Casper Sleep has seemingly pressed all the right buttons over the course of its journey. Founded in 2014, the mattress startup has won over customers with its innovative “bed-in-a-box” model. Many other players have tried to emulate this approach, but none have had quite the same degree of success as Casper.

In this post, we’ll dive into the lessons that I took from studying Casper’s rise to the top, citing from the HBS case study, Casper Sleep: Marketing the “One Perfect Mattress for Everyone.” You can purchase the study here for a reasonable price if you’re interested in reading the whole thing.

Steal like an entrepreneur

The idea for Casper didn’t come to be as a “Eureka!” moment in the shower one morning. The idea of disrupting traditional industries by moving to a direct-to-consumer (D2C) model wasn’t novel. It was spring 2013, and Warby Parker was already making headlines by doing it in eyewear.

The founding members of Casper all admired Warby Parker’s success delivering on the promise of “designer eyewear at revolutionary prices.” It was no secret that the mattress industry was prime for disruption — clearly, somebody was going to be the Warby Parker of Mattresses. So they built out a team and got to work.

The best businesses often aren’t born from great ideas, but rather from taking someone else’s idea, exploring it, tweaking it, and finally molding it into what they want it to be. Very few things in this world are truly original. Your idea probably isn’t either, and that’s okay. Neither was Casper.

Have a great story to tell

Customers love a good story. Casper wasn’t just trying to manufacture and sell mattresses, they were and still are trying to help people “sleep their way into better lives” — this is a pretty compelling story. Much more compelling than the “we want to sell you a new mattress” story that other brands settle for.

This point is outlined in the TED talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action from the unmissable Simon Sinek linked above. Sinek makes the point that great leaders inspire action by honing in on the “why” rather than the “how” or “what” instead.

Companies follow this rule as well. Most customers don’t perform a thorough analysis of specs, functionality, and value offering. They buy based on the story you tell. Whether you like it or not, your “why” matters.

Build brand love

The act of building brand love might not show up in your short-term performance, but it turns out to be invaluable later on. These are the customers that will stick with you over time. They’ll engage, evangelize, and come back for more over and over again. The quote below says it all:

“The key for us is a Casper personality and story that builds an emotional bond with the consumer. If someone buys a Casper because they see us as offering the lowest price per cubic foot of quality foam and offer free delivery — that generates some margin for us on the sale. But, there is nothing there we can build a future on. There is no reason for that person to buy another mattress from us; no reason to buy our pillows and sheets. We need that foundational emotion. It’s all about brand love.” — Luke Sherwin, Casper Chief Creative Officer

Challenge assumptions

When Casper was first starting out, the team generally thought that they would need 2–3 firmness levels to satisfy the market. Why wouldn’t they? Everyone else was doing it this way. The “one-size-fits-all” approach had no place in the mattress business, or did it?

Eventually, Casper decided to challenge this assumption by running several experiments on various prototypes, even going as far as creating a mattress with the left and right halves offering different firmness. After some time, the data lead them to the answer: One level of firmness was best. It satisfied customers and lead to no complex decision making on their part, alleviated manufacturing chaos, had numerous marketing benefits and gave them yet another edge over competitors.

Don’t overlook customer service

Instead of deeming customer service less important than other product-related features and projects, the Casper team placed an emphasis on customer service early on. They made sure that site visitors were encouraged to call the Casper Customer Experience team. The following quote was taken from the Casper website, in the early days:

“We’re happy to give you advice on your bed, chat about sleep in general, or even read you a bedtime story”

Furthermore, the customer service team or “sleep specialists” weren’t evaluated on something like the number of calls they took in an hour. Instead, they were actually encouraged to stay on the phone with customers, citing things like Net Promoter Score (NPS) as the evaluation metric of choice.

There’s no finish line

Even after Casper was deemed successful in 2016, the company was facing a problem. Philip Kim, Casper CEO, noted that the company had a continued “awareness” problem. He elaborated, saying that “the reality that we face is that a vast majority of people don’t know that we exist.”

In response, Casper has continued to innovate and move further into the “offline” retail space with pop-up shops and a giant partnership with Target. Even after coming all this way, the work wasn’t done. In fact, it was and still is just getting started. There will always be problems to solve and fires to put out. There truly is no finish line, that’s what makes it so exciting, isn’t it?

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