An Interview With Layla Sleep Founder Akrum Sheikh

What do a former animal trainer, an accidental shipment of lamps, and a family business have in common? Give up? Well, they all contributed to the creation of Layla Sleep! In the few years since its founding in 2016, bed-in-a-box retailer Layla Sleep has quickly become one of the most popular brands in the industry — and Sleepopolis is here to find out why.

This week, we had the pleasure of chatting with Layla founder Akrum Sheikh, who spoke with us about how he got started in the industry, what his company has planned for the future, and what his personal tips are for getting a great night’s sleep.  Oh, and be sure to dig into our Layla mattress review when you’re done!

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1.) So, tell us. How did you get into the mattress industry? Who helped get Layla to where it is today?

Actually, I was born into the mattress industry. I almost didn’t have a choice. My father was a retailer for practically his entire adult life, and so my siblings and I basically grew up in our family’s stores in Connecticut. Our family’s retail business started way before I was born and began as discount variety stores.

One day, one of my dad’s vendors accidentally sent him a shipment of table lamps. The story goes that the lamps flew off the shelves, so my dad ordered more lamps and even asked the supplier to send coffee tables to sell with the lamps. Well, the coffee tables sold even faster than the lamps did, and they were bringing a whole new customer base to our stores. One thing led to another and, eventually, our family’s variety stores had completely turned into furniture stores.

By the time I had dropped out of college and started working for the family business, I quickly realized that 80% of our sales were coming from only 20% of our showrooms. That 20% was the mattress department. I loved selling mattresses because nothing gave me more satisfaction than learning exactly what it was the customer needed. There’s no better feeling than walking around a showroom full of mattresses and helping a customer find the perfect one for them.

However, by 2010, my older brother Akbar and I started to realize that the suppliers who were selling us mattresses to sell to our customers were… less than honest. We were required to sell mattresses above certain “minimum advertised pricing” or “MAP” so that we wouldn’t be competing with the major brand’s other retailers. The profit margins were just ridiculously high to a point where it was unfair to the consumer. By 2014, my brother and I had enough of these dishonest sales tactics — so we moved to California to start our own mattress brand, Layla!

After two years (and thousands of prototypes later), my brother and I finally launched the Layla mattress in 2016. For two boys from Connecticut who had spent their entire lives in the mattress business, we believed we had just created the greatest mattress ever made. Double-sided with a soft feel on one side, and firm on the other. This way, the customer could buy one mattress and choose between two firmness options. With the introduction of copper-infused memory foam (and a price that wouldn’t break the bank), the Layla mattress launched on April 1st 2016… but we weren’t foolin’!

Shortly after launching, we quickly realized  there was a problem: My brother and I were experts in the mattress industry, but we knew very little about selling online. Since the entire model of the Layla brand was to eliminate salesmen, high profit margins, commissions, and physical stores, we knew we needed help.

Well, in many ways, our prayers were answered in the form of a response to an ad that we had posted. We were looking for someone to help us with the technical side of the business, and Gregg Dean was that person. Entrepreneur, former animal trainer and late night TV show guest, restaurant chain operations manager, corporate team building program creator, business owner, digital marketer, website developer, graphics designer, and lead drummer are just a few of the job descriptions listed on Gregg’s resume. Oh yeah, and he was one qualification away from becoming a member of the Blue Man Group in Las Vegas.

So, Gregg was able to develop the technical operations and digital marketing side of the business. My brother and I started Layla as a mattress company, but with the addition of Gregg Dean, Layla was now a mattress technology company. Today, Gregg sits on the board as an equal owner, is the Chief Operations Officer, and a huge reason for the growth and success of the Layla brand.

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2.) What is Layla’s goal with regards to providing a good night’s sleep?

If you had asked me this question a few months ago I would have said that our goal is to engineer, develop, and source products that provide a pressure-point free sleeping environment for people so they can receive eight hours of REM sleep (the fourth and deepest stage of the sleep cycle).

But today, at Layla, we realize that this is just an objective, and that the actual goal is to give customers the tools they need in order to live their awake lives to the fullest and to the best of their abilities. Yes, a good night’s sleep is essential. But as we transition into 2019, Layla has decided to change its entire brand image, voice, look and feel to move towards being awake to life (and sleeping better) so that you can do all the things during the day that make you happy.

3.) What is unique about what Layla brings to the industry?

I think that while the entire industry is focused on sleep, Layla is more focused on being awake. Life isn’t about sleeping — it’s about being with your loved ones, helping one another and doing whatever it is that makes you and the people around you happy. We believe that starts with sleeping on a Layla product.

While other mattress brands try to sell products in different configurations, we only carry one mattress and we let you decide whether you want to sleep on the soft side or the firm side of that mattress. Our products also focus on cleanliness, which sets us apart from other brands. We use technology, like copper, in our products which have been scientifically proven to kill bacteria, germs, fungi, and viruses that may be lingering on many other sleep products.

But, I think the thing that makes us most unique to the industry is our culture. Whether you talk to our production staff, customer service, or upper management, one thing remains the same — we just want what’s best for the customer. We ensure that we make our customers lives easier, not just through our sleep products, site navigation, and the decision making process, but also by allowing customers to focus on what really matters. Their lives and their loved ones is what we care about the most.

4.) What innovations do you believe will be the most important to the industry in the next 2 years?

There has been a lot of talk about innovations coming to the mattress industry such as technology that can monitor your sleep habits and record data so that you see and improve your sleep habits. There have already been brands that have been accused of selling people’s sleep data to companies who buy that information for marketing purposes. Personally, I have seen a ton of innovation in the sleep industry over the years. And while some have been positive, for the most part, these so-called innovations have been (and continue to be) cheap sales gimmicks.

Ultimately the companies that are going to succeed in this industry are the ones that are constantly improving the product to allow customers to simply get the best sleep that they possibly can, while sticking to the basics of a good mattress. And that’s exactly what Layla intends to do.

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5.) Can we expect anything big coming soon from Layla?

2019 is going to be a HUGE year for us. Like I mentioned earlier, we are focusing more on improving one’s awake life; and in an effort to do so, we have redesigned our products to incorporate the awake-to-life message. In an effort to constantly improve, we have re-engineered our mattress cover so that you no longer have to remove it to flip from the soft side to the firm. Our new cover is double sided, and clearly labeled as to which side is soft and which side is firm. We’ve also added a zipper to our pillows so that customers can now adjust the fill, offering a fully customizable solution for your head.

We’re also introducing a bed sheet line this year. Something that I’m particularly excited about is our weighted blanket! This new blanket is something that we’ve developed to help people sleep better by adding weight through our proprietary formula. Adding weight to the blanket has proven to help keep you calm, and it’s especially effective for people with anxiety. Plus, it just feels really great, almost like someone is giving you a big hug while you sleep. It’s very relaxing.

We also have some other very exciting things in development that, unfortunately, I am not allowed to share for now… but stay tuned!

6.) What are the most common misconceptions people have about buying a mattress?

When I worked in my family’s furniture showrooms as a salesman earlier in my life, it always surprised me how people can lay on a mattress in a store for five minutes, and then decide that they are going to spend 8 hours every night for the next five to ten years on it. This obviously makes no sense. You can’t make this kind of commitment in a store. My advice is to buy a mattress from a company that allows you to spend a couple months sleeping on it before you decide to make a five or ten year commitment.

Another misconception is that memory foam is hot. Ten years ago, there may have been some truth to that — but today it’s simply not true. With all the advancements in foam technology, and with Layla’s copper-infused formula, memory foam can actually help dissipate heat away from the body.

And lastly, I often hear people saying that the return process is a hassle when buying a mattress online. That may be true for some brands, but a few black sheep shouldn’t be considered the standard. Most reputable online brands (including Layla) actually make the return process quick, easy and painless. So, if you haven’t purchased a mattress online, I would definitely say give it a try. It’s even more fun than it sounds!

7.) Other than using your product, what tips do you have for getting a good night’s sleep?

For a great night’s sleep, I recommend setting a routine for yourself. In other words, try to go to bed at the same time every night… including weekends. Turn your mobile devices on silent (or, if you can leave them in another room, even better). Try to keep your bedroom cool, quiet, and as dark as possible. Additionally, aim to change your bedsheets twice a week; cleaner, crisper bed sheets make for a better sleep! Take a hot bath or shower before sleeping and, of course, sleep on a Layla mattress with Layla pillows!

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A big thank you to Akrum Sheikh for taking the time to chat with Sleepopolis! For more information on the Layla mattress, be sure to check out our review!

Images courtesy of Layla

Sarah Riccio

Sarah is the former senior writer and bedding expert at Sleepopolis. She received her degree in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College and spends her free time doing stand-up, making pasta, and hanging with her cats.

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