CITTA Chronicles: The Sharma's Journey in Revolutionizing Baby Skincare with Tradition and Science

CITTA Chronicles: The Sharma's Journey in Revolutionizing Baby Skincare with Tradition and Science
Monisha, Akanksha and Tanay Sharma - Co-founders of CITTA
StartupTalky presents Recap'23, a series of in-depth interviews where we engage with founders and industry leaders to explore their growth in 2023 and their predictions for the future.

The Baby Care and skincare industry is dedicated to gentle infant products, emphasizing safety and hypoallergenic formulations. Brands increasingly focus on eco-friendly and organic options to meet the demand for sustainable choices. Safety certifications and dermatologist recommendations play a key role in building trust.

The 'Baby & Child' segment in beauty & personal care is projected to grow by $1 billion (+22.36%) from 2023 to 2028, with a CAGR of 11.75%. After eight consecutive years of growth, the indicator is estimated to reach $5.7 billion in 2028, marking a new peak.

In a recent Recap'23 interview, we at StartupTalky had the privilege of connecting with Monisha, Akanksha, and Tanay Sharma, Co-founders of CITTA; exploring how CITTA maneuvers within the baby care and skincare industry, we delved into their strategies, gaining insights into the distinctive operations of the brand in this sector.

StartupTalky: What products does CITTA sell? What was the motivation/ vision with which you started?

Tanay Sharma: We at CITTA sell baby bath and skincare products for babies, kids, and adults. When Akanksha was studying in the U.S, my mom and grandma used to call and check up on her regularly, like most Indian moms, and offer their advice in the form of ‘nuskhe’ — drink turmeric milk before you sleep for healthy skin, use rosewater when you’re out in the sun, oil your hair with coconut oil before you wash them!

Similarly, when I was studying in Toronto, my parents, Akanksha, and everyone used to call me whether I had eaten well or not or whether I was taking care of myself, my health, or my skin. This was their way of caring for me even though we were a thousand miles apart. These ‘nuskhe’ are based on Indian traditions and ingredients that we Indians have been using for thousands of years; it is time-tested wisdom that works!

I wanted everyone to experience this love and care that I was fortunate enough to experience. Also, around the same time, a famous baby care brand came under fire for using unsafe ingredients in their baby powder. It was a big deal. I knew so many friends and family back in India who were loyal to that brand and were using this product for their babies! This incident gave my mom, Akanksha, and me the final push to create a safer brand for babies, and that is how we started CITTA.

With CITTA, we aimed to create products rooted in Indian traditions but backed by science in terms of safety and efficacy. As a parent, you take advice from friends, family, experts, and doctors — and only then make any decision for your baby, especially about their health. We wanted CITTA to be the convenient option that parents could completely rely on for their child’s skin health. We are bridging the gap between tradition and science to give parents the best of both worlds. At CITTA, we want to uphold the true values of our brand while constantly evolving toward a global market and a diverse audience base.

StartupTalky: What other products/features have been added in the past year? What is/are the USP/s of CITTA's products?

Akanksha Sharma: Recently, CITTA has undergone a remarkable transformation, introducing several exciting products and features that embody our commitment to providing the best care for your little ones. We have made ourselves more colourful and cuter. In response to the prevailing trend of monotone and single-colour packaging in the industry, we decided to break the mould.

We understand that childhood is synonymous with colours, so we infused pastel hues into our product labels to evoke the spirit of those cherished memories. Our unique approach stands out on the shelves and resonates with parents who appreciate the nostalgia associated with childhood colours.

We have launched our all-new Diaper Rash Cream. Crafted with natural ingredients and emollients, this cream goes beyond traditional rash treatment. Infused with the goodness of chamomile, sunflower, soybean, and zinc oxide, it not only addresses diaper rash issues but also prevents other rashes and nourishes and moisturizes the skin. We believe in the power of nature to provide gentle yet effective solutions for your baby's skincare needs.

We have introduced our “MINIS” as well. In response to the valuable feedback from our customers, we have introduced our "minis" collection. These compact, travel-friendly versions of our popular products cater to the needs of parents who are always on the move. Whether it's a weekend getaway or a quick errand, our minis ensure that your baby's skin receives the same level of care and attention wherever you go.

At CITTA, our USPs lie in our unwavering commitment to thoughtful and effective skincare for babies and kids. Our entire product range is meticulously crafted with natural ingredients, harnessing the power of nature to care for your baby's skin. We are proud to be free from toxins, harsh chemicals, parabens, sulphates, silicones, talc, mineral oils, allergens, petroleum jelly, and other potential irritants. This ensures that our products are not only safe but also gentle on your baby's sensitive skin.

Our product range includes Moisturizing Baby Balm, India’s first moisturizer for the face and body with a balmy consistency that has the goodness of 8 natural oils, shea butter, and vitamin E and has no water to provide maximum moisturization while preventing rashes. Our talc-free baby powder is crafted with the natural alternative of talc such as corn, oats, and kaolin that keeps your baby’s skin smooth and soft, reduces friction, and prevent rashes while keeping it healthy. Our Foaming baby wash and foaming baby shampoo has a soap-free and tear-free formulation and is made with natural ingredients so that it cleans gently and keeps skin and scalp hydrating even after a bath. Our 12-in-1 Nourishing Baby Massage Oil has the goodness of 12 different oils to provide 12X nourishment and 12X Benefits.

StartupTalky: How has the baby care and skin care industry changed in recent years, and how has CITTA adapted to these changes?

Tanay Sharma: The baby care industry in India has witnessed a remarkable surge in demand for safe baby skincare products in recent years, leading to a significant rise in the presence and growth of homegrown and Indian brands catering to this sector. Several factors have contributed to this upward trend, including increased awareness among parents about the importance of using safe and natural products for their babies and a shift towards healthier and more sustainable lifestyles. Indian brands offer customized solutions by developing safe and effective skincare products for newborns, toddlers, and kids, leveraging the understanding of local preferences, cultural nuances, and traditional remedies.

Moreover, Indian markets are known for their access to high-quality raw materials. India has long been known for its rich reserves of natural resources, and this extends to the ingredients used in baby care products. Indian baby care brands have invested in research and development to understand the unique requirements of Indian babies, considering factors such as climate, skin type, and prevalent skin issues and sourcing locally available ingredients that are suitable for Indian skin.

Brands often utilize traditional ingredients known for their nourishing and healing properties, which resonate well with Indian consumers. For example, coconut oil, which is easily available in South India, is known to be beneficial for the skin and is well-suited for the region's climate. Similarly, almond oil, which is readily available in North India, is known for its nourishing properties. Other traditional ingredients like turmeric oil, ashwagandha oil, brahmi oil, basil oil, and camphor oil are also beneficial for the skin and are culturally familiar to Indian consumers.

Indian and homegrown brands are putting a strong emphasis on natural and traditional ingredients, avoiding parabens, sulfates, silicones, strong fragrances, and potentially harmful chemicals. This commitment to safety and quality has helped build trust among parents who prioritize the well-being of their babies.

At CITTA, we already have placed a renewed focus on innovation and differentiation. Our commitment to research and development has allowed us to introduce cutting-edge products that address specific concerns faced by parents today. Whether it's developing eco-friendly packaging, incorporating advanced technologies into our products, or introducing unique formulations, we strive to set ourselves apart in a crowded market.

We have invested heavily in sustainable practices, ensuring that our entire supply chain is environmentally responsible. From sourcing raw materials ethically to minimizing our carbon footprint, our commitment to sustainability is not just a market trend but a fundamental aspect of our business philosophy. This approach not only meets the demands of conscious consumers but also positions us as a responsible and forward-thinking player in the industry.

By staying true to our values and consistently evolving with the industry landscape, we are confident in our ability to not only navigate these changes successfully but also contribute positively to the evolving narrative of the baby care sector.

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Akanksha Sharma: At CITTA, our commitment to excellence extends far beyond being a skincare brand for babies and kids; we strive to be a comprehensive and thoughtful solution for parents navigating the journey of parenthood. Staying ahead of industry trends has been a cornerstone of our approach, influencing not only our product offerings but also shaping our innovative marketing strategies.

Our dedication to providing value begins with information. We understand that parents seek more than just products – they crave knowledge and guidance. That's why we have embraced a multi-faceted approach to disseminating information. Through live sessions with doctors on various social media platforms, we go beyond mere product promotion, delving into the broader aspects of parenting. These sessions not only inform our audience but also serve as an educational platform, empowering parents with valuable insights.

Our commitment to education extends to our website, where we've established an "Expert Corner." Here, doctors and experts contribute articles and blogs, sharing their knowledge on diverse parenting topics. This not only enhances our credibility but also provides a valuable resource for parents seeking reliable information. Recognizing the importance of community-building, we leverage communication channels like emails and WhatsApp broadcasts. Through these channels, we offer personalized tips and insights, fostering a sense of community among our consumers. We don't just want to be a product in their lives; we want to be a trusted companion throughout their parenting journey.

Furthermore, our approach to customer appreciation goes beyond conventional methods. We provide early access to our loyal customers, ensuring they are the first to benefit from new products and exclusive offers. This not only rewards their loyalty but also reinforces a sense of belonging to the CITTA community.

For Influencer collaborations, we prioritize authenticity over mere promotion. We encourage influencers to provide genuine and valuable feedback about our products, emphasizing the efficacy of our ingredients and why they are beneficial. This not only helps us reach a broader audience but also builds trust by showcasing real experiences with CITTA.

StartupTalky: What key metrics do you track to check CITTA's growth and performance?

Tanay Sharma: At CITTA, we meticulously monitor a spectrum of key metrics to gauge our company's growth and performance. Sales Revenue is a paramount indicator of market demand and consumer trust. Simultaneously, we scrutinize Customer Acquisition Costs to ensure efficient resource allocation, balancing outreach effectiveness with fiscal responsibility. Retention Rate speaks to our commitment to customer satisfaction, reflecting the loyalty and recurring business of our valued clientele. Conversion Rates help us understand the effectiveness of our marketing strategies, highlighting the seamless transition of potential customers into actual buyers. Inventory Turnover is a pivotal metric, signaling optimal stock management and responsiveness to market demands.

Our dedication to innovation is encapsulated in tracking New Product Performance, ensuring a pulse on market reception and adaptation to evolving consumer needs. Feedback from distributors and retailers offers valuable insights into product popularity, allowing us to fine-tune our supply chain dynamics for enhanced efficiency. Direct customer feedback serves as a cornerstone, fostering a responsive relationship with our audience and driving continuous improvement.  Supply Chain Efficiency is pivotal, ensuring seamless operations from production to distribution.

Through vigilance in monitoring these metrics, we chart a course for sustained growth, innovation, and customer-centric excellence in the competitive realm of baby care.

StartupTalky: What were the most significant challenges CITTA faced in the past year, and how did you overcome them?

Akanksha Sharma: Gaining the trust of parents is the hardest task — they are the most discerning audience ever! But we support that — parents being conscious of everything they choose for their baby. Slowly, through our products’ efficacy, we have managed to gain the trust of a few thousand parents across India now, and we are only growing. Educating people about our ingredients and their effectiveness is not easy.

There are many preconceived notions and misinformation that get in the way, and we are on a mission to right those wrongs, if I may say so. We are doing this by working with doctors to make people aware of our products and their effectiveness and safety. Educating doctors about our products and the research undertaken to create them has been crucial to building people’s trust in our brand and creating demand for our products in offline stores.

StartupTalky: Repeat purchase is one of the most important parameters on which most eCommerce brands are betting. How do you keep your customers engaged to stop churn? Can you share specific customer retention initiatives or loyalty programs that have proven successful for CITTA?

Tanay Sharma: At CITTA, we understand the pivotal role repeat purchases play in the success of eCommerce brands. Our commitment to customer satisfaction and loyalty is evident through our presence on various online marketplaces, including Amazon, Flipkart, 1mg, Firstcry, The Mom Store, and Kindlife, ensuring accessibility to customers across India, even in 2nd and 3rd Tier cities.

Our products' efficacy and unique ingredients stand as our foremost strengths, distinguishing us in the competitive baby care market. We prioritize being a customer-centric brand, with the ultimate performance metric being the number of repeat customers. Our success is measured not just in sales but in the significant number of repeat customers we've cultivated.

At CITTA, building trust is foundational. As customers experience the proven benefits of our products, their loyalty deepens. Our commitment to quality, transparency, and personalized customer care fosters lasting relationships. This approach not only safeguards against churn but also lays the groundwork for sustained growth. As we continue to garner trust, we are confident that our community of repeat customers will burgeon in the years ahead, solidifying CITTA as the go-to choice for discerning parents nationwide.

StartupTalky: What are the different strategies you use for marketing? Tell us about any growth hack that you pulled off.

Akanksha Sharma: CITTA has been employing omnichannel marketing from the start, unlike many other brands that begin with an online-only user experience and expand to offline channels later. We wanted our users to have the choice of interacting with the brand in the way most convenient to them, and our online and offline teams have worked together to achieve that.

With our offline marketing strategies, our products have reached multiple locations across India. Several brands focus just on tier I and tier II cities; however, we cater to locations like Ladakh, Mizoram, and Nagaland alongside tier I and tier II cities. To attract the right customers and make them aware of the brand, we focused on placing our offline advertisements where they could see them – the pharmacies and retail shops! The advertisements were designed to highlight our brand differentiators – unique, safe, natural ingredients and product formulations rooted in traditional Indian wisdom and backed with rigorous science. This not only boosted our offline sales but also generated curiosity about the brand, leading to traffic to our website.

Newspaper advertisements helped us to build this customer relationship more and reach a wider audience. An important part of our offline strategy was to build trust with doctors – pediatricians and dermatologists. They have started recommending our products to their patients. This number is steadily increasing and is helping us reach more and more physical stores in turn. It has been reassuring to see our products help babies with their skincare issues.

Our online marketing strategy has been multi-pronged as well. Here, too, our focus has been on establishing ourselves as a credible and trustworthy premium natural baby bath and skincare brand in India. We achieved this firstly by creating a brand language and identity that visually separates us from the competitors and has a great recall value. This brand identity is maintained throughout all our online channels – website, social media, and marketplaces – and has helped us cement the trust of our customers.

With our website, we have created a smooth, hassle-free buying experience. Our focus has been on ease of communication. Any customer service issues are dealt with promptly and effectively. We provide our repeat buyers exclusive offers to retain them. The website is also aimed at helping parents with their concerns regarding baby skincare; we have a dedicated space on the website that caters to this.

Our social media marketing strategies are also focused on bringing value-addition to our customers – in line with our brand ethos of being a wise grandma-like companion to new-age parents. We achieve this through a mix of engaging, community-building, promotional, and informational content. To us, bringing value to the table matters more than jumping on the flashy, short-lived trends. Our online marketplace campaigns have been designed similarly, and as a cumulative result of our omnichannel strategy, they have been getting traction from customers all across India.

We have also tapped into WhatsApp and email marketing. We run WhatsApp broadcasts and emails weekly to our existing customers with skincare tips and exclusive deals.

StartupTalky: What are the important tools and software you use to run CITTA smoothly?

Akanksha Sharma: We have a thoughtful combination of tools and software to ensure efficiency, organization, and seamless operations. We use an Inventory Management System to monitor stock levels, track product movement, and automate reordering processes. This helps prevent stockouts, reduces excess inventory, and ensures that popular products are always available. Our online presence is powered by reliable e-commerce platforms and Shopify. We use various Social Media Management Tools and Social Listening Tools. Through various Analytics and Reporting methods, we get insights into website traffic, customer behaviour, and sales performance. We also use email marketing software and WhatsApp broadcast software. Apart from that, we have a logistic management system.

StartupTalky: What opportunities do you see for future growth in the baby care and skin care industry in India and the world? What kind of difference in market behaviour have you seen within states in India?

Akanksha Sharma:

  • Expansion to other states- Modern Trade and General Trade: With an omnichannel marketing strategy, CITTA has been able to get sales from Tier I, II, and III cities and reach various general trade stores in Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Gujarat. Now, we plan to expand to other states in India in both Modern Trade and General Trade sectors and establish ourselves as India’s best Baby Bath and Skincare brand.
  • Reaching doctors across India: Educating doctors about our products and the research undertaken to create them has been crucial to building people’s trust in our brand and creating demand for our products in offline stores. We want to expand our network to reach leading doctors (pediatricians and dermatologists) across India and become the brand every parent trusts for their baby’s skin. 
  • Entering the international market as a pioneer of Indian skincare and baby care knowledge and techniques: We strongly believe that we are sitting on a goldmine of diverse natural ingredients and immense tradition-based knowledge in India. Especially so when it comes to skincare and baby care practices. What the rest of the world is only starting to appreciate and emulate is what we have been practicing in India for ages. “Maalish,” or baby massage, is a classic example. Even various Indian ingredients like turmeric have gained international recognition, which we are already using as one of the key ingredients in our products. We want to champion our Indian roots, back them with rigorous science, and bring India’s knowledge to the rest of the world with our range of products. Since our ingredients and products are made to international standards, so we want to create our own identity and presence in the international market as a pioneer Indian brand in the baby care and skincare segment.
  • Exploring products for adults: CITTA products have resonated with our customers because of their high efficacy. We have received positive feedback from numerous mothers. We want to build on this trust and explore products for women in the coming years. With our commitment to quality and efficacy, we are confident that we will be able to do this well.

StartupTalky: What lessons did your team learn in the past year, and how will these inform your plans and strategies?

Akanksha Sharma: As we embark on a new year, it's crucial to reflect on the journey we've undertaken in the past 12 months. At CITTA, we encountered numerous challenges and celebrated remarkable successes, each contributing valuable lessons that will significantly shape our plans and strategies moving forward. Our unwavering commitment to meeting the evolving needs of parents and caregivers has been the cornerstone of our success.

The past year has taught us the importance of staying attuned to the ever-changing parenting landscape. We've witnessed shifts in consumer preferences and lifestyles, prompting us to invest more heavily in research and development. Navigating the complexities of the global supply chain has been an unexpected but invaluable lesson for our team. The disruptions brought about by external factors have emphasised the need for resilience and adaptability. We've learned to proactively diversify our sourcing strategies, build strategic partnerships, and implement agile inventory management systems. Recognizing the growing importance of digital engagement, we have invested in enhancing our online presence, creating user-friendly interfaces, and establishing a more robust e-commerce infrastructure.

This lesson informs our commitment to further digitalization, leveraging technology to connect with our audience and provide them with a seamless, personalized experience. Consumers are increasingly seeking products that align with their values, and we have embraced this paradigm shift. Our commitment to sustainable practices not only reflects our responsibility towards the planet but also resonates with the values of our target audience.

Armed with these lessons, our roadmap for the coming year is rooted in innovation, digital connectivity, sustainability, and operational agility. We are excited to unveil a pipeline of products that not only meet the needs of today's parents but anticipate the demands of tomorrow. Our commitment to sustainability will deepen, and our initiatives will continue to evolve to enhance customer engagement.

StartupTalky: How do you plan to expand the customers, SKUS, and team base in the future?

Akanksha Sharma: We plan to expand our customer base by reaching more states through physical stores as well as online marketplaces. We are also finding new ways of engaging meaningfully with our customer community. CITTA also envisions a future in the adult skincare and women's beauty segments, with plans to establish experiential stores nationwide. This journey embodies the fusion of tradition and science, paving the way for a sustainable and holistic approach to skincare. With all these, we will expand our team across states.

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StartupTalky: With so much hype around D2C brands spending on ads, What will be your growth strategy, organic or inorganic? How do you plan to work around SEO and content marketing?

Tanay Sharma: In our pursuit of growth, we embrace a balanced strategy, leveraging both organic and inorganic channels. Organically, we prioritize authentic content creation, aligning with SEO best practices to enhance online visibility. Simultaneously, we explore strategic partnerships and collaborations to expand our reach inorganically. Our content marketing revolves around educating parents on safe and nourishing baby skincare practices, establishing us as a trusted resource. This dual approach ensures a holistic expansion, combining the power of genuine engagement with targeted outreach to enhance our brand presence and foster sustained growth.

StartupTalky: One tip that you would like to share with another D2C founder, based on your own experience

Akanksha Sharma: One invaluable lesson I've gleaned from navigating the ebbs and flows of managing a D2C brand is the significance of unwavering optimism. In the dynamic landscape of entrepreneurship, where decisions carry substantial risks and can profoundly influence the fate of your business, maintaining a positive outlook is not merely a mindset—it's a strategic imperative. What I've come to comprehend is that while it's crucial to meticulously weigh the pros and cons of each decision, it's equally essential to approach them with unwavering optimism.

I've discovered that cultivating a mindset that focuses on the affirmative aspects, even in the face of uncertainty, can be a game-changer. This doesn't mean disregarding potential challenges; instead, it involves acknowledging them while actively choosing to believe in the success of your chosen path. Once a decision is made, it's paramount to let it breathe. Dwelling on the what-ifs and second-guessing can impede progress. Instead, embrace a daily routine that aligns with your goals.

Entrepreneurship is a slow and steady journey; hence, patience becomes a virtue. Every day presents an opportunity to make strides, and it's essential to concentrate on incremental progress rather than fixating on past decisions. The entrepreneurial path is laden with challenges, but a positive attitude can serve as a resilient shield. Trust the process and focus on the daily grind, for it is in this perseverance that the fruits of your decisions will eventually materialize. Whether it takes months or years, success often unfolds at its own pace.

StartupTalky extends its gratitude to Ms. Akanksha and Mr. Tanay Sharma for dedicating their valuable time and generously sharing their insights with all of us.

Explore more Recap'23 Interviews here.

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