Casper has built a winning mattress brand in an astoundingly short time. But what’s more impressive is that it has done so in an industry that has, historically, dragged its feet with respect to innovation. Entrenched players in the mattress industry make it incredibly difficult for new entrants to develop any traction, and most existing companies are quite happy with the status quo. But in its first two years of existence, Casper has built a company that has turned the model on its head, and has become a $100 million success story. So what’s the secret to the startup’s success?
#1: Product and Experience: a Winning Combination
“It starts with product and ends with experience,” believes CEO Philip Krim, who sat down with me at Collision Conference earlier this year to discuss Casper’s growth. Krim and his co-founders put equal weight on both sides of the equation, innovating everything from the mattress materials to how the customer approaches the bed-buying process.
The product was something that was invented internally; Casper was the first brand to combine latex and memory foam. The result is a bed that, according to most customers, is uniquely comfortable and supported.
The product is complemented by an end-to-end experience: customers order online, receive a speedy delivery, and get 100 days to sleep on the mattress — during which time it can be returned for a full refund. It’s unlike anything that’s ever been offered in the mattress category. “Buying a mattress is such an important process for people, and yet the mechanism of acquiring it, having to step in a mattress store has been so painful for so long,” says Krim. His team looked to avoid that, went direct to consumers, and offered something that was completely different.
#2: Marginal Improvements Don’t Make a Splash
Casper solved an acute pain point for consumers, which Krim believes was a huge part of why the brand grew as quickly it did.
“If it was a marginal improvement from what was out there then I don’t think we would be where we are,” Krim professes. Even with a great brand, if a company can’t offer something definitively better to customers, then its growth will be a much more gradual process.
Getting people to try something new is incredibly difficult, so you really have to offer a large incentive. Casper’s model was a complete change compared to what mattress buyers were used to; its straightforward process is a large part of how the company caught on with so many people from the moment it launched.
Because people truly loved the experience as well as the product, they started telling their friends and family about it. Krim believes that word of mouth has been the key to Casper’s growth, as people have talked about Casper and posted on social media, sharing their positive experiences with the brand. Two years after launch, word of mouth is an incredible ingredient for Casper’s continued growth.
#3: Setting the Tone via Advertising
Casper’s branding and advertising strategy was designed to support the idea that it’s a different kind of mattress company. “We didn’t spend a lot of time studying how other companies were involved in their branding, or the looks of other brands and try to figure out where we fit in to this puzzle,” Krim admits. “We really just said, ‘What’s the brand we want to build?'”
“That gave us complete green field to do what we wanted to do,” says Krim. That’s why Casper’s branding feels so natural and core to the essence of the founders. The fact that they were disruptors gave them the freedom to present themselves differently visually. The idea of the subway campaign was huge to Casper’s success. It was a big-dollar investment to a relatively unproven startup. “We were really nervous about it,” says Krim, “but it goes back to the brand that we wanted to be.”
The Challenges Ahead
Of course, growth inspires imitators–not only other startups, but also concepts funded by the entrenched mattress giants. That may even be a good thing, as it creates category awareness in the same way that Lyft, Gett, and Via may be good for Uber. The faster the shift happens away from the existing de facto channel – specialty mattress stores, where the majority of mattress purchases happen – and to this direct model, the more profitable the category may become overall.
“It’s not a winner-take-all environment. There’ll be a few emerging brands that come out of this direct model,” says Krim, “and hopefully, we continue to be the largest and fastest-growing one in that category.”
Given how well Casper has run itself until now, it is hard to imagine it could be anyone else.