Today’s guest is a real treat, who brings a real passion to what he does – that started from a very early age with a hilarious game of hide-and-seek – he is Kristian von Rickenbach, the Co-Founder of direct-to-consumer mattress company, Helix Sleep.

In a crowded marketplace, with several large competitors all launching around the same time, Kristian saw an opportunity to differentiate himself by not offering a one-size-fits all mattress, but rather a personalized experience for each customer based on their sleep preferences.

He wasn’t always an entrepreneur – without a real plan after college he explored finance for a bit, before settling into a career in consulting for a variety of businesses.

Ultimately, a chance encounter with one of his co-founders during a networking event sparked the idea to tackle an under-serviced, slow-moving industry. 

Kristian shares his personal tactics that have helped him scale the business to success, including how many hours of sleep he gets each night.

Please welcome, Kristian von Rickenbach.

Daniel: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat today. I really appreciate it. And I’m sure there are just so many different stories that we can go through and only so much time. But I was reading one of your bios online, and there’s an interesting, kind of a two sentence story that I feel like is a lot more interesting beyond that about when you were a kid playing hide and seek. And I’d love it if you could, you know, recollect and tell that story, because I think it’s a pretty funny outcome.

Kristian: Yeah, absolutely. It is a really funny story. I’ll start from the beginning. So I have two brothers, and specifically, this one took place with my older brother named Patrick who had a pretty, you know, we had a fun kind of competitive relationship, especially when we were really young. And one of the games that we could always play was sort of an extreme form of hide and seek where like nothing was out of bounds. So it slowly it started to escalate over time where we would try to find more extreme hiding spots. So, you know, went from under the bed to the closet to then, you know, under the car to under the porch. 

And eventually, you know, I was still pretty young and pretty small and I guess more limber than I am now. But I found what I thought was the perfect hiding spot, which is in the washing machine, which was in our basement. And I slipped in there and just kind of, you know, closed the door as best I could and held it tight. And it was good he couldn’t find me, but then not if you’re anyone else. So I actually ended up kind of falling asleep in the washing machine. And you know, who knows how much longer it was later, but I just remember this frantic look on my mom’s face when she opened it, you know, looking like scared half to death wondering if I was abducted or run over by a car or something. But it ended up, I had just taken a little nap in the washing machine. So I guess sleep has been a part of life from a very early age.

Daniel: That’s so funny. I’d have never thought of that when I was…I thought I was pretty creative with hide and seek, but I never thought of doing that when I was a kid.

Kristian: Yeah. I think that’s definitely kids only. I don’t know if my back could handle being curled up in a washing machine now. But it was a definitely a good one at the time.

Daniel: And in general, like, what was growing up like for you? It sounds like you had, you know, a fairly large family growing up with a few siblings. But can you just, you know, what was it like in your household, was it very free flowing? Was it…were you one of those kids had a very scheduled kind of lifestyle with lots of extracurriculars that you were either…volun-told to do?

Kristian: Yeah. When I was very young…So I had an older brother and a younger brother, and we’re all, you know, obviously, all boys. So it was very kind of boisterous household, especially when we were younger, which is a lot of fun. We had a lot of fun together. We lived in the suburbs outside of Boston, so spent a lot of time out in the woods and playing sports in the neighborhood and everything else. 

As I got older, it definitely became more structured. You know, I took my academics in high school very seriously, and that was a big part of my life. You know, I played lacrosse and skied cross-country as well, and so that was a big time commitment. And then got involved in extracurriculars for sure. You know, I was involved in a nonprofit in my town and did a mock trial program. And so, you know, I liked to stay busy, for sure. I think that’s a big consistent. But, you know, I think in many ways, those years were very formative, especially in high school, where I had a pretty rigorous, as I was saying, academic calendar kind of really taught me the discipline of hard work and kind of structure in approaching things.

Daniel: And what made you decide to go to Duke? It’s a good basketball school, obviously. 

Kristian: Yeah. And actually, it’s funny, I was not a college basketball fan at all. I knew almost nothing about the basketball program. But it was really, you know, I had been visiting schools. My dream school was actually Columbia in New York, where I obviously ended up. And then, I went down to visit Duke on a road trip with my dad. And we got there and it’s just this beautiful day. You know, I don’t know if you’ve ever been down to Duke University, but like the campus is just gorgeous, right? It’s just, you know, big sort of Gothic architecture and big open quads. And I realized one, that I was absolutely sick and tired of freezing winters in Boston. That was a big factor. And I also just loved the concept of just having this like really connected campus. It really felt like a community, you could tell that the students felt like there’s a community there. And it just really resonated with me. And so it was one of those real sort of love at first sight moments, honestly, and that stayed with me for the rest of the time I was there at school.

Daniel: And so through Duke, I don’t know if you had an idea when you kind of started or as you were going. Did you have an idea of what it is, you know, what were your theories as just to what you’d like to do when you had, you know, finished college?

Kristian: I did not, not until sort of later on. You know, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I ultimately settled on a dual philosophy degree and economics degree, philosophy because I was very interested in it and economics because I felt like I needed to get a job at some point. But, you know, I experimented with a couple different things. I did an internship at a pretty small investment bank up in Boston that did a lot of tech-focused deals. And, you know, just tried to get my feet wet a little bit. But I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do long term. 

You know, I tried the investment banking thing, I realized that it wasn’t really for me. And that’s actually how I ultimately ended up in the consulting world because it’s, you know, consulting is great for people who are just sort of entering their careers because you work with a number of different clients and you can really sort of experience a broad range of companies and business models and industries. And that was one of the big selling points for me for actually for moving into that industry. 

Daniel: In the notes you sent over, I thought it was really interesting, the…I know lots of friends in consulting and I went through a business undergrad, too. And so, I had thought about that career path myself. But I’ve never seen someone with as diverse a selection of odd projects that you worked on. I mean, there’s two that stood out to me. One was like a gun holster case, which seems oddly specific. I don’t know if you remember any details about that.

Kristian: I’ll never, ever forget the gun holster case. Yeah, so we…a big part of the practice…I was at LEK Consulting here in New York, which is, you know, they’re a big consulting firm in London and have a large office in Boston, but it was really only about 20 to 25 people here in New York. And a large part of the practice there was in private equity due diligence cases, so essentially investigating industries and businesses for private equity firms that were interested in doing deals. And so those cases tended to be very short. So, you know, anywhere from two to four maximum maybe six weeks and in very bizarre esoteric industries, because, you know, it’s wherever the firm is looking to make an investment.

And so I remember this gun holster case came down. It was a family business that had been manufacturing sort of tactical gun holsters for consumers. And, you know, it was coming up on Christmas time, where usually, there’s a lull, and so I wasn’t staffed at the time, I was sort of hoping to make it through Christmas and sort of quiet slip through without being staffed. And then, I remember my manager came by and dropped over the briefing packet, you know, so it’s like 80 pages long on a gun holster company and ended up doing a pretty huge consumer survey and really trying to understand, you know, like purchasers of gun holsters, what the products they were looking for, their behavior. You know, I worked straight through Christmas Eve and Christmas.

So it was an intense case, but it was actually fascinating, right? It’s a huge world. And that’s really, you know, that kind of story repeats itself in consulting, right? You drop into everything from, I did something in, you know, an architecture magazine, commodity chemicals, snack foods, right? You just kind of drop into these different cases and really sort of learn an intense amount about an industry in a very short period of time. So in that way, it was like a very quick, intense education on sort of the world of business for me.

Daniel: The other story you mentioned, which is coincidental, because I’m in Toronto right now, I’m from Toronto, was when you had to come up to our cold city on a pet store case, which seems like I wouldn’t have expected something like that to, you know, if I was projecting, like, what would I do in a consulting job? It wouldn’t have been what you had gone through there.

Kristian: It wasn’t a huge focus on pet stores, right? It’s actually funny. I ended up spending…the largest client that I ended up billing most of my time with was within the pet food and pet store industry. So I have some pet store expertise. I haven’t put it to work, but I do have verified pet sort expertise. And in this particular case, we’re working for a Canadian pet store chain that was trying to understand sort of how they’re being impacted by the changing competitive landscape. You know, a lot of the big box retailers were expanding you know, PetSmart and Petco. And they were trying to, you know, get input from customers who were actually shopping at those big box stores. 

And so me being a very junior person on the team at the time, I was selected to travel up to Toronto in the middle of February and speak to customers in a parking lot, trying to get some consumer data around it. So I was bundled up sort of sitting in my rental car, because it was too cold to really stand outside the entire time, and I would sort of jump out and kind of surprise these pet store shoppers and say, “Hey, do you want a Starbucks gift card if you answer this 10-question survey?” It did not go particularly well. I had a pretty low response rate. And actually, at one point, the manager came out of the store and, you know, very politely, I will say, asked me to leave. So I had to go to another store down the road.

But yeah, the big breakthrough for me on that project was actually, I spoke to a friend who had spent a bunch of time in Canada and they recommended to move to Tim Hortons cards, you know, the local coffee chain instead of Starbucks cards. And that dramatically improved my response rate. So, you know, a little bit of consumer insight right there, I guess. 

Daniel: Yeah. Learning how to adapt to the local market. 

Kristian: Yeah, that’s exactly right. 

Daniel: And so, I mean, it sounds like you had many exciting cases that we could spend, you know, lots of time talking about there. But I’d love to kind of fast forward, you know, you had a stop at Google. And then eventually, you know, went to do your MBA, where if I’m just matching dates, it seems like that’s where you met your other co-founders for Helix. And, you know, what’s the story of how you met Adam and Jerry?

Kristian: Yeah, it’s kind of an interesting story. So I came in to get my MBA, really with the mission of starting a business. I knew that’s what I wanted to do, I did not have a specific business model that I was 100% focused on. And so I spent a lot of time just trying to talk to other people in the entrepreneurial community, other students at Wharton who were interested in starting up.

And pretty early on, I started to really get a lot of interest in the direct-to-consumer business model. You know, even at that time, it had some really successful businesses come out that we’re really focused on direct-to-consumer, and I thought it was really fascinating. With the background that I had in consumer, I just saw the value of having that direct connection and relationship with your end customer. And I had actually done a case in the mattress industry previously and really sort of learned a lot about how broken it was. And so, you know, started to put two and two together that there was, you know, potentially something there. 

And so I ended up at a small group talk. A friend of mine actually snuck me in with the Warby Parker, founder of Neil Blumenthal, who had graduated, obviously, several years previously, in a sort of a very casual Q&A session, super insightful. He’s a really thoughtful guy. I really appreciated it. And at the end of the session, you know, someone asked him the question, Okay, Neil, you know, obviously, Warby has seen an enormous amount of success, you know, in the glasses category. You know what other categories do you think the direct-to-consumer model could fit with?” 

And so he said, “Well, you know, I think, it tends to be pretty specific. It can’t necessarily work in every category. It needs to have certain characteristics. You know, mattresses are ones that I’ve been thinking about a lot.” And it just lit up. And I was like, “Wow, I’ve been like obsessed with these mattresses for the past few months, I’ve been thinking a ton about it.” And, you know, we chatted about it a little bit. And then as we walked out, Adam, who I had never met before previously came up to me and said, “Mattresses? Like, I’ve never thought of that before.” And we ended up getting coffee, talked about it a lot. You know, he had previously worked in sort of a brand marketing role and really sort of got geeked out on sort of the concept of building brands. And we really kicked something off. But we got incredibly excited about it. 

And then, we very quickly realized that both of us, you know, I came from more of a strategy and analytics background, Adam came from more of a branding background and a marketing background, knew nothing about making products, right, or anything around sort of actually manufacturing or supply chain or anything like that. And so, you know, we went and spoke with Jerry, who was one of the early classmates, people who I’d met very early on at Wharton. And he had actually run a manufacturing company. He spent some time in finance and in private equity, and then went on to run his family’s manufacturing business. And we said, “Hey, we need to figure out how to make mattress, you wanna help us out?” And he was also, you know, really interested in startups and ended up joining our team, you know, pretty soon on. And that’s kind of how we kicked off. 

Daniel: I’m curious, I mean, seems like you were quite fixated on mattresses through your research, but were there any other kind of competing ideas that, you know, let’s say, you know, Neil had never mentioned mattresses. Was there something else that you had, you know, in the back of your head that you would have done instead had this not caught your interest and kind of caught fire from there?

Kristian: Yeah, it’s interesting. I had a list…I wish…I should see if I can dig it up. I had a list where I would sort of sit there and sort of fill out pros and cons since almost day one when I started my MBA. I don’t remember what was on that list. I’ve always had also an interest in healthcare and sort of consumer-focused health care, but I knew very little about it. So I have a feeling there was probably some ideas on there that were not very well fleshed out and didn’t really have much potential, I didn’t know too much about them. But as soon as we started to really circle around, you know, the direct-to-consumer business model, like that was just something I started to feel really passionately about. It just aligned really well with what I loved about my career thus far. And so it really kind of fell in naturally after that. 

Daniel: And one other thing, I’m very curious about, because I kind of lived through a version of this. Ourselves, we had run a beauty subscription box company probably in 2010 to 2014, right around when it was kind of the Wild West, “Let’s put everything on subscription.” We did that in the Canadian market and we had like four different competitors, and it was kind of like a wild situation here just locally. So I’m curious for you, while I agree there’s, you know, lots of things fundamentally wrong with mattresses around the time when you were getting Helix started, that’s when Casper and, you know, like, I don’t know the exact order of everyone, but a whole bunch of mattress companies flooded the market and using direct-to-market model, right? And to the outside observer, they’d see this and be like, “Well, okay, I had this great direct-to-consumer idea, these guys just launched, you know, the opportunity’s gone.” What was it that you saw that made you think otherwise?

Kristian: Yeah, it’s funny. There was a very specific moment where this hits like we started really thinking through and working on the early concept of Helix in the fall of 2013. And so we had started to think through product development and some like branding and things like that going into 2014. And then, Casper launched, I think, it was April 2014. And we had heard some rumors that they were coming around, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to us. But I remember we were up in New York, we had had some meetings. And, you know, we saw the press release come out, we saw the TechCrunch announcement, right, we sat down at a coffee shop and said, “Hey, like, what does this mean for us?” Right, like, what do we actually think about this?”

And ultimately, you know, I think we could have interpreted it in two ways, right? One is that, you know, “This category’s done. Someone beat us to it and it’s over.” But the other interpretation, which, you know, we, obviously, ultimately went with is that, “This is a huge proof of concept, right? They’re obviously, you know, doing very well. And it’s also a massive category, right? I mean, mattresses are upwards of a $20 billion category of retail, and they’re not gonna capture that whole market, right? It’s just not feasible for them to do that. And what we really believed was that, you know, unlike certain consumer categories, you know, this was not something where it’s the winner take all category by any means. And we really felt like there’s an opportunity to build a brand that had a different offering, a different consumer value prop, and, you know, and a great brand that, you know, could still stand up and stand its own in that market. And so, ultimately, we felt like it gave us more conviction, to be honest with you, just because we felt like they did a lot of the early work in sort of convincing consumers that a mattress was even something that you could buy online in the first place. And, you know, kind of paved the way in many ways for Helix and some of our competitors.

Daniel: And one of the things that, I think, is relatively unique in the product decision you made was to go with, you know, I call it extreme personalization, and especially if you look at the site, you know, now there’s a slew of different options I can pick for myself if I’m in a couple and all these different things. But where in the journey did that kind of factor into your decision, was it at the very beginning or, you know, where did you decide to make that tweak? 

Kristian: Yeah, that’s a really good question. Yeah, it was right around the same time, but like we knew that we wanted to introduce some really meaningful differentiation, right? We didn’t wanna launch with a one-size-fits-all product, or at least just a copycat of Casper, right? We knew that that was not a recipe for success. And we started to really dig in. So we did some pretty extensive consumer surveys and customer research and interviews with people who had been shopping for a mattress. And we walked away with, like, two just very clear conclusions. One was that people had very different needs in a mattress. So we hear a lot from people around issues around getting too hot at night or having back pain or, you know, sleeping in different positions or sleeping with their partner and having difficulties matching their sleeping preferences.

It was clear that there was just a lot of variation, essentially, in what people needed in the product. But the other thing that was paired with that was just an extreme sense of confusion, right? People would go into a mattress store knowing literally nothing about it. They didn’t know the brand of mattress that they slept on, they didn’t understand any of the materials or want it would do for them. And so they just felt like they were essentially at the whim of the salesperson who was working at the store. And we started to kind of marry those two concepts, which is that you know, people have different needs, but they have no way of figuring out how to meet their needs, essentially, right? Like, what is the right product for them? 

And so we started to really think through this concept, and it was like, well, can we use technology? Can we use data and analytics to match people to the right product for them? So, you know, don’t have someone who’s working on commissions kind of pushing whatever the highest margin product is for them, but instead use technology to really kind of help them guide them through that shopping experience. And that was really the origin of, you know, what is the essence of Helix today?

Daniel: There’s one thing that also stood out to me as, you know, probably a decision that most people wouldn’t make is there seemed like there’s a research paper amongst all the things you read that delved deep into this idea of personalizations on mattresses, so very niche and specific to what you guys are doing. But instead of just kind of reading it and absorbing it and going, “Okay, great. Like, let’s apply this.” You guys actually, like, jumped on a plane and flew to meet them. And so what made you decide, if you can think back to that of, you know, why go to that length to connect with these people opposed to a lot of other lower cost, you know, on time and money options you could have chosen? 

Kristian: Yeah, that’s a great question. I remember I stumbled on this paper, it was late at night. I was in the middle of my summer internship during my MBA working at Harry’s here in New York. And so I was at a temporary apartment out in Brooklyn, I found this paper. I ended up staying up all night reading this. And I felt like this guy was speaking to me, right? Where I was just thinking about mattress personalization, he was super deep in it. And you know, I ended up emailing him, you know, probably 3 a.m. that morning, and we jumped on a call the next day. And, you know, he was essentially…his research was addressing exactly the topic of what we were getting at. It was just, how do you take someone’s needs, like, their preferences, their body type, their sleeping position, and match that to a set of materials in a mattress that’s gonna meet those needs?

And so as we started to think through, like, that core value prop that I was just referring to, you know, we didn’t want to launch with something that was essentially bogus, right? We didn’t want to just go in and say, “Oh, you know, you sleep on your side, and so you get a soft mattress,” or something like that. Like, we really wanted to embrace and lean into the real science behind this. And, you know, we’re not PhD researchers, we knew that. And so we felt like, you know, these guys are really…were the only people in the world who had really been starting to look at specifically this topic. As you say, it’s a highly niche research area. And so we ended up flying out there to really just talking about it and think through this. And they were also very excited about thinking through applications of their research and we ended up forming a partnership with them to kind form the basis of our matching algorithm machine. But now, of course, have refined and tweaked and added to it substantially over time. But that was sort of…ended up forming the essence of it. 

Daniel: And do you recall like what did you write in that email to this person? Because I imagine, I mean, they must be excited that someone’s familiar with their research, but at the same time, it’s like, “Who is guy from the U.S. that is building…” like, it seems like an odd email I would get if I’m on the other side.

Kristian: Yeah, 100%. I should dig it up actually, and see what it said. But I think I probably called that out where I was saying, “Hey, you probably don’t get a lot of emails like this. But, you know, I’m someone who’s deeply interested in mattress personalization and thinking of starting a business around here, and would love to chat.” Right? And we ended up getting…I think we spoke for like an hour-and-a-half when we got on the phone after we talked to him just because, you know, it’s not often that you get to talk to someone who is so deep in a subject as specific as that one.

Daniel: And so okay, so Helix launches, and I’m curious, like, what that from that moment to, you know, when you kind of realized like, “Hey, there’s like real product market fit here.” What were some of the, you know, memorable challenges you guys had to go through in those early days from the site is live, people are buying stuff to, “Hey, this is actually a thing. Like, our thesis is actually proving to be, you know, somewhat validated.”

Kristian: Yeah, it was, you know, we launched, there was just me and my two business partners and we had two MBA interns over the summer right after we graduated. And so it was the five of us crammed into a two-person WeWork office. And, you know, we ended up launching in August of 2015. We were fortunate to get some great press coverage when we launched. That was a big part of our strategy. And so we saw a really nice initial pop in traffic and in sales. And so we really started to build some confidence. And then, you know, we went out into the, you know, continuing launch for the rest of the summer and into the fall. And, you know, we were sort of staying steady, right? You know, it wasn’t nothing. And it wasn’t, you know, exponential growth. And so we started to do some testing around different marketing channels and figuring out other ways to get the word out.

And just essentially, right around the New Year, from 2015 into 2016, things just started to click at the same time, and we just started to grow at just an absolutely crazy rate for us, right? You know, we had, again, at that time very little idea of what to expect and really what we we’re doing at that time, and just grew over the next few quarters just incredibly quickly, which is really exciting for us. Like a lot of the work, for us at the time and the challenges that we had, was just keeping up with growth, right? Like, we had, at that time, it was really the three of us. We had to build up our customer experience team, we had to build out our supply chain. You know, we were struggling with technology challenges. And so it’s just really trying to fill in the infrastructure to support what was a very rapidly growing business, which was incredibly exciting, a little bit stressful, but also incredibly exciting.

Daniel: And do you remember…and I imagine the answer is a combination of things. But what are your hypotheses as to what had, like, what had been done differently, or what was the, you know, sequences of tweaks and iterations that made things click in that kind of November, December timeframe from a, like, an acquisition perspective or marketing perspective?

Kristian: Yeah, I mean, I think it was, you know, it got down to, I think, some pretty tactical things in the different marketing channels that we were running with. And so we had been testing Facebook Audiences and Facebook Creative and really started to optimize at a faster rate. We had started to really build out our email channels, which ended up being really effective. But I think I would chalk it up to something larger, honestly, which is that, you know, even in 2015, really, the online portion of the overall mattress industry was peanuts, right? I mean, when we started looking at the concept back in 2013, it was less than 1% of mattress sales were online. 

And, I think, what really started to happen was, coming into 2016, that channel just started to explode in terms of share in the overall market. You know, and over those, I guess, what it’s been, six years over that time period or five years, you know, it’s gone from 1% to 10%, or even, you know, it’s hard to get exact numbers, but 10%-plus. 

And so I think, you know, we started to do some things right in our marketing channels. You know, we got some great press coverage, which is also helpful after the fact, and we got written up in the Wall Street Journal, which is really great. And then, the market really started to explode as well. And all those things started to align and then really propelled us forward.

Daniel: And so as you’re kind of scaling the business. I imagine like your own role is moving from executing on, I imagine, a whole host of things to having to lead now starts to come into action. And, you know, I guess fortunately, you’ve come from organizations that are, you know, many factors larger in terms of team size, whether it’s like Google or in your consulting days or things like that. You know, if you look at yourself today, how would you say your management style or leadership style has changed based on some of the things you’ve learned of trying to scale a, you know, a fast-growing business? 

Kristian: Yeah, it’s definitely something I’ve thought about a lot. You know, in those early days, everybody is an operator, right? It’s always all hands on deck. And so, I think, I felt an enormous amount of responsibility and just a desire to really be deeply involved in all of our decision making. You know, really to try to deeply understand every lever, every metric, every number, and, you know, have a strong input into everything we did, because it felt like just everything was so critical, right? You know, an early stage business is a fragile thing in many ways.

And I think, over time, as the business has grown, as our company has grown, as our team has grown, that’s shifted a lot for me. You know, I think, we’ve brought on people who are deep experts in what they do, you know, specifically, you know, I run our acquisition marketing teams, and our digital product and developer and engineering teams. And, you know, the people reporting up to me are way smarter than me, right? You know, they know really what they’re doing in their functional areas. And what I really try to push people to do is say, you know, I can’t and shouldn’t be providing the answers essentially, right? Like, I try to really act as a sounding board and empower people to really, you know, give us the path forward essentially, especially in their area of expertise. 

And so I still really enjoy being, you know, deeply in the weeds. Like, I’m still logging into Facebook Ads Manager. And, you know, I’m still down…it’s not such a huge company that I’m not beyond that. I enjoy very much being in the metrics. But it’s really been a sort of a shift in sort of more acting as almost more of an advisor and a sounding board, and providing sort of context over decision making. It’s very difficult at a small business…even at a small business like ours, to sort of have a full picture of context of really everything that’s going on holistically in the business. And so just sort of batting ideas back and forth, thinking through them, and thinking through how it impacts the business as a whole versus sort of being involved in every tactical decision, as it goes.

Daniel: Your point on Facebook just begets another, it’s kind of a tactical question, but it’s a common point of conversation I’ve had with a number of different people in, you know, direct-to-consumer businesses across all kind of industries is this…especially this year, I don’t know if it’s something in particular that’s changed. I’m curious, in your opinion…

Kristian: This is the year of the revolt against Facebook I think. 

Daniel: Yeah, it seems so. I mean, you know, obviously, the math has paid out consistently, so I don’t imagine a world where people will stop spending money on it. But I guess, yeah, it’s kind of a twofold question. I mean, what do you think has changed about the reliance on Facebook that, you know, how have you guys been handling it? And as a result, you know, how you shifted your thoughts on what channels to pursue or explore or invest in? I’m just curious to get your thoughts on that.

Kristian: Yeah, it’s been fascinating how its evolved even in, you know, our relatively short business lifespan. Like, we really…Facebook was our bread and butter in many ways and how we scaled the business from a marketing perspective. And, you know, I think, over time, it’s certainly changed. Part of it, I think, is just as channels mature, you know, pricing goes up, right? Essentially, you know, there’s more demand for advertising inventory and, you know, limited growth in the inventory available. And so you do see a rise in pricing. But I think it’s something more, like, I think it’s, you know, they definitely have started to tweak some of the inputs into their algorithm that have made feasible…that have made, like, different types of targeting feasible. And I think there may even just be changes of people starting to become a little bit more numb to the ad formats in general as they start to get a little bit more inundated. 

And so we’ve definitely been diversifying away. Like for us, it’s been a very interesting process of, you know, testing things out. You know, and ultimately, what we found, I think, is that, you know, for us, we’re a brand new brand. We’re getting our brand name out to people who’ve never heard of us before is really kind of the essence of what we’re doing as a marketing organization. And so, you know, we’ve started to really test into a lot of offline channels. You know, like direct mail has actually been a really effective channel for us in a number of different capacities. Actually, we’ve done some testing around TV, and digital TV has also been really effective for us, like streaming.

And so, you know, Facebook is still a huge part of our marketing program, right? It’s not something that I see going away anytime soon whatsoever. But consistently for us, we’ve been diversifying away and it’s funny you bring it up. I’ve certainly had similar conversations where it feels like every brand that I talked to, is also talking about, you know, how do I diversify against, like, my Facebook in my portfolio. And I think that’s just gonna continue over time for sure. I really do think the shift towards…there is a little bit of a swing of a needle of, especially for direct-to-consumer brands, moving more towards offline channels. I think it’s just, you know, they’re able to find, you know, really high quality audiences and better pricing. And it’s also just a rich format to tell your brand story, right? It’s almost like a novelty to be able to get something in your hand that is physical, right, whether it’s a piece of direct mail or on a TV piece, like, being able to tell a message in a 30-second or one minute video spot is like a luxury, right, compared to a lot of digital advertising slots.

Daniel: Yeah.

Kristian: And so it’s just, you know, you’re able to really kind of find traction with that.

Daniel: One challenge I’ve heard is people who have done this, too, is, you know, above and beyond testing the new channel and seeing if it’s working it’s the in-house talent in that, you know, I’d love to test radio or podcast or direct mail or TV or whatever it may be, but you may not have the people on the team who’ve had experience either buying in that category or developing creative for that category. How have you navigated that with, you know, with your team and organization? 

Kristian: Yeah, it’s definitely been an evolution for us. You know, when we started, you know, we weren’t the first player in our category in the market. We knew we really needed to move quickly. And so we started working with outside agencies pretty early on, because, you know, we felt like they brought on the expertise that we needed to just move quickly. And we ended up working with them for several years. But actually, very recently, the early part of this year, we started to move all of our channels in-house. Like, we actually run all of our media and all of our marketing programs in-house now. And it’s exactly for the reasons that you talked about, right? We feel like we needed to bring in people who are experts in the areas that they were working in. And, you know, one of the things that we found is that there’s just so much interconnectivity between our different marketing efforts, and having, you know, our podcast programs running with one agency and our Facebook programs from another agency. It just created these silos that made it really difficult to share insights between. And, you know, one of our real missions as an internal team now is, like, not just becoming experts in our functional areas and the channels that we’re running in, but becoming experts in understanding the customer as a whole and how to share insights between those channels, which is really exciting for us. 

So we’re still in the early days of that transition. You know, it’s just about, you know, a month old, right, in having the full team sitting here. But I’m incredibly excited about it. I think it’s one of…a really a huge change and benefit for our business. 

Daniel: That’s exciting. It seems like you’ve done quite a few big things over and that’s something that probably wouldn’t be as widely talked about, but pretty significant for the company, and then, what, probably was it, maybe 6 months ago or 9 months ago, you had gone to the color match, kind of rebranding and restructuring of the product. What is seeming…because it’s moving very fast. Like, when you look at maybe this time in 12 months or 24 months, you know, what are some of the ideas or things that you’re excited about tackling next in the business overall? 

Kristian: Yeah, it’s definitely been a little bit crazy. But I think, you know, that’s the life of an early-stage company. And I think there’s some big things that we’re looking at on the horizon, for us, you know, I think product expansion has been something that’s huge for us. You know, when…shortly after we sort of launched that new color match program, we launched a new higher-end mattress line called Luxe, which has been really successful for us. And we have a pretty exciting pipeline of new sleep products that we’re also scheduled to roll out over the next, you know, 9 months, essentially for the rest of the year, which we’re really, really excited about. You know, we’ve always thought of ourselves as a sleep brand, right, and not just a mattress brand. And we think that will continue to reinforce that. 

You know, another thing that we’ve really spent some time thinking about is around bricks and mortar. So you know, since our very early days, we’ve run a show room out of our office. Actually, when we were operating out of that…we work downtown, we were getting a lot of our phone calls were from people saying, “Hey, how can I try your mattresses? You know, how can I come in and try them out?” And you know, we started to realize like, “Hey. Why are we turning these people away?” And we actually ended up renting the WeWork across from us and setting it up like a bedroom and having all of our different materials on hand and sort of building mattresses for people. And it was just incredibly successful. They were a little weirded out when they walk into a WeWork, but it was incredibly successful. And since then, we’ve always had a showroom that we’ve operated at our office. It’s definitely evolved and gotten a little bit more sophisticated, and we have a great setup now. But essentially, people can still come in, they take the quiz, they talk to a real person, they talk to the experience, the different materials and then actually build them their kind of custom mattress on the spot. And it just really resonates with people, because it’s very tactile and very experiential. And you know, it’s just hugely successful for us if we are able to generate a really meaningful amount of revenue out of that program. And so, we spent a lot of time thinking through, like, “How can we replicate that success? Right? How can we continue to scale that out, whether it’s something that we operate, or whether it’s a partner that we work with, it’s been a definitely a big focus area for us. 

And, I think, lots of it is kind of touches on what we were talking about earlier where’s it’s around continuing to scale our marketing efforts. You know, we are still pretty new to some of the channels that we’re thinking through, especially some of the offline ones. You know, I think, you know, one of the big frontiers for us is, you know, broadcast television, which is really exciting, but also a little bit scary.

Daniel: It’s kind of expensive.

Kristian: And very expensive. Yeah, exactly. We’ve done a little bit of testing there, and saw some real promise. But, you know, as you know, Facebook continues to get more expensive, and having some challenges you know, we think that there’s just real opportunity to continue to expand out, you know. So that’s something that we’re definitely thinking through hard and we have some pretty exciting things planned for the later part of this year on that front. 

And I’d say the last bit is something that’s definitely a little bit longer term. Maybe not within the next year, but maybe a little bit beyond. It’s just around international. You know, we’ve seen some of our competitors really have success expanding outside of the U.S. You know, we operate in Canada now. But, you know, the international opportunity is really exciting for us. It’s also super complex and a little bit scary. But, you know, I think a lot of the issues that the direct-to-consumer mattress category is addressing in the U.S. is replicated in other international markets for sure. And so, you know, we feel like we have a really strong brand here and a really strong niche and category that we’re addressing. So I would love to expand Helix out into other markets.

Daniel: And along this growth path, and it seems like you’ve been able to, you know, other than that, you know, initial kind of lull period as things were getting started it, you know, caught fire and it has kind of been growing since then. Was there ever a moment where you thought otherwise, where you’re like, “Wow, this is like actually an awful decision.” And, you know, everything is just crumbling around you, was there a moment of, you know, there’s different terms I’ve heard used, you know, a favorite failure or a moment where you thought like, “Holy shit. Everything is ending.” That otherwise, you know, hasn’t happened, clearly, because you’re still here doing well. But yeah, is there a moment that stands out to you?

Kristian: There’s definitely been a few, right, and I think, you know, there’s definitely been ups and downs, and our path here has not been a straight up and to the right trajectory for us for sure. You know, some of them has just been, you know, we started to learn some the natural ebbs and flows in the mattress industry, which we just didn’t know about. And so, you know, mattresses typically get hotter in the summer, right, when a lot of people are moving and sort of ebbs in the winter. And so we started to like be…when Q4 started to roll around in our first real year of business, we were sort of like, “Hey, what’s going on? What’s happening here?” and started to get a feel of that.

But I’d say the biggest kind of holy crap moment for us was actually more, I touched on it very briefly earlier, it was more around the technology side. When we started, we knew very little about the technology part of this business, and we ended up working with a very talented outsource developer from Eastern Europe who built really the foundations of all of our systems, which is an incredible task that he was able to do. But it was very slapped together, and very buggy and just accumulated an enormous amount of technical debt. And as the business continued to scale, you know, we started to have large scale issues where, like, we weren’t able to track any of our customers packages, or the website would go down for extended periods of time. 

And it was terrifying, right? Because we just weren’t able to really mitigate those risks at all. And, you know, those are…the website being down even for a short period of time is just incredibly damaging for us. And so that started to become really scary, right, and figuring out how to navigate through that. And that was a big part of our decision to do, you know, some of the re-platforming that we did last year where we moved on to a hosted e-commerce platform and really kind of restructuring our code from the ground up. So it’s a big process to go through but, you know, it’s also a big win for us in being able to really kind of pay down some of the technical debt.

Daniel: Yeah, well, it’s, I mean, every minute the site is down is kind of lost revenue, lost opportunity. So I can imagine why.

Kristian: Absolutely. Yeah.

Daniel: Among a whole host of things. It’s like every minute is like, “Well, all right, those are sales that are not happening.”

Kristian: Yup, yeah, exactly. And, you know, we would have issues where we, you know, would randomly send out, you know, your order has shipped emails to people who had already purchased or things like that, and just, you know, get these huge influx of emails from people just being concerned. It’s like, “Hey, why am I being charged again for this?” So, obviously, just not the experience that we wanted to generate for our brand at all. And even the website being down, right, it’s just enormously frustrating for people. So definitely some very scary moments, for sure, some late night phone calls with our developer, but we were able to get it worked out. 

Daniel: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Switching more to the personal side, I’m curious for you being in the industry of sleep, you know, what your day typically looks like. What’s your, you know, your morning routine? What does the first 90 minutes of your day typically look like?

Kristian: Yeah, I’ve really, over time, come to value sleep a lot more. I think early on in my career, I sort of viewed it as a necessary evil, you know, and sort of tried to burn the midnight oil a little bit. For me now, I really try to get a good amount of sleep every night. I wake up…my wife is a resident physician, so she’s usually in the hospital very early, and she’s converted me into a morning person. So usually I’m up, you know, between 6:00 and 6:30. And I have a pretty strict morning routine that I like to follow. So I wake up, usually, I play with my dog a little bit, who’s sleeping on the couch, and then go to the gym and, you know, have breakfast. And I’ve actually started to do meditation through the Headspace app, which I find really helpful. And then sort of, you know, drink some coffee or tea and look over my calendar, and kind of prep for the day. And that’s like been pretty consistent over the past few years that I’ve run through that. I find it really helpful in just sort of just grounding me and centering me for the rest of the day and sort of making sure I’m in the right headspace and really kind of in the right frame of mind going into things. You know, things can be pretty crazy in the office sometimes and it’s just helpful to have something that’s very structured, you know, going into it. 

Daniel: And I’m curious because everyone has a different style for your fitness part of your routine, what is it that you’re typically doing, is it something on your own or going to studios? 

Kristian: You know, it’s funny, I’ve never been a group fitness person. My wife always tries to convince me to go and I’ve never been into it. But usually, you know, [inaudible 00:43:36] gym, it’s sort of like my quiet place where I’ll put on headphones, then I’ll do some weightlifting. My wife is a big runner, and she’s convinced me to start doing some distance running now a little bit as well. But yeah, for me, it’s always been almost just sort of like a Zen like place where I can just kind of completely zone out. I don’t check email, you know, I don’t think about work and just kind of like, get in the zone a little bit which is I find really good.

Daniel: Yeah, I’m kind of halfway between you and your wife. I think there’s a few…whenever I’m in New York, actually, I hit up a few of the different studios. I have some favorites. And I’m a big Tone House and Barry’s Bootcamp fan. Otherwise, similar routine to you. 

Kristian: Yeah, my co-founder, Adam, is in love with Barry’s Bootcamp, and he’s always trying to convince me to go, and I just refuse. It’s funny, the last time we went, my wife convinced me to go to spin class in probably, I don’t know, 2011, something like that. And, you know, I was in the class and the instructor was sort of yelling and he’s one of these really high-intensity guys. In about 10 minutes I just got up and walked out and just said, “This is not for me. I’m not doing this.”

Daniel: Yeah. Well, Barry’s will be very similar. The only outcome, I was just chatting with my co-founder. I’ve coaxed her into coming onto a few classes, is that it definitely makes you, if you ever get into, like, running, which sounds like you’re gonna be, you know, forced into it one way or the other, it sets you a new bar of like what running means on a treadmill. So if you ever do some training, it’s worth at least one class to get yelled at and then you can decide from there what to do.

Kristian: Maybe I’ll give it a shot. But everyone I know who’s done it loves it. So maybe it’s time for me to give group fitness another shot.

Daniel: And so for you, it sounds like you value sleeping. How much sleep do you typically get a night?

Kristian: Yeah, I usually try to shoot for a minimum of around 7 hours I found, for me personally, it does vary a little bit from person to person from who I’ve talked to. But I think 7 hours is sort of the minimum where I really feel like it’s a good sustainable amount of sleep, where I have good energy throughout the day. And you know, in the past, I did not get that much sleep, I will admit, right? And think it definitely took its toll, right, just sort of like, even just in workplace performance, right, just being able to kind of focus, you know, and just kind of sustain concentration over time. But for me, 7 hours is kind of the sweet spot. And if I can sneak in a little bit more, it’s great. But sometimes I can’t, right? And that’s rare, that happens. But I’ve really noticed just in terms of…also just sort of like your overall wellbeing, even your health and your fitness as a whole, like being able to get the proper amount of sleep over time just has a huge influence over me and, I think, for most people.

Daniel: Yeah, and I learned the same thing. I’ve gone through my fair share of burnout and sleepless nights to learn that it’s, you know, it’s probably better to sleep than just stare in front of my laptop like a zombie and not actually get any proper work done. 

Kristian: Yeah, exactly. That’s exactly right.

Daniel: As a kind of a question that always generates some kind of interesting answer. I’m curious, outside of the world of sleep and mattresses and entrepreneurship, if you were to give a talk, imagine you’re like, on a TED stage and had to give a talk on a topic that is none of those things, is there a topic that comes to mind that you’d be excited to share with people?

Kristian: That’s an interesting question. Yeah. I think, for me, like, I’m a little bit of, I’m a geek overall, I’ll admit, both a data geek and a regular geek. And like I really have started to geek out on fitness over the past few years as well. And one of the things that I’ve really started to get into is sort of the connection of diet and fitness. I’ve been experimenting with the keto diet, which is really like the trendy diet of the day. And like, I would love to kind of talk through some of the science behind it, which I find really fascinating and sort of how it sort of affects you and how it affects sort of your fitness levels overall. I’ve talked my wife’s ear off about it. I think it drives her crazy at this point. But it’s something I find really, really fascinating. 

You know, and there’s a really cool data component to it as well. I kind of actually, I had a long conversation with one of my co-founders about this. I almost view it as sort of similar to running an e-commerce business, right, where you’re sort of you have these different inputs, you’re tweaking these different variables as you go. And you can really see the tangible, measurable outcomes of them, which is really interesting. So I think like the data nerd inside of me loves both of that, you know, loves our business for the same reason, essentially, because it’s really kind of very quantifiable and very measurable. 

Daniel: Actually, a friend of mine, I’m sure you might have seen the Instagram ads, because I’m also trying to experiment with the same thing. And I’m targeted by them until I learned it was my friend’s company. It’s company you can type it. It’s K-E-Y-T-O. It’s spelled keto, or it’s pronounced keto, but it’s spelled a bit differently. It’s almost like a breathalyzer that you blow into to understand if you’re in a ketogenic state or not. So it’s less intensive or less invasive way to understand if you’re in ketosis, which I thought was pretty interesting. 

Kristian: Wow, that is super interesting. Yeah, I’ll have to check that out. It is…you always have that mental moment, right, sort of like, “Am I in ketosis? I’m not sure.” You know, [crosstalk 00:48:40].

Daniel: Yeah. It seems like that. But yeah, I’ll send you the link afterwards and you can take a look and if you ever have interest in chatting with them for personal reasons. I mean, also from you’re both kind of figuring out the performance marketing side. They are doing a pretty decent job at that, so I feel like there’s lots you guys can discuss. 

Kristian: Very cool. Yeah, I would love to chat with him. That’s great.

Daniel: Hey man, we’re running up on time, so really I have just one last question for you. Kind of thinking forward we talked about where you see the company going. But for you, and it may be company related, but for you personally, what’s left on your bucket list that you’d be most excited to check off in some point in the near future?

Kristian: Yeah, I think, you know, from a professional perspective, I think the thing that I’m most excited about and interested in is, you know, really leading an organization at the next level of scale, right? Like, we’re still a relatively small business. You know, we’re still a start up. And, you know, it’s been a fascinating organizational and leadership challenge growing a business from essentially zero to where we are now. You know, it’s a very specific set of challenges that it has to go through to do that. And I’ve always been fascinated in sort of organizational dynamics ever since I, you know, I started my career. And I’m really interested in the challenge of, you know, growing an organization from, you know, 10X from where we are today to 10X beyond that, where it’s very, very different. And something that I’m really excited and interested in tackling. So I think that would probably be the top thing. 

You know, beyond that, I think, the other thing that I’m really interested in is actually something that we touched on earlier, which is just expanding the business internationally, right? Both my parents are immigrants. You know, they from a very early age, sort of instilled the, you know, the world is flat kind of concept in me, or in that, you know, the world doesn’t start and end in the U.S. borders, even though I did grow up here. And, you know, I think I would love to, you know, grow and expand our business internationally. I think it’s just a really interesting challenge and something I would love to do.

From a personal level, you know, a little bit more, you know, lightweight. I think, like for me, travel has always been a big part of what I love to do. You know, my parents were also like, really great again, about sort of, you know, helping us travel when we were kids. My wife and I now love to travel. You know, it’s a big part of what we love to do. We just came back relatively recently from a hiking trip in Patagonia, which was really cool. And, you know, there’s a huge parts of the world I have yet to see, right? And, you know, I’d love to go to China. I haven’t been able to spend much time in Asia, India or, you know, down even in South America and Brazil. You know, I’d really love to travel more. Even spend like a substantial amount of time abroad even live abroad for a period of time would be really, really exciting for me.

Daniel: That’s great. Well, next time we connect, I’ll tell you it’s a very interesting story of how I had three days in China and somehow survived an encounter with the Chinese police. So I’ll leave it as a cliffhanger for everyone.

Kristian: That sounds like a story I need to hear before I go there.

Daniel: A hundred percent. The short answer is be very careful what visa you pick to get into the country with, because it’ll have implications on who you have to meet with while you’re there.

Kristian: Oh, man. That sounds like quite a story. I’ll get the info from you before I take off.

Daniel: Yeah, I look forward to it. Well, again, thank you so much for taking the time to chat. I really appreciate it. And I’m sure everyone will enjoy this conversation. So otherwise, you know, thank you for taking the time and hope you have a good restful weekend. 

Kristian:: Yeah, thanks so much. It’s been really great chatting. It’s been a lot of fun. 

Daniel: Awesome. Well, have a great day. Talk to you soon.

Kristian: All right, you too. All right. Bye.