There were no shortage of new mattress companies that launched in 2014. Several are good, a few are great, but among the most interesting for me has been Leesa Sleep. I have been testing my Leesa mattress for several months.
To put it simply, it’s given me some of the most restful sleep I’ve had in a long time. It’s a high-quality foam hybrid mattress that’s designed to meet the comfort and support needs of almost all sleepers.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Leesa’s President, David Wolfe, to discuss his company and the factory direct mattress that’s re-shaping the mattress industry and their community for the better.
Read on for my full interview with David
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Can you give my readers a little bit on your background?
Like our mattress, I’m a bit of a hybrid. Part traditional with an undergraduate engineering degree an MBA from London Business School, and 7 years as a management consultant in London and part entrepreneur.
I started my first “real” business almost 20 years ago to the day selling cruises and packaged vacations directly to consumers. It was before the internet so our medium to “show-and-sell” was television. We had a show on The Travel Channel called “On Vacation With The Vacation Store.” Just like the mattress industry today, there was a retailer in seemingly every strip mall in America selling the same basic products. Consumers shopped around tirelessly looking for a deal that wasn’t there because the retailers weren’t making enough money to give a real discount.
Something had to give – and it did. We built a huge company very quickly, the airlines cut commissions to travel agents completely and the cruise lines began paying more to the agents who actually marketed their products. Then along came the Internet and put even more power into the hands of the customer – where it should be.
That was a long time ago. Some of the members of the Leesa team have been with me for almost that long. We’ve worked on many new ideas bringing them to life. We’ve thrived on disrupting old broken business models.
What have you done in the mattress industry?
To say that my first encounter with the problems in the mattress industry was more than a decade ago, when I sold memory foam products online using unsold newspaper advertising space as my marketing medium, would only be partly true.
The real truth is that I spotted this opportunity when I moved here with my young family from the UK in 1994. We were buying beds for a 5 bedroom home and the experience was horrible. I had no idea what I was buying or whether we were getting value for money. In the end I decided, I better spend a lot – that was the only way I could have some confidence in the quality of the mattress. It turns out I was wrong.
My wife and I have gone through Tempur-pedic, Sealy, Kingsdown, and a custom made mattress with latex and memory foam. We’ve spent literally tens of thousands of dollars on mattresses. I think the worst part is the awkward experience of laying down next to my wife on a mattress in a showroom with a salesman peering down telling us what we were supposed to be experiencing.
We’ve all had frustrations buying mattresses – so we’ve all got experience in the industry.
How was the idea for the Leesa born?
Leesa only happened because of a chance meeting with the person who helped me get my newspaper memory foam mattress pad business going a decade ago. I was out for dinner with my wife and some friends (including our close friend “Leesa”). We went to a restaurant we hadn’t been to before and haven’t been to since. Just a chance in a million. There was my old friend chatting with other friends of mine. In truth I went up to say hello to the other people he was with, but I happened to mention.. “Do you think we can put a quality mattress in a box and ship it now?” and from that chance meeting.. Leesa was born. That was only about a year ago.
Our vision is simple.. We want to offer a better place to sleep for everybody.
What makes Leesa different? I know you have some pretty cool social goals as a company, can you talk about those?
Everyone needs to sleep. Everyone dreams. But not everyone has the chance to sleep in a comfortable place or to realize their dreams. From day 1 its been part of our mission to give one mattress to a homeless shelter for every 10 we sell. We have just announced our first major gift of 300 brand new mattresses to a new Union Mission in Norfolk Virginia. We care a great deal about our social impact.
Check out a few of the Facebook comments from local members of the community where Leesa’s first major mattress donation took place.
Over Valentine’s weekend we decided not to do a gimmicky “love thing”. Instead we simply stated that we would make a donation to “make-a-wish” for every mattress we sold. And we sold a lot. We will be making a child’s wish come true and we are on our way to more and plan on expanding our relationship with “dream-makers” everywhere.
I hope that the thing that makes us different is what drives us. We’re not interested in just building a big business. We see ourselves as part of a community and giving back is not a marketing gimmick for us, it’s in our DNA. From my very first job as a 21 year old I’ve been encouraged to give part of my time and money to giving back. Now I’ve passed this on and everyone on my team shares the same passion. Between us we’ve worked with and helped people in need all over the world. Leesa is an incredible platform for giving back.
Our social impact is very important to us. There will be more to come.
What is it about mattresses that interested you enough to want to launch Leesa?
A mattress is one of the only big purchases that we interact with every day and for a long time. It’s a fascinating business that hasn’t changed much since someone stuffed hay in a sack and called it a mattress. We are trying to change that. I think if you have a passion for great products, great customer service, and e-commerce, you can’t help but be excited about the mattress industry. It’s so old and tired.
Its exactly the kind of business that intrigues me.
I think around $2Bn of annual mattress purchases will shift to the direct model in the next two or three years. The big mattress companies will find it very tough to retain their share of the direct business as they are so vested in retail networks and their margins are eaten up with paying for real estate and salesmen.
How did you come up with the name, “Leesa”? Is there any special significance to it?
We are brand people at heart. We carried out a full naming exercise using a methodology we have practiced over the years. We were going to call the company “Hush”, but just before we paid for the name, we discovered it was all over India as a mattress and bedding company.
So we carried on. One weekend we were working on the name and our friend Leesa (from the chance restaurant encounter that led to all of this) got really into it. I added her name to the mix on a whim suggested by my wife. Slowly it rose to the surface and when one of our team pointed out that it looked like a bed and then another said it looks sort of like “asleep” – we were sold. Once our designer put a platform underneath it, we were believers and we never looked back.
Can you tell me a little about your vision for Leesa? What is it that drives your passion for the mattress industry?
I think I’ve answered a lot of this but I don’t want anyone to get too hung up on the social impact goals. That is part of our DNA, but so is the pursuit of perfection in everything we do. We want to be known for our great mattress and also for our customer service, both in sales support and in after-sales. If you look at our reviews, you will see that even people who return our mattresses (which isn’t many) give us 5 stars. We planned for success so we haven’t really missed a beat. I’m so proud of our team.
We know that our reputation will be built on three things..
- Our mattress and the sleep experience
- The things we do really well
- The way we handle problems
We are passionate about all of these things. My hope is that in the future people will say.. “What a great company.. the product is amazing.. the people are the best and have you heard about the things they do in the community..” I’m pleased to say that after even a short amount of time, people are saying these things . Leesa really is a bit of a dream come true for me. I’m getting the chance to put everything I know about building a successful company into practice.. I’m working with people I love to work with. I consider them all to be among the best in the world in their area of expertise. We blend experience with youth.
All our marketing is social.. some really influential people have tried and love our mattress and we have been really lucky that they have been willing to talk about us. Again and again we are getting amazing reviews. We will just quietly get on with what we do best. We won’t shout about it though. We will let others do that if we deserve it
What makes Leesa unique compared to these other mattresses?
As far as the mattress is concerned, I think our design and our construction sets us apart. You can read about this, but nothing beats experiencing it. That’s why we offer a risk-free trial.
When you purchase a Leesa, it arrives in a few days, but you have 100 nights to decide if you love it or not. We’ve had very few returns. As you’d expect from a company dedicated to giving back. When we do get a return, we try to ensure the mattress goes to someone who needs it.
Where do you see Leesa and yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
That’s a tough question. When you’re asking someone in his 50’s where he sees himself in 5 to 10 years, its very different from asking the rest of my management team who are in their 20’s and 30’s. I’ve already got the things that most people aspire to in life. I’ve been married to the woman I love for more than 30 years.. I was telling my wife that couples who are married for 60 years spend 22,000 nights together. That’s a lot of happiness if they get it right… She said “oh no that means we’ve got another 11,000 nights together!”
The truth is we are very lucky. We’ve got two grown daughters who continue to make us proud and remain the center of our lives. Our youngest daughter is joining Leesa to run our Social Impact programs in a couple of months time. We have homes on two continents and friends and family all over the world. We’ve traveled extensively and we have everything we need.
So where do I hope to be 5 to 10 years from now…. About where I am now, but I hope to have led Leesa to become a great company. I’d like nothing more than to look back and see how successful my management team have been. How many lives we’ve changed through better sleep and how many people we’ve helped along the way. My parents taught me to listen intently to the needs of others, work hard, play hard, live hard, and try to leave the world a little better than the way I found it. They are still trying and I hope in ten years time, I will be too.
A big thank you to David Wolfe for taking the time to talk with me. Leesa has provided a unique promo code for Sleepopolis readers. If you’re interested in a Leesa mattress you can save $60 on a mattress of any size using our unique promo code, “SLEEPOPOLIS60“. Thanks again to David & Leesa!