'Our Focus Is To Build The Brand First And Put It On The World Map' Tarun Sharma, Founder And CEO, mCaffeine

The brand has completed 5 years in the industry and is getting a lot of inbound interest from a fundraising perspective, but we are not out there for it as we are well-capitalized. 

'Our Focus Is To Build The Brand First And Put It On The World Map' Tarun Sharma, Founder And CEO, mCaffeine
'Our Focus Is To Build The Brand First And Put It On The World Map' Tarun Sharma, Founder And CEO, mCaffeine

What difficulties have you faced in the last 5 years of mCaffeine?

As an entrepreneur, one of the biggest challenges we face as founders is how to be sane in such a hyper environment. There is a lot of communication happening at a time, so the biggest challenge is how to stay sane and stay true to the brand because the brand can be diluted easily for two possible reasons, and at no time can one destroy the brand at a faster speed than building it. So keeping our blinders on as founders is something we have faced as a challenge too. This is also because you live in an ecosystem where everyone has certain feedback to give. For instance, we were suggested trying onion as an ingredient too, but why would we enter that category when we want to own the caffeine market and revolutionise its use in India? So keeping the blinders on is one big challenge when you have suggestions/feedback rolling in and out. Second, focussing on the long-term goal of marking a global presence for your brand and making it a place as an iconic brand representing India in the global market requires a tremendous amount of perseverance and, hence, is also the biggest challenge for the founder in nature. 

If you are building a brand for an Indian millennial audience, you need to make sure that you are as true to the cause as possible. Hence, it comes down to how transparent you are as a brand with your consumers or target audience. This is another business lesson termed "customer closeness." Customer closeness accelerates growth and demand. The closer you are to your customers, the better position you are in to start a trend or redefine the market. Working on which, we have been recognised as one of the top consumer-driven brands, followed by having the best customer perception among D2C personal care and cosmetics brands/online beauty and personal care shoppers in India. Another instance to back this up is that mCaffeine is the first brand to place and promote founders’ contacts as customer care contacts on every product package. This is to ensure that we personally talk to customers on a daily basis. It's not just about the feedback, it's the belief that our learning comes from our consumers, so interacting with them on a regular basis is our priority. Their lifestyle, choices, spending time outside and inside work, aspirations, all this information helps you to enhance your product portfolio. 

Tell us about your future plans?

We would like to put mCaffeine on a global map, because if you look at concepts of brands having the power to grow across the globe. Planning is a global image. For example, for mCaffeine, I don't need to go and explain our concept to every country, as they are already aware of coffee and caffeine. So truly, we have a chance to create an iconic premium brand from India for the globe. If you observe the pattern of 50 years, there is a reverse cycle. Brands have come to India and served our consumers, and now is the time that we, as young Indian entrepreneurs, build the brand for the globe from India. This is our long-term vision, and we will continue to work towards it by launching in new countries. This year, we will be launching in 3 countries and next year we'll be launching in 5 countries. We don't want to capture the Indian market as we are already sizable enough rated across amongst the top 5 brands and highly rated on all eCommerce platforms. So we truly have a chance to build an iconic beauty personal care brand from India for the globe. 

What was the impact of covid on the wellness/beauty sector, How was covid for mCaffeine.

The first three months were really difficult. We were all trying to figure out the survival front. The very first objective of the founders was to protect our people personally and professionally. As the market started opening up, we started getting ailments, plus we leveraged all our positions that we developed over time in terms of the digital ecosystem, so we grew like 3 and a half times over a 12 month period. So it was amazing business-wise, but extremely tough on how the business had to be operated. We had to tweak a lot and had to make sure people were protected. We met our team and customers, but at the end of the day, the business received ailments and we kind of leveraged our positions. 

Tell us about your funding plans?

We have raised enough capital and we are profitable for a very large part of our lives. We make substantially higher amounts on our margins and we are profitable on a unit basis. We are not those believers that say I am selling one unit and then using the funding for my marketing and unit sales. The unit has to be sold in a way that it should be profitable at an economic level, but we have been blessed to have great investors, and we have been blessed to have 60-65 crores over a lifestyle, so we are well-capitalized for over the next 12-18 months. But given the market situation, we are getting a lot of inbound interest from the market that a very few brands have scaled to a level with a very sharp kind of positioning. Across India, there are no brands that have revenue by product density like ours. We are 3 times better than the market. We are getting a lot of inbound interest from a fundraising perspective, but we are not out there for it as we are well-capitalized. But given the right investors, given the right value, we might raise some, but this is not our primary focus as founders. The focus is to build the brand first and put it on the world map. The funding will follow. The funding follows good businesses, good brands. 

What new products are in the pipeline?

Right now we have 40 products. Today we have just launched on international coffee day five body washes. The cup in which the product is offered is in the shape of a coffee cup, and the cup itself is made of coffee because coffee helps with the biodegradability of plastic. So we are an environmentally conscious brand, the only brand to do this in India. We will be introducing more products for our hair care category in the future, as we have only recently entered the market. Our face and body care products are already our strengths, and we have plans to launch around 20-22 new products every year for the next 4 years.

mCaffeine holds the majority of the market share in the body scrub market? Please explain?

We launched our body scrub around the onset of 2019. If you look at anybody scrub right now and 5 years later, all the body scrubs are differently formulated. The body scrub with my mCaffeine formulation includes pure arabica oil, coconut oil, caffeine, and is 100 per cent natural, which does wonders for your skin. It helps with blood circulation, exfoliation gives smooth skin, and that product grew like anything, and now we are close to a 70 per cent share in the body scrub market. And not just caffeine/coffee-based body scrub but in India's body scrub market as a whole. And when you open the products, it gives you a fresh aroma. It is a good product, but it also makes you feel good about yourself, and that's the key to a great success story. And we continued to make sure that we served our customers, and the demand grew in no time. It is a highly efficacious product, but the product makes you feel tremendously good about yourself. A body scrub is a hero product. We are not in the mindset of calling anything a hero now, but it's a hero product and it has led our growth amazingly well and across any platform. If you look at our body scrub, it can outgrow any other body scrub of any Indian or European brand. 

Importance of celebrity association-celebrity engagement for mCaffeine?

Till now we have never had celebrities onboard. This September we launched a campaign called "Addicted To Good" with Radhika Apte, Shruti Hassan, and Vikrant Massey, but our philosophy is not to have brand ambassadors, our philosophy is to have brand believers. Ambassadors keep changing, believers stay with their belief in the philosophy of the brand. So, when we were talking about the brand in the market, we felt Radhika, Shruti, and Vikrant connected with it. So if you look at them, they are very unique in their own personalities. Vikrant has this amazing demand over the craft, which is functional in nature, and he is great at what he does and the kind of impact that he makes on his role. He has carved out a specific niche for male actors that was earlier perceived in a different manner. Talking about SHruti, her adventure is music and her excitement towards her own work is beyond amazing. If you look at the campaign for the film, it is not a place. She is working at the location with her band, her personal band, so if you look at her, she has an extremely bold personality. If you look at her IG, she speaks her mind well and stands true to her own beliefs, be it for herself, society, or other followers. And Radhika is outstanding in her own right again, with an amazing personality in a bold manner. And these actors resonate with our brand’s key message of being young, bold, and confident. And with these 3 actors, our brand fitment was different from the rest. We loved our conversation with them, the conversation about our brand and the way we are building it, and their own personalities and beliefs, and we noticed that these people are right for us to have on board as brand believers. So having them onboard as brand ambassadors was never the idea. We needed brand believers who champion our brand and convey the right messages to the broader audience, and the best people to do this are the people who have the higher brand fitment. As a challenger brand, we believe there are multiple ways to do so, but we are doing this as a passion. 

What are mCaffeine's revenue objectives?

The 1000 crore brand will be the next MRP sale.

Not just in India, but after our international expansion, we will blow the revenues up, but I think a 100 million dollar brand-700 crore is comfortably reachable for us and post that. We have some more aspirations from a brand angle and as soon as we hit that mark, we will carve another set of aspirational goals for us. 

Which category were the most demanding for you as a D2C brand and then as a B2B brand:

We are a direct to consumer brand across any platform we operate, so on amazon we are the sellers, we take care of the inventory, marketing, content and we just use amazon to kinda have the fulfilling of channel so we are purely a business to consumer brand but under that we are a D2C which is direct to consumer brand and large part of our revenues comes from our end platform which is D2C, our and it has played out well because if you have your own website, which is D2C channel/platform, you have far better ability to tell your storey better, you know marketplaces are a built for a very different objective and that is also very important part in the entire journey of a brand but D2C has been amazing, you get a real time feedback, you interact with the customers, you can tell your storey better and at the end of the day you can build a far better stickier brands in the D2C model, our repeats are one of the best in the industries we believe that can only happen if you have exposure to customer ownership using our own channel.

While we have lots of international players in the beauty wellness industry, how difficult was it for you to fit into the market?

I think millennial consumers want a brand that has a purpose and a personality. That purpose needs to be delivered and the personality needs to be displayed, so with these P2D-P2D metrics, we believe sharper brands have the ability to cut out that middle ground. If you are delivering what you are promising, you have a better chance of staying ahead of the consumers. This industry is one of the most cluttered and competitive industries ever, across the globe, so the best way to do so is to be extremely genuine with our customers. So when a hometown brand like mCaffeine stands tall and says, "My product is actually good, why don't you try it?" It has all the millennial ethos, clean nature, no silly concept, but gender neutrality and a better philosophy that evokes certain emotions and experiences, and I just don't say it, I bring it to the plate and that's where you have the ability to get into consumers' minds and that's how Made in India and vocal for local have helped brands like us to tremendously grow. 

What is the future of the industry?

It is definitely going to grow tremendously over the time we have become conscious as human beings, and we have realised the need to invest in ourselves, invest in our health, invest in our personal care, be it physical, be it mental, be it beauty. As a personal care brand, we take a small set of that wellness economy, but if you take a wellness economy, it starts with what you eat, applies, visits, etc. It is a part of our lifestyle now. Like 5-10 years ago, yoga and mindfulness were not that popular, but now taking care of yourself has become the most important part of your life. Whatever you do in your profession. 

While expanding your footprints in India and in the overseas market as well. What are your expectations from the expansion?  

Given the right distribution for expansion, and we have a clear product-market fit in India, we believe the geographies will be different. The US will be different, Europe will be different, Australia will be different, and the Middle East and Nepal will be different too. All these locations will have very different personality traits, and we, as a brand, need to do what we have done in India. Listen to the consumers as patiently and closely as possible. If we do that, we will get a hang of what this geography wants from a brand like us. Our expectation is that our global business can probably be sizable over the next 3 years, but India will continue to be our focus. Let's say we are a 1000 crore brand, 70-75 per cent of that will only come from India and the rest would come from abroad. That is something which we will probably go for, but for that, we will have to do our work very diligently, patiently, and as good students in the class as we will be learning those geographies.

How do you make sure you are delivering exactly what people are asking for and how other brands are lacking in addressing the same? 

I think it works in a slightly different fashion where if I tell you my product is the natural, vegan, coffee aroma, it has arabica coffee offered in glass packaging, this is how it looks on digital. I will give you exactly the same thing. I won’t offer you soap in a phone box. Classical online issues are what you actually see, don't get, so first thing's first: whatever we promise, we deliver. 

Second, we must listen to what consumers want, so if you want efficacy and hydration that lasts for 24 hours, I will return to my table and make it happen. When a brand like us starts our work, we listen to our consumers, do our surveys and plans, as well as design it well, but the very first rule is to have an extreme level of transparency with what you make. So whatever you promise, deliver it. While being transparent, don't cut corners when you are building a good brand. That gives the consumer confidence that the brand is genuine, and when they talk to a genuine brand, they repeatedly get back to exploring more options because now you have built the leap of faith. For us, these have been the foundation of our actions. 

One thing that we did is that we created this category of caffeine from the ground up, from zero. We called ourselves India's first caffeinated personal care brand and people questioned us on the category, but post our visibility in the market, and ample number of brands introduced coffee-based products to their portfolio. However, we have maintained the largest market share, which is something we are proud of right now, and it also provides us with motivation and inspiration to continue to grow from here and become synonymous with caffeine. Coffee is equal to mCaffeine. Caffeine is equal to caffeine at any point in time. Coffee for skin and hair is talked about, it has to be mCaffeine and that's the ownership we have acquired so far and we will continue acquiring. We will put all our efforts to make sure to grow mCaffeine in India. 

Advice for competitors and aspiring entrepreneurs: 

I love our peers as we have some fantastic brands around us. And I believe competition helps us all to become better. So I don't think I am rightly placed to give any advice. The fellow entrepreneurs are much smarter than I am, but I think we should have a larger and long-term vision for our brands. Be it any category, any short-term objective or milestone can dilute the entire rocket share. Have a very strong purpose, because towards what you are building, and for that, you need to continue to stay in the game with persistence and perseverance. As mentioned in the movie Rocky, it is not about how hard you can hit, but about how hard you can get hit and still stand. It's a boxing ring for all of us if we are building our own brand, especially our niche, and here if you continue to stay, you win rather than swaying from others’ funding or revenue actions. Have a clear focus and continue building. Stay in the ring, and victory will happen for sure.

Giving your own number on the packaging? What kind of queries do you usually get? 

Specifically, product-related queries. If you have the product, then only you can reach out to me. But if you try reaching out through the website, you will be connected to the helpline team. And if you have a product, you need to know how to use it, what benefits it holds, product feedback or pre-post regime, and these conversations result in more ideas for us as a brand. For e.g. I asked my consumers about our lotion and it leaves any oily feeling after the application, and the consumer said no and that's how we realised that it is most preferred by consumers because it gives them the necessary hydration without any oiliness. So these product funnel details really help us to pass the message to the relevant teams for corrections/improvements.

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