Startup Street: Inside Pee Safe’s Fight Against Coronavirus

Here’s what went on this week on startup street.

A traveler uses hand sanitiser at an airport. (Photographer: Wei Leng Tay/Bloomberg) 
A traveler uses hand sanitiser at an airport. (Photographer: Wei Leng Tay/Bloomberg) 

This week on Startup Street, we have the story of what the last month has been like for a sanitiser-making startup in India. Industry body Nasscomm has a list of suggestions and requests for the Government of India as startups struggle to survive the 21-day lockdown. StartupBlink, a research and analysis service provider, is trying to build a map for all innovations and startups that will solve woes for a consumer during the pandemic. Here’s what went on.

How Business Evolved Within A Month For A Sanitiser-Making Startup

India saw its first official case of Covid-19 on January 30. In a little over a month, the number of cases—still in single digits—were now rising every day or so. India was catching up to the reality of the soon-to-be declared pandemic.

By the morning of March 3, Pee Safe—a startup brand under Redcliffe Hygine Pvt. Ltd.—had received 40,000 orders on its website within a matter of 36 hours. Another 50,000 orders poured in from Amazon.

“We didn’t have enough people, we had to shut down the website. Everyone from the receptionist to product designers were in the warehouse, helping with packaging,” Vikas Bagaria, founder of Pee safe, told BloombergQuint over a phone call. The startup had to hire another 60 daily wage labourers to complete the shipment. Even then, they had to cancel nearly 50 percent of the orders from Amazon. “ It’s not that we didn’t have enough stock, we simply didn’t have the bandwidth,” he said.

Pee Safe next opened its digital doors on the morning of March 12 to see 500 orders within the first hour. That’s a company that sold 5,000-6,000 units per month before the respiratory illness hit India.

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Bagaria’s account is in line with what the country saw this month. growing concerns around the rising number of cases in an over-crowded country led to panic buying of sanitisers and handwash soaps. On March 13, the government declared sanitisers as essential products. It also directed hotels, airports and shops selling essential goods and services to keep sanitisers for customers to use.

Sale of sanitisers through neighborhood stores jumped 144 percent from mid February to mid March in the country, according to Nielsen India. That’s twice the pace of growth in the previous year. Through e-commerce, average number of orders in a week surged 15 times over February in March.

By now, people had started using Pee Safe toilet seat prays on everything from shoes to furniture. It also advanced the launch of its hand sanitiser RahoSafe.

To ensure sufficient supply, a number of sugar makers and distilleries started manufacturing sanitisers. At the same time, substandard sanitisers were being seized by the police across the country. On March 21, the government capped the maximum retail price for a 200 ml bottle at Rs 100 till June 30.

India’s largest FMCG producers lowered their prices to comply with the government’s directions. Pee Safe, which earlier sold a 60 ml bottle of RahoSafe for Rs 99, was now selling the same bottle at Rs 30—a few bucks over the making price.

Drugs Pricing Body Urges State Regulators To Ensure Masks, Sanitisers Not Sold Above MRP

“We were penalised because of the substandard manufacturers. The government should have stopped companies who did not have any manufacturing history or licensing,” Bagaria said. “But we are happy that sugar companies stepped in and respect whatever the government had to do at such times.”

A day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nation-wide 21-day lockdown, Pee Safe stopped selling its products through its website and other distribution channels. Instead it started supplying free bottles to the Gurugram police department and tied up with civil and private hospitals. “We had shut down the warehouse and people started working from home until the police gave us the pass. I have been working outside the house for most hours of the day since,”Bagaria said.

The Future Is Sanitised

Vikas expects the personal hygiene sector to see a surge in investments.

“On a scale of one to 10, if we were selling at one before, we are now selling at 10,” he said. “Even when things settle down, we should be at five or six at least.”

Pee Safe recently received Rs 30 crore series A investment in a round led by Alkemie Growth Capital. The startup which had already started expanding—hiring 25 permanent employees between January and March 2—will expand more aggressively now. “We are opening another warehouse in South India,” he said. “We plan to grow rapidly.”

The startup hopes to bag another round of funding in the second quarter of financial year 2020-21 to fund these expansions.

Nasscom Urges Government To Defer Tax Payment, Return Filing For Startups, MSMEs

Industry body Nasscom has urged the government to suspend all deadlines, including for tax payment and return filing, until four weeks after lifting of the lockdown to provide relief to startups and SMEs.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has caused high stress on startups, putting their continuity at risk. They are looking to government to provide support and relief...” Nasscom said in a statement.

The industry body said startups are facing severe time loss and project delays due to the prevailing circumstances that has put financial pressure on them. “We request that the government consider rental subsidy for workspaces used by startups which are regulated/owned/managed by government agencies,” it said.

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The body also requested for a “blanket suspension of all deadlines including tax payment deadlines and filing deadlines until at least four weeks post lifting of all city lockdown”.

These include relaxation of deadlines to file Foreign Inward Remittance Certificate, option to avail overdraft facility/interest free and equity convertible funding, waiver of fines/penalties for offence violations related to procedural matters, extension of due date for payment of advance tax, and waiver of restrictions for claiming an expense as a deduction under Section 40 of the IT Act.

Nasscom also sought deferral of interest payment deadlines and relaxation of loan interest payments. Besides, it suggested that governments and PSUs be encouraged to procure Make-in-India software products, and incentives/sops for consumption of indigenous products.

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For MSMEs, Nasscom said interest and penalties should be waived for delayed payments of TDS and GST due for the month of March, April and May 2020 if such payment is made by June 30, 2020.

StartupBlink’s Covid-19 Innovation Map

StartupBlink, a research centre for the global startup ecosystem which provides public sector startup ecosystem developers with mapping, analysis and promotion modules, is building a coronavirus innovation map.

The map aims to show innovations and solutions across the world that help people cope and adapt to life amid the coronavirus, and to connect innovators.

“We want you to be to use this platform in quick and easy steps, so, all you have to do is type in your location (City and/or Country), and choose the appropriate category wherein you would like to find a solution,” the website reads. The categories include prevention, diagnosis, treatment, information and life and business adaptation.

Startup Street: Inside Pee Safe’s Fight Against Coronavirus