Vacaying amidst Luxury and Comfort- Interview of Cofounder of SaffronStays – Mr Deven Parulekar

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While moving away from the hectic and moron lifestyles one does need a comfortable and pleasurable stay to get relieved form the usual lifestyles. We do tent to enjoy the smallest services at such pleasurable stays from impeccable room services to hospitable and heartwarming welcome.

While on a holiday spree in Europe, Tejas Parulekar realised that the time her family spent various homestays in Spain, and France, they felt it was more enjoyable than at any hotel stay they had ever experienced. It provided them gave them privacy and space, and the kids had the freedom to run around freely without disturbing others. This sowed the seeds of a plan to create a discovery platform for luxury homestays, private villas, and heritage bungalows back home in India. Microhospitality startup SaffronStays, is standing in market to pivot its business model by launching SaffronStays First Family, a limited membership to a hand-picked collection of private vacation homes. Let’s enter their hospitable homes to experience the bliss of life!

What is the Name of Your Venture? Any specific reason for this name? 

Ans: The name of my venture is SaffronStays. While many people believe that we are affiliated with a political party and/or are backed by a political agenda, but honestly we have nothing to do with the connotation. We decided to name our brand after one of the most exotic and revered spices in the world. It has been, and will always be considered as a premium, luxury spice. From the Persian era, to modern-day, Saffron is considered as a gift of the rich and famous. Saffron is also the only spice that woos three senses out of five; saffron entices with its distinct smell, color and taste. SaffronStays, too endeavors to allure its patrons with exclusive homes, privacy and the luxury of certainty.

Who is your target Audience/clients? 

Ans: Our target audience is anyone who has a disposable income. Specifically, we are targeting the age group of 25 years – 40 years.

Where is your venture based (city, state, country) out of and what are your geographical target areas? 

Ans: SaffronStays is based in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India. Our target is to have a PAN India presence soon.

What problems does your venture resolve? What are your products or services? 

Ans: The lack of curated homestays while vacationing, along with the basic ideology of alternate holiday options, inspired us to come up with SaffronStays. SaffronStays is India’s foremost and exclusive micro hospitality collective that offers luxurious holiday homes at drive-to destinations from major urban cities, providing the luxury of certainty for weekend getaways and family holidays

We have a range of properties:

  • Pool properties – 8NM – Alibaug, Casa Blanca – Karjat, 9 Palms – Karjat, Falcon Hill – Lonavala, Cabo De Goa – Dona Paula etc
  • Beach properties – Salt Rim -Korlai, Little Paradise – Murud, Aquamarina – Alibaug, Venmani – Mahabalipuram etc
  • Pet friendly properties – Sanskriti – Kashid, Jade Villa – Karjat, Masaya – Alibaug etc
  • Heritage properties – Parsi Manor – Matheran, Calamondinn Bungalow – Coorg, Milton Abbot Estate – Ooty etc
  • Hill properties – Hillcrest – Pawna, Fragrant Sun – Mulshi, Verandah by the Valley – Panchgini, Tridiva – Uttarakhand etc.

Share the idea or story behind the venture. How did it come to existence? What motivated you to start your own venture? 

Ans: We had noticed the dearth of personal spaces that can be used by families, not necessarily bound by blood, for quick get-aways from metros. During a family trip to Europe, the joy, privacy, and freedom of a homestay gave birth to the idea of a Made-in-India platform that offered the comfort of a home while on a holiday. The lack of curated, quality home stays while on holiday, coupled with the cookie cutter ideology of holiday options in the country, inspired us to revamp our strategy. The owner of SaffronStays Parsi Manor, Matheran was the first homeowner who approached us to revamp and manage the home, and the idea for SaffronStays 2.0 was planted in 2015. SaffronStays now curates boutique homes and partners exclusively to manage the hospitality operations, branding, marketing and reservations thereby helping home owners monetize their otherwise dead assets. In three short years since the business pivot, the brand has acquired more than 90 exclusive homes across the country with a presence in Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, and Uttarkhand. The steady pace, and strong dedication to the brand philosophy has ensured a controlled expansion of the company. Our tagline, ‘Where Families Bond’ has been put together to connect families in this disconnected digital world. In today’s highly e-connected yet disconnected world, we aim to connect and rebuild relationships that really matter – in the real world. Our homes bring with them a unique personal touch, warm comfort, home-cooked food and unusual stories that leave guests with enriching memories for a lifetime.

Who are your biggest competitors and how do you differentiate yourself from them? 

Ans: We have formed a niche market for ourselves. As such, there are very few companies who are in this space and no other player that offers branding, marketing and managing the hospitality operations the way we do. We have adapted to the needs of a typical Indian traveler – a DIFM (Do it for me model).

How did you identify your co-founder? Tell us something about your co-founder/s 

Ans: The Co-founder of SaffronStays is my wife Mrs. Tejas Parulekar, a Chartered Accountant by training and a corporate banker by profession. Born and raised in Mumbai, Tejas is a graduate from R.A. Podar College of Commerce and Economics. She holds a Master’s degree in accounting and finance from The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India. Tejas began her professional journey by working at Ernst & Young, before moving to corporate banking at ICICI and then HSBC. In her spare time, Tejas enjoys watching people cook as she is enthralled by their passion and expertise. Apart from this, Tejas has a keen interest in board games, loves swimming, playing basketball and trekking in the monsoons. She also enjoys watching curated films and loves spending time with her kids.

How did you hire your first team members? What skills do you want in your employees/team? 

Ans: The first employee was someone we knew for a long time. She believed in the idea, in us, and the irrational perseverance that we had. We always look for individuals who align themselves with our ideals and believe in the power of the SaffronStays idea. These ‘stem cells’ are the ones we want with us through every high and low.

What expansion plans are you looking for the next 2 years, next 5 years? 

Ans: We are 82 homes now and expect to be 225-250 homes for March 2020. From a MRR of RS 1 cr, we expect to be MRR of Rs 3-4 cr by March 2020. We will achieve unit-level profitability by March 2020.

Where do you want to see yourself in next 10 years? 

Ans: 10 years is a very long time, when markets can change overnight. We aim to retain being the forerunners in the serviced private villas space, expand to urban homes and leave our footprint across the world.

What are your immediate goals over the next 1, 3, 6 and 12 months? 

Ans: Sign up every discerning family for the SaffronStays First Family, and facilitate unforgettable weekend and weekday vacations, and workstations.

Have you raised any funding? Or have any plans for the funding? 

Ans: We have raised Pre-Series A investment from Sixth Sense Ventures.

What were the problems you faced during the starting days and how did you resolve them? 

Ans: After being hung high and dry by tech teams two times prior to the launch, I learnt how to code a website from scratch. For three months, my colleague and I worked 24-hours on the website: I would learn and create the website during the day, while he would work on it through the night. I realized that the technology crunch was impacting my business and decided to take matters in my own hands. We now run a secure commercial booking site on a skeleton built by an amateur coder, and a colleague sitting 1220 miles away.

What was the most challenging part of your journey till now? How did you overcome those challenges? 

Ans: After running operations as an aggregator for 18 months we shut down our Pan-India operations overnight, and decided to focus our energy to hyper local homes in Maharashtra.

As an aggregator, the cost of acquiring each home was incrementally higher than the revenue we were generating, with no scope of growth. We decided to lock down the supply side of the model by shifting to an exclusive-owned model of operations.

We realized that the time and effort invested in improving the core quality of your product, is directly proportional to the Word-Of-Mouth publicity and brand loyalty that is generated for the end user. Sales and marketing campaigns can only do limited justice to a floppy product.

The hospitality industry lives by one rule: Survival of the Smartest. There have been innumerable players that have tried to enter this market, and sustain themselves, but have failed, because they did not focus on the two most important principles of running a hospitality venture:

Revenue must be generated before costs are incurred

Quality trumps importance over quantity.

The hospitality industry has a classic problem of reduced inventory and shortage during peak season and surplus inventory during off-season. The timeshare model adopted by a few players has attempted to solve this problem; but being asset heavy, has witnessed sluggish growth. With an asset-light model, a vacation home versus a sterile hotel room proposition and a sexy, exclusive-invite-only proposition, we wish to transform the vacation home ownership (real estate) and timeshare (hospitality) industries.

What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time? 

Ans: I thoroughly enjoy reading non-fictions books – autobiographies, motivational, thought leadership. I also enjoy playing tennis in my free time.

Whom do you consider your idol or biggest motivator? 

Ans: Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Nelson Mandela

What do you feel is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else? 

Ans: The biggest reason for an individual to become an entrepreneur is the search for the glory and legacy. They are completely comfortable not fitting in, and conforming to the status and ideals crafted by society; they are constantly questioning the status quo.

If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently? 

Ans: I would become an IAS officer.

How has being an entrepreneur affected your family & Social life? 

Ans: You need to be willing to pay a personal, professional, financial and emotional price. The ups and downs of being an entrepreneur are never long lived. Running a business with my wife, and Co-Founder Tejas, helps us balance the professional sphere – I am the idealist, she is the realist.

Anything, you would like to say to our readers or upcoming entrepreneurs? 

Ans: If you are unwilling to risk personal, professional, emotional and financial prices, and unwilling to postpone gratification, the entrepreneur road is not an easy one to be on.

Tell us something about your education & family background. 

Ans: After graduation I completed my MBA and started my career. I come from a middle class Saraswat Brahmin background – this helps me connect with my audiences.

What is your USP which makes it unique & different from other start-ups in similar domains. 

Ans: While aggregators like Airbnb, MakeMyTrip, etc are present in the market, there is no other company that exclusively manages the hospitality operations, reservations, marketing and branding of vacation homes, at this scale. There are various individual players in the market, but SaffronStays guarantees service standards in all their private homes across states. Also, very recently, SaffronStays has launched a membership model, wherein once you become a member, you can visit any of the villas as per your convenience over the period of membership and get preferential, privileged and discounted access.

What do you think is the biggest threat to the success of small businesses & Start-ups today? 

Ans: Excess funding before reaching product market fit. Entrepreneurs must reach product market fit in the most frugal ways; they must find solutions on their own, and scale with funding.

Do you consider yourself successful and by what means do you measure success? 

Ans: I have achieved the goals that I had set for myself in my professional and entrepreneurial life. The trajectory that we have drawn from ourselves, and gratification of being known by the mass is a boost.

Please share complete name, address, phone number, email id & website of Your Business & Contact Person

Name of the company: SaffronStays

Address: 218, Unique Industrial Estate, Twin Tower Ln, Prabhadevi, 400025

Email id: [email protected]

Website: https://www.saffronstays.com/

Contact person: Prerna Zaveri | [email protected]

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