WE are four couples who often travel together. On one such road trip (Delhi-Jaipur), the idea of PeeBuddy was born. All the men were happy to relieve themselves literally anywhere (be it a petrol pump, a road side dhaaba or even in the lap of Mother Nature – in the open) but for the ladies, it was mayhem. We would stop at five toilets and then they would use one. And every time this would happen, we men would make fun of their inability to adjust to any loo and how this frequent stopping/ rejection of loo/pre-planning of drinking fluids (in line with where the next clean toilet would come), is such a limiting factor. This is when a friend’s wife Gauri cursed India for not having Female Urination Devices. She mentioned that on her trip to Europe she had seen a plastic device using which women could stand and urinate. This one sentence rang a bell and I decided to pursue this. While most friends ridiculed the idea, I was hooked on to this thought.
Once we were back in Delhi, the research started. I was joined by my co-founders/partners Mohit Bajaj and Rahul Anand and we decided to stay away from the plastic device (which a woman is supposed to use, wash and keep it back in bag) and do something which is portable, disposable and easy to carry. After hundreds of prototypes and testing, the current shape of PeeBuddy was designed by Rahul, manufactured (tested again) and finally launched in early 2014.
So here we were, all settled in our respective careers and doing PeeBuddy meant leaving that behind in pursuing something which was unheard of in India (with no market!),and at the same time challenged the traditional thoughts/ comfort zone/principles/ideologies. We still decided to give it a sincere shot.
When the first lot was manufactured and we took it to Modern Trade Stores we were bullish. I thought they would just love us for addressing this issue – sanitation. Women in India have such limited mobility due to unkempt toilets. Be it at restaurants, railways, long haul flights, highways and concerts etc, they either have to clean the seat (with tissues) or squat/make chairs or hold it in (which by the way can result in kidney stones), and this product we felt solved it with a simple product. However, fortune here didn’t favor the brave and we were shown the door on some or the other grounds. I was shocked when two top retailers who target the maternity segment and sell breast pumps etc., refused to keep it! During pregnancy the bladder is so volatile and prone to infections! Pharmacies should have kept it for arthritic patients but there too nothing was working out.
The first three months were bad, we had invested a lot in the process and here we were with all the stock still with us.
A change of strategy
That’s when we decided to change the strategy. We decided to NOT go through traditional channels and instead sell online to show acceptance, and then work backwards. So we made the product available at leading online portals and from there things started to change. In the next quarter we decided to target leading gynecologists, orthopedists and urologists who were happy to encourage us and gave us recommendations. We showed these letters of support to pharmacies and got slots at leading pharmacy chains. In the following quarter we moved to Modern Stores (showing online acceptance, sale from pharmacies etc), and forward thinking stores like 24×7, Dabur new u etc., gave us space; lastly, we targeted on the go segment (women travelers) and made PeeBuddy available at WHSmith (airports).
Early this year we started writing to leading event organisers and by God’s grace Procam International was the first event brand to address the concern by allowing us in their mega event ‘Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon’.
They understood that women runners (no matter how hard they try to keep their porta toilets clean), don’t get access to hygienic toilets and hence they gave out PeeBuddy to all females. We will partner the Bangalore marathon next.
Going forward, we need more and more stores, especially modern trade chains to stock PeeBuddy, we would like event organisers (who charge for tickets/offer a service) to offer PeeBuddy to all their female customers and would urge railways/ airlines to take cognizance of the matter. Giving out PeeBuddy, is not admitting that your toilets are dirty, but it’s a gesture to empower women, it’s about giving them the freedom to decide what’s clean and what’s not. In a long haul flight any woman is just one man away from a horrible experience. Same is the case with restaurants, pubs, marathons, concerts, where no matter how hard organisers try, after a point, toilets become a mess.
So far, we have sold some 20,000 packs, but this is far from being a financially viable product, and unless women come out to support this product, this product will fizzle out. We are fighting a battle where if we present a product to 10 men, only three show support and when we talk to 10 females, eight love us back. So it’s clear that unless women spread the word, push stores to stock it, this would not go anywhere. At our end we are trying to keep the journey going.
Support for innovators, as radical as us, is limited. People, including investors want to support fool-proof tech start-ups, PeeBuddy is a social innovation, would take time but once people know about it, it will serve Indian women for a long time. Right from young girls (who go to college), to working women (road/railway/flight), to travelers (adventure camps/ highway traveler) to elderly (arthritic patients), this product is the need of the hour and needs mass awareness.
Products in the pipeline
We as a team want to stay focused on sanitation and female personal hygiene segment and hence, all our upcoming products would be inthis category. Next we plan to launch ‘INWI’, which is India’s first intimate wipes brand for women on the go. As of today, an Indian woman has to use regular facial wipes in the absence of an alternative. With INWI, she would have a specially prepared product for her bikini, breast, under arms area.
PeeBuddy is not here to prove a point, it’s here to address an issue which, whether we like it or not, stares us right in our face every day. I am doing my bit to keep the journey ON, and all I can do is request you all to please support, spread the word.