The concept seller

The concept seller

Mayur Abhaya, CEO, Lifecell, India’s leading stem cell banking solutions company, believes awareness and affordability are crucial elements of his brand building mix

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, possibly one of India’s highest paid brand ambassadors, appears in several TV ads for endorsing many different brands, including ones she probably never uses in real life. But, there is one brand, Lifecell, she endorses from the bottom of her heart. The affinity simply comes from the fact that Aishwarya’s daughter, Aaradhya’s stem cells are banked with the company. Today, Aishwarya, a patron of Lifecell, is also a goodwill ambassador for stem cell banking in the country.

For Mayur Abhaya, a second-generation entrepreneur whose family owns Chennai-based Shasun Chemicals, leading Lifecell as its founder and CEO was an opportunity he couldn’t afford to miss. For starters, it offered him a chance to build a business in a blue ocean space.

While stem cell banking has been around for over 25 years, when Lifecell was founded in 2004, it was India’s first stem cell solutions company. So, what really is a stem cell? Stem cells lay the very foundation of our bodies. Our skin, bones, blood and organs are all born out of stem cells. Stem cells have the power to repair and regenerate our body’s tissues and organs, and when stored properly, can be used to help people recover from life threatening medical conditions. For Abhaya, it was this kind of basic education that had to be imparted to early adopter-customers to get the business up and running.

Lifecell was founded by establishing a technology partnership with US-based Cryo-Cell International, the world’s first stem cell solutions company. Specialising in umbilical cord stem cell banking, life-saving stem cells are collected and stored from the umbilical cord blood and tissue within 10 minutes after a baby is born. These stem cells are stored in a secure environment at minus 196 degrees, and can be used to treat several medical conditions, as the child grows older. Essentially, this also meant that customers needed to be believe that the company would still be around, 15-20 years from the time of banking. More over, trust was a crucial element of the customer-company relationship.

In addition to technology and people, branding continues be an important element in the customer acquisition process. Trust in the brand, which often takes decades to build, had to be established fairly quickly. Today, the company operates more than 100 centers around India and has begun to expand into other GCC countries. It serves over 80,000 customers and has received several accreditations from international organisations for standards, such as American Association of Blood Banks (AABB), College of American Pathologists (CAP), WHO & National Accreditation Board for Testing & Calibration Laboratories (NABL). Earlier this year, the company raised Rs. 35 crore in funding from Helion Venture Partners, primarily to boost up marketing and also enable the development of novel cell-based therapies.


“ It is crucial to empower our sales force with the right tools to help them sell better. For example, all our feet on street sales people carry an android device with educational videos to show our customers the benefits of stem cell banking.”


Another crucial element of the marketing mix is the affordability factor. Recently, the company reduced its price to offer customers its stem cell banking services at Rs. 19,990 (for the first year) and storage fees of Rs. 3,500 per year. The price came down from Rs. 45,000 per year. As is often the case, lower pricing can play a crucial role in disrupting the market and converting non-consumers into consumers. Currently, the overall market size of stem cell services is Rs. 200 crore in India, but is expected to reach Rs. 2,700 crore by 2020, according to a report from Lifecell.

Considering the potential, competition is heating up and there are over 15 stem cell banks (the market is dominated by the top three) in the country. Lifecell differentiates from competition by adding more and more features to its service offering. For example, the company offers dual-storage in Chennai and NCR, has now started offering menstrual blood banking (the first in India to do so) and also offers stem cell asset insurance to its customers. Abhaya believes it is crucial to lead the market by bringing in all these innovations, often being the first stem cell services company to do so.

From a sales force perspective, Abhaya realises the importance of giving the right tools to help his people sell well. The sales folks carry an android device loaded with educational videos to help convince customers better.

The company has also taken the concept of content marketing to the next level. It sponsored the production of a DVD titled “Prenatal yoga with Lara Dutta” and also organised Great Expectations, a fashion show and carnival for expectant women in Bangalore. Both these content marketing efforts, in tandem with the campaign with Bachchan, helped the brand break through the clutter.

With the investment from Helion Venture Partners earlier this year, Lifecell is now looking to retain its position as India’s largest stem cell solutions provider and possibly become the world’s largest by 2015. That is not all. Abhaya is constantly looking for ways to enhance the technology and service offerings, boost up his marketing and also diversify into bringing in innovative stem cell therapies into India.


PROFILE BOX

Mayur Abhaya, founder and CEO, Lifecell, India’s leading stem cell banking solutions company, has adopted a “total marketing” strategy to clinch early adopter customers for his service. From celebrity endorsements and content marketing to establishing technology partnerships, Abhaya has looked at sales, marketing and branding holistically.


LIFECELL’S MARKETING MIX

Lifecell sponsors “Prenatal yoga with Lara Dutta”

Aishwarya, Rai Bachchan, a patron of Lifecell, roped in as goodwill ambassador for stem cell banking in the country

Initial fee lowered to Rs. 19,990 from Rs. 45,000

Global accreditations from American Association of Blood Banks and others to add to its credibility

Technology partnerships with global players including one with the world’s oldest company Cryo-Cell

Constantly innovate, adding newer service offerings. Bringing in novel stem-cell therapies into India