Ananya Pathak

Selling sleep the startup way...

Reports suggest that in India, a good night's sleep eludes an average person. The reasons for this can be many … insomnia, overthinking, depression, anxiety. The mattress? Perhaps, but it definitely doesn't rank among the many dominant reasons cited for sleep deprivation. Interestingly, the recent entrants in the mattress space – mattress-in-a-box, delivered to your doorstep - are backing their sales pitch with this insight.

And why wouldn't they? Given modern lifestyles, it would be too much to expect a 25-30 year old corporate executive working in a metro, to visit a store and choose his own bedding. Unlike the times when his parents would go around the market, sitting on and testing each 70*80 (approximately) fabric case filled with soft, firm or springy material, specifically asking salesmen for a Kurl-on or a Sleepwell, today's youth would rather buy a mattress in three clicks.

While we acknowledge the existence of the local players - the 'gaddewala', dusting off and filling cotton into a hand-stitched mattress cover in a shop down the lane, the pain of paying him a visit and explaining your exact need is now perceived as an exhausting task.

“Today, consumers want mattresses which can be purchased online and delivered at their doorstep, eliminating the hassle of going to the store and purchasing one. Furthermore, there has been a rise in awareness of non-toxic and eco-friendly mattresses which promote healthy sleep. Mattresses customised according to the customer’s preference is another trend that has been booming in the Indian mattress market,” specifies Sandeep Prasad, chief executive officer and founder, Wink & Nod.

Sandeep Prasad, CEO and founder, Wink & Nod
Sandeep Prasad, CEO and founder, Wink & Nod

The Pune-based sleep-focused company's range of products include mattresses, pillows (snow, mist and carbon), comforters, Egyptian cotton bed sheets, bamboo towels, mattress protectors, Zen mist spray and travel pillows, among others.

Apart from the convenience of door-step delivery, the free trial period offered by these online brands adds to the interest of the target audience. Wink & Nod mattresses come with a 100-days trial, and also offer a 10 year warranty and EMI options.

Prasad tells us how his parents' pursuit of the perfect mattress became the catalyst for his business venture. “More than three weeks later and after spending Rs 30,000, my parents bought a mattress whose specifications weren't very clear to them. Their experience, paired with opportunities in this industry, sparked the idea of building a start-up focusing on sleep,” he says.

As per a 2019 report, the mattress industry, currently standing sturdy at Rs 10,000 crore, is projected to reach Rs 14,000 crore by 2021, with a CAGR of nine per cent. Simultaneously, the online mattress market is estimated to reach Rs 290 crore by next year.

Bengaluru based builds on the idea that restful and sound sleep is extremely important for one’s well-being and is directly connected with increased productivity. While putting together the brand, co-founder and director Chaitanya Ramalingegowda studied the market and realised that while nutrition and exercise were part of our daily discourse, ‘sleep’ was largely ignored by everyone. “We launched with a vision to help India sleep better, and with each passing day, we are moving inch by inch towards that goal,” he tells us.

Chaitanya Ramalingegowda, co-founder and director,
Chaitanya Ramalingegowda, co-founder and director,

He says a slow shift is taking place with respect to the sleep economy. Fragmented pieces of the economy - like mattresses, beds, furniture, bed linen, ambient product, sleep tech and other products are getting consolidated under one umbrella. However, we are yet to see the coming of age of the sector, which is expected to happen in the next few years, he says.

Talking of competition, he says that more than any company or player that is offering a sleep solution, unrelated factors like a new Netflix show, the latest social network or work pressures are all competition - to reduce sleep quality and quantity.

Gaurav Zatakia, founder and chief executive officer at Flo Mattress, who has been involved with the mattress industry for over 10 years now, mentions that online mattress sales have grown from almost zero, five years ago, to nearly five per cent of the total market this year. He tells us consumers are migrating in large numbers from older technologies like cotton and coir that do not provide great back support (nor are very hygienic) to mattresses made from newer, more responsive material like polyurethane foam, spring, memory foam etc.

Gaurav Zatakia, founder and CEO, Flo Mattress
Gaurav Zatakia, founder and CEO, Flo Mattress

Speaking of consumer behaviour, Zatakia shares that consumers who traditionally relied on word of mouth or recommendations from friends and family for their mattress purchases, now rely on online reviews and other forms of social proof. “ We’ve seen numerous cases where there has been a complete role reversal: in the past, young adults would ask their parents for recommendations; now, they tell their parents which mattress they should buy.”

He says the biggest pain point so far has been logistics. “While we depend on third party logistics companies to deliver our products, our customers still hold us accountable (as they should) every time one of our logistics partners messes up.”

Kabir Siddiq, founder and chief executive officer, SleepyCat, shares Zatakia's opinion. “Customer service of these logistics companies and their professionalism is always a major issue. Our customers do fuss about how unprofessional the end delivery person is too, sometimes,” he says.

Kabir Siddiq, Founder and CEO, SleepyCat
Kabir Siddiq, Founder and CEO, SleepyCat

Siddiq defines his target audience as women and men who have shifted to a new home or city, people who are kick-starting a new job or are stuying in a new city. Also, adults who are looking for convenient solutions and are online shoppers. He says his company also monitors consumer behaviour in major metro cities.

“A user might see a brand like SleepyCat online but that same consumer will do quick research online, ask peers, look up reviews and then make a decision. Then, the same consumer has to go through a seamless buying process. The beauty of being an online store is that all this can be done with minimum time and effort at the customer's end. It is up to us as a service provider, to make this journey for a potential customer as seamless as possible.”

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