In an interview with G20 Deepanjali Kanoria, Founder & CEO, Heyday talks about her entrepreneurial journey, intensive research and innovation in the feminine hygiene industry.
Q. So, how did this journey evolve Deepanjali, You hail from such a conservative marwadi family, marrying into one, as well. You have just grown leaps and bounds in your career.
A. My 29 year old journey has been fulfilling, nurturing and very exciting. While I recognize that I hail from a traditional Marwari family and married into a conservative Marwari family, the foundation of our thoughts and mindset always have been far from conservative. It reflects in the work I do and the person that I am. From a very young age, my parents always taught me to take risks and put myself outside my comfort zone to explore innovative avenues and bring my passions to life. I had studied in two all women institutions, Carmel Convent School in Delhi and Barnard College of Columbia University in New York. I held my understanding of a woman’s journey – her highs and her lows, from a formative age being surrounded by strong and powerful women all my life. I instinctively knew that I wanted to do something in a field that made this journey more beautiful with the right dose of self care.
I was very fascinated by the consumer products and FMCG space really invigorated me especially when I worked at the Coca Cola plant. I further honed my financial know-how as a financial advisory consultant at Ernst and Young in Manhattan after my graduation. While I learnt financial acumen required to analyze the health of enduring businesses, it dawned upon me that my impact was beyond the conference room. I decided to quit my job and move back to India to commence on my entrepreneurial journey. I started conducting intensive research and I found out a huge gap in the feminine hygiene industry – it was highly monopolized with a few big players with little disruption or innovations for over a decade.
Menstruation is such a taboo topic in India, there is always a discomfort associated with talking about one’s period experience whether it is the rashes, allergies, UTIs, skin irritation that 8 out of 10 menstruators might face due to their synthetic pads. Even I struggled with chafing and rashes on my period every month and when I decided to question why this was happening is when I think the seed of Heyday really germinated. I started breaking down the conventional pads that were there in the market and I understood that 90 percent of the composition was a plastic or polymer in addition to the bleaches and perfumes that are extremely toxic and harmful for exposure to our most sensitive and permeable skin of the body. Not only this, the environment suffered tirelessly, 9000 tonnes of plastic waste from period products is generated in India every year with no source of decomposition for over 500 years choking acres of landfills.
Heyday came in as a challenger brand with it’s unique product proposition of being completely natural, organic, biodegradable and plant based – safer for the body and the environment.
Our first prototype launched in October 2017 and we were able to service the unmet demand in the Indian consumer market.
When we launched, people were aware about organic food and produce but the idea of an organic pads was novel. Completely plant based, super soft on the skin, extremely comfortable, rash free, affordable, Heyday pads decomposed within 2 years of disposal. Customers across India recognised these benefits and resonated with the brand instantly with early adoption and retention organically. It’s been over three years now and Heyday has grown multifold with over a 3 lakh user base and new products like panty liners, menstrual cups and baby diapers in our product portfolio. I’m sure it will be upwards and onwards from here!
Q. How were you able to grow so exponentially to 3000 people. And more importantly impact so so many women ?
A. Call it luck, call it right timing or call it an absolutely fantastic product at our core that was recognized early on by the Indian consumer. When we started out as a pilot project, we launched in modern trade and general trade stores in the Delhi NCR area. Interestingly enough, one of the customers was a CNBC-TV18 journalist who picked up our product from the shelf and Heyday was a game changer for her as she struggled with rashes, so much so, that she couldn’t attend work. She reached out to me, practically hounded me and said Deepanjali, I am coming to your office with my cameraman and doing a story on you. That story went viral and got over a million views. People started writing to us from all over India and that’s when brand pivoted to the next level. We launched on e-commerce channels and consolidated our distribution by putting in that extra work making it possible for us to deliver to more metro cities in India and sustain our growth. We made it to Forbes 30 under 30 list and got the right kind of eyeballing from organic press to help more and more women become aware of the brand offering.
Q. How did you deliver it to the doorsteps of small towns and villages? Share with us how your father has helped you every step of way. It’s incredible.
A. We focused on consolidating our distribution and I learned a lot along the way because neither side of the family is into consumer products and I wanted to learn everything ground up. E-commerce is a fantastic tool as the ease of transitioning is so simplified. Even today, as a lean team we continue to learn new things on the job and it’s nurturing process of continuous building and unbuilding to carve the right path.
This is my money & I put it, into the brand from my savings and till date we are completely bootstrapped. When Heyday popularized early on, we got a lot of interest from VC funds for institutional financing but I held back from the funding route because I wanted to see what I could do with my own money before dabbling with another’s’ and validating the concept in its entirety. I can proudly say that I was able to and there is scope for a lot more growth. We now service about 3,500 pin codes pan India, are available on various aggregator’s sites, organic stores, large format grocery chains and have been able to grow the segment of sustainable personal care in India. We started with 4 SKUs and today we are about 23 SKUs and have a range of pads, baby diapers, panty liners and menstrual cups.
Q. So yours is a very unique & fascinating storyline. Share how you started your business got married, then shifted to Calcutta. What was the flow experience from pre to post marriage in terms of your work?
A. I got engaged the same week I launched Heyday. People think of marriage or a baby or any kind of personal journey as a hindrance but I wanted to try and use that to my advantage. By embracing life changes as an evolution of myself and keeping my personal and professional life separate, things have worked out beautifully. Having the two complement each other and striking the right balance is when it gets beautiful. I have learnt so much along the way and I have really matured and grown as a person. One’s partner also has so much to offer in terms of support and perspective.
It wasn’t easy, don’t get me wrong. I was moving from Delhi to Kolkata, building a new team in a new city without compromising on growth – it almost felt like a fresh start. But if you want to make it work, it always does.
That’s a very important share for all the young girls and budding entrepreneurs to not give up on their dreams and aspirations.
I think a lot of women hide behind the excuse of having to give up their dreams due to the personal front. It is of course about learning to strike the right balance but it is not impossible when you have the grit to achieve your goals.