[Update, 26 Jul 2017] Yesterday, they’ve started stocking their products at Watsons, one of the most prominent personal care stores in Singapore. PSLove has also launched 2 new products – BackHeat and NeckHeat – for back and neck pains respectively.
PSLove isn’t a new kid on the startup block.
In fact, we’ve done a feature on them way back in 2014, when they were a new startup launching a monthly subscription box service to help ladies get through ‘that time of the month’ with as little fuss as possible.
The care package sent over to subscribers included healthy snacks, tea, masks, and heat packs – basically everything a girl might need in that week of agony.
However, their name reappeared on our radars recently, when they announced at the start of the month that a product of theirs, MenstruHeat, was now available at 300 7-Eleven outlets around Singapore, on top of the 90 Guardian outlets, and over 80 independent stores that it was already stocked in.
A quick check on the ‘About’ section of their website revealed that they now have 2 core products – MenstruHeat, a heat pack for cramps, and MenstruTrack, a period-tracking app which also includes interesting articles on feminine health.
Not in sight, though, was the subscription box service we knew them for.
In a bid to satiate our curiosity, we caught up with Peck Ying, co-founder of PSLove, who kindly brought us through the startup’s fast-paced journey of growth and strategic pivots.
From Solving A Personal Inconvenience To A Startup Opportunity
As an undergraduate in the National University of Singapore (NUS), Peck Ying was in the university’s NUS Overseas College programme, which sends selected entrepreneurial students overseas for exchange and internship programmes with established startups.
Given that the programme boasts notable alumni-created startups – some of which include 99.c0, MoneySmart, Carousell, Honestbee and Hipvan, Peck Ying revealed she was then “incepted with the concept that small companies can make a huge impact in society”.
Her love and interest in startups didn’t falter even after graduation, and she worked as a full-time staff at an incubator for 3 years, before deciding to embark on her own entrepreneurial journey in 2014 with PSLove.
Admitting that the startup was founded on her urge to “scratch [her] own itch of having to make urgent trips to the stores to pick up sanitary napkins”, she saw the business potential in what simply started from a personal grouse.
“I conceptualised a future where we no longer have to go through the mundane tasks of picking up regular supplies, but instead, have them auto-delivered on a monthly basis.”
Alongside her partner, Leb, Peck Ying then began going through the possible models that PSLove could be built upon.
“We saw 2 types of ‘subscription boxes’ in the market. The more common one being a discovery and sampling model, where customers look towards trying out new products every month, versus a utility subscription model, which was what we were modelled after.”
Citing the example of California-based service Dollar Shave Club, which sends razors and personal grooming necessities monthly to its subscribers, PSLove was thus poised to be the female-centric version of such necessity-based boxes.
The First Bumps On The Road
However, like many startups, the duo soon met with challenges which proved difficult to solve.
“Despite us being a utility subscription, many saw us as a discovery box instead (there happened to be much hype on subscription boxes then). As such, it demanded a lot of resources to educate the market on our value proposition. And because these products can be widely found in stores, there wasn’t a strong enough reason for individuals to change their habits.”
The other bump was operational, with the team realising that logistics was starting to pose a huge challenge to them due to their need to customise every order that came in.
“[We realised that we would] eventually have difficulties scaling.”
Having tested the subscription box model for 6 months and realising its crippling setbacks, the team still didn’t back down, as they had a trick up their sleeves – an active community of women that they had nurtured alongside the startup.
“We built up a community of women talking about period topics and one common recurring topic was menstrual cramps.”
And this was when the next big idea struck them.
Pivoting To Address A Market Gap
Realising that almost half of the women in their focus group were suffering from menstrual cramps, but also preferred to steer away from consuming painkillers on a regular basis, a gaping hole in the market was found – the lack of natural pain relief options.
“I saw a market gap and felt compelled to develop a convenient and natural product to ease menstrual pain.”
Inspired by heat packs many use during cold winters, the team adapted its heating mechanism and developed their new offering – MenstruHeat.
“What we did differently was that we deep-dived into formulating the ingredients so that MenstruHeat is able to produce the right amount of heat quickly, gradually, and consistently over 12 hours long. It took us about 6 iterations to get there!”
Their period-tracking app, MenstruTrack, was also launched as “a natural extension”, and she plans to eventually “link [their] product offerings with the app so that females can have a one-stop solution to their period needs”.
Steep Learning Curves And Marketing Woes
Not having any experience in manufacturing, Peck Ying revealed that the learning curve was “really steep”.
“We’ve probably made all the mistakes one can make when it comes to manufacturing; not enough homework done on our manufacturing partners, not having stricter QC controls at the start, and not understanding the process enough to guide our partners.”
“As a result, we had a high manufacturing defect rate which was very costly.”
Another issue was finding an effective manner to push their product out to intended users.
“We started with online sales at the beginning, but we had limited reach. [But] we soon realised that, for our product in particular, consumers prefer to buy it off-the-shelf when needed.”
Finding their new marketing direction, they then started to explore offline options – brick-and-mortar retail shops. They also went to multiple roadshows and bazaars to create hype and awareness for their product.
Peck Ying admits, however, that “till date, word-of-mouth is still [their] greatest marketing channel”.
Going Into Retail, And The Corresponding Challenges Faced
In taking the brick-and-mortar route, the team soon met with a roadblock once again – convincing stores to take up their product.
“Being optimistic and naive, we thought that if we had a good product, retailers would jump in immediately and be willing to place our product onto their shelves. But we were so wrong.”
Not just that, they were also met with retailers that did not want to take a leap of faith with their product, which was relatively new in the market.
“We were faced with much scepticism and doubt – the chain-retailers needed a sense of the product demand, which we could not produce at the start. We also didn’t have the marketing muscle, financially, like other big brands to convince retailers that we can drive meaningful sales.”
“The truth is, most new products do not survive past their first 3 months on shelves.”
Still not wanting to give up, they resorted to knocking on the doors of smaller independent stores to convince them to display their product.
After much perseverance in the face of cold rejections, they eventually got their first retail partner, personal care retail chain Guardian, and started building up from there.
The Big Break With Retail Giants Guardian And 7-Eleven
Their partnership with Guardian was sealed after the chain observed how MenstruHeat not only survived the rough retail scene, but even gained good sales traction in other stores.
However, they realised that while the link-up was a “major milestone”, they were still not meeting the needs of all consumers in the market.
“We felt that we were not entirely accessible to females in pain because for some time now, we had been receiving many urgent enquiries at night from concerned boyfriends and husbands frantically looking for MenstruHeat, [so] we knew that we had to provide a 24/7 alternative.”
Fortunately for them, convenience store chain 7-Eleven was also enquiring about, and expressing their interest in MenstruHeat during that period, and have since launched the product in 300 7-Eleven outlets islandwide.
PSLove Now, And In The Future
Albeit being stocked in an impressive 500 retail outlets currently, Peck Ying reveals that they’re working to launch a new and improved version of the heat pack early next year, with better ergonomics, adhesive qualities, and temperature range.
Alongside working on their two main products, they also have 5 girls on their team who have been working tirelessly to grow their online community by sharing their thoughts and insights about female topics on PSLove’s blog.
Not satisfied with staying within the local market, Peck Ying also excitedly reveals plans to expand their distribution to within Southeast Asia.
“We haven’t come across a local FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) brand in recent times that has made its mark outside Singapore in a big way, and we really want to challenge that status quo.”
“Plus, we do get many enquiries from all over the world, asking if our product is available in their country, so we feel it is the right time that MenstruHeat starts to help females beyond the shores of Singapore!”
Currently, the team has already started sourcing for suitable partnerships in regions like Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Vietnam.
When asked about their eventual goals for the brand, she revealed:
“We have the vision to grow MenstruHeat into a mass-market, evergreen brand that females can relate to when they suffer from period cramps. More importantly, we also hope that with MenstruHeat, females no longer need to struggle through their periods and feel secure that there is a product out there which they can rely on.”
Peck Ying and the team at PSLove have definitely taken the expansion route less trodden, but did it work?