Building the Value of Good
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After spending three decades in and around this space, I can safely say that there's no better time to build a consumer brand in India. Just look around and you will see a new breed of brands – built for, by, and of a completely new generation of entrepreneurs.
These entrepreneurs are creating for consumers just like themselves – They are always "on.'' They have extremely high expectations. They are responsible citizens of the world. They are very responsive. And much more.
The pandemic has accelerated several trends like digital consumption, health and wellness, remote working, and at-home experiences. The result is a degree of consumer focus and community-building that we have never seen before from popular brands.
The all-pervasiveness of digital has been critical for the creation of these brands, but in the Indian context, D2C is often a misnomer. Most of these new and emerging consumer brands are digital-first, but employ an omnichannel approach – they meet their consumers where they are.
At Fireside, we often talk about the Value of Good, because today's brands are purpose-driven at the core. Responsible Consumption and Production is one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – it also describes to a T what today's entrepreneurs are aiming to achieve, either through ethical sourcing, or clean label, or minimal packaging, or the use of new materials.
Look at Allbirds – it's a registered B Corp, legally required to consider the impact of their products on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. Or Patagonia, which has been using Black Friday as a rallying point to reduce mindless consumption, and raises funds for grassroots non-profits working to protect the environment.
Closer home, Shumee has been making innovative learning toys from natural wood – miles away from toxic paint, plastic, or batteries. Brands ranging from Mamaearth to NoNasties have been planting a tree for every order they ship. Vahdam Teas has been working to educate the children of workers on tea estates. Raw Pressery has been recycling – RAWcycling – their plastic bottles to create T-shirts. The Plated Project has been feeding 50 children for every art-printed plate it sells. Just the other day, I read about Air-Ink, which converts carbon soot from auto and factory emissions, and converts it into high-quality printing ink.
The UN says that by 2050, we will need the equivalent of almost three planets to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles. Today's brands are keenly respectful of our natural resources.
There are many other ways in which this new generation of brands do things differently, and diversity is a case in point. About half of our own portfolio companies have women founders or co-founders, and a much larger number have women as part of their core teams.
The more you see of new consumer brands and their creators, the more you realize that we are right in the middle of a very exciting landscape where meaningful brands will thrive and flourish. You could call it a win-win-win – for consumers and investors, of course, but also for society at large.
(The author is Managing Partner, Fireside Ventures)