Brand Makers

Exclusive: How India’s biggest sextech brand IMBesharam is hiring

Raj Armani, co-founder of IMBesharam, talks about hiring challenges and the brand’s journey in a market where sex is a taboo topic.

By  Priyanka NairAug 25, 2022 3:55 PM
Exclusive: How India’s biggest sextech brand IMBesharam is hiring
Team IMBesharam

“We were ignored, then we were ostracized, later we were heard and over a period of time we were accepted,” says Raj Armani, co-founder of IMBesharam, India’s first and biggest sextech brand.

From a consignment worth Rs 3 crore getting confiscated by Customs to payment gateways cancelling their account for being ‘obscene’, IMBesharam has fought many battles. As the brand completes nine years in the business of sexual wellness, Armani and his team are looking at interesting ways to on-board social media marketing executives, brand managers, designers and a host of other roles.

In an exclusive interview with Storyboard18, Armani, talks about the company's unique hiring campaign, challenges of hiring in the sextech space and how that’s changing, and the brand’s rocky journey in a market where ‘sex’ is typically a taboo topic. Read on.

What is the core idea behind the hiring campaign you announced on LinkedIn? And what’s the response so far?

This was a totally spontaneous decision as we were finalizing our team’s yearly international holiday. We skipped holidays for the last two years due to COVID interruptions and restrictions, so this year the team holiday is a much awaited event.

The response has been actually overwhelming. We got 120 candidates to fill applications that’s posted on our job listing after reading this post and it will take our team 1-2 weeks to narrow down 10 best and interview them. The three who standout will get an invitation to the office trip to Bangkok. We think this is a fun and unique way to start a work relationship, they will get a premium team culture experience which can form the foundation on which they will hopefully build up on.

Is hiring difficult in the category you operate in?

Yes and no. Yes, because lately startups’ model has been the ‘in’ thing, lots of new aspirants want to jump on. Even the well-seasoned work force seems to be attracted to the concept of working in a team as an independent entrepreneur vs the traditional manager/supervisor/employee model. So we get several inquiries from experienced candidates in various industries who want to join our team. In fact many of them approach us thinking they would get hired and get a VIP ticket to Besharam mansion. Those hopes don’t last too long as our application forms bring a reality check and that filters the just curious from the seriously serious.

The reason why we say no, is because we have a hard time finding new team mates who have similar work ethics as the majority of our team. We find many of the candidates who apply lack communication skills, organizational skills, time management skills and various other non-negotiable expectations we have from a high quality professional. A few of them who do, are either overqualified for the position or too expensive for us to make an offer to.

What are the hiring challenges you face, especially for your marketing team?

Our challenges have evolved over years. From the usual and expected ‘log kya kahenge’ between 2013-16 to ‘Hi I am Sonia and I wanna work in a sextech startup’, the journey has been like a tour of Indian culture in a saas-bahu soap. Now we get the upper hand and can choose the best candidate from the pool because suddenly working in a startup is cool and sexual wellness is no more taboo.

What are the questions you usually ask candidates?

Some of the questions we ask are 'how will you react if your parents/in-laws find out about our company?' ‘What will you tell your husband if he passes and sees the screen on your laptop’? ‘Will your relationship get affected if you work in our team?' ‘Have you visited an adult store outside of India?' And the one question that most new talent asks us is ‘will we get to meet Sunny Leone at your office?’ or ‘Can we talk to her after being hired’? Well it’s cruel to burst that bubble but we do get a few laughs out of it here and there. Once a smart chap who took a role in marketing said that us hiring him is a ticket to move out from his home and start a living with his girlfriend, so he can tell his parents ‘shifting due to job’.

As a brand that opened up the category 10 years ago, what’s your view on India? What were the initial roadblocks?

Now is the golden period to be in sextech in India. India is the only country in the world with the most dormant demand. It is the third-biggest consumer of porn, second-most populated country, with a new age population of GenZ and shifting mindsets of millennials, the demand is soon going to blow up. It’s just a matter of time when the attention of every brand and service that’s catering to sexual health and sexual wellness will divert to India.

When we started, we had the burden to introduce this category as a credible and legit category where audience understand that pleasure and sex toys are not a shady underground phenomemnon to play around in bachelor parties or make jokes about. It is an experience that gives the biggest high without having to snort, sniff or drink and it’s as organic as your hunger for different cuisines and your wanderlust for different locations. Then our focus shifted on discovery and fighting taboos, on social media and society at large.

We were ignored, then we were ostracized, later we were heard and over a period of time we were accepted. In the middle we had several highs and lows, like getting a large consignment of over Rs 3 crore confiscated by Customs in Mumbai to being pitched on the front page of a newspaper against the police commissioner who allegedly wanted to clean Mumbai of this ‘crap’. We were celebrated for what we did and at the same we had payment gateways cancel our accounts because ‘this is obscene and not allowed in India’. We have seen it all and are still alive and kicking.

But marketing sex toys, sexual wellness products and other related items is still challenging in India. What’s your brand’s strategy? What has helped you so far?

That’s true. The best practices to marketing in India are changing as audiences' taste, knowledge and expectations are evolving. For example, look what Ranveer Singh's nude photos did recently and think back to what Aamir Khan and Karishma Kapoor did in the 90s when they kissed in the rain.

The best ideas usually excite viewers’ minds and engage their intelligence. So we are trying to learn this one step at a time and hopefully we will master it soon. Our brand's strategy since 2018 has transitioned to 80 percent telling and 20 percent selling, across social media as well in press and offline media. We have realigned our vision with a single focus which is to ‘normalize (sexual) pleasure’ and remove the stigma. So since 2018 our focus has been to source and impart real-life sex-ed, share stories, open conversations and fuel discussions. We have not ventured outside of social media but we plan to do that aggressively for Q3-4 2022 between ads on social media, search ads, video marketing on OTT channels, engaging influencers and channels who can advance our agenda and join hands in our effort to normalize pleasure. The name of the campaign we are coming up with next is ‘Don’t have SEX’…Guess why?

What’s the growth you are expecting by the end of the year? What’s your marketing spend like?

2020 was a turning point in our business as well as the industry at large. It’s the year that saw sales tank to 5 percent and then skyrocket to 200 percent on previous year numbers. We only realized the true potential after this eye-opening phase and since then have doubled down to establish Besharam as a one stop shop. Our revenues were upwards of Rs40 crore for 2021 and we are on pace to beat that by 25 percent this year. It may go higher as we have a bunch of events and activities lined up for the remainder of this year. Our marketing spend may be the highest ever, crossing Rs 2 crore this year.

What are some of the bigger consumer trends you are noticing in India that are surprising and promising?

We notice that online shopping is shaping consumer behaviour, habits and expectations so fast that in a few years we will use an app to flush the toilet, cook your food or put you to sleep. So why not lovemaking or sex? We are seeing early adoption of VR headsets, smart toys that can make lovemaking possible using apps and at a distance, bluetooth and airdrop dating based on your location, and possibly e-weddings and suhaag raats. The possibilities are endless.

First Published on Aug 25, 2022 9:56 AM