Today’s modern young Indian millennial is seen as many things, but sleepy is not one of them. Constantly connected, working around-the-clock, and staying up late to catch the latest online content going viral means that sleep is being eschewed for more ‘productive’ activities. The result? 93% of 8000 urban Indians surveyed indicated that they were sleep deprived. The consequences of this, according to noted sleep expert Matthew Walker, are shorter lifespans and a higher chance of getting cancer. What Indians need to do is reimagine how they prioritize sleep – and find comfortable beds to get their 40 winks in. That’s where Wink & Nod comes in.
Wink & Nod is an innovative sleep-focused company which is looking to wake up India’s USD 4-5Bn sleep products industry. The company is designing, manufacturing, and selling premium sleeping products designed for the modern Indian consumer. Founded in July 2017 in Pune, the company was recently selected from among 500+ startups as one of the top 10 finalists at the 6th Wharton India Startup Challenge.
Wink & Nod – solving India’s mattress problem
Founder and CEO Sandeep Prasad has 7+ years of experience in private equity and management consulting, and was working in the US as a Venture Capitalist in early 2017. His mother back in Pune complained about having to overspend on a mattress, which piqued Sandeep’s curiosity. He was working with a company selling innovative sleep products in the US, and had studied the country’s market and the disruption it faced at the hand of new online-first startups.
A few months of research later, he found that India’s mattress industry was begging to be disrupted. 80% of the market was disorganized (according to a report in the Economic Times). The few big brands were still pushing on retail distribution, thinking that Indian consumers were too attached to ‘feeling’ a product before buying it. The products on offer lacked any quality benchmarks, and pushy salesmen at the store could confuse and mislead consumers. On top of that, prices were prohibitively high because so many middlemen had to be paid, and the storage and transportation of bulky mattresses added to costs which were pushed onto the customer.
The mattresses available in India were also outdated. Legacy players are still selling coir mattresses and spring mattresses, and pricing seemed to follow no real logic or bear any correlation to quality. Sandeep had witnessed first-hand the disruptive power of technology-driven startups in this field in the US, and decided to start a company to solve for these problems in India – and change India’s INR 10,000 Cr (~USD 1.4Bn) mattress industry forever.
Building a quality sleep product
In the US, companies such as Casper were able to use new-age materials such as memory foam and latex to make mattresses which were simultaneously more comfortable and healthier. Memory foam was a material created by NASA to provide cushioning for astronauts during early space missions, and it had been repurposed commercially to put in the soles of shoes. The material was special in that it sinks under direct pressure, but ‘remembers’ its original shape and continues pushing back in an attempt to regain its original position. What this means is that if you are lying down on the material, you feel weightless while being supported. Unlike spring mattresses, the pressure is uniform across the body; further, they last longer and don’t get misshapen like coir mattresses.
But that was only half the problem. The mattress might be of better quality, but how to persuade the notoriously price-sensitive Indian consumer? Companies in the US were compressing and vacuum-sealing their products, putting large mattresses in a relatively small box which made it easier to transport. The ‘mattress-in-a-box’ made logistics and transport much easier, allowing for lower pricing for higher quality products. Sandeep knew that this would work well in India, where a lower price at a higher quality would help Indian consumers consider a new brand. Going online-first would appeal to the millennial audience more, as would the lower price because there would be fewer middlemen and costs in the retail route.
Sandeep put in three or four months of research and development, designing the perfect memory foam mattress for Indians. There were two challenges – the first was to ensure a good quality standard, and the second to deal with heat. Memory foam (or polyurethane) is a very safe and hypoallergenic substance, but only if manufactured at high standards. Sandeep made it a point to get international certification from CertiPUR-US® for the memory foam and Oeko-TEX® for all fabrics. This certifies that their products are made to rigorous emission standards, indicating that they are safe, eco-friendly, and have been thoroughly tested and screened.
The second challenge was heat. Memory foam absorbs heat from the human body, which can get uncomfortable on long and warm nights. To ensure that their Indian consumers slept more comfortably, Wink & Nod mattresses have cool-gel infused into their memory foam layer. They also have premium outer covers made of bamboo fiber or patented cooling fibers which complement the cool-gel to keep users feeling airy and cool even in the summers. Their mattresses thus feel cool-to-touch, adding an innovative and unique sleep experience.
Building a business
Wink & Nod started selling its premium memory foam mattresses in early 2018 off its website and Amazon. Sandeep was able to leverage his experience to build an efficient process so that the company was cash positive from Day 1. Wink & Nod mattresses have been flying off the digital shelves (metaphorically speaking), and the company has grown its revenue by 10x in just the last 12 months.
The company also attracted investor interest, and has raised an undisclosed seed round from Guild Capital, a US-based VC firm. In the past year, Sandeep has also added talent to his management team, hiring a COO, CMO, and CPO to accelerate the company’s growth. He has also expanded his product portfolio, adding a new mattress variant as well as an entire new product line – pillows.
As Sandeep told YourStory for a piece in late January this year, the pillows are helping them get more customers. “We see a lot of people trying out pillows first, and then looking at mattresses. It creates an opportunity for us to up-sell.” Wink & Nod has also expanded its market presence, and is now available on Flipkart with plans to launch on Pepperfry as well. The company was also able to get past risk-averse consumers by offering attractive terms such as a 100-day trial and a 10 year warranty of memory foam mattresses. This meant that consumers could try the new innovative products at no real cost; and if they liked the experience, which many did, they could sleep peacefully for a decade.
This kind of consumer-focused business strategy has helped them make a niche for themselves in a very competitive online space, as other companies have started replicating Wink & Nod’s model. The company believes, however, that it can distinguish itself through extreme focus on product innovation and patented technologies. This gives them an edge in quality and assurance, and Wink & Nod remains one of the few (if not only) sleep-focused startups with quality certifications from renowned international bodies.
Today, you can buy one of Wink & Nod’s three mattress models – Lumbar, Lounge, and Emperia – at prices starting from INR 11,500 to INR 16,500. The pillows are also in three varieties – Mist, Snow, and Carbon – priced between INR 1,950 and INR 2,900. The products are available on Amazon, Flipkart, and on the company’s website.
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