cap­i­tal. If they con­tinue do­ing the right things, they will soon be a force to reckon with.” Desh­pande says gross mar­gins are around 75-80 per cent and that is why other start-ups such as The Man Com­pany, Us­traa, Let­sShave and Beardo are try­ing to grab mar­ket share. But the com­pe­ti­tion has left the new­comer quite un­fazed. A lean team of seven and an as­set- light dis­tri­bu­tion model – BSC sells its prod­ucts only on e- com­merce plat­forms such as Ama­zon and Flip­kart – have taken care of any un­wanted cash burn. It has a host of prod­ucts in the pipe­line, right from bath and shower to face and body prod­ucts that will hit the mar­ket in the next few months. The com­pany also wants to push off­line re­tail to find a place in for­mats like Big Bazaar stores. “We want to be a multi-prod­uct, multi-chan­nel play,” says Desh­pande, adding that in its first year of op­er­a­tions, BSC is likely to earn `12 crore in rev­enues. “The op­por­tu­nity is very large and we are look­ing to cap­ture a sub­stan­tial share of the mar­ket,” he says.~

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