A Delicate Balance for Ruby Cup: Profitability and Sustainability at the Base of the Pyramid

by: Aneel Karnani, Maxie Matthiessen

Publication Date: January 14, 2015
Length: 16 pages
Product ID#: 1-429-400

Core Disciplines: Base of the Pyramid, Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Marketing/Sales, Operations Management/Supply Chain, Social Impact, Strategy & Management

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Teaching Note

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Ruby Cup explores the challenges of creating marketing, pricing, sales, and distribution strategies based on the needs of those living in bottom of the pyramid (BoP) markets. Three entrepreneurs are trying to build a social enterprise that will deliver a sustainable menstrual hygiene management product to the BoP beginning with their test market in Kenya. Their product, called Ruby Cup, is a menstrual cup with a 10-year lifetime that collects the blood during menstruation rather than absorbing it like pads and tampons. The product meets a vital need for women and girls, represents immense cost savings for the customer over time and is good for the environment. Despite all of this, Ruby Cup’s founders struggle to reach financial sustainability. This case demonstrates the difficulty of marketing and selling useful products to the poor.

Teaching Objectives

After reading and discussing the material, students should:

  • Discuss the difference between a BoP business model in theory and in practice.
  • Appraise the low profit margin, high volume business model formula.
  • Assess the difficulties of entering a new market with a new product, and evaluate sales channel and distribution models.
  • Identify efficient marketing and education strategies for businesses operating in BoP markets.