Antler VC Cast Episode 5 - Adapting to consumer behavior with Roshni Mahtani

In this episode, we speak to Roshni Mahtani, founder and CEO of theAsianparent. theAsianparent is a digital content and community platform for all things related to parenting. It reaches over 30 million mums monthly in Asia and they also have an African platform. The content is adapted for each market and is available in 11 different languages.

We discuss the challenges Roshni is facing as a startup founder raising a young child during these times, how brands can adapt to evolving consumer behaviour and what to keep in mind to build sustainable businesses for the new world. 

On dealing with lockdown as a CEO and parent of a young child

Roshni:

“The first couple of weeks were quite stressful, but then I immediately went into full-on CEO mode and I said I have to plan this out to the teeth. So we've come up with a very good calendar and schedule, and we've outsourced a lot of the caregiving to Zoom. So she has calls with my brother every day for 30 minutes, she has calls with her godparents, she has calls with her grandma. So I got a Grab delivery to go and send books and textbooks and worksheets to all of their homes. So for 30 minutes every day, they all have zoom calls with her where they have to read the specific textbook of the specific curriculum and do the homework with her.”

Puja:

“I think that's great planning and outsourcing. I resorted to color-coded whiteboards, I never thought I'd be one of those moms, but it works for me and I have office hours for the kids, so literally you can only ask me the questions during this time.”

Jussi:

“Is it asking me anything or only about school subjects?”

Puja:

“No, they can ask anything because that's the time I'm 100% with them--no phone or any distractions.”

On changing consumer behaviour 

Puja:

“The consumer behavior of women has definitely changed and is continuously evolving during these times. What have you seen that has happened in terms of the way women look at essentials and non-essentials? Were there any surprise findings that you have noticed?”

Roshni:

“We've definitely seen an increased activity on our site, on our app, specifically on weekends, where moms are just really congregating and trying to get suggestions from each other or sharing things. We also see through our own products themself, right, that e-commerce sales are definitely going up. People are spending money of course on essential items, but they're also spending money on luxury items that are not too expensive. So we're not talking about the Chanel bag, but we're talking about the $30 diaper bag.So she's still buying these small little gifts for herself, which is quite interesting to see. We're also seeing that more and more women are buying more tops, but they're not actually buying bottoms, which is quite interesting because we have both maternity tops and we have maternity bottoms, but the sales of tops have actually increased right now.”

On the screen time conundrum

Puja:

“There was this interesting thing that textbooks have seen a resurgence as there's too much time on screen for kids. Is that something that you see a resurgence because there's only so much you can learn from Zoom class?”

Roshni:

“Absolutely. We're seeing a resurgence of physical textbooks, so we're also seeing a lot of parents buying storybooks. So that's one of the biggest things that we're seeing trading on our platform where moms are asking, "Hey, who has storybooks? I'm willing to pay $50 and get a Lalamove to go to your house and send me as many storybooks that you have at home that I can entertain the kids with." So we are definitely seeing a lot more tactile things versus just online screen time."

“I think parents are very scared, right, because of everything that they've read about screen time being really bad for your children. The American Pediatric Society has said that screen time should be limited to under two hours a day for your kids, and that's just not possible, right? Zoom classes itself are about two, three, four hours in a day. And then if you've got Netflix and you've got DVDs that the kids are watching. Your kids are on screen for eight to 10 hours during circuit breaker, and so what do they do in that scenario as well?”

On adapting to the new world to create sustainable, digital businesses

Puja:

“So you are seeing all these changes, these fundamental changes in the way people are doing things, buying things, to thinking of different ways of teaching kids. How much do you think would be here to stay? Do you really think in terms of a mindset shift, this is going to be something that's going to happen post-COVID?”

Roshni:

“Previously, only around 5% of Indonesian moms would buy anything online--the groceries or diapers, but now we're pretty sure it's going to go up to about 30- 40%. Now that they've tried the convenience of online commerce, it's very hard to go back to the stores. So I think that this has really pushed a lot of emerging Southeast Asia into becoming e-commerce first, becoming digital-first.”

Puja:

I think the way that your brand has adapted, especially the online tutor method sounds really fantastic because parents are not professional teachers and this is hard. So what advice would you give to brands trying to adapt? How can other more traditional brands adapt?

Roshni:

“So I think we have to just really stop running away from the fact that ‘should we be digital or should we not be digital’. I think it's very clear right now that we need to be both online and offline. Today's pandemic might be affecting the whole offline world a lot more to the online world, but tomorrow's pandemic could be affecting the online world and not the offline world, right? So my main thing is that I think no business should be surviving on either just being purely offline or purely online, I think it needs to really be an all to all model.”

Roshni:

“I think that for businesses that are predominantly offline right now, this is the opportunity to really try to think out of the box. So if you've been generally hosting a lot of offline events, then this is a time to start online webinars. And if you have generally not been big on social media, this is also the time to build up your social following. I think it's really tough because a lot of businesses in Southeast Asia are still predominantly offline.”

Jussi:

“There are two fundamental things you can do, and I keep telling this to our portfolio companies. One is obviously to be very conservative with your spending to maintain a good runway and a cash position, and then use this as an opportunity to figure out your business model. We have a company that's working partly in the travel space, very hard hit and obviously it is a tough time for them. They were lucky enough to close the funding round-- it's not public yet so I won't mention it. In the long term, they wanted to move away from travel to a broader play. This event has forced their hand. They must figure that plan out much faster and chart out what to do. So I think entrepreneurs out there  should take the time now to figure out what's a good sustainable business model for the future.”

Roshni:

“The way I see it is that travel is going to be hit for the next six months, one year, but it's going to rebound. There's no way people are not going to travel. Everyone's experiencing cabin fever right now, everyone's fed up with just being at home. So the moment that travel restrictions are out and once there's vaccination and we know that it's safer to travel, you're going to see every single person saying, ‘I'm saving up all my money so that I can go through my bucket list and see all of the countries that I want to see because I've been really holed up in this pigeon hole for the last one year.’ So I think it's just a case of a travel company surviving the next one year.

Jussi:

In this particular case, it's about building a second leg that allows a company in the travel industry to grow when travel is dead--then they're going to be in good times when travel picks up again, then they have actually two strong legs and that's how you can run instead of hopping on one leg. Right?

Timecode highlights

[8:19] Roshni shares the changes in spending patterns of parents on both essential and non-essential items during this period of lockdown

[14:16] Roshni shares the shifts in mindsets and the huge win for emerging South East Asia platforms which are here to stay even post-Covid

[24:14] Roshni dives into her journey and her early days of starting theAsianparent

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