$300 million worth of sleep paraphernalia last year, and
faces about 100 online mattress competitors. Now it’s
opening real-world stores. —AS TOLD TO MARIA ASPAN
We designed and engineered our product to sleep
well—that’s it. We didn’t design it to sell well on the floor,
or to feel good when you sit on it.
But people would knock on our o;ce door and ask
to try the mattress. So we designed a “nap mobile”
that drove across North America. We did some
pop-ups. A series of experiments led to “Let’s give
stores a try.” Last year, we launched a store in San
Francisco, some pop-ups in November, and more in
December. All are doing way beyond expectations. We
now have enough data to believe that we can have a
really large brick-and-mortar experience.
We thought people would just lie on the bed and then
we’d deliver it. But customers would say, “I’d like to take
the bed,” and we’d be like, “Uh-oh, we don’t have inventory.” That forced us to rethink how we build stores—
because now we have to keep inventory. Another thing
we didn’t account for: So many folks were coming that
there was a wait to try mattresses in some stores.
So at our first NYC store, which opened this spring, if
the trial beds are occupied, you can touch the fiber that
goes into the pillow. There’s a wind simulation, where
you can touch the sheet to see how air circulates through
it. Videos show how products are created. Other
experiences, like food and drink, could create the right
atmosphere for folks to hang out.
We have 19 locations. In New York, there’s a Mattress
Firm across the street from one store. I love when
people walk into our store and then walk into Mattress
Firm. I worry about a lot of things. But confusion
between the two is not something I worry about.
The longer you’re in, the likelier you are to
lose your job, be separated from your family,
and end up back in jail. My co-founder and
I realized we needed a technology that gets
people to court, so they won’t be jailed for
missing a date. We also want the private bail
industry to die.
People in Silicon Valley thought we
were insane. Investors are afraid of working with government. Also, I think it
terrified them to think people who have
been arrested would be our users.
We decided to join Y Combinator. I drove
up in my minivan with my co-founder, Diana
Frappier, a lawyer with 20 years of experience. I’m a black woman, she’s a white
woman. We were visually and culturally so
di;erent. I thought: “Oh, we just changed
the dynamic here.” This was the youngest,
whitest place I’d been in for a long time.
Tech investors are so into pattern matching.
But the support and credibility that comes
out of Y Combinator is incredible.
As someone who’d spent most of her life
outside of tech, I was so stressed about
raising money. A friend pointed me to one
VC. That VC just hit reply-all: “Not interested.” It was so rude it was comical. But
I’d run revenue at Honor, and that gave us
credibility. We raised over $3 million from
Roc Nation and First Round Capital before
graduating Y Combinator.
I know technology can create better
models for government. The purpose of
technology is innovation—it’s supposed to
be a transformative tool, not just a tool to
feed you ads or surveil you and arrest you.
But if we don’t use it to change the human
condition, it will never be a positive force.
PHILIP KRIM/CASPER HOW I TOOK MY COMPANY OFFLINE
A PROMISE TO HELP
Promise’s clients are city and county governments, which agree to release certain nonviolent individuals from their bail obligations
and their jail cells. Promise conducts a risk-assessment on candidates and, after they
go home, a personalized app issues them
tailored alerts—for example, to remind them
of court dates or to comply with court orders,
such as addiction treatment. Promise’s Care
Team checks in with them, and helps make
sure each step along the way to legal compliance is met—which could include arranging
transportation to, or child care during, a court
appearance. Local officials are also provided
tools to view participants’ progress and their
compliance with court orders. B E N J A M