Can an $850 mattress-in-a-box disrupt a duopoly of debt-laden, private-equity-backed companies? We lie down and find out.
The important thing to know about that mattress startup Casper is not that it has ambitions to overturn a staid, debt-laden, duopolistic $32 billion industry. No, the important thing to know about Casper is that its packaging is the stuff of social media genius. Somehow, the company has engineered a way to stuff full, queen, and king-sized foam mattresses into small, shippable boxes the size of a mini-fridge. They’re small enough to be delivered by a dutch-bicycle messenger on the streets of New York City. And they’re novel enough to elicit reactions of disbelief and awe on social media.
Actor Ashton Kutcher, who has invested in the startup alongside Steve Nash, Dave Morin, and others, tweeted a photo of a Casper box sitting on a doorstep, garnering 174 retweets and 690 favorites.
There is no assembly to a Casper bed. You just open the striped box and, with the magical appeal of a grow-in-water toy, poof! It’s a mattress! (And if you’re unhappy with the bed, it’s not going back into that box. The company will have someone pick it up from your house.)
And so Casper unboxing videos are now a popular fixture on the Internet. That phenomenon, along with some insistent branding (the mattresses are referred to as “Caspers”) is how, with no marketing, the company has garnered an impressive parade of positive press. In August, the company raised $13.1 million in a Series A funding round from Slow Ventures, Vaizra Investments, Crosslink Capital, Norwest Venture Partners, Cendana Capital, Silas Capital, SV Angel, Lerer Ventures, NEA, Nash’s Configliere Brand Capital, and Kutcher’s A-Grade Investments.
I was told Casper’s offices in New York’s SoHo neighborhood were a “live-work” environment, which I took to mean the company’s employees lived in its showroom. So one day I showed up at 8 a.m. in hopes that workers might be milling about a showroom in pajamas, coding in laptops from beds. I was expecting a cross between Corduroy the bear and a hacker hostel.
I was misinformed. The office, cluttered with stacks of Casper boxes, does feature a bedroom, which employees sometimes nap in (though none have stayed overnight). They have their own apartments. They have a separation between their work and personal lives. Casper is apparently not one of those startups.
Casper is CEO Philip Krim’s second swipe at the mattress industry. He started selling mattresses in Texas when he was still a college student. He later moved to New York and tried his hand at entrepreneurship, participating in the Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator with a marketing startup called VocalizeLocal. When that failed, he decided to merge his two experiences: mattresses and startups.
He reasoned that the mattress manufacturing industry is dominated by a duopoly of massive debt-laden private-equity-backed companies and therefore a good target for a shake-up. (He’s not alone.) The retail side of things is controlled by regional fiefdoms. Mattress salespeople work on a commission model, so they’re incentivized to sell the most expensive mattress, and no one really knows anything about mattresses or their various features. There’s memory foam, and gel memory foam, and high density foam, and SmartClimate Systems and Verti-Coil support systems, and Visvo Lumbar Support pads, and Cushion Cloud Construction, and Vertical Zoning. It all sounds very official—and expensive—without conveying any real information.
Krim decided to simplify it. He worked with Jeff Chapin, an industrial designer from the firm IDEO, to create a simple all-foam mattress (despite the manufacturer’s insistence on including the latest gels in the design) with one price point. Krim says it might sell for $3,000 at a traditional mattress store. A queen costs $850 on Casper’s website. “There’s only one mattress, so there’s no need to compare,” Krim said.
The bed is comfy. I tested it while Krim and Lindsay Kaplan, Casper’s vice president of communications, awkwardly hovered over me. It’s on the soft side, which the company is up-front about. “If they want a brick, this is probably not for them,” Krim said.
Casper prides itself on “over-the-top” customer service. Half of Casper customers have instant messaged with the CEO, Kaplan says. Sometimes the company sends a random gift to a customer. Since launching on April 22, the company has sold “millions of dollars” worth of mattresses.
Armed with $13.1 million in venture funding, Casper has no intentions of expanding into new mattress lines. But it might take its brand into new product lines, like sheets or pet beds. Over coffee at a nearby restaurant, we riffed on names for pet beds. The cat bed was easy—Catsper, of course. The dog one was tricker. Dogsper? Pupsper? Kaplan was not convinced. “I just want everything in my apartment to be covered in Casper,” she said.