Why did two Indian born American boys, Besharam Founders Raj Armani and Salim Rajan decide to give up their comfortable lifestyles, invest all their savings (against the advise of family members and their social circle) and pursue a mission to ‘Bring International Brands to Indian Hands’ – and by brands we mean adult toys brand, to a country where buying a condom needs balls, talking about sex is taboo, but doing it..Oh well, we have 1.3 billion answers to it.
We speak with one hald of Besharam Co-founder and COO Raj Armani about their business, fund raises and selling Sex Toys to Indians!
It’s been a long time and a couple of funding rounds. What does the business look like?
Business has never been better, and now with the fresh funding for launching the Global Store we are all pumped up, super-charged and rearing to go. The coming months in the year will bring in big changes to how we position our brand, what we sell and what our customers are looking for. We plan to reach out to the NRIs in US & Canada first, and then to the ones in Middle East, followed by Singapore/Malaysia and lastly Australia+New Zealand. More exposure, more offices and more team – Looking like a heck of a year ahead!
How have you seen the growth in business in India from 2012-2019?
We had seen substantial growth of double digits YoY from 2013-2017. 2017 was a slow year for us as we had been also busy working on other priorities. However with 2018 we have brought in an entirely new team of experts with SEO, Social Media, PR, Branding, Bloggers and Influencers as well. We have forged a few new partnerships that will bring high in demand brands to India like Bijoux Indiscrets (Spain) and Eye of Love (California)
What has changed in the last 5 years for the business?
Apart from our waistlines and hairlines, not much has changed in the fundamental operations or audiences. Just as anything, over time they have matured and so have we. So keeping aside a few awards we brought home, our customer loyalties has deepend, our market understanding has widened, our team has seasoned and our strategies more aligned for a common goal, which is not juist profits but awareness and education, along with extending our support to the LGBT community in India.
What is the ratio of Men:Women on Imbesharam?
It has been changing periodically, in 2019 it is at 66:33, in 2018 it was 73:26 and 2016-17 it was 77-23. The advent of movies like Lust Stories and Lipstick under my burkha as well as shows like Four More Shots please are becoming a medium that connects with a larger section of audiences and normalizes sex and sex toys to the majority of the audience.
What percentage of the market are you occupying right now?
There is no reliable statistics or survey compiled to get most accurate answers, but I will share the information as we discuss internally with our web and analytics team, we believe we have a market share of 10-12% between all Adult Toy operators in India.
Section 292 prohibits public display of Adult toys in India, how do you manage to bypass it?
Pretty Simple: We DON’T display it in India. The definition expands to say in territory of India, so we never have a store or display in India. The website while can be accessible in India is technically not considered a territory of India, and even if it did, we are a US company and the website is registered in the US territory. So just like any website that is NOT India and can be accessed in India (read:PORN) we do NOT believe we are violating that section of IPC.
There’s already a moral dilemma among the Indian families about sex, sexual preferences etc. on top of that you call your marketplace I AM BESHARAM – thus adding to the dilemma that if you are using Adult toys or lubes you actually are Besharam! Do you see it like that or you have a different theory to the name?
I am glad you asked. To me Besharam stands for being REAL, being yourself and speaking up for what’s in your mind and what you stand for. Be BOLD, Be Besharam. I realize the textbook definition is different from our branding and brand perception but in a way it works for us – being naughty and mischievous is a part of every Indian guy or gal, and if they can express them through our medium, we consider the job well done!
Having Sunny Leone on board has helped take the word about Besharam to a much bigger mass! Has that helped you penetrate (pun-intended) to a bigger audience in tier 2 and beyond in India?
Absolutely!! The fact that Sunny leone was Google’s most searched person 5 years in a row in India, it helped us immensely in year 1 and 2 of our launch, but after that we have realised that it was just the initial push and we were on our own. So while this zipped open the markets, the penetration (pun always intended) to Tier 2-3 cities did not happen then. What reached to the bigger audience is our social media and digital campaigns – We have had posts that went viral on Facebook, Instagram and Youtube thus propelling our brand to a wider audience in India.
What is the ration of your sales in Tier 1, 2 and 3?
2018 Figures hold Tier 1: Tier 2: Tier 3 at 58% : 32% : 10%
What are your monthly sales in India currently and YoY 2016 to now?
While we cannot yet reveal the sales and revenues, our YoY growth from 2013-2016 was always in double digits. 2017 and 2018 were slow years for us which I have answered in #2
How much funding have you raised so far at what valuation?
We had bootstrapped IMbesharam.com with $2M and raised $4M in 2016 at $20M valuation.
What are the plans for the brand in 2019-20?
There are many ‘new’ things on the horizon for our brand Besharam and my own pursuit for the #sexualrevolution for Indians across the world.
The first and immediate focus is on launching the #GlobalAdultStore for NRIs so Indians outside of India, a 75M affluent community which is about $400M unexplored market spread out in the five primary regions: North America, Autralia & NewZealand, Middle East, SE Asia, & UK/Europe.
To promote this new store, we are inviting TWO pornstars from US who are coming to India to audition and look for the ideal Indian Husband. This will be a reality show styled campaign which will bring in the irony and humor of the Indian husband, and build on the data which shows Indian are second largest consumers of Porn.