A teenager was on the road when she got her first period. She panicked because her mother wasn’t near by and she didn’t know what to do. But thanks to a start-up called Woloo and its staff, she was able to find a hygienic restroom nearby and was also given a sanitary napkin and some coffee. The team also contacted a gynaecologist for her. For another young working woman, Woloo was able to save her career. Her job involved frequent travelling and she often had to use public restrooms. But every time she did, she would catch an infection. It got so bad that she was planning to quit her job. That’s when she decided to give Woloo a try and, since then, she’s been able to find hygienic restrooms wherever she goes while acing her job.
These are just a few of the stories that show why Woloo is a game-changer for women across the country, across economic backgrounds, who know the struggle of finding a clean public restroom all too well. Woloo is a mobile application that helps women locate and use the nearest Woloo-certified washroom facility. Manish Kelshikar, Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Woloo, tells us how the initiative came into being. “After working in the US in the global retail industry, when my wife and I returned to India, we noticed how women often struggle with hygiene and sanitation facilities. But it was only after I became a father to a girl that the problem hit home. When she was in school, it got worse. Women always give advice like ‘don’t use the restrooms, you’ll catch an infection’, ‘don’t drink water, hold your pee’ to the next generation of girls. Basically, they’re just told to abuse their bodies because of the lack of facilities.”
Realising the gravity of the situation, Manish patented the concept of loo commerce, according to which there are three sectors to focus on in order to address the issue — technology, smart infrastructure and commerce. “India has one of the lowest percentages of working women and one of the main reasons is lack of hygiene and sanitation facilities. Women and girls in rural areas don’t pursue education because of this very reason. Another problem is that women’s sanitation products haven’t gone beyond 80 per cent of adoption, the lowest in the world. There are two reasons for this — massive taboo and lack of awareness of the products,” explains Manish.
These reasons and a great many more are why Woloo was started. It was initially aimed at functioning like a powder room, a place where women can use the facility for a number of purposes, like using the restroom, changing napkins, feeding a baby, waiting for a friend, changing clothes or just to relax. The first Woloo facility was established in 2019 outside Thane station in Mumbai, where 30 per cent of the area was the restroom and 70 per cent was used for retail.
However, after the lockdown, the start-up changed course and basically became the Airbnb of restrooms. “We patented the concept of hygiene certification. We select restaurants based on geography and put it on the Woloo app. So, women can open the app and look for the nearest washroom facility. We have 500 active, certified washrooms in Mumbai. By next month, we plan to have 1,500,” says Manish. And every time you use one of their facilities, you get cashback points that you can use on their online store. The entire app is based on maps. Every location is geo-tagged. So, when you open the app, it will geo-tag you and show you the nearest restrooms and then, navigate to it. Once you reach there, you get the points.
“By next year, we plan to expand to 100 cities and also cater to travellers. We have a solid backend team. We list out restaurants that have very good ratings, then we give them a call and find out if there is a restroom, whether it is unisex or not. Then, our team physically visits them and once they do an assessment, the facility is certified. After that, they are onboarded, following which we fit an IoT device for stink sensing. Every hour, if the stink scale is beyond the certified level, there is a trigger. If any facility crosses three triggers, they are taken off the list,” says Manish. Now that’s quantifiable!
Woloo’s mission is ‘Go bindaaz, Woloo hai na’ (Relax, there’s Woloo). Manish explains, “A woman should be able to step out of her house without fear of hygiene (or lack thereof). It is a basic right. We want Woloo to be an equaliser, women from any economic background should be able to access hygienic restrooms.” Woloo is backed by strategic investments from JetSynthesys, a well-known digital entertainment and technology company. The Woloo app is available on Android and will soon be on iOS devices for a monthly subscription of Rs 99.
30 Mar 2021