They spread saffron homes all over India
Devendra and Tejas Parulekar followed their hearts and converted their passion into their occupation. Their brainchild, Saffron Stays, a luxurious home-away creates experiences for precious family bonding. In an exclusive chat with Swati Soni, they reveal about their venture.
Our venture, Saffron Stays, is based on a series of experiences. I knew that after I turned 40, I wanted to be able to follow my calling, and that time would reveal what that calling would be.
After earning an MBA, I held a significant post as a Senior Partner and Cyber Security Practice Leader for Ernst & Young as investor and mentor, and led a team of more than 450 people. I had everything: right from a cushy job to a great apartment to many international holidays, but somewhere I knew that working at E&Y alone was not my calling.
During this time of introspection, my wife Tejas - a chartered accountant with ICICI Bank – had also begun exploring her own calling and decided to give up her lucrative career. She put in her papers, but I couldn’t as I had to hold down the fort. She used the time to work on various ideas – such as comfort food or a craft that would give her immense satisfaction. We bounced off many, many ideas, when we stumbled upon our common love for travelling.
We recalled our experiences in 2011, when we had toured France and Spain. Tejas and I thoroughly enjoyed the different options for accommodation – from chateaus to homestays to boutique hotels. Every time we thought back to those experiences, the idea of creating a similar platform lingered with us.
Finally in 2013, we focused and began working on our project. I stayed on at my job, and would work on our project after business hours. Saffron Stays came into existence in August 2015.
Starting out, we only wanted to list a database of all homestays available in India, and for that we hired a bunch of interns through online portals. They became our foot soldiers and went across the country for recce and got all the required information. But tech-based start-ups, like ours, require dedicated tech professionals, which we thought we could outsource, but were proven fatally wrong.
We did hire two companies, but they bailed out just before our launch. Finally, I took matters into my own hands and through some resources I worked non-stop - at times 36 hours a stretch - and the website finally went up. I would seriously advise all budding entrepreneurs to consider at least one techie as a member, if you intend to start a tech-based enterprise.
I put in my papers around this time. In terms of funds, we had been judicious with our savings and hence we were lucky. In hindsight, we feel great that we didn’t have external funding. This gave us our autonomy and freedom in decision-making, and we could direct our funds wisely.
Revisit Ideas, Mix It Up
Once Saffron Stays took off, our lives changed completely. We had to cut corners. Splurging took a backseat. We took affordable vacations, and did not indulge much in luxury.
A few months into it, we realised that as a start-up we should never get stuck with just the original ideas and should always go back to the drawing board if something is not going right. For example: when we were doing fine with homestays, through word of mouth a Parsi gentleman called us repeatedly to check out his heritage bungalow. We kept ignoring the message, but finally Tejas gave in and we visited the property. To our surprise, we were completely floored by the property and decided that we would adopt, refurbish and curate the property.
The idea was to give our customers luxurious homestays, which would be professionally managed. This market had been relatively unexplored when we decided to take the plunge. Our business module now is to have a great luxury but with the comforts of home. Our aim is to offer heritage and culturally rich homes as vacation stays.
Many home owners find maintenance of their homes an arduous task. Saffron Stays provides the maintenance, and at the same time we are particular about retaining the originality.
Although we started out as a homestay provider across the country, we have realised that it’s better that we narrow our focus, and expand gradually. Initially, our presence was restricted to clients in Mumbai. Now, we also cater to clients from Pune, Bengaluru, and Ooty.
Looking Towards the Future
The start-up culture is extremely fragile, many organisations are shutting down but at the same time many enterprises are also evolving. We are constantly endeavouring to improve and enhance, and for that you need the right team. We started out as a team of two and have evolved to a team of seven.
We have also branched out gradually, and are now offering different cuisines in our homestays. For this, we have taken on board food consultants who can train the chefs serving at our homestays. Our concept is about vacationing with families, and that requires a bunch of experiences suited to all members of the family. Recently, we organised a strawberry fest at the Panchgani property. This event brought us a lot of positive feedback which we have taken into account, and are looking forward to incorporating more such events in the future. Our aim is to not not only offer luxurious homestays, but also experiences that families can cherish for a long time.
We would like to make special emphasis about this: if you want entrepreneurial skills to run in the family, you need to create an environment where such skills and willingness to learn can be fostered. We try and involve our children as much as we can in the operational side of Saffron Stays. Our children are nine and eleven years old, and enjoy being asked to contribute. Sometimes, we take our children to certain meetings and their feedback and subsequent meeting outcome is brilliant. It’s an opportunity for them to understand what their parents do professionally, how we work, and a potential career path for them.
Do you have any interesting or innovative concept in mind which could perhaps change the way hotel industry operates in India? Please put in your comments.