I went to Penn State for undergrad where I played on the men’s basketball team. After college I went to law school and then worked at a law firm in the city representing corporate insurance companies. I’ve always had a strong interest in business and entrepreneurship, particularly in the health and wellness space. I am also the founder of the East Side Food Cooperative, a non profit which supplies members with meat and other food products from grass fed and pasture raised animals.
What got you interested in making a mattress?
As a professional and all-around active person I developed an interest in optimizing my physical and mental health. Sleep is obviously a huge part of that.
When it was time for me to replace my last mattress, I had a hard time finding a brand that resonated with me. I had some nagging lower back pain from my sports days and I was very career focused, so I was looking for a mattress that was very high end for both the physical and mental health benefits. The online brands that sell the foam/latex mattresses were a bit too “entry level” for what I was looking for and the mattresses that I liked in physical retailers were way out of my price range, so I felt a little stuck. I was ready to make an investment in a sleep product for my health and overall well being, but I just couldn’t stomach spending $3,000 – $5,000 for a top of the line in store model.
At that point, I casually started to investigate what it would take to create a custom mattress for my own use. Conceptually, I was looking to create a mattress that was equivalent or better than the top of the line in-store models but I obviously wanted to pay less for it. Eventually I realized it wasn’t really feasible to achieve the concept I had in mind for just one mattress, but that if I created a business using an e-commerce model, I actually would be able to source the materials I needed to create a mattress with features and technology used in high end bedding and sell it for far less than physical retailers.
What’s the story of WinkBeds? How long have you been working on the idea, and what were the major milestones?
Though I had a strong interest in business and entrepreneurship I had never actually started a business before. I guess you could say I was a “wantrepreneur” at the time, a person who read a lot of business books but never started business.
One thing I did have going for me was a strong personal network. I am kind of an outgoing guy and I live in New York City so I am always out meeting people. The best thing I did to get WinkBeds off the ground was talk to other business owners and people startups. I was able to leverage their advice and connections in order to really get the wheels turning for WinkBeds. Locating a supportive manufacturer and logistics partner was obviously a huge milestone, in addition to finding team members who are committed to the vision and fun to work with. The most important milestone was achieving an iteration of the mattress that nailed the vision. We went through four different models before we got it right. Our manufacturer’s expertise was hugely important during this process.
What was the design process like?
Mind-blowing. As a newcomer to the mattress world, I was amazed at how many different types of materials, options, and decisions go into the mattress design process. It was certainly a steep learning curve.
Did your friends and family support your idea? Who loved/hated the idea?
Most people thought I was a little nuts. I had a good steady job (which I kept until the business was ready to launch) and people were surprised that I was looking to get out of that. Having said that, my parents, brother, girlfriend, and closest friends knew I needed a change and definitely supported me as I built the business.
Most mattress startups are doing foam, why did you decide on using springs?
Durability is a huge part of what we were after and North American made spring coils last (nearly) forever. They also maximize support. Our mattress is a hybrid, which means it also has a very significant foam component as well. All of our springs are individually wrapped and encased within layers of cushioning foam that is US-CertiPure certified. It’s a much different feel than the typical spring mattress most people grow up with.
I think the reason most startups are doing foam only is because those mattresses cost less to ship. You can essentially deflate the mattresses using compression machines that originated in China so that the mattresses fit into smaller sized boxes. From a business standpoint its great for startups because it keeps logistics costs down.
We designed our mattress to exceed the level of quality of the most high-end in-store models. In order to do that, we combined the best of both inner-spring and foam technologies. We don’t compress or deflate our mattresses prior to shipping in order to preserve the integrity of the materials we use. That also means there is absolutely no off-gassing when you open the package.
What was the hardest part about starting WinkBeds?
I am a relatively confident guy, but honestly, it was about getting over the fear and negative self talk that comes with starting a new business.
How have the first few months been?
Beyond my wildest expectations. We are selling to people all over the country and getting rave reviews. Obviously I hoped for the best when I started working on the business, but when the best case scenario actually happens it really is wild.
If you weren’t sleeping on a WinkBed, what would you be sleeping on?
Probably one of the in-store models that costs over $4,000. We spend a third of our lives in bed, and our philosophy is that its worth paying a bit more for the best quality because that one third dictates the other two thirds.
Joe Auer is the editor of Mattress Clarity. He mainly focuses on mattress reviews and oversees the content across the site.
He likes things simple and take a straightforward, objective approach to his reviews. Joe has personally tested nearly 250 mattresses and always recommends people do their research before buying a new bed. He has been testing mattresses for over 5 years now, so he knows a thing or two when it comes to mattress selection. He has been cited as an authority in the industry by a number of large publications.
Joe has an undergraduate degree from Wake Forest University and an MBA from Columbia University.