Sandeep Prasad, Founder & CEO – Wink & Nod

Wink & Nod is an innovative sleep-focused company which creates premium mattress and pillow products designed for the modern Indian consumer. Through innovative use of internationally certified materials, they aim to leave the users relaxed, refreshed and ready to dream. We are publishing an interview with Mr. Sandeep Prasad, Founder & CEO – Wink & Nod:

Q.: What is the problem you are trying to solve? Please share with us any insights that led you to believe that this is a big enough problem?
Ans:
After a few months of research into the way people sleep in India and the sleep market, Sandeep discovered that the domestic mattress market was largely driven by traditional players like Kurlon, Sleepwell, and others. Not only was the distribution model broken, but there was also confusion over product categories from a consumer’s point of view. The cost too was superlative “for something that was not even good”. There was a lack of innovative products. And good mattresses weren’t affordable.

Q.: Please tell us about the founders
Ans:
Wink & Nod was founded by Sandeep Prasad and co-founded by Vishal Mundhra. They started working together and built the company from the ground up. Sandeep over the past few years, had acquired skills through various jobs across finance, strategy and operations which provided him the relevant skills to manage WInk & Nod’s growth. His most recent experience as the COO of a luxury watch startup based in Florida set the perfect training platform for him to transition into the role of Wink & Nod’s CEO. Prior to that he worked in the finance heavy Investment Banking role which trained him to get very good with finance and accounting as well provided the work ethics to endure long hours at work with intense attention to detail.

Vishal on the other hand is Wink & Nod’s technology guide and guru, Vishal is a business-technology entrepreneur and an advisor to global businesses. Most recently, he was a product manager and the head of user experience group at TIBCO Software. In this role, he led large scale business transformation initiatives for Fortune 1000 companies. He has lived and worked (and slept!) in 6 different countries in his career.

Q.: List all the names of the core Team Members, along with their Designated Roles.
Ans:
Sure. They are:

  • Sandeep Prasad, Founder & CEO – Sandeep, the chief strategist and sleep expert, is a former VC investor who keeps a keen eye on our operations and growth. Sandeep earlier worked as an investment banker in New York, a strategy professional in Chicago and as a consultant in Pittsburgh. These high-pressure jobs made him recognize the value of a good night’s sleep. Sandeep holds an MBA from University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, a Masters in Science from Carnegie Mellon University, and a Bachelors in Engineering from Pune University.
  • Vishal Mundhra, Co-Founder & CTO – Our resident technology guide and guru, Vishal is a business-technology entrepreneur and an advisor to global businesses. Most recently, he was a product manager and the head of user experience group at TIBCO Software. In this role, he led large scale business transformation initiatives for Fortune 1000 companies. He has lived and worked (and slept!) in 6 different countries in his career. He has a Masters in Management from Carnegie Mellon University and a Bachelors of Engineering from Mumbai.
  • Aditya Labroo, Chief Operations Officer – Our Operations specialist, Aditya is a former investment associate at Guild Capital, a US-based early-stage Venture Capital Firm. His experience of startup life also comes from being a founder at FairFrog, a niche online marketplace. Aditya was also an options trader at the Dutch firm Optiver, based out of Amsterdam. Aditya holds an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta (IIM-C), before which he gained an engineering degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IIT Kanpur).
  • Keerthi Balakumar, Chief Product Officer – The man behind (or lying down on) Wink & Nod’s range of sleep products, Keerthi is our innovative product-in-charge. He is the former Innovation Manager at AB InBev India, where dealing with their fine portfolio of alcoholic products often left him yearning for a comfortable place to sleep off after long days at work. Keerthi holds an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A), a Masters in Marketing from the University of Cologne, after gaining his Bachelors and Masters degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.
  • Ankit Raj, Chief Marketing Officer – Ankit is our resident marketing lead, helping us spread the good word (and sleep!) about Wink & Nod’s products. Ankit was most recently a Consultant at AT Kearney. At Wink & Nod, Ankit will be responsible for customer acquisition and post-purchase customer support, which will mean getting more people onto our products and then working to ensure that they have a comfortable time. Ankit holds an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow (IIM-L), and a Bachelors in Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur.
  • Joe Roos, Chief Financial Officer – Joe is a successful retail focused private equity and venture capital investor with multiple exits including a 2012 IPO of Hudson’s Bay Company (TSX:HBC). He is currently a co-owner and Chief Financial Officer of KYBOE! a global fashion watch and accessory business available in over 30 countries. He is an active angel investor targeting consumer internet and ecommerce companies. Joe has a BA from Boston College and is a Chartered Financial Analyst. He enjoys playing football (soccer) and sleeping in late but with two children under age 5 it doesn’t happen often. Joe is hoping that Wink & Nod will launch children’s beds so that his kids sleep in later.
  • Aviral Bhatnagar, Advisor – Aviral is our business advisor, guiding us on spreading the word about the beauty of a refreshing Wink & Nod sleep. Ironically, he gets so much done during the day we wonder if he sleeps at all! An Associate at Guild Capital, Aviral has a keen insight into the startup ecosystem. He’s also a well-known and respected presence in the startup community on platforms such as LinkedIn and Quora. Aviral holds an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A), and a Bachelors in Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.

Q.: Tell us about the Product / Solution. How did you get your first customer? Explain how you went about the Product-Market Fit Process.
Ans:
The startup idea didn’t occur to Sandeep in his sleep. Sandeep’s mother helped him identify a pain point. His parents lived in Pune and they had to hunt for a good mattress for two to three weeks, but ended up buying an expensive one for Rs 30,000 or so. When he asked his mother what mattress it was, she had no clue. Around this time, Sandeep was also handling investments for various consumer brands in the US, one of which was making innovative sleep products. Sleep-related products were a burgeoning market in the West, given how elusive sleep had become in the lives of millennials. It piqued Sandeep’s curiosity, and he wanted to know what was happening in India.

A few months of research ensued, and he discovered that the domestic mattress market was largely driven by traditional players like Kurlon, Sleepwell, and others. Not only was the distribution model broken, but there was also confusion over product categories from a consumer’s point of view. The cost too was superlative “for something that was not even good”. There was a lack of innovative products. And good mattresses weren’t affordable. That is when he decided to quit his VC job, get back to India, team up with a few people from the ecommerce and logistics sector, and eventually, launch Wink & Nod in July 2017. Sandeep always wanted to start a business. For him, it was about finding the right pain point and taking the risk, as he had some experience growing an ecommerce business in the US. Sandeep’s team took four to five months doing the R&D before coming up with the first iteration of their product.

Q.: What is your USP?
Ans:
The company believes that it can distinguish itself through extreme focus on product innovation, international certifications (OEKO-Tex and CertiPUR-US) and patented technologies. Brands cut corners and use low quality foam and fabrics to sell cheap priced mattresses. But people spend many hours on the mattress, and through the certifications Wink & Nod ensures that the products are not harmful to health in the long run. This gives them an edge in quality and assurance, and Wink & Nod remains one of the few sleep-focused startups with quality certifications from renowned international bodies.

Q.: What were your assumptions when you entered the market, learning that you have?
Ans:
Sleep market includes all sleep related products and accessories and there are 2 major segments of competitors in the market. Big players who have been around for decades and the kirana stores. Our ideal customer is someone who cares about good sleep and well being and wants to do a bit of research to buy good quality products that are meaningful and healthy in the long run for them. We believe that people in the age group of late 20s to late 40s are ideal consumers, who live in big metro cities and are willing to try new brands. They have the awareness to learn about new innovative products and try them as well.

Q.: What has been your biggest failure as an entrepreneur and what did you learn from it??
Ans:
Failure is a part of an entrepreneur’s everyday life. For me the biggest learnings have been related to areas where I didn’t focus very early on in the business. E.g. Finance & Accounting – these are functions that most founders consider as back office and don’t pay a lot of attention initially. After a year of growing the business, we realized while filing our taxes that there were a lot of issues and gaps in our processes which resulted in fines as well as loss of time to fix the finance and accounting data. Moreover, a lot of strategic decisions depend on accurate finance data and due to lack of this data on a timely basis, a lot of our decisions got delayed. Post this experience, we hired an in-house finance person and continue to invest more time in the finance department to ensure that our book-keeping is accurate and timely.

Q.: How are you pricing the Product? What is the logic behind it? What is the model you are following – Free / Freemium / Premium etc. ? Explain your thought process.
Ans:
Pricing depends on the product. If we launch a product that has similar versions in the market, we try to price it close to the competitors. We also have some internal metrics related to margin that we need to make sure to adhere to when we price a product. For unique products that do not exist in the market, we try to figure out a price that justifies our margin structure as well as consumer’s ability to spend.

Q.: Please tell us about the investors (if any)
Ans:
The company also attracted investor interest, and raised an undisclosed seed round in late 2018 from Guild Capital, a US-based VC firm.

Q.: Is there any interesting success story of your startup? If yes, please write about it. ?
Ans:
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 are loved by consumers and the company has grown in revenue by 5x in the last 1.5 years

Q.: Since inception, give us a sense of the value of business done by your venture?
Ans:
The business has grown 8 times since inception in 2017 and we continue to grow at 10-15% per month. We now have 6000+ customers all over India and are not available on almost all major e-tailers including Amazon, PepperFry, PaytTM Mall and Flipkart.

Q.: What is the big picture of your startup? Is this Product/service leading to something bigger? If so, how?
Ans:
In the long-run, Wink & Nod aims to be an end-to-end sleep products company that offers a complete one-stop solution for sleep needs with a goal of transforming a billion bedrooms into sleep sanctuaries.

Q.: Who do You Perceive as Your Competition? How do you differentiate yourself with them?
Ans:
Though there are many sprouting sleep brands by the hour, Wink & Nod believes that it can distinguish itself through extreme focus on product innovation, international certifications (OEKO-Tex and CertiPUR-US) and patented technologies. Brands cut corners and use low quality foam and fabrics to sell cheap priced mattresses. But people spend many hours on the mattress, and through the certifications Wink & Nod ensures that the products are not harmful to health in the long run. This gives them an edge in quality and assurance, and Wink & Nod remains one of the few sleep-focused startups with quality certifications from renowned international bodies.

Q.: What would be your goal to accomplish in the next six months? Any other information you would like to share?
Ans:
In the short term, the company plans to increase penetration in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities

Q.: What message do you want to convey to fellow entrepreneurs?
Ans:
Entrepreneurship can be a lonely and tough road. So surround yourself with a team that’s smarter than you and has the ability to not only see the big picture but also jump into the weeds to resolve issues. Secondly, try to separate your business from your personal life. And finally, there will be issues every day. But focus on breaking down problems into smaller parts and then solve them.

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Thanks Sandeep. All the best!

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