Three Friends, One Mission: How Kyma is Cleaning Up UAE Homes and the FMCG Sector

Three Friends, One Mission: How Kyma is Cleaning Up UAE Homes and the FMCG Sector 

The story of three women coming together around friendship, sustainability, and the idea of a home-cleaning “refillution.”

Kyma’s co-founder and CEO Farida El Agamy explains how Kyma was born from the common desire of three long-time friends to work together and enhance sustainability in the UAE’s FMCG sector, offering innovative home cleaning solutions that reduce single-use plastics. 

How did Kyma come to be?

One of my co-founders was running the family’s factory. The other was in the media industry before she transitioned to coaching. And I was practising law in Switzerland before moving here to help my father run his service companies. We were friends and, in 2019 each of us somehow was at a crossroads. We quickly figured out that what connected us was sustainability – economic, social, and environmental. 

Then, I realised that my footprint in the UAE was about five times larger than in Switzerland, where I grew up with refilling stations and recycling. We agreed that there should be a way to re-engineer FMCG products without consumers having to take a hit on quality, spend double, or be exposed to toxins. So, we started looking at the most used FMCG products that generate the most trash. 

In our research process, we were struck by supermarkets’ cleaning aisles, with hundreds of cleaning product bottles that, within a month, were going to end up in landfills instead of being reused. That was the trigger. 

What solution did you find?

Our product consists of a reusable bottle and cleaning compacted powder tablets that are affordable, easy to carry, easy to stock, and truly sustainable. The product itself is not the bottle, it’s the refill. 

We now have seven SKUs [including glass cleaner, disinfectant, multi-surface cleaner, and bathroom cleaner] and we’ll grow to nine this year, with five new products in development. 

The product is sold either in individual refills or in bundles. We’re also working on a subscription model, so that we automatically send the next refills based on how fast people consume, how big their apartment is, how much product they need, etc. 

How did you develop this solution?

We first considered importing from the few companies in the US and Germany producing what we were looking for. That didn’t work. These companies were too young to consider exporting. 

So, we worked with a chemist for about six months, at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, to create an MVP. We then tried to contract manufacture this product. That didn’t work either. The challenge with powders is the supply chain – the entire detergent industry is geared towards liquids, and contract manufacturers would have to invest in new machinery. 

That’s when we decided to manufacture our products ourselves, which took another six months of R&D before we started equipping the factory in Sharjah. Luckily, one of us [Samar Sayegh] has experience in manufacturing, otherwise I might not have done it. 

How did you validate it?

We did a lot of field testing – literally going to people’s homes and cleaning with them to understand their behaviours and willingness to change. That’s when we started seeing that there was a market.

Then, we collected data – surveys and huge market research, here and abroad to understand the factors that influenced the growth of similar disruptive brands.

We started selling in January 2022 and had to wait to see if customers were coming back. We really felt confident when, three or four months later, we suddenly saw a spike in our refill orders. 

What was your go-to-market strategy?

We started by selling directly to consumers on our website, and D2C is still a very important channel for us – we have served over 10,000 returning customers. Then, six months later, we got on the big e-commerce platforms like Amazon and Kibsons. And, at the end of last year, we entered the first retail store. 2024 focuses on B2B and more retail stores in the UAE. 

Where do you stand in terms of growth trajectory?

We’re seeing around 12 to 15% month-on-month growth across all channels. It’s a saturated market, but it’s a huge market and people still are discovering us. 

We’re getting closer to profitability, which we would not have expected to happen this fast. But we’re a very lean company and, while we’re not a tech business, we’re tech-enabled. We use technology to make sure that we amplify our capacity without adding too much resources. The whole idea is to be light and mobile, and to operate like a micro-factory which we can easily replicate somewhere else. 

Funding can be challenging for manufacturing startups. How did you approach that?

We were very clear from the beginning that we were not going to go for VC funding, because venture capitalists are used to a growth that we, with a physical product, can never [achieve]. 

Instead, we went for funding from industrialists, which is much more under the radar. We were lucky to find one investor from the manufacturing industry who has a clear understanding of what growth rates should be expected. And it was fascinating to have an investor whom I could learn from, from an industry perspective. 

Four years in, what were the hardest challenges and the best outcome?

In terms of challenges, one is talent – finding talented people who don’t just want to function, but to innovate in their daily work. Another is funding, even though we were lucky with that. And a third is entering the FMCG market. It’s exhilarating when you chip off a little bit of the market, but it’s very saturated, with big players owning the marketplace.

The best thing for me is the relationship with my co-founders. Sharing success with people that you’re close to is the best experience in the world. And we had a distinct advantage; we all worked with family before and already had a culture of communication, of relationships first and foremost. Businesses break because of the humans, not the product or the machines.

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