It’s the middle of the week and you’re probably already waiting for the weekend to catch up on lost sleep. We looked at a handful of startups trying to help us sleep better in the few hours we do manage to get.Suma Ramachandran
Sleep – the final frontier of a millennial lifestyle centred around 80-hour workweeks. No matter how technologically advanced we are, sleep is not something we can do without. Yet.
It’s what our brain needs to reboot itself. It’s what we crave and succumb to at the end of a punishing week. And now, it has become an industry by itself.
While the world of sleep-tech includes wearable devices that tell you how much you slept, contactless tech that tells you how well you slept, and how your sleep (or lack of it) is affecting your health, it all boils down to one question: how can you get a good night’s rest?
From customised new-age mattresses to anti-bacterial, memory-foam pillows, a host of startups now offer a smorgasbord of products that assure you that perfect siesta. In fact, the online mattress market is a $15 billion industry in the US.
In India, that figure is pegged to be at Rs 10,000 crore by 2020 for an industry that has been largely disorganised for decades, seen little innovation, and dominated by a handful of brands.
It was a sector ripe for disruption once companies were ready to listen to the customers’ pain points and provide affordable solutions. Now, a handful of startups have done exactly that and taken the lead in providing ‘sleep solutions’.
Launched by IIT Roorkee alumnus Ankit Garg in 2014, Wakefit hit the headlines when it raised $9 million in a Series A round from Sequoia Capital in December last year.
The company started by selling basic mattresses based on material – memory foam, foam, spring and coir. What Ankit did differently was have the team visit their customers in person once they had used the product for different periods of time, sometimes even as much as six months. He personally visited more than 100 customers to get their feedback.
Its flagship product, the memory foam mattress, has been updated 15 times since inception. All that testing and feedback helped create products on which Wakefit offers a 20-year warranty. This is in addition to a 100-day trial.
Co-founder Chaitanya Ramalingegowda told YourStory that they are essentially ‘democratising sleep by making high-quality sleep products affordable to the common man’. “What was available in the Rs 40,000 to Rs 1 lakh (range), now starts at as low as Rs 6,000 at Wakefit,” he says.
Soon, the company also modified its manufacturing facility to cater to custom sizes without affecting delivery time. Wakefit’s portfolio includes water-resistant mattress protectors, adjustable pillows, fitted bed sheets and comforters.
Kabir Siddiq still has the piece of paper on which he scribbled down the challenges customers face when buying a mattress and getting it delivered home. This was in 2016 when he was working in his family’s mattress and furniture distribution business.
The following year, he set up SleepyCat, a Mumbai-based company that sells orthopedic mattresses and related products online. Its mattresses have removable covers to maintain hygiene. They also have cooling crystals inserted into the memory foam that help regulate body temperature. The company released a premium version of its mattress in November 2018 and has a range of sleep accessories as well.
What’s more, its mattresses are structured so that they can be ‘boxed’ for easy delivery.
“Majority of the buildings in India are old, and do not have service elevators. This means carrying a mattress up flights of stairs and squeezing them through doorways was a difficult task. All of this added to a tremendous cost for mattresses,” Kabir told YourStory in an earlier interview.
Prices start at Rs 10,000, as per the company’s website. It also retails on Amazon, having started out on Amazon’s Launchpad platform for new products.
SleepyCat says it has been profitable from the second month of its operations, having sold 10,000 units in the past year. This year, it is looking to sell close to 25,000 units, and is also in the process of raising funds.
A two-year-old startup based out of Pune, Wink & Nod also packs its mattresses for delivery into 4ft x 2.5ft boxes. This makes storage, shipping and delivery convenient and affordable for the company and its customers.
What sets its products apart are two things, according to Founder Sandeep Prasad. One, it offers a significant price advantage. Two, its products are cool (literally) thanks to being covered in bamboo fabric.
Add to that a 100-day trial policy and free delivery within three to four days, and Sandeep seems to have found the right mix.
Wink & Nod’s product portfolio consists of three models of mattresses (Lumbar, Lounge and Emperia) ranging between Rs 11,499 and Rs 16,499, and three varieties of pillows (Mist, Snow, and Carbon) priced between Rs 1,950 and Rs 2,900.
In 2018, it raised seed funding from Florida-based Guild Capital and is looking to raise some debt funding this year to fund its brand-building activities and retail expansion.
The folks at Cuddl believe every sleeper is unique, and one size doesn't fit all. In a marketplace crowded with cookie cutter pillows, Cuddl says it is “India's first pillow company that offers pillows with adjustable thickness that adjust precisely to a user’s neck requirement”.
As Founder Shashank Palli points out, “While there is a debate around various types of mattress for achieving the best sleep for every individual unique sleeper, pillows are an indispensable constant of the sleep equation. Even sleepers who do not use a pillow tend to use their arms to elevate the head to properly align the spine.”
In today’s world, he says, “Sleep is a passively performed activity and hence, it is the responsibility of sleep products to help a user achieve better sleep.” Sleep products, therefore, must evolve to accommodate “changing lifestyles accounting for higher levels of stress, reduced physical activity, poor postures, longer commutes and the invasion of technology into sleep time”.
Cuddl, which is a very early-stage company, says its lab tests show users experience an 80 percent reduction in sleep interruptions with the right pillow, improving REM sleep because their sleeping posture is better, and their spine is aligned correctly.
Meghna Agarwal from New Delhi stumbled upon the need for good quality pillows and mattresses when a friend began suffering from back pain. Products in the market were steeply priced, and the more Meghna thought about it, the more she realised that here was a gap, waiting to be filled.
That was the genesis of The White Willow, whose objective, says Meghna, is not just selling pillows but creating smart and aware consumers who understand the importance of using the right kind of pillow and how it affects their comfort and sleep.
Apart from memory foam pillows, The White Willow, set up in 2015, makes home furnishing products like cushions, mattresses, and other soft furnishings. At present, the team is working on custom mattresses where buyers can choose the right kind of foam and density.
Alphonse Reddy, a graduate of BITS, Pilani, and INSEAD business school in France, decided it wasn’t enough to anticipate and guess what people preferred while buying mattresses.
So, when he set up Sunday in 2015 with an initial investment of Rs 40 lakh from family and friends, he also made sure that it had an advanced technology backend that would gather data on how people choose their mattresses. Today, these insights continually help the company’s product innovation and pricing strategies. For instance, added more items in the lower price range, thanks to customer feedback.
“Customer happiness matters to us more than other metrics. We want to up the experience, not just the mattress, unlike other mattress companies that are our competitors,” Alphonse told YourStory in an earlier interview.
Its products come in the price range of Rs 9,999 to Rs 49,999, with 100-day return and 100-percent refund policies. Besides mattresses, Sunday also provides pillows, protectors, and toppers. Curiously, the company does not sell on any online marketplaces and retails only from its own website.
All products mentioned here are available for order online, either on their own website, or via online marketplaces. This story does not recommend any brand for purchase.