Charting a new course: Pandemic pushes India-based personalised beauty brand to refocus expansion goals
Freewill specialises in creating personalised hair care products based on artificial intelligence (AI) technology.
The company was launched in 2018 by Mohit and Rahul Yadav, two entrepreneurs which previously founded CarDekho, an automobile portal, and MangoStreet, an e-commerce platform for kidswear.
After working with AI and personalisation technology in their previous start-ups, the pair saw an opportunity to use the concept in the local beauty space.
“We wanted to apply this personalisation somewhere else and saw an opportunity in the beauty industry. It makes sense to bring this personalisation concept to skin and hair because each person is very unique based on their hair type or where they live; no two are the same,” said head of content, Kavita Yadav.
According to Yadav, Freewill was an instant hit with consumers. “To our surprise, we had great response from consumers, they just welcomed the concept. They seemed to understand the need for it immediately and we didn’t even have to do a lot of education and awareness.”
She highlighted that Freewill spoke to consumers because it filled a gap in the market for high-quality premium shampoos.
“In India, hair is a big part of the consumers’ identity, so they take really good care of it compare to other markets. This drove this trend of people buying semi-premium to premium shampoos, the kind you find in salons.”
According to Yadav, 20% to 30% of consumers trying Freewill for the first time were previously using mass-market hair care products that cost half the price of what it offers.
“Customer retention among these people is very high because previously they were just using low-grade shampoos and they can see the results of using our shampoos.”
Local focus for now
The success of Freewill has pushed the company to set its sight on international expansion.
In late 2019, the firm expanded its offering to Singapore to test the waters in the South East Asian region.
However, the impact of the COVID-19 health crisis on production and shipping has since forced the company to withdraw from Singapore and focus on its home market.
“There was a huge impact for us because the factories had to be closed. Because our products are freshly made, we could not depend on stock, so we had to completely shut down during that time,” said Yadav.
Once India began slowly lifting the lockdown restrictions, the company saw a 20% to 30% spike in sales.
Yadav believes the firm was able to capture the segment of the market that purchase hair care products from salons.
“They were unable to go to the salon to get their shampoos, so they decided to try our products because salon shampoos are similar to personalised shampoos in that they can be very specific when it comes to claims.”
Aside from international expansion, the company had previously been pushing for an offline expansion in India.
Yadav told CosmeticsDesign-Asia that these plans have since been delayed as it hopes to focus more of its efforts online. “This is really the right time for us to increase our online visibility.”
She added: “The pandemic changed the situation, so we had to rethink our strategy. Since we can’t go international, we have to work on the local market. We are working on how we can expand our visibility to reach out to more people apart from our platform.”
She added that the firm still saw plenty of opportunity in the offline space that it has yet to explore.
“We want to develop more tech, like apps that can analyse a picture of your scalp using advanced image processing. We hope this will allow us to get a better assessment of hair.”
Freewill has also used the downtime from COVID-19 to expand its range of products into skin care, where “personalisation makes a lot of sense,” said Yadav.
The project is at the sampling stage and will be launching in the market in a couple of months’ time.