Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I am Sandeep Prasad, founder, and CEO of Wink & Nod. I started the company around two years back with a mission to provide a healthy and comfortable sleep to the Indian consumers.
We are an innovative sleep-focused company that is driven by a vision to create a one-stop brand that caters to the sleeping needs of the modern Indian consumer. Our aim is to redefine a user’s overall sleeping experience with our technically innovative and premium quality sleep products ranging from mattresses, pillows, comforters, bedsheets to accessories like neck pillows, sleep sprays, among others.
Our usage of internationally certified materials and a common vision within the team allows us to provide an unmatched sleeping experience. All our products are non-toxic and affordable, thereby ensuring optimal relaxation and rejuvenation for the user. We started two years back with a single mattress, and today we have a portfolio of attractive products that speaks about our growth and adoption within the Indian consumers.
What makes us unique is that we are working towards a unified mission of establishing Wink & Nod as an overall sleep brand, which is something that is currently not present in India.
While a lot of brands claim to be sleep focused, almost no one has the portfolio offerings to match the claim. Mattresses and pillows are central to sleep, but we’ve gone above and beyond to create multiple categories including bed linen and sleep enabling accessories to fulfill all sleep-related needs from one place. We’re also ever-expanding our portfolio to bring cutting edge technologies to solve sleep problems. We’re very excited about the next couple of months, with some really awesome products coming up. We’re doing $130k/month in revenues, and have served more than 12,000 orders to date.
What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I used to work for a VC fund in Florida and focused on investments in early-stage consumer brands. I was also the COO of a luxury eCommerce watch company as part of the VC fund. I noticed a consistent rise in US & Europe based startups that focused on disrupting the mattress and the sleep market – these startups were bringing sleep products that were traditionally sold offline to an online-first model. Plus there was a lot of innovation in the product itself. Being someone who had experienced difficulties with sleep and actively looking for the best products that the market has to offer, it piqued my interest.
Treat your company or your startup as a child – nurture it, grow it, and make it ready for the world.
The catalyst to start the business was the pursuit of my parents for a good mattress. They spent more than three weeks in this quest and ended up buying a mattress for an absurd price of Rs 30,000. Upon asking my mother what mattress she had purchased, she was not very sure. The experience of my parents and the potential opportunities in the Indian mattress industry sparked the idea of building a startup focusing on sleep.
After a rigorous analysis of the market, I decided to quit my job. I raised some capital from my boss and utilized it to build the platform. A friend of mine from college, Vishal helped me build the website. A colleague from my watch company, which was based in Hong Kong, helped me with the due diligence of possible sourcing partners. Additionally, Vishal had some contacts in design and warehouse companies from Mumbai. I came back to India teamed up with a few people from the logistics and eCommerce sector and launched Wink & Nod.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Wink & Nod’s biggest selling factors are the quality of our products. To ensure the same from the start, we took around 5 months in R&D and introduced our first product, a mattress.
We have always followed an ‘MVP and iteration’ approach in our product development. The broad philosophy behind this approach is that we start out the first iteration by casting a wide net, design it with the objective of addressing the most significant pain points for the majority of the audience. Post the initial MVP, we then rely extensively on customer feedback to test other unknowns and optimize the design to find the correct product-market fit. As a result, we’ve seen return rates on our mattress reduce dramatically from over 7-8% in the first trial to less than 2% returns on the current version.
We aim to bring cutting edge technologies to solve sleep-related pain points effectively and are constantly challenging ourselves to find creative solutions to customer issues. For example, sleeping hot is a huge problem in a tropical country like India so we adopted an innovative cooling fabric to cover our Emperia mattress that regulates the local climate on the surface of the mattress by acting as a heat sink, leaving the cover 3-4 degrees celsius cooler than its surroundings.
Our current products are backed by innovative technology, hence even our mattresses are designed in a way that can be compressed and fitted into a box. This makes them highly convenient to handle. On seeing the demand for our mattresses in the market, we decided to expand our product line to not only mattresses but other sleep-related products.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Around 2017 end, I was working as a Venture Capitalist in the US. An analysis of the mattress industry in India made me realize the market is largely driven by a few traditional players and lacked innovation. Aside from the broken distribution model of the industry, there was a visible confusion among the consumers in regard to the product categories. This gave me the idea to introduce innovative and affordable sleeping products to Indian consumers.
I started the company by raising some capital from my boss and invested the same in building the platform. December 2017 saw the launch of the Wink & Nod website. Following which I teamed up with a few people from the logistics and eCommerce sector and spearheaded its success.
Starting a business was always a personal goal, however, it was just a matter of finding the right pain point and taking the leap. Given how elusive sleep has become in our lives, I have been able to potentially fulfill a visible gap that is present in today’s health-driven world with Wink & Nod.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Wink & Nod started with the aim to spread awareness on the importance of sleep and how our products can assist to improve the sleeping experiences. Gradually, we are noticing customers being more and more aware of sleep and the importance it holds in their lives. There is an increasing preference among individuals to lead a healthy lifestyle. Today, consumers are ready to spend loads on getting a comfortable and relaxing sleep.
Since our launch, we have made sure to provide the same to the consumers at the most affordable pricing. Our products have witnessed high success in the market, and our 100-day trial service for our mattresses and our international standard certifications have made us further earn the trust of our customers.
We’re a D2C brand focused on all of India although the majority of our sales come from metros and upcoming Tier 2 cities.
While we continue to acquire customers online, we’re cognizant of customers’ need to get a touch and feel of such products and aim to establish a network of experience centers in major cities in order to address that need effectively. We have already experimented with this in a few cities and have observed substantially higher conversion rates.
As a company, we are shifting the conventional notion around purchasing a mattress from a tedious task to a smooth and enjoyable process for our customers.
While most of our sales happen on our own website, we also acquire customers via marketplaces like Amazon, Pepperfry, Flipkart, and others.
Customer acquisition through paid marketing has worked the best for us. We’re able to acquire customers through small ticket-sized products like pillows, comforters, towels, etc. This induces brand trial, post which we’re able to upsell/cross-sell our other products through email marketing and paid remarketing. This strategy has helped us keep the overall CAC in control.
The content of ads and other customer communication has worked well for us, as it’s in a tone that is relatable to the modern Indian customer. Instead of communicating in the traditional way about mattresses and pillows, we are able to talk to our customers in a friendly and uncomplicated manner. This ensures that we’re relatable to our target audience, while at the same time educating them about the importance of sleep, associated products and advancements in the industry.
Before starting any marketing activity, we are committed to diving into our customer personas. We map down their behavioral patterns and analyze the market demand for our products. The next step involves contacting the user on these touchpoints via various modes of communication, laying extra focus on customer engagement, and experimenting on offline activities.
The pricing of our products is set according to Indian consumers, hence our products are affordable and maintain a quality unlike any in the industry. Apart from the pricing, we have differentiated from our competitors by finding a feasible solution for logistic problems. Hence, we deliver something as large as a mattress inside a box, adding an extra element to the customer experience.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Wink & Nod also faced its set of challenges, like any other startup in the nascent stage. Fortunately for me, I have a team that believes in the vision of Wink & Nod. We started with the launch of a single mattress, and today, we stand in the market with a line of sleep-based products. Within a year and a half, our team has grown from 2 to 25+ members. Currently, we are selling on every major eCommerce website like PayTM Mall, Pepperfry, Amazon, etc. Additionally, we have experience centers in Pune, where people can get a first-hand feel of our products. In the coming years, we aim to expand our online footprint throughout India, alongside building experience centers around the country.
We are looking forward to launching more products in the coming years. Moreover, by the end of January, we are slated to launch our Ayurveda mattresses that are designed with the primal goal to provide a healthy product range to the customers, infused with the properties of Ayurveda. The future will see Wink & Nod being projected as a brand that is synonymous with a healthy sleeping lifestyle.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
As with any other startup in India, finding the capital to propel your business to the top is a big challenge. Tech startups are still able to find financial backings from VCs, however, in the case of a startup trying to establish a consumer brand, it becomes increasingly challenging. Wink & Nod was no exception!
Being an entrepreneur has its ups and downs, and you’re bound to face challenges and hurdles along the way. But nonetheless, the learning is exponential and the best form of training to grow both personally and professionally. As we grow, we are solving new challenges along the way, learning, and evolving on this journey together as a team.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Our core platform is a direct-to-customer website, where customers can view our entire product range, including specifications, prices, etc and make the purchase. In order to power this setup, several platforms and tools are deployed.
The website is based on Shopify wherein we use several apps and associated services to manage activities across marketing and operations functions. Platforms like Google, Facebook are a must-have for the marketing function of any e-commerce company. Apart from these, we use other customer interaction tools as well. We have developed a couple of in-house tools like the CRM system, which ensures that we have more control over our customer data.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I like podcasts of Joe Rogan, and from the channel Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders by Stanford. ETL is basically a candid discussion on the journey of entrepreneurs like their success stories, setbacks, among others.
When it comes to books, I like reading anything to do with psychology, startups, and investments.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
For entrepreneurs who have are planning to start a business or have just started is to approach the market with an open mind. The market is incredible but usually unpredictable. It is usually lonely at the top, even with the best team around you, but it’s critical to follow your passion. If you aren’t passionate about your business, you will not achieve the expected result out of it.
Treat your company or your startup as a child – nurture it, grow it, and make it ready for the world.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are looking for a couple of full-stack developers to join our team. Being a tech-enabled company, it’s critical that we scale the team with a growing customer base.
Secondly, we are also looking for entry-level B2C sales executives.