A venture-backed self-care company based in Vancouver, Blume is focused on empowering girls through clean period and personal care products, and sex education, working with data collected from customers to provide the very best products.
Blume was co-founded in 2014 by sisters Taran and Bunny Ghatrora, with the aim of de-stigmatizing periods and creating the next generation of confident, tenacious and conscious women. Taran Ghatrora is driven by her passion for women’s health and gender equality, and has been recognized as both a Top 30 Under 30 and G20 youth delegate for Canada. She is also a 500 Startups fellow. Ms Ghatrora spoke with The Canadian Business Quarterly recently to discuss the self-care concerns that have driven Blume’s growth, the effective technique of surveying customers and crowd-creating products, and the process of securing venture capital to help the business thrive.
Addressing key health concerns
“We started Blume because we surveyed our audience,” Ms Ghatrora says, “and 60% of women told us that they could pinpoint that their self-esteem plummeted when they went through puberty.”
Through the use of customer surveys, Blume found that a large percentage of women had trouble finding safe and effective products for period care and other issues experienced during puberty, such as natural deodorant and face wash.
“It’s a really tough time to go through for most people, and then when you add to that the lack of sex education and the lack of safe and effective products geared towards this life stage, we were getting overwhelmingly great feedback around this idea and these products.”
Blume is not just your average profit-making company, with a large part of what has driven its growth being the desire to bring to light health issues and potential problems in the personal care industry.
“Only 26 states [in the US] mandate sex education,” Ms Ghatrora explains, “and in Ontario they just reverted back to a pre-1993 sex-ed curriculum. That’s problematic, and something we want to help with. So many people, girls and boys, are navigating this time of going through puberty without accurate information about their bodies.”
Part of Blume’s mission is to be a relatable and medically accurate resource for those going through puberty to get information that they may not have been given or able to effectively digest through traditional channels such as school. It is also committed to creating a product line that tackles issues within the self-care industry.
“There are a lot of parabens and endocrine disruptors in products, like aluminum in deodorant, which can potentially cause breast cancer. There are a number of things in pads and tampons – bleach, dioxins, pesticides. We try to tackle both of those things through content and then products.”
This has resulted in a product range that is cruelty free, vegan and consisting of mostly organic ingredients. Blume is strongly invested in providing transparency in terms of its ingredients and processes.
“We collected data for over two years on what kinds of personal care products our audience cared about. For the brand itself, we wanted it to be more than just products. It’s actually a community, as well as education around real women’s stories.”
Organic pads and tampons
The idea for the company emerged when Ms Ghatrora was studying law in the UK. As she was ordering groceries and other essentials to her home for convenience, finding affordable and familiar period product brands was proving difficult.
“I thought, why is there a subscription for razors, and bacon, and snacks, all these things that aren’t necessarily a monthly need, but not for pads and tampons. So that’s when I called my sister up, saying maybe we should do something. She was on board right away.”
From there the sisters proceeded to research the space, preparing for writing articles and beginning a website. It was at this point that Ms Ghatrora began to learn a little more about how mainstream period products were produced, and the dangers that existed in the space.
“Pads and tampons are a space very different to most other spaces, in the sense that for a very long time, almost the last hundred years or so, there’s only been two large brands manufacturing all of the mainstream pads and tampons.”
This market duopoly has created a lack of transparency in terms of ingredients, along with questionable manufacturing processes, including bleaching processes in some cases, and other instances where the cotton is grown with pesticides.
“The thing about this space is that people haven’t really talked about periods or period products as openly as they do in other spaces, so women were purchasing pads and tampons for a really long time as a rote behavior, just to deal with it.”
A large element of standard buying behavior has been missing from the space, notably product recommendations or talking with friends about the benefits of certain products, which Ms Ghatrora puts down to the historical stigma surrounding periods.
“It’s something that’s been silenced for so long. What we think at Blume is that that’s one of the big reasons for the lack of innovation in this space. For us, the main reason to supply and provide organic pads and tampons as a choice is because we believe that people deserve to know what’s in their products, and because women deserve choices in this space.”
This led to the company deciding to start with a single product – organic pads and tampons. Ms Ghatrora explains that this was a crucial starting point, as the need to have safe and transparent period products on the market was of utmost importance.
Once the decision had been made to begin selling organic pads and tampons, the company started running a subscription box service, a monthly delivery of these products across the US and Canada that included third-party bonus products.
“Around the same time, both of us had shifted to clean beauty, so natural deodorant and skin care. We were sharing all of these different products that we would cherry-pick with our audience. So they’d get the pads and tampons every month plus two other gifts in the box.”
These third-party partnerships were a useful way of delivering customers the products they needed, and at the same time drumming up business for the burgeoning company. At this point, Blume had not started manufacturing its own products.
“Those companies looked at us as marketing and advertising to reach their target consumer, although we were quite small, but that’s how we were pitching it to them. We always were solving the same problem, and over time how we solved that problem is what evolved, but we stuck to the mission.”
The intention was never to create a rigid subscription box format, but instead to constantly communicate with customers about how best to solve problems around monthly periods and self-care.
This approach led to the Ghatrora sisters deciding to collect data on what kind of personal care products audience members were enthusiastic about, data which would eventually help Blume expand its range.
“We did surveys every single month,” Ms Ghatrora explains, “to find out about how we could give customers more of what they wanted. We then launched four products, and we actually crowd-created them with our customers.”
This crowd-creation was an important part of Blume’s development. After a year and half collecting data about potential products, the sisters began to see patterns in the data indicating the kinds of products their growing customer base was having trouble finding.
“For example, natural deodorant that’s unscented – that was really hard for our audience to find, and one that actually worked. That would come up again and again. The same with an acne treatment that worked and didn’t have benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, and didn’t make your skin peel and scar. There were a number of patterns that kept coming up.”
After collecting this feedback, the sisters dove deeper into each product, speaking with customers on the phone and sending out samples to make sure they were providing the very best options for each. This process resulted in the creation of Blume’s four main products.
Raising capital the right way
After bootstrapping the company through the early months, the Ghatrora sisters soon realized they would need to secure venture capital if they were to keep expanding the business, a process which was never going to be easy.
“We didn’t even know that venture capital was an option, or that is was even available [at first]. There’s a really great angel investor in Vancouver we met at a student pitch competition, who offered us our first check for $25k. That kept us going until we got accepted into [global venture capital firm] 500 Startups.”
500 Startups invested what Ms Ghatrora considers the company’s first real venture check, handing over $100k to help Blume reach the next level. This helped the sisters become more familiar with the venture world and how to raise further capital.
“[This was] when our business grew drastically, and then prior to the rebrand and the product launch, we raised a small round of $250k, and that got us to over a $2m run rate, and then at that point we raised a larger round of $3.3m from venture capitalists.”
Ms Ghatrora is under no illusions about how hard it was to make these significant financial steps. Only around 2% of venture capital goes to women, and even less than that is offered to women of color.
“I think we are very fortunate to have raised the money that we did,” she says. “I think what made it easier is relationship building. Obviously having traction and a growing and healthy business is first and foremost, and you need to have that, but sometimes you can have a great business and still not be able to raise money. That happens a lot.”
Blume was in a great position as a rapidly growing business, but Ms Ghatrora knows that business owners need to be able to pitch a business in a way that makes sense in the venture world and for it to make sense to raise venture in the first place.
“We built relationships over at least two and a half years, some of them longer, of folks that got to really watch our progress. We would ask them for help when we needed it, without even considering what we’d raise from them in the future, in all honesty.”
Raising money in this way is a rigorous process. It involves a lot of work on refining the message, knowing the businesses numbers inside and out, the overall vison and the finer detail, and more than anything else it takes time.
“[It’s about] running a real process when you’re fundraising, and not just partially fundraising off the side of your desk, but actually doing it full time for a set period of time and making it very clear when your fundraise closes and how much you’re raising and where that’s going to get you. As simple as that is, not everybody runs their process that way.”
One of the most important factors in successful venture funding is finding that difficult balance between actively fundraising and making sure that the business is running smoothly at the same time.
“We started to prepare for our fundraise in December, and made sure that everything was completed, ready and prepared as much as we could. We were on a good gross trajectory, which was nice, and I’m really lucky to have a wonderful co-founder who’s able to hold down the fort.”
Despite being based in Vancouver, Blume does 90% of its business in the United States. Ms Ghatrora explains that there are a number of key reasons why this discrepancy is so large, and that it is by no means by design.
“We definitely spend as much attention on Canada and the US, but there’s just more density in the States. That’s one thing, there’s just more people, and also shipping is a lot more convenient, and the infrastructure for shipping is more affordable and quicker.”
All of these efforts have ensured the company is in an extremely healthy position. Sales are mostly direct-to-consumer, but the company has also branched out to working with major retail brands such as Anthropolgie and Urban Outfitters.
“We’re growing very quickly,” Ms Ghatrora says, “and we’re really focused on building the community and brand. Over the next twelve months or so we’ll be growing our team, we’ll be creating a lot of educational content – it’s really just the beginning for us to become the brand that girls grow up with.”
Find out more about Blume by visiting www.meetblume.com.