At the start of this year, a David versus Goliath battle took place for the franchisee rights of Mothercare, the UK-headquartered baby and maternity chain. On one side was India’s largest conglomerate, Reliance Industries. In the opposite corner stood FirstCry, the baby care and children’s product retailer.
Reliance’s victory wasn’t surprising in the least. FirstCry’s involvement absolutely was. Historically, the Pune-based company has chosen the road less travelled in e-commerce. Even as others in the e-commerce game prioritised growth at all costs, FirstCry took things slow and steady. “Frugality is a part of our business,” says Supam Maheshwari, the company’s co-founder and CEO, matter-of-factly.
So FirstCry stayed out of the limelight, building the baby and kids category brick by brick, working towards profitability. Indeed, in the year ended March 2018, the company’s losses narrowed by a massive 86%— to Rs 55 crore ($7.71 million), down from Rs 393 crore ($55.2 million) in the previous fiscal. Its revenues in the same period grew 48% to Rs 355 crore ($49.7 million).
But after ten years spent taking baby steps forward, the bid for the Mothercare rights was emblematic of a startup that believes it has come of age. There is a spring in FirstCry’s step—one that coincides with the backing of the granddaddy of VC firms, SoftBank. In January, the Japanese behemoth invested $400 million for a 42% stake in the company, making FirstCry among its largest bets in India. The round valued the baby and kids retailer at $850 million, a significant mark-up from its previous round in 2016 where it was valued at $350 million.
SoftBank understands the potential. With over 25 million children born in India annually, the opportunity is huge. According to publicly available reports, the potential across products and services in the mother and childcare space in India is estimated to be worth $74 billion by 2020. Naiyya Saggi, founder of pregnancy and parenting platform Babychakra, says less than 2% of the market is organised. FirstCry is looking to both grow and corner this market.
“When it comes to kids, everybody wants the best and nothing less. Today, if you look around, disposable incomes have gone up. The percentage of working women has increased, and a lot of purchasing decisions today are being taken by women. This gels perfectly with kids retail, where purchase drivers are mostly working moms,” says Abhishek Singhal, founder and CEO of Inroadz, a B2B marketplace connecting global brands in the baby and kids space to distributors.
Opportunity and execution, however, are far removed in this space. Over the years, many have struggled. Some—like Accel Partners-funded Babyoye—have given up the ghost altogether. Against this backdrop, FirstCry has built a solid omni-channel retail platform, creating a brand that resonates with the new generation of Indian mothers.