New parents have a hard enough time trying to balance life with a new-born or toddler thrown into the mix. Now add to that all the baby essentials like diapers, bottles, toys and clothes that need to be purchased while they are still acclimatising themselves to their parental roles and you have a recipe for a tough time ahead. This is where FirstCry comes in.
Nowadays, with the advent of globalisation and online shopping, things have become easier for parents in terms of purchasing these items, but still, there is a gap. Despite the boom that e-commerce platforms have seen over the last decade or so in India, there still remains a massive gap in the demand-supply of the domestic market for child-oriented products. In that, parents either have little to no access to high-quality brands or if they do it comes at a steep price, which is not feasible in the long-term, considering the pre-existing strain on the budget that new parents have to contend with.
What is FirstCry All About?
FirstCry is essentially an online and offline brand provider that gives parents and their children access to a wide range of child-oriented products such as diapering, nursing/feeding equipment, bath and skincare products, toys, footwear, nursery items, furniture, boutiques and even products for new or expecting mothers.
The Pune-based start-up was the brainchild of Supam Maheshwari and Amitava Saha. It was founded with the goal of bringing parents and high-quality brands together, at an affordable price point. What sets this company apart from the crowd is that it provides these quality products at an affordable price with the ease and convenience of an online shopping experience as well as fast, reliable delivery services.
FirstCry took the baby-care market by storm as with a multi-faceted marketing approach that bridged the gap in the sector and gave them the edge over the competition.
How Did it All Begin?
The company which was founded in 2010 was initially just an inventory-based operation that was following a business model centred around shipping these products across the country, from warehouses in Pune, Delhi, Bangalore, and Kolkata. After a few years, FirstCry started adding retailers to its online platform, which bolstered their website into a multi-branded catalogue that retailers could sell their products on. This integrated click-and-brick model saw an unprecedented boom in success. Now it stands as one of Asia’s most recognised and popular child-product platforms with a whopping 400 plus stores across 100 cities in India and a product inventory of more than 90,000 different items from 1200 international and national brands.
Bridging the Gap
Supam Maheshwari found inspiration for FirstCry from his travelling lifestyle. He would often go on business trips and buy things for his child from the different countries he visited. This eventually brought to the forefront the issue that many Indian parents face, a lack of access to the best baby-care brands. This made him realise that there existed a gap in the market that he could capitalise on. This opportunity, however, was made challenging for the same reason the issue itself existed. While the baby care market in India is huge and has untapped potential, it remains untapped because it is so unorganised. This is where Supam’s entrepreneurial skills and previous experience came into play as he implemented a never-before-attempted business model that would set FirstCry in a league of its own.
The Business Model
Apart from the unique and innovative business model of running online and offline stores, FirstCry also supplements its outreach efforts through a special program called ‘FirstCry Box’ which reaches over 70,000 parents across India.
The idea behind the ‘FirstCry Box’ initiative is to give new parents in hospitals across India gift packages that contain basic necessities that every child and parent needs to have after the birth. Items include diapers, baby lotion, baby oil and so on. This is given as a token of congratulations to new mothers and it doubles as a marketing vehicle that gets the brand name out into the public domain. The items in the box which can be valued at Rs 700 to Rs 1000 is given freely at hospitals that have tie ups with FirstCry.
This marketing model, one of the biggest outreach initiatives that the brand does, has seen a tremendous ROI and is tied up with around 6000 hospitals in 30 different cities. They work with top healthcare franchises like the Apollo group, Aditya Birla group and Columbia Asia to name a few. This campaign is being executed in all metros and even most tier 1 cities.
Thanks to its skilled leadership, FirstCry now stands as one of Asia's largest baby-brand providers and making it one of the latest entrants into the Indian Unicorn scene.
In terms of marketing, FirstCry has taken the path less travelled by way of primarily sticking to the realm of social media and word-of-mouth to promote the brand. While the founders did initially opt for the traditional route of television and print advertisement, they soon realised that this was not a feasible long-term strategy as the method was high-cost and the returns were too low.
The advantage of the new method meant that they could reach more people at a significantly lower cost to the company. Of their social media platforms, Facebook and Instagram are the most traffic-heavy with over 500,000 fans on Facebook and well over 467,000 followers on Instagram.
In supplement to this, the aforementioned ‘FirstCry Box’ initiative plays a major supporting role as it covers the word-of-mouth aspect of the company’s marketing strategy.
Additionally, after the company’s fourth round of fundraising, it approached Amitabh Bachchan to be its brand ambassador to push that star power. Now one can see the ‘Big B’ in around six different commercials that are being promoted on tv.
This multi-faceted marketing methodology has proven a great success with the company being able to allocate an annual budget of $1 billion just for advertising. A clear sign of the growth it has seen.
FirstCry’s Growth and Revenue
When the company was co-founded by Supam and Amitava, the seed-funding for the company of $25 million was completely out-of-pocket and the initial future looked rocky. FirstCry was founded under its parent company, BrainBees Solutions and took off from there. It was one of its kind in the market back in 2012, being an online platform with offline retail stores. One of the major milestones and turning points for the company was when Supam realised that most consumers in tier 3 cities did not use the online platform to access the products. With this information in hand, FirstCry expanded its physical operations to cities like Bhilai, Dehradun, Haridwar, Kanpur and Bharuch.
This gave rise to the logistical support company XpressBees, which is now headed by Amitava, helped provide the logistical support to these locations and raised an additional funding of Rs 85 crores for the company. The new store locations had some difficulty in the initial stages achieving a strong footing for the first 2 years, but with aggressive marketing and a strong brand USP things started to take off.
The company now stands as one of the latest entrants into India’s unicorn club with a staggering $1.2 billion valuation. The exponential growth was seen even as far back as 2017 when FirstCry saw a 48 per cent growth between FY17 and FY18. This level of growth gave way to expansion and the company branched out and established its online presence even more with ‘FirstCry Parenting’ which sees well over 13 million parental engagements and an overall engagement of 92 million every month.
Much of this funding and growth was a combination of two factors. One, their outstanding and engaging marketing strategy, and two, being backed by investors who saw the potential of the company. FirstCry had raised $429 million in over 8 rounds of funding over the years with their most prominent investors being SAIF Partners, Vertex Ventures, Valiant Capital Partners and most recently since the 2019 SoftBank Vision Fund. SoftBank has been their Funding.
FirstCry’s Market Presence and Standing
It is not that FirstCry was the first to enter the baby-products market, in-fact the demand and presence of other companies in the market goes far back even before the company was founded. It is notable, however, to mention that FirstCry was the first of its kind in terms of strategy, practice and service delivery.
Given that the Indian market for these products was so severely limited, you could say that FirstCry was the first to bridge the gap and they did so in a spectacular fashion. Now, the brand has essentially become synonymous with the market segment for baby-brand products and stands as one of, if not the largest players to provide such an upscale service for parents and their children. Their dual online and offline approach cornered the market and quelled the consumer demand by meeting their needs in a convenient and quality-assured way.
This tactic has ensured that the company has no direct means of competition in this particular segment, but that is not to say that they do not have contenders to deal with on a daily basis. Despite FirstCry being a unicorn, it is still a fairly young company, but even so, it manages a hold in both the online and offline realms. When considering the online segment of the business it does face some resistance in the market from brands like Amazon, Kraftly, Snapdeal, BeiBei and Myntra. On the other side of the coin, in the offline brick-and-mortar business, they will likely face the day-to-day struggles of contending with local stores and vendors depending on the geography and demography of the audience.
Despite being surrounded on all fronts, the company has made a name for itself and stands tall as an industry leader in consumer servicing and product quality thanks to the one-stop-shop setup that it follows. They have placed themselves in a powerful position in the market to say the least. So much so, in fact, that in 2016, one of FirstCry’s first and biggest acquisitions was of the Mumbai-based and Mahindra-owned ‘BabyOye’ for $54 million. The acquisition company was an ecommerce platform that specialised in pregnancy, infant care, and mother care products and services in Indian, making it a direct competitor.
If it was not a big enough milestone that they bought out the competition, FirstCry also acquisitioned ‘Oi Playschool’ in November 2019. The Oi Playschool was a chain of premium play schools focusing on safety, security and hygiene.
With all this success and growth, one has to wonder how it all came to be. The answer to that, is quite simply a great vision that was executed well. Leading one of the leading online retail platforms in Asia is no small feat and takes a significant level of technical skills and entrepreneurial instinct so as to get a good read of the ever-shifting market.
The founders of FirstCry, Supam Maheshwari and Amitava Saha, both IIM graduates. Supam who is the CEO and co-founder of FirstCry is a first-generation entrepreneur and also has a hand in co-founding XpressBees, one of the largest logistic companies in India. Having said that, this is not the first race that he has run. Prior to founding FirstCry, Supam was the CEO and co-founder of ‘BrainVisa Technologies’, one of the largest e-learning platforms in India.
His business partner and co-founder of FirstCry, Amitava, was a key person in the establishment of the company and is currently the COO. Being an IIM graduate himself and B.Tech degree from IIT Varanasi, he is uniquely qualified for the role he played alongside Supam in the growth and development of the company.
FirstCry’s success as a company can be attributed to the rapid and aggressive take-over strategy of the online retail scene, the ingenious marketing schemes that ran parallel to one another, as well as excellent business strategy on the part of these revolutionary founders.
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