On this podcast, we talk about the story of SoaPen winning the UNICEF competition, why Amanat was apprehensive at first when Shark Tank approached them, having traction before the pandemic, and so much more!
Amanat Anand grew up in New Delhi, India and met her co-founder while pursuing her undergraduate degrees in Industrial Design at the Parsons School of Design in New York.
After graduating, they entered the concept of SoaPen to the UNICEF Wearables for Good Challenge.
SoaPen teaches kid's personal hygiene habits through their fun and innovative products.
She has been featured on Shark Tank and is a listmaker on the Forbes 30 under 30 list.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
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I think we were number two on Amazon altogether. So aside from being short on Shark Tank, but also being on Amazon and getting all that traffic or listening, or just it was, it was really backed up.
Welcome to Honest Ecommerce, a podcast dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. And I believe running a direct-to-consumer brand does not have to be complicated or a guessing game.
On this podcast, we interview founders and experts who are putting in the work and creating real results.
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Let's get on with the show.
Hey everybody, welcome back to another episode of Honest Ecommerce. Today, I'm welcoming to the show, Amanat. She is the CEO and founder of SoaPen.
They're doing crazy awesome stuff over there. It's a personal care brand that makes teaching hygiene habits fun and educational for kids. Welcome to the show.
Thank you, Chase. Excited to be here.
Awesome. Cool. So I know when I was little I wanted to grow up and sell other kids soap. So where did this idea come from?
(laughs) So I grew up in India, as did my co-founder Shubham. and we moved to the US in 2011, for undergrad at Parsons where we both studied industrial design.
And pretty shortly after we graduated, we found a UNICEF competition online that said crazy statistics about infant mortality and how just those rates can be prevented or reduced by washing your hands with soap.
So we were like, "That's crazy." We grew up in India. So firsthand experience of seeing hygiene not being the most important or being well implemented.
But with our design backgrounds, we just wanted to come at it from a fun perspective and thinking like "Okay, what do kids do the most? Arts and crafts."
And so [we] submitted to a simple design competition with a drawing on a piece of paper and then progressed to the next round with that.
And then as that process of that particular competition kept going through, we ultimately ended up winning it and trying a lot of prototypes in classrooms with kids and seeing that it was really sticking.
So that was the impetus of the idea.
All right. So this is like.. . There is a video component to this for all the people that are watching on YouTube. Thank you. But it's more of an audio podcast.
Explain the product. It is so cool.
Please, everyone go to the website and watch the video. I know for a fact that my nephews will love this.
So explain what it was that you came up with?
Yeah, so very simple. It's just a soap in a pen. So think like a crayon that you can draw with on your hands.
You mark the fingers of your hands, the back of your hands, the palm, and then because you're gonna be spending longer than just pumping a little dollop of soap on your hands, you're going to...
Your kid or you are going to wash your hands for 20 to 40 seconds which with COVID We all know the importance of.
So yeah, it teaches you how to properly wash your hands for 20 to 40 seconds while you can make a cute drawing or try out different colors and scents.
Absolutely. I know some adults that will definitely...
...benefit from this product as well.
Yeah. Our Tiktok community… [On] our TikTok, we get a lot of comments that are like "We need this in all men's bathrooms."
I agree with that.
Oh no, it's such a cool product. Alright, so you guys come up with this idea and you win this design competition, now what? What do you do?
Yeah, so I think it was like... We were both immigrants. So at that moment itself, I was like, "Are we even allowed to have a company in the States?"
That was I think the biggest first question mark, which I think gives you a reference of our state of mind with just how shocked we were that we won the competition.
And we're like, "Oh, now we incorporate a company?" So we don't doubt we are able to. And then figuring out the visas for that was a whole separate process.
But we had $15,000 in prize money from the competition and our backgrounds are in design so we knew we were able to do a lot of the packaging work ourselves. And figuring out the supply chain, that stuff we felt comfortable with.
Figuring out the formulation and who to partner with are probably the biggest challenges, especially because it's a smaller package. And most soaps and such that you'll see are in like much bigger components.
And so that was, I think, our biggest challenge as our next step. So we first were like, "Okay, maybe we can try manufacturing this in India. Maybe we'll try in the US..."
And just spoke to everyone that we possibly could. It ended up being that our accountant for our first year referenced us to another CPG company in the US and, the founder of another CPG company, he was really kind and gave us pro bono help on figuring out the formulation for the first batch.
And that was the journey, the starting journey. But there's been so many iterations and trial and error on that side of things
Absolutely. Coming out with products such as this is definitely a lot of trial and error.
Once you got to something that you were comfortable with taking to market, how did you get the word out about this? What were the first strategies to get people to buy this?
Yeah, I think we honestly didn't... We weren't the best at that. I think it was just like, "Oh my god, we finally figured the product out. What do we do now?" And didn't [really have] much of a budget. But I think we had a...
We had a mentor who recommended that we start selling on Amazon instead of just our own website, given the product price point. So we sell it in a pack of 3 at $17.99.
And just with shipping costs and the cost of advertising, we knew that we wouldn't really be able to figure out the numbers on our website.
So from day one, we had an Amazon listing. And we... For the first 3 or 4 months, it was pretty slow on sales. But because we had gotten a decent amount of press by winning that UNICEF competition, we started getting a little bit of organic press.
So we had a print feature with Real Simple magazine. It was a really small gift... [It was] included in a gift guide of some sort. And as soon as that came out in print, which was maybe 3 months after we launched the original version, we sold out of our entire inventory.
So we had 5000 units in hand and immediately sold out. So that was I think our first time that we got the product in customers hands.
It was that realization [where] you're like, "Okay, I think we're actually onto something here."
Yeah, exactly. I think at that point, we were still like, "Okay, it's a cool competition that we won." And it was nice to get that validation. But we never really had the product in the customer's hands. So we were still a little wary.
And I think we were also just really worried about time and resources because figuring out the packaging and the production side of it, we knew like to keep refining it is going to keep taking time and resources.
So we reached a point where at that stage, we'd figured out that formula pro bono, and we used an off-the-shelf component on packaging. So it was not the greatest first version, but it was still a good first product to have.
So that was also just something we were keeping in mind.
And so what year is this?
So this was in 2019. So it was like the year before the pandemic. And in January of that year, we did another small run of 1000 units. And we listed the product on Faire, which is like an online marketplace for wholesale to boutique stores.
And then Faire in January, we started getting, again, a lot of attention which was surprising to us and we didn't really know where it was coming from.
But it was smart retailers, smart boutique stores, seeing what was happening with the pandemic and other parts of the world and just pre-stocking up on soap, which should have been a better indication of "We should have taken that as a hit to prepare better on inventory."
But at that time, we were still like "Okay, this is a... We're still in a very early testing phase." And so 2020 hit and we were like "Okay, there's clearly a lot of demand for this product and we need to make improvements.
Not the best time to do that especially in terms of the global supply chain realm but we knew it was like a "now or never" moment. So we then took...
[We] went a little bit back to the drawing board, designed a custom rollerball applicator, we had to open up a mold for the packaging for a better application, changed the after formula to improve the vibrancy, the lather, those types of things.
And then again, we launched on Amazon in the beginning of 2021. And a few months after maybe like 3 months, after we filmed for Shark Tank. So that was also just crazy. It was...
It's been a lot of "Not [being] prepared [but] just keep moving forward" has been our journey.
We're absolutely going to get Shark Tank. Now, this is... All this is happening. Are you guys... Are you and your partner still in school?
No, no, no, we're not. We're not in school. We both had backgrounds in design. So we're working for furniture companies and doing like freelance gigs to get them to keep the lights on
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You are doing these initial runs iterating on the product, selling out, you're getting some validation here. And the 2 channels that you're really focused on are Amazon and wholesale.
Yes. And so yeah. Wholesale only specifically with Faire, nothing larger than that.
Gotcha. And so how does Shark Tank come into play?
Yeah, so that was, I think, just a total shock. And I was mortified to even try to do that. And we had... We just relaunched the product and we had 30 reviews on our Amazon listing.
So I was really happy. Nerves aside, I was apprehensive as to how it would all play out. Because we, again, still didn't have that much feedback on the new version.
But I think when Shark Tank comes around and you're a CPG brand, you're just like, "It's now or never. I'm not gonna say no to this and just go forward with that." And so one of the producers scouted us for it. I think it was a year prior to that.
But at that moment, we didn't accept the visa we were on. And then in a year, they changed their policy. And they came back to us and we're like, "Oh, you guys are still working on this and interested in us?"
Obviously, we're like over the moon. But that process of even getting on to the show, there's quite a lot of work that goes behind that.
Absolutely. We've had a few guests on the show that have been on Shark Tank. I don't want to repeat too much about the process. But is there anything that really stood out to you that you didn't expect about the whole Shark Tank process?
Anything that stood out? Not... I don't think so. I think it was pretty cookie cutter in terms of the process. Yeah. Nothing special happened to us. I think what was different...
I think probably if anyone watches our episode it is that --and this is a spoiler-- is that we get all nos in the beginning.
And then one of the sharks changes their mind and then comes back to us. And on TV that process looks very seamless, but it wasn't in reality. There were a lot more nerves involved.
Absolutely. Yeah. I've heard they condensed it down to 15 minutes, but you're in there for hours.
Yeah. And I was watching this new season and I saw the first episode was live. And I'm really thankful that we didn't have to go down that route. (laughs)
Yeah, that sounds stressful. So something that people have mentioned before is there's like a bit of a Shark Tank bump from sales.
Yes. Yeah. Yeah, that was huge for us. I think it definitely, again, really helped that we were selling on Amazon that weekend. I think we were number 2 on Amazon altogether.
So aside from being on Shark Tank, but also being on Amazon and getting all that traffic, our listing, it was really pumped up.
And I think that it's not just the one time that you were [benefitting from that.] It's all the re-airs. Even now we just had a re-air earlier this month so we're still seeing a lot of benefits from that.
Absolutely. Yeah, it's amazing. So what's changed since Shark Tank?
So finally, the new version of the product, we sold like 60,000 units of them at this point and had so much amazing customer feedback on it. But now we're focusing on expanding the product pipeline. I think that's our next big goal.
So we spent a lot of last year in R&D for new products. On our website, we've started doing a little bit more bundles.
We know that our customer is buying SoaPens a lot in between that 2 to 3 year old age range, which is also the same time that they're potty training.
So they might learn how to wash their hands at the same time as they're learning how to go to the bathroom.
So we've started doing book bundles with potty training, potty training stories on our site. So doing a little bit of that.
I would say that's probably just getting a crazy amount of sales and visibility to us ,to the brand and building the pipeline is what has changed.
Absolutely. I can't thank you enough for coming on. Was there anything I didn't ask you about that you wanted to share with our audience?
No, I don't think so.
Alright, so let's tell everyone, where do I go if I want to pick this up? What is your favorite place to send people?
Yeah, our Amazon but also our website, which is www.soapen.com. And we also have a 20% coupon for any of your listeners with the code HONEST20.
Awesome. Yeah. And it's SoaPen with one P. It sounds like two but it's only one.
Yes, it's one P.
And it will be in the show notes. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Thank you, Chase. Have a good one.
We can't thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their knowledge and journey with us. We've got a lot to think about and potentially add into our own business. You can find all the links in the show notes.
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