Fortune is in the failure. When WOW Skin Science hit an estimated valuation of $3.7 Billion, the world changed for these friends-turned-co-founders – Aravind Sokke, Ashwin Sokke, Karan Chowdhary and Manish Chowdhary, who rose from the ashes in 2016 with their venture’s inception.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston Churchill
This famous saying fits aptly on the quartet, which took their second plunge into entrepreneurship with Bengaluru-based personal care brand WOW (Wealth of Wellness) Skin Science. The success of this start-up is even more inspiring since it grew out of the failure of the founder’s first venture in retail business in 2012. Finding motivation after a start-up’s failure is a challenge, which the co-founders managed to overcome.
Their offline retail business in laptops and electronics went for a toss after the emergence of deep discounts by e-commerce portals. With a swollen loss pool of over $1 million, the founders finally decided to shut down the business for good, collecting nothing but a few lessons. One of the most important one being – pivoting at the right time.
Bringing WOW to Life
Aiming to turn their misfortune into gains, the founders began with a plan to start a niche in a new segment. During that time, there were barely any affordable organic personal care brands for the general public. It was an open market with not many competitors providing economical products.
After putting a final stamp on ‘Beauty and Wellness’ as their area of focus, the four friends pooled in their combined savings to start Fit & Glow, the mother brand, in 2016.
Banking on their past lessons, the founders kept their focus intact on product quality and travelled around the globe to meet up with scientists and skincare experts to bring out a mix between traditional therapeutic formulations and scientific developments.
They wanted to perfect the product before bringing it out in the market and strengthen their product’s USP. After intensive research and experimentation, WOW, a Direct-to-Consumer brand, was launched.
WOW was started as an exclusive online brand with its own website besides marking its presence on digital shopping platforms.
Cashing on the ‘Vegan, Ayurvedic and Natural’ Wave
New-age consumers are constantly looking for newer formulations and healthy variants. There has been an increasing consciousness about using sustainable, nature-based products and WOW tapped on that opportunity.
Modern-day consumers are more aware and conscious about the products they associate themselves with in terms of their origin and socially attached stance. Hence, the WOW brand focused on creating a line that only relies on natural bio-active ingredients, free from any artificial additives.
At the time WOW was launched, there was little to no business footprint that delivered such products. The wave of curating nature-based products came a few years later with start-up brands like NatHabit and MamaEarth cashing in on the same while the already existing ones like Biotique and Lotus expanded their offerings under natural products. Besides, older brands like Khadi went aggressive on their digital presence and marketing.
Interestingly, this ‘all-natural, sustainable’ tag is not only used by beauty and skincare start-up brands, but also by international ones. The global natural skincare products market, valued at $10.84 Billion in 2019, is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5% from 2020 to 2027, as per a report by Grand View Research. With the space getting crowded with both new-age and established brands, the differentiating factor will remain on how businesses sell the ‘natural’ narrative besides the quality. The exclusivity factor in terms of ingredients will also matter.
Speaking about WOW products, the term ‘nature-powered formulations’ is used by the brand, which puts them neither in the traditional Ayurvedic category nor in the modern scientific formulas based ventures. It’s a blend of both, which brings in the exclusivity factor.
The company paid attention to the look and feel of the brand to keep the aesthetics right. Selling a product is like storytelling. You need to convey the message better to make that sale.
WOW has kept its products very sober yet innovative. Special attention has been paid to retain the texture and feel of natural ingredients to boost the overall user experience.
With an understanding of woke consumerism and correct implementation of these inputs, WOW has established itself as the go-to brand for the modern-urban conscious consumers looking for a holistic solution to their beauty and wellness needs.
The look and feel are unorthodox unlike most of the other naturally infused brands such as Dabur or Emami, giving WOW the edge. This is the main USP of the brand and its biggest selling point. The company also introduced add-ons like attached brushes and applicators, which set the products apart and led to at least first-time conversions out of sheer curiosity.
WOW’s success as a brand can also be credited to the e-commerce revolution. They entered the D2C space at the most opportune time and availed themselves of the success of e-commerce in India right when it started. Without the launchpad that the internet is, it would have taken 15 years for a brand like it to create the same impact among consumers using the traditional offline format.
The company paid attention to the look and feel of the brand to keep the aesthetics right.
Affordability is the Key!
The brand’s success is majorly credited to its affordability, which skyrocketed the sales. A majority of WOW products are priced under Rs 500, bringing in the urban middle class under its target audience net. This is coupled with online shopping discounts.
Take, for instance, the WOW Apple Cider Vinegar shampoo, which was sold at Rs 299 as compared to other products in the same category costing about Rs 1400. This has amassed a huge user base for a single product and spurted sales. Later on, the prices were strategically increased to Rs 399. Apple Cider Vinegar shampoo’s success inspired the creation of an entire product line with the same formulation including face cream, face wash, hair mask, snack and tonics. To date, it is the most sold product from WOW on Amazon, both in India and the US.
Competitive pricing is one of the biggest reasons WOW has been able to seep into the market besides product exclusivity and quality. The key to their success is often credited to millennials and generation-z looking for a change outside the big skincare brand names and increased access to naturally-made products.
Towards Global Domination
There is a great market for natural Indian products globally and WOW wanted to cash in on the same. It wouldn’t be completely wrong to say that the tags of Yoga, Ayurveda, all-natural, vegan, cruelty-free, etc. sell faster today than it did a few years back.
The company started in the global market under Amazon Global Selling in 2016. Although the brand was relatively new in the US, it enjoyed a good acceptance in the foreign market. This can be understood with the recent increase in consciousness around consuming organic and plant-based products as a lifestyle choice.
In order to strengthen its base, WOW launched an entire line of personal and healthcare products after acquiring the rights for ‘Justice League’ by Warner Bros Media in 2020. This licensing deal helped the brand to add a sensational value to their product ranges as it opened up an entirely new segment of target audiences, especially kids.
Another important thing to mention here is that WOW kept a finger on the pulse of what different regions expect. For instance, the ACV Shampoo & Conditioner launched in the US market was kept the same in terms of formula and bottle size as in India. However, while the quality was appreciated, the quantity was not. The size was simply not large enough for the State’s market. Thus the 500ml bottle was born for the company’s American customers.
The brand has registered an 18x growth rate in the last four years in this particular segment. In India, the business has grown over 170% per cent in the last year, while in the US the growth percentage is 370%. These figures are remarkable considering the value conscious markets.
Competitive pricing is one of the biggest reasons WOW has been able to seep into the market besides product exclusivity and quality.
Since its inception, the company kept a sharp focus on long-term marketing and brand-building initiatives. The idea was to target potential customers through social media and digital marketing and the start-up took an aggressive route for the same.
The narrative decided for the brand is natural, scientific and environment conscious. Although affordable, the overall look and feel are kept very minimal yet luxurious.
Video advertisements were majorly used to capture attention. These videos by WOW are educational about their product range and easy to understand, along with being visually pleasing. Once the users interact with these videos or visit the website, the re-marketing concept is used to attract them wherein they are shown WOW products repeatedly whenever possible on multiple platforms. Besides, it also engages in various brand engagement activities like giveaways, which keeps the momentum going.
The result of this extensive digital marketing has been such that Amit Agarwal, Amazon India Head, went on record to designate WOW as one of its most successful brands among all its sellers. Digital demand alone has boosted the sales of WOW products by over $1 Million a month.
Presently the brand has signed two Bollywood actresses — Disha Patani for their haircare range and Bhumi Pednekar for their skincare range — as their brand ambassadors. This is coupled with its social media influencers tie-ups. The company forged an alliance with PVR in Tamil Nadu, the biggest market for the brand, as a part of its PR activation campaign. This was done with hoardings across Mumbai, New Delhi, Punjab, Chennai, Surat, Goa and parts of Karnataka.
The brand’s communication is focused on the generic issues faced by the consumers, like hair fall, among others. According to Madhur Acharya, WOW’s head of marketing, the brand will do more of ‘Out of home advertising’ (OOH) and print media, along with aggressively advertising on digital. They also plan to do some offline activations with start-ups like Ola and Uber, along with focusing on advertising in offline spaces, like airports, public transports, etc. It is yet to explore television.
For WOW, product quality supremacy is essential. For any company, advertisements could attract potential customers but the re-sale or its retention depends on the effectiveness of their products. This is one of the reasons WOW kept a strong focus on the quality.
Presently the brand has over 200 product variants with formulations, created specifically for niche consumer groups.
Going Offline and Official!
The brand is laying focus on off-line presence moving forward. The founders believe that in order to become a truly established brand, it is mandatory to have a strong offline presence as well.
Data collected through artificial intelligence from online sales is expected to help in replicating the same growth offline. The company has already started selling their personal care products at over 5000 pharmacies and stores.
The ultimate goal is to set up dedicated official stores across the country. The company remained self-funded till 2021. Recently, ChrysCapital invested $50 Million in the company for a minority stake. The anticipated strategy is to help WOW grow multi-folds by further deepening online penetration, pan-India offline expansion and coming up with new brands in relative categories.
The beauty and wellness segment is expanding and the competition is intensifying. The Ayurvedic-Scientific market is relatively new and hence open for all. Mamaearth, which started out at the same time as WOW in 2015, is the biggest competitor. With similar product range, pricing and business model, the two brands are constantly curating better products and looking for an edge to pin down each other. Other new competitors are MCaffeine, Amway and Body and Bath.
WOW has been able to maintain an upper hand through its well-established reputation and niche product range so far. It is twice the size of any of their competitors owing to their vast product range. Both in terms of quantity and price point, WOW is surely ruling the roost.
With revenue of Rs 350 crore in FY20, it is one of the most successful D2C brands in India with ample lessons for entrepreneurs to learn – right from the perfect implementation of digital marketing strategies to intensive market research, to creating an unbeatable product range and impeccable consumer services.
The do’s and don’ts are here. We hope yours becomes a bigger success story and all of us say – WOW!