Sleep is a superpower, says Mathew Chandy of Duroflex

MATHEW CHANDY, Chief Managing Director, Duroflex, gives us a first-person account of his career, his aggressive growth plan for the company and why it markets not just good mattresses, but good sleep

Srabana LahiriUpdated: Monday, July 18, 2022, 10:13 AM IST
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Mathew Chandy, Chief Managing Director, Duroflex |

“We are trying to go beyond selling great mattresses to becoming a real sleep company, marketing good sleep. We have launched a very focused ‘sleep community’ on providing quality information about sleep and how you can use it as a superpower,” says Mathew Chandy. Here’s his story in his own words:

LEARNING TO BE TOUGH…

Growing up in Bangalore, I went to St. Joseph’s, an all-boys school where you had to be tough, else you got bullied. I was a soft target for a long time, until I forced myself to become tough to stop the bullying. I wasn’t very good at sports, but I practised to be good enough to join the football and tennis teams. Team sports always kindle the team spirit and leadership traits.

Meanwhile, my sister, three years older than me, bullied me a lot too. So, I also had to toughen myself to stand up to her! I went on to the National Law School, a hotbed for leadership development and politics. There, we organized the Strawberry Fields Music Festival – which gave me a taste of raising sponsorships, calling musicians from all over India, setting it all up for the first time. Almost like my first start-up!

INSPIRED BY MY FAMILY…

My father is an IIT-IIM graduate, very passionate about music and technology. My curiosity for the arts, technology and business comes from him. He was formerly the MD of Duroflex, a company started by my grandfather. My mother taught English literature at Mount Carmel College, and my love for reading and being a people’s person come from her. She’s probably the best cook I know, and perhaps inspired me to start my restaurant Mooli’s in London. My sister is a film-maker, and takes on raw social themes with an inspirational angle.

I started out as a lawyer, but after 10 years, realized that I was more interested in my clients’ work, than I was in law. As a lawyer, you tend to worry about the risk in a business but my clients were more focused on the opportunities. That appealed to me, and made me move away from law.

MY MOOLI’S PHASE…

I was always a very good cook, and loved hosting people at home. Many friends said ‘Why don’t you start a restaurant?’ and quite naively, I thought it was a good idea. I had joined a firm called Linklaters in 2001 in London, and spent time with them and UBS investment bank in London, Hong Kong and Brazil. I was in London when a casual conversation with a close friend led to him partnering me and that’s how our 800 square feet restaurant Mooli’s began in Soho. I had great fun with it, learning how to serve customers and the art of delighting them. We were not a fancy restaurant, but a quick service, fresh Indian healthy food joint. But we had some famous customers, like Rahul Dravid, and some Hollywood actors walk in.

I had to tap into the creative side of my brain to come up with quirky communication for customers as we had no marketing budget. It was 2008, before digital marketing became a thing; I just experimented and learnt to use Twitter and Facebook for what is now called social media marketing. I applied a lot of those learnings to the business when I came back to India in 2012.

A GUY NAMED JAMES…

My most fun customer at Mooli’s was a guy called James - he was actually a homeless man. He had a cat, that he carried on his shoulder, and he would always pay me for the wrap he bought. Because he was homeless, I would give him two for the price of one. But he always gave me money which he earned from begging on the streets.

I became friends with him and when we were looking to expand, I told him, “James, we are looking to open a second restaurant and I’m looking for investors for that.” He replied, “I don’t mind investing in it.” I didn’t take him seriously until he told me that he had a book deal from a famous publishing house and they had paid him an advance that he wanted to invest in my business.

I was really blown away by that, still I did not think too much about it. Later, I found out that he did publish a book about his relationship with his cat and it was also made into a movie by the same director who made ‘Marley & Me’! Engaging with customers was the biggest learning from there.

MOVING BACK TO INDIA…

My father had passed away and in 2012, my uncle who was looking after the business wanted to retire. I decided to move back to India then and teamed up with my young cousins to put our energy behind Duroflex and write a new story for the brand. We saw a new India brewing, and wanted to make products and communicate to this new India.

The first thing we did was to get hands on – in sales, dealing with retailers, learning about their problems. The second thing we did was to bring in new talent. We invested in technology and people who know technology. One of the pivotal decisions was bringing in external capital in 2018. With that came a lot of expertise, a lot of growth capital, good advisors, external accountability. We built strong partnerships with the Royal Challengers Bangalore and Chennai Super Kings.

More recently, with Alia Bhatt. All the while, we are trying to build smarter products, around the most recent developments in psychology and neuroscience and sleep science. We’re trying to go beyond selling great mattresses to becoming a real sleep company, marketing good sleep.

GROWING AT 25% CAGR…

Ten years ago, we were about a Rs 100 crore business. We’ve grown 10 times since, to reach Rs 1,000 crore. We grew 100% in the last two years as we saw in COVID an opportunity rather than a problem. One strategy was national expansion. We bought a factory in Indore in the first lockdown and invested Rs 100 crore in it. We opened 50 company experience centres all over India, because we had to do justice to the kind of products we were developing. E-commerce has been a great growth engine for us and comprises 33% of our business.

Our fun and funky digital native brand called Sleepyhead that serves the younger millennial customer too has grown tremendously. It has colourful furniture with a lot of personality. We will continue to invest in national expansion, technology and people experience centres. We’ve grown at 25% CAGR for the last eight years and we will continue on that path.

WE ARE SLEEP SCIENTISTS…

During the pandemic, we tried to create awareness about the importance of sleep, and its link to immunity. Sleep-deprived people have a 50% higher chance of being affected by viruses like corona. We have identified 10 critical things that people could do to improve the quality of sleep, such as putting their gadgets away an hour before bedtime, etc… in essence the best practices for better sleep.

We came up with a number of new and innovative products offering protection against viruses. We have also started a new research wing called REM 42 – it’s a team of neuroscientists, sleep scientists, doctors and others. A lot of the work we do there is cutting-edge innovative research.

SHORT TAKES

ON DUROFLEX’S MARKETS: The South is our strongest market and we are now expanding into the West and North. In e-commerce, we are strong in all parts of India and a national brand. As for exports, we are strong in the US, Germany and Korea. Percentage contribution of exports to the business is 10%. Meanwhile, we’ve invested in good dealer management software and can track all our footfalls and conversions. We are also investing to create awareness about our brand, our product, and the importance of sleep. There’s a large unorganized segment which is not investing in good sleep or in a good branded mattress. Awareness and branding exercises can help organize that market.

ON TECH IN THE BUSINESS: We have tried to imagine every aspect of our business and how technology can improve and create value. The most important thing is that we have invested in a good digital transformation advisor -his name is Jaspreet Bindra and he has written a lovely book called The Tech Whisperer. He has been our tech whisperer for the last two years and added a lot of value. We’re trying to bring some AI and data science to better sleep.

ON SUSTAINABILITY EFFORTS: All our factories are clean and green. Most of our exports are organic sustainable products sold to environmentally conscious customers who want to use natural products without any synthetics or chemicals. We invest in rubber plantations that supply us with completely organic latex. We are now putting in money and energy to figure out how to recycle old mattresses because we don’t want those going into landfill.

We’ve set ourselves a target to try and become carbon neutral in three years. We just launched a range of mattresses called Energize, all the fabric used in it is made from recycled plastic. With that launch, I know that we have saved about 1,80,000 PET bottles from going into the ocean.

ON CHALLENGES AHEAD: A big challenge right now is that raw material prices have been extremely volatile. In the long term, a real problem is convincing people to take their health and sleep more seriously. It’s a challenge before the sleep solutions industry, not just our company. The day the Indian consumer really takes his health and sleep seriously, the industry will blossom.

ON LEADERSHIP: Leadership is about inspiring and enabling people to do their best work and to be the best version of themselves, and in the process build the best organizations. I really believe in human potential - it doesn’t matter where you studied or what you’ve done in the past, but what you want to do. I like to be a leader of leaders. I love to see leaders who have grown and flourished in our company. We give them a lot of freedom, coupled with responsibility.

ON HIS OWN PERSONALITY: I’m much more reserved and shy than I appear to be, because as a leader, you can’t afford to be shy. I love reading and try to read two books a month. I also love spending time underwater, snorkelling, swimming and diving. I love dogs, and can connect with animals even better than I connect with human beings. My biggest loss was when my dog died last year. My personal ambition is to be closely involved to enable India to win a lot of gold medals in the upcoming 2024 Olympics.

‘I WORK OVERTIME TO KEEP MYSELF HEALTHY’

“I work overtime to keep myself healthy mentally, physically and spiritually. That’s the only way you can stay focused, sharp and empathetic. Sometimes, we do our best creative work when it’s late in the night and the whole world is quiet, but in general, we make much better connections between random thoughts and ideas when we sleep well,” says Chandy.

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