Episode 7

Growing An 8-Figure ECommerce Sleep Brand From Scratch

Aaron Spivak
Co-founder, Hush Blankets

Episode Summary

Most of the guests we’ve spoken to on Legends of Retail have been leaders in enterprise retail. Today, we’re speaking to someone in the world of ecommerce and DTC.

Aaron is an ecommerce expert who scaled Hush to eight figures in revenue. In this conversation, he shares how he and his co-founder Lior develop their products by doing things that don’t scale, how they launch their products, and why retail partnerships are important to their success. You’ll find plenty of stories here with lessons you can learn from, including Aaron’s early entrepreneurial venture in party buses when he was still in high school, the power of building a brand that customers really trust, and why you should consider sponsoring a sports team if you want to expand your audience.

Connect with Aaron on LinkedIn or Twitter

Check out Hush

Connect with Chris on LinkedIn or Twitter

Aaron Spivak

About The Guest

Aaron Spivak is the co-founder of Hush Blankets, a Canadian ecommerce business that specializes in sleep products. Hush started with a weighted blanket and they’ve since expanded to provide a mattress, pillows, sheets and many other products that help their customers get a good night’s sleep. Last year, they joined Sleep Country Canada’s portfolio of brands.

Episode Transcript

Chris Grouchy:

Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of a Legends of Retail Podcast, brought to you by Convictional. We talk to leaders in retail and eCommerce so you can learn from them, about retail strategy, leadership, and team management, and take their insights back to your company. I'm your host, Chris Grouchy, President and Co-Founder of Convictional, the supplier enablement platform that helps retailers onboard drop-ship vendors in minutes, so they can curate their product assortments faster.

Most of the guests we've had on the show, to date, have been leaders in enterprise retail. Today, we're speaking to someone in the world of eCommerce and D-to-C, Aaron Spivak. Aaron is the Co-Founder of Hush Blankets, a Canadian eCommerce business that specializes in sleep products. Hush started with a weighted blanket. And they have, since, expanded to provide a mattress, pillows, sheets, and many other products that help their customers get a good night's sleep.

In this conversation, Aaron shares how he and his Co-Founder, Lior, develop their products by doing things that don't scale, how they launch their products, and why retail partnerships are important to their success. You'll find plenty of stories here, with lessons that you can learn from, including Aaron's early entrepreneurial venture in party buses, when he was still in high school, the power of brand building, and building a brand that customers really trust, and why you should consider sponsoring a sports team, if you want to expand your audience.

This chat was a ton of fun, and I hope you enjoy. Here's my conversation with Aaron Spivak, Co-Founder of Hush Blankets. Aaron, welcome to the Legends of Retail Podcast.

Aaron Spivak:

Thank you so much for having me.

Chris Grouchy:

Awesome. Well, I'd love to start with a bit more of a personal question about your past life as a hockey player. And I would love to hear how you got into hockey initially. And we can, then, segue into how you've applied lessons learned from hockey into your career as an entrepreneur.

Aaron Spivak:

Sure. Yeah. So my time as a... All my front teeth are fake, if that helps. But yeah, I played hockey for 20 years of my life, learned a tremendous amount about myself, and about working with others to achieve something much greater than ourselves, on a hockey team that's 20 guys. Won some championships, lost some championships, learned how to win, learned how to lose. But it really carved out something that stays with you. And it might be true for any sport, or any team sport, of understanding how the process is so vital to the end goal, and doing the right thing consistently, for long periods of times, lead to eventually where you want to go, or really close to, at least, where you want to go.

Chris Grouchy:

That's awesome. Yeah, there's that awesome book, The Score Takes Care of Itself. And I think that statement, alone, that book title, captures a lot of what athletes bring to business, and often founding companies and building teams. So it's interesting that you highlight that.

Aaron Spivak:

I was always a little bit entrepreneurial. So, when I was in Grade Eight and Grade Nine, I started a party bus company that actually carried all the way throughout high school, to the point where we were doing well over 60% of all the proms in Toronto. And, at one point, that's 1500 buses a year. So I was always a little bit entrepreneurial. But my first quote/unquote "real business" was with my brothers and my mom, right out of our basement, when I was 18 years old. And it was really piggybacking off the health and the success that my brother and I had playing hockey, using health as a cheat code because guys were still eating McDonald's and Subway pre- and post-games. And we were like juicing and really eating whole foods, and stuff like that. And my mom did an incredible juice fast and lost a ton of weight.

So we really used our success in health to launch a health business. And that was Revise Size, where, at first, it was just juicing. We did it all out of our house. And people used to knock on our door and be like, "Hey, is this the place we get juice?" And this is 2013. So, now, there's juice shops all over, and you can get a juice at the airport. We're talking 2013, where the healthiest outside of your own kitchen was a Subway, or something healthier on the McDonald's menu. There wasn't any options available. So we were really early in that.

Then we grew that to eight locations. And it still runs, primarily with my brothers and my mom. But it was a really cool experience as an 18-year-old, signing leases and speaking to landlords who don't take you seriously. They were like, "What's this kid doing here? Are you even allowed to sign these documents?" Trying to save up, and hiring staff, and the legalities around having a frontward-facing business. Needs to be up to code. Lot of things that you learn, going through that... Lot of mistakes I was able to make, which I'm very appreciative of, doing early. But definitely a journey that you learn a tremendous amount about yourself, while you go through.

Chris Grouchy:

You know, it sounds like one of the first businesses was the party bus company. Was that basically a way to just earn some extra cash? Did you ever see that as being sort of a long, enduring, entrepreneurial pursuit?

Aaron Spivak:

Yeah, I mean now, that I'm 26 and I feel like 46. But yeah, almost 10 years into this journey. And now, if there's an idea or an opportunity, you think bigger. You're thinking, "Okay, where can this go? What's the plan for this?" Because you value time, at least, I value time much differently. I think of how long will this take? How am I going to feel out of this? How many people can we affect? What's the reaching? You start thinking bigger. But, when you're in Grade Eight and Grade Nine, it was simply two motivations. One was I didn't want to ask my mom and dad for money, and I hated my lunches you know, PB&J sandwiches. Just wasn't into it. I wanted to be able to afford money at the caf, or go and buy down the street, without asking my mom and dad, because I knew how hard they worked for their money. I didn't want to be that kid that just kept asking for money. So that was one motivation.

The second was, when I was in Grade Eight, and we were planning a prom, actually had a tragedy, but not really. The bus didn't show up. We booked a bus. And someone's dad put their credit card down, and whatever. And we were 50 kids, suit and tie, and whatever, all looking pretty, no way to get to our prom and our pre-prom. Then I went on Google, found one. This guy came last, saved the day. And I said to myself, "Why is process considered efficient? It's not. Then, the very next year, when I went into high school, I realized that I could take care of that for all the student, and money wasn't really the biggest issue.

There was very few parents that would and say, "Sorry, Sally. I'm not giving you 50 bucks to go and enjoy your once-in-a-lifetime prom with your friends. Very few parents... It was less about the money, and more about the structure, and just making it super easy. So that was when we first started, and then the money was great, and I got to buy lunches.

Then I realized the larger demand was the principals had a fear around these buses. And the largest fear was not that it wouldn't show up. That's a kid fear. The largest fear was that kids would drink. And underage drinking, for a principal, last thing she would want is a bus to show up, and then 45 drunk kids get off and walk into her prom. And I was able to go and say, "Hey, I'll put someone on this bus that will ensure that nobody drinks." And, the second I said that, and I watched my own principal's eyes light up, and she was like, "I'm recommending you to the Prom Committee. You're the only option they have. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And no credit cards. No one had to put their dad's car on the line for 50 kids, or something like that.

I realized that was replicable. So I just went to every single principal in the district, and then multiple districts, and said, "Hey, how about no drinking?" And they were like, "Oh, my God. Perfect." And, then to the point where we grew so big, I started getting some death threats, and stuff like that, from a bunch of other companies, because it is a pretty sketchy space. Then, eventually, I just let it go, or I just didn't want to deal with it anymore, because it was getting a little too crazy. But it was a fun run, throughout high school.

Chris Grouchy:

I feel like we could end the podcast right there, and every future entrepreneur would just take away their lessons. That's awesome. I mean, you basically built a business to fire your parents from having to make you lunch, which is awesome. And then the other thing was you actually spoke to customers, particularly, or maybe not even customers, but angry stakeholders in your business, who were actively preventing you from building the business, and then incorporating their feedback into the final product, which was like having a chaperone on the bus, to prevent the main concern that they had.

This is going a little bit off-script, here. But how do you think about incorporating customer feedback into your products, now at Hush? And we're going to talk about the Hush Mattress, which is a new product. But can you tell me a little bit more about how you use customer feedback in building new products, manufacturing them, and launching them? ts, manufacturing them and launching them?

Aaron Spivak:

Yeah, I mean, I don't like guessing. So, when we're launching a new product, when we're developing something that we think is cool or different, what we do is we have this practice, and I've always done it, where some people do sampling. Some people will ask their best customers. What we do is we do both. We say, "Let's talk to some new customers who have no loyalty to us. There's no incentive for them to be biased. Let's talk to some of our best customers who only want the best for us." Or, at least, we think that way.

And we ask them critical questions. And it's not like an email form we shoot out. We literally send them a Calendly link. And they book 10, 15-minute calls with us. And we say, "How does this product affect you? What do you hate about your mattress, your pillow? What do love about your mattress and your pillow, or your sheets? What do you love about your bedtime routine? What is so great about it? What is so wrong with it?"

Then you start to realize that there's obviously some outliers. Some people just can't get it to work, no matter what. Then some are very commonalities. And, once you start to draw that line, you say, "Whoa! There's a lot of people dealing with this one issue." And, with the blanket, it was... There was just a lot of people. And there still is a lot of people dealing with stress and anxiety, and insomnia, and ADD, and everything around light saturation. There're so many reasons why we can't get a good night's sleep.

But, if we can mimic hugs, and release natural serotonin and melatonin, and reduce cortisol, which is that stress, that body heating, that overheat, that, "I can't go to bed." If we can do that naturally, without pills and gummies and whatever, then we can tap into a market, because there's clearly people asking for something.

That's kind of the overall process of how we do it. And it also depends on the type of product. So, when it came to mattress, it's a unique one because everyone uses one, if you're fortunate enough. Every single person uses a mattress, as opposed to the Hush Blanket, which is a weighted blanket. Not everyone is used one before. So there's different types of questions. There's different types of key things that we need to know. But, with the mattress, it was the most unique because every single person we called, we can get feedback about whatever they're sleeping on, what they love and what they hate. And it was super clear. And then, when we were building ours, which took almost two years, we used that in the back of our minds, as we built it.

So people were always over hot. Foam mattresses can cave like a canoe. Foam mattresses smell. No one knows what that smell is. We actually measured it. And it's actually pure toxic sewage, garbage that just floats into the air, which is why some of these best brands will say, "Air out your mattress for a few hours," which is a little bit scary, because why do I have to air out something I'm going to spend 30 to 40 percent of my entire life on, for the next 10 years.

But there was a lot of things that people were picking up on. And we were like, "First of all, why can't we just... These seem like quick fixes. Why can't we just make this a quick fix?" Then, as we pulled back the curtain, we started to realize that they're not quick fixes. And this is the status quo in the space that hasn't been disrupted in 150 years, which is Simmons. Simmons is a hundred-and-fifty-year-old bed company. And there's been 60 and 30 and 40-year-old companies throughout that own the space. So just being different in that regard, and just using our customers as a tool, and say, "Hey, what can we do to make your life better? How much do you want to pay for it? What's your budget? If we can handle all of this for you, what's your budged?" We start to draw a line and say, "Okay, we need to build a mattress within this price range. How do we do it?" Then, we just work backwards.

Chris Grouchy:

That's amazing. I really want to hear the behind-the-curtain story of Hush Mattress. But, before getting to that, one word comes to mind when I think about all of the stories that you're sharing, even going back to your early days. And the word is quality. It sounds like you treat customers, and even non-customers, as a way to manifest and build something of extremely high quality, without compromising. I think that there's a lot of D-to-C brands popping up nowadays. And I think that some founders could feel the pressure to cut corners on quality within various aspects of their business, including their supply chain. How do you and your co-founder at Hush stay focused on quality, despite the temptation to maybe cut some corners to preserve some margin? What is that like for you and your co-founder, specifically?

Aaron Spivak:

Yeah, quality is key to obviously customer satisfaction. But it's actually also key to building brand. So a really good example of that was, last October we launched a pillow. That pillow, we launched it for seven days before we shipped it. So there was a seven-day launch period, and then on the eighth day we started shipping. And we had 3000 pillows set aside. We were like, "This is going to last us three months," which was pretty optimistic, selling a thousand pillows a month, that you've never even sold before, that no one's ever felt, touched. There's no reviews. And we sold 3000 of them in seven days in a week, and super successful. We were ultra happy, everybody was celebrating. We fulfilled these pillows. But actually, afterwards, I was thinking why did 3000 people... And it was less, because some people bought two. So why did 25000 people buy this pillow off of a picture? Like a few pictures online. There's no reviews yet. Why did they buy these pillows? I couldn't get me head around it.

I get it. It's interesting. It was a lot of first movers. So let's just say there's 500 to a thousand first movers, early adopters. But why did it sell out in the way that it did? So I had to ask people. I called up some customers that bought. And I said, "Listen, first of all, I appreciate you. Thank you so much for your support. But why did you buy it?" And I started to realize that a common answer was, "Well, I have X. I have your blanket. I have your sheets. And they're so good. And I need a pillow, and I knew you guys would make a good pillow." And that answer was just over, "I knew you would come out with a good pillow. I trusted that your pillow would be good."

And the same thing happened with our mattress. We sold so many mattresses without no showroom, nowhere to field it. This is a bigger... This is a $2,000 purchase. It's not a $20 whatever. And the same answer comes back was, "I knew you guys would come through. I knew you would come through." So that brand component of it really comes from existing customers that joined the community. But it also really comes from the ability to deliver a quality product, and exceed expectations.

There so many restaurants, you go and you're like, you go and you try a different dish for the first time, because you're really confident that this is going to be amazing because every other dish you've had is also amazing. So maintaining that quality is ultra important to us. Not taking shortcuts. We had an opportunity, earlier in our business, to choose whether we'd be in a race at the bottom, in terms of price, or we'd stay where we are. Just over-deliver. And some people in our space chose the latter. They went with racing to the bottom. And we said, "We're going to stick to our values and stay where we're at, and continue to develop products that exceed people's expectations." And that's how you maintain quality, although it's always tempting to save a buck here, save a buck there. But, from our experience, it just never works out.

Chris Grouchy:

Reminds me of the Warren Buffet quote, which is that it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. And I feel like you guys understand that deeply in your soul, and that you're always building your reputation, but that it could fall beneath you if you make one wrong move or try to compromise on your values. Hush Mattress, huge product launch for you guys. Can you give me the backstory on it? Why launch a mattress?

Aaron Spivak:

In early 2020, in Canada, we obtained the hush.ca domain name, which means we never really dropped hushblankets.ca. And we'd launched that through a partnership with the NHL team, the Montreal Canadiens, and we took over behind Carey Price, which was super fun and exciting, and then ended up having an incredible year. So it was a great value. But the idea was, people were coming to us for sleep. So they bought our blanket. Then they would come to us and be like, "Hey, I love your blanket. Getting super sleeps. What sheets should I buy?" And we're like, "Uh, ours." "I really do. I love your blankets and I love your sheets. What's a good pillow you guys recommend, if you guys recommend one?" And we were like, "Wait, we should develop a pillow."

Then, it's the same thing with our mattress. We started being... Many people would be like, "Hey, what mattress is the best, when it comes to having a deep quality sleep? Because I use your pillow, and I use your sheets. And they work amazing. And I want to complete the set. I want to make sure that I'm set up for success, when it comes to my sleep.

And enough of that demand, and we realized that a lot of innovation, specifically for us, is we don't tout ourselves as huge product innovators. I don't even think product innovators... I don't want to use the word, success, because it's very subjective. But it's tough to be a product innovator and get your product into people's hands. Also, it involves creating and industry around you, or whatever.

What I really love is innovation through iteration, which means, if I see something that's already selling, and I can look at it and be like, "Ooh, this thing sucks," but it's selling, what happens if we made a really good one? And we see that with a lot of successful brands. Look at Manscaped. They didn't invent the shaver. They just iterated on a widely-used and purchased product. The built brand around it and many, many, many, many people, millions of people use it. Same with... I love the guys at Dude Wipes. They weren't the first to invent wipes. But they iterated. And people love it. So there's that section of innovation, is where I love to sit. I love to sit on the iteration side of things. We're developing a silk pillowcase, right now. There's been silk pillowcases selling on Amazon, and on Canadian Tire for years. But they stick. They're not stitched well. The hold the bacteria. The eventually leave a pimple on your face. They're not designed to do anything, other that meet the tag, the search term, silk pillowcase.

So we see, "Okay, people are obviously buying these. Why don't we make one that's actually good, that actually works?" So, when it came to the mattress, it was very similar. It's like a space where many, many, many sellers were in the space. Different categories. Some people sell mattresses for a hundred bucks on Amazon. Still don't know how they do it.

And what is possibly in that mattress that costs $10. But, aside from that, we iterated, to the point where we came into a space, we were like, "How do we pick apart these $8,000 mattresses and sell them for two?" And we realized that a lot of them are just inflated garbage. There was nothing in them that was significant, or that was proprietary. And we were like, "Why don't we build something special, that's different, that's an iteration on the status quo? And, once we realize that we can do that, using our customer feedback on what they found were holes in the market, or holes in their current product, we innovated through iteration. And it took us two years because it's a very difficult product. But we finally landed where we wanted to.

"Look at Manscaped. They didn't invent the shaver. They just iterated on a widely-used and purchased product."

Chris Grouchy:

I love your quote, "Innovation through iteration." And, then, you basically use customer feedback to build the best iteration possible of that fixed paradigm, whether it's a blanket or a mattress. I want to get into maybe a tactic or two that you and your team have, maybe, developed or uncovered to pick new product categories to launch within.

So it sounds like you have, maybe, a hypothesis. A category of products is selling really well. You go look into that. You understand why they might be flawed. And then you talk to customers, and would-be customers, to build something better. How do you come up with that hypothesis?

Aaron Spivak:

It's a combination of a lot of things. It could really come from anywhere. We've been really focused. Sometimes it's a passionate thing. So I really love the baby space. So we're working on a really cool product for babies from zero to three months, three to six, six to 12, 12 to, that one's a full year, so it'll be 12 to 24. But really just working on a product that would really have success in that space. And then just diving in. It's really just diving in and looking at making a business decision, really looking at, okay, does this make sense for the brand? Is there room to innovate? Is there room to be special here? Does the prices make sense that you would need to sell at? Is there a search? Is there intent from customer bases? And then, if those basic ones check off, you get a little deeper and you start to survey customers, and speak to customers. And then you get a sample, and you send it out to some customers. Then you get feedback there, and... I know I'm making it sound like a very lengthy process. But you can do that in three to six months, to the point where you're super, super happy.

Or you can reverse engineer a basic search and be like, "Oh, okay. There's hundreds of thousands of people searching for this." That method is tried and true, buy so so so many. So odds are, if there's a hundred thousand people searching for it, there's equally as many people selling it. So that doesn't really mean you have something. But you want to check some boxes.

Is there interest? Is there a market for this? Does it make sense for the brand? Is this something we want to get into? Is it something that our customers will see long-term value, which is really important for us. The last thing I would ever want is to sell somebody a product. They don't return it because they're just too lazy. And then they just say, "I'm never buying again from these guys," which happens to everybody from time to time, with certain brands. We just try to avoid that.

So checking off the boxes. That makes sense for us. Then, if they all make sense, they're checked off and we put it into our little system of launching and prepping it, and getting it to the point we can bring it to the market.

Chris Grouchy:

Awesome. You queued me up beautifully for a question on how do you actually launch a product, what you've learned there? Maybe that's unconventional. It sounds like, "Okay, we have this obsession on quality. We want to innovate on iteration. And we want to connect to our customers long-term." So you've built this product. You've sent it out. You've sampled it to some customers. Now the product is sitting in your warehouse, and you have to launch it. What do you do now?

Aaron Spivak:

I mean it depends on the product. It really depends on the product, it depends on the brand. There's so many, so many different launch strategies. Do you have an email list? Are you starting from scratch? If I was starting from scratch today, and then depending on my budget, I would do a few things. We have a unique opportunity now to be creative on TikTok and Instagram Reels to try to see benefit from organic reach. It's probably the only areas that LinkedIn... Probably the only areas where you can get organic reach without having to pay, at the moment. I'm sure it'll change soon. But I'm seeing a lot of brands that are just coming out of nowhere and just hitting it off and doing really, really well on those platforms.

So when you launch, you could (A.) pre-build your list with really successful viral videos or just successful videos and lead them to a landing page and build up that interest list, which I just saw a good friend of mine do really successfully. He was able to get thousands of leads by doing that. And then when he did launch, eventually through email and SMS and through more videos, he had quite a successful launch. And that's with the thin budget. And then, potentially, some partnerships and collaborations. Reach out to some people in your space that it would make sense for them to promote your product, in order to make sense for you to promote their product, and seeing if there's something there where you can take advantage of their audience and they can take advantage of yours.

But, if you're just starting out and you have no audience, it's very difficult to get them to agree to that. So it requires a lot of humility and looking yourself in the mirror. "So okay, where am I now? What do I have to offer? And how am I going to get people to give a shit about what I'm doing?" And a lot of that just doesn't happen overnight. You're not going to make one video to one landing page and then, boom. You have a thousand leads. And, boom. You send an email and you get 200 purchases. That's how people say it is, like a lot of these courses or gurus, or whatever. They make it simple, like making a landing page. Drive your traffic. Convert your landing page. It's not that. It does require day-in/day-out plugging away, slowly, slowly. And, ultimately, you want to drive people to the point where they're actually engaged with you.

When we do a launch, now, a lot of it involves hype. A lot of it involves education. And we're really educating customers for weeks, if not months, in different segments, depending on who they are to us, VIP, semi-VIP, first-time purchaser, never purchased, qualifying them. If someone has just bought a mattress from a competitor two days ago, the thing I want to do is harass them about how good our mattress is. We want to make sure that we qualify them, that they're even in the market for something like what we're about to sell. And then, really, just educate, educate, educate. Then let people know about when we're launching, and then when we launch. Have a compelling offer. Have something that... Reward your first-movers, is something that we always believe in, like those who take a chance on us, and bought those pillows, and buy the mattress.

Our sheets have been sold out for six months, since May. There's a lot of people that are waiting four or five months for sheets. But there's people who got them the second they launched. And those first-movers probably got the best deal because, as you know, we always reward our VIPs. So creating a system where people are encouraged to take advantage of the launch, of the time of, we take a chance on you because you're going to make mistakes. That's kind of, how we do it. But generally that works quite well. Sometimes we'll add supportive media, whether it be billboards or additional ads, something like that.

Chris Grouchy:

Awesome insights. One quick question. I pulled up this article from Montreal Times, where the headline is, Hush Becomes the Official Weighted Blanket of the Montreal Canadiens. On the note of launching products and marketing a new product or an existing brand, how did this partnership come to be? I think I know the story. But I would love for you to share what went into that.

Aaron Spivak:

Yeah, I mean the Montreal Canadiens reached out, about a week into the season. There was a shortened season. Canada plays Canada. U.S. plays U.S. It was a very once-in-a-lifetime season, no fans in the arena. And they reached out, and they said, "We're selling this spot that we've never sold in our lives. And it's the seats. We're covering the seats. We have no idea what this cost. But we just sold six out of the eight spots for half a million bucks, something like that, in that range. We're interested in having a Canadian brand, not another tequila company, or whatever, someone with a different brand, to enter the space. Would you be interested?" And I said, "I would totally be interested. I just can't afford it. That sounds insane." Then, they totally understood. They were like, "We get it." And that was it. Deal didn't manifest.

Then, a couple passed by, and I guess the spot was still available. And we were able to come up with a deal that really worked for both of us. And we ended up taking over one of the Montreal Canadiens' spots. So the banner that we took was actually their logo, which was right behind Carey Price, the whole year, which was really cool. And that was it. It was fun. It was exciting. It really exposed us to so many new people in Canada, that never heard about us or never engaged with us. But little did we know they ended up going all the way to Stanley Cup Finals. And it was one of the most successful years for the Montreal Canadiens in over a decade. And we were behind the net for all of it. So sometimes, you get those wins. And that was definitely a win.

Chris Grouchy:

I have one last question on launching products. And then we'll move on. But, I guess launching is very scary, as an entrepreneur. And maybe you're fearless. I'm not. I'd love to get your take on how you navigate the maybe, self-imposed pressures of launching something new. Do you face imposter syndrome? And how do you personally deal with the uncertainty that goes into not knowing whether something that you've put tons of resources, time, reputation, into, and not knowing whether or not it's going to be successful?

Aaron Spivak:

Yeah, launches are basket of emotions. There's definitely a moment where you're nervous, there's so much doubt. There's always doubts. There's always doubt in the imposter syndrome. It's very prevalent, especially as you grow, and as the business scales. There's fears. There's doubts. There's a combination of emotions that go into it. And that's where processes and systems, being agile are really, really important because, if you don't have a process that you can trust, and that you can rely on, it can get really scary when it comes right up to launch, because there's so many things that could go wrong.

Oftentimes, we really believe in speed and to keep moving. And what happens is, if you want to be perfect, then you might just keep delaying. "Oh, well, website's not a hundred percent ready." Or, "The offer isn't perfect," or, "The product, the label, the stickers. And they printed the stickers too big, instead of too small. And there's always going to be reasons to delay and stop, or push it off. And sometimes the reasons are huge, and you have no choice. But sometimes, you need to keep pushing. And that's happened to every launch of ours. Every launch, the day before, a couple days before, something goes wrong.

With the mattress launch, we had a huge website issue, literally the day before. And my partner, Lior, was up probably pulled 'til... We probably pulled 40-hour shifts with our devs, to just figure it out. And we figured it out, hours before. And, the second we saw that, we could've easily said, "Well, we're going to push the launch off two days." But we didn't. And it worked out. But there's always going to be a reason to feel nervous, a reason to have doubts. "Ooh, my list isn't big enough," or, "My open rate's not good enough." There's so many reasons. And the truth is, it's terrifying. That's just the facts. It's terrifying.

Every time you launch a new product, it is terrifying. And when we launched, I don't think we got a sale for like the first 20 minutes. And, ironically enough, I was climbing a mountain when we launched. And I'm climbing this mountain. And everyone's like dying. We're like with poles and like sweating. And I'm with my phone, literally this. And everyone's like, "Dude, are you seriously on your phone? I can't even breathe. What? Are you texting right now, when we're like 8,000 feet in the air?"

And I'm like, "I need to see who the first person who buys our mattress is." Then, 20 minutes in, you get that notification. And I'm just like, "Ah, I can't put my phone away." Because you have all these... Oh, is the website broken? What's going on? Everyone hates our product. We made a mistake. What an ugly photo. Is the product page wrong? Is the description wrong? Is the photo..." There's just so many things going through your head. "Did the email actually work, the email link?" There's so many things that go through your head, that you just kind of, eventually, release.

But it never ends. So if that's not something you're interested in, I wouldn't do it because those rollercoaster of emotions will never end. So it's important to know what you sign out for. But again, as stressful and as crazy it is, it's always really, really fun. And launches are something that I, and our team, always look forward to doing.

Every launch, the day before, a couple days before, something goes wrong.

Chris Grouchy:

I really appreciate the vulnerability there. I think something that, I think, our listeners will appreciate is that you need to cultivate a sense of awareness for when the inner-fear-based version of yourself is trying to kick tires on a decision or a launch just simply because they're in fear. So one thing that you mentioned that I think is going to relate to a lot of people who listen to this is, delaying the launch, delaying the website, getting it just perfect, waiting another day. And, oftentimes, the tendency to do that is the result of the fear that we feel in the potential for failure. And I think it's knowing that, that's going to be the default tendency for many of us, and how we handle fear, and then moving past it, moving through it, sticking to your timelines, being comfortable with imperfection. I think that was just really well-said by you.

So I want to just ask another question about this idea around customer feedback, and circling back to one thing you mentioned earlier, which is around. I think you posted a picture of your calendar being booked with customer calls. You mentioned that earlier in the conversation. But one thing I'd love to share with other people who are looking to launch new brands, or retailers who are looking to determine what customers want to buy in new categories that they're thinking of launching. So do you have any questions that you ask your customers, to get the best answers from them? What comes to mind whenever you're doing this type of market research, in terms of those questions?

Aaron Spivak:

It really depends. What I posted was essentially an open calendar invite that I gave to some of our best customers. And I said, "Hey, here's my calendar link. I'd love to chat." And some of those conversations were them just telling me how great their time is with the product, and me listening and just feeling it, and be like, "Okay, that's amazing. Thank you." And sometimes, there's some issues that you just don't know about, because not all customers will have a small little issue that they're like, "Ah, I don't have the energy to let them know, and never gets tracked on our end."

So it's really just understanding who your customer is. Why did they buy in the first place? What ;motivated them? Where'd they see your brand? You might be spending money on something that you think sucks. And you speak to enough customers. And that's the main thing that exposed you to them. You realize the power of word-of-mouth. A lot of people are recommending it to their friends, or hearing about it from their friends.

So it's really just about getting to know your customer on a real personable level, outside of numbers and data, and whatever. And those conversations really help. And, when we launched the mattress, a lot of those customers that jumped on those calls with myself, or with somebody else, those are the ones that bought. Those are the ones that are first-movers, that trusted us.

Just like I have friends that call me and say, "Hey, I want to come get a mattress," or, "I want to..." whatever. "I want to get a pillow. I want to get a weighted blanket." And they do that because they have my number, because they can message me. And they feel like they're not going to go to a local mattress store and buy one, when they can reach out to me personally, because we're friends.

Is it scalable to speak to hundreds of thousands of customers? No, but is it scalable to speak to the ones that support you the most? Definitely. And getting those insights are really important to us, because it really helps us hone in on our marketing and our language, and everything around what we're trying to do. Then, ultimately, it helps us build community, which is our end goal.

Chris Grouchy:

How do you ensure your diehard customers come back, if the goal is to build community, you want to engage them long term? Is it just serving up new products? How do you think about retention?

Aaron Spivak:

Yeah, it's both. I mean it definitely has to do with coming out with new products, for sure. I think that's the case for every brand. If you get stale, if you're selling the same thing over and over and over again, unless it's food. But even food, you want the menu to change from time to time. So it's really about providing unconditional value. So giving an opportunity for them to seek value from your emails, seek value from your Instagram and your socials. We have a Facebook group that we've been building, where we talk all things sleep, where we go live with sleep experts and doctors and chiropractors to help deal with some neck pain and offer some stretching tips, and whatever. This is offering value as much as possible. Our goal is to just be the first people you think about when it comes to improving your sleep.

You're not always buying a new pillow. And you're not always buying a new mattress, or whatever. So we don't expect you to be buying from us every single week. But we just want to be the first people you think about when you do improve your bedroom. That's our goal, and just to stay top of mind. So, when it comes to retention, and there's no timeline to it. So I know, we're not selling deodorant. And we know, "Okay, every 30 days, they're going to need a new one." It's more about you might need another blanket tomorrow, because your friend just text you, saying they're anxious, and you want to surprise them with a Hush Blanket. But you also might not one for another year, because you're moving your condo in eight months. Then, after your move, then, you'll need some stuff. So it's all about just being first person that comes to their mind.

Chris Grouchy:

I just want to highlight, for our listeners, that here you have basically a couple of founders who are running a Facebook Group about sleep, hustling the Montreal Canadiens for brand placement, and cold-calling customers and would-be customers to ask them about whatever it is they ask about. It's, like it seems like nothing is beneath you guys, in terms of spreading the word, that classic sort of combinator mantra of doing things that don't scale.

It seems like you just mention these things passively. But I feel like retail executives, founds, would-be founders, don't quite get the amount of hustle, for lack of a better word, that goes into building a community. I just wanted to compliment you on that. I don't know if you have anything to say, in response, but you guys just do a lot to bootstrap the community. And it's very obvious, when you get into the details.

Aaron Spivak:

Yeah, I mean not everything's scalable. No. But that's the benefit to customers who move early. If you were a early supporter of a lot of these SAS companies, or a lot of softwares, some of my friends have lifetime access to apps that cost hundreds of dollars a month, because they were one of the first people to subscribe. That includes Netflix, and stuff like that. Like one-time fee, lifetime access, which doesn't scale because you can't scale it. But first-movers and early adopters always get a little bit of a different experience than the last person to bite the bullet.

So we still feel a lot smaller than we are. We still feel like we can deliver unmatchable experience, compared to some of our competitors. And we still feel like we care more. A lot of our competitors don't care, because they're older. They've been in the business for 40 years. They're not interested in calling customers. They've been dealing with customers for 40 years. The last thing they... They've changed their cell phone four times, already. So no one can ever call them. And that, for us, is an opportunity to play into that, and create a situation where we can build deep connection. And maybe we can be around for 40 years. So that's our goal.

Chris Grouchy:

Deeply respect the approach. I want to ask one question about the importance of retail partners in, sort of, your go forward strategy. And then I want to wrap up with three rapid-fire questions. So the retail question, how do you think about retail partnerships and going b2b? Is that something that you and your team are thinking about these days?

Aaron Spivak:

Definitely. Retail is an important part of our business. We're in over 200, I think, or 300 doors. We've got hundreds of different retailers from small mom and pop shops to some bigger and more recognizable retailers. We are a premium product. So some retailers just don't fit the bill, like Walmart and Target. But some do, like Dillard's, or Dick's, or... You know we have the SGL Group in Canada, which is like Sport Jack and sporting stores, TJ Maxx, TJX. So, there's some bigger ones that also do really well with the Hush.

It's definitely an important part of our brand because people love to shop where people love to shop. Good example, what a good friend of mine told me the other day was, they might walk into a store and see a brand. But they love Amazon. So they go on their phone immediately. And they search for it on Amazon, and they order it to their house and go home. But they were exposed to it in that retain store, or the opposite. They're exposed to it on a Facebook Ad, or something. And, okay, they don't quite take any action because they don't really trust you. Then, the walk into their favorite store, and there you go. They see the same brand that they saw, and they trust the store. They've returned things to that store. They love that store. And then that's where they buy it, maybe because they get points. There's a loyalty program.

So people love to shop where they're most comfortable to shop. Having a good retail present is really a distribution strategy, where people can now see you in more places. And it validates the brand. When it comes to mattresses, creating partnerships around there is really important. People love to remain on... People still love the whole lie-down test. That's still a thing. They want to lie down on the mattress, and test it out and see if they like it. So, for us, it's partnerships. And having distribution in the retail sector of our business is really important.

"Having a good retail present is really a distribution strategy, where people can now see you in more places. And it validates the brand."

Chris Grouchy:

I think, sometimes, brands can be antagonistic when it comes to retail relationships. But I think, sometimes, that could be a bit of a naïve perspective because the customer often has a lot of trust with the retailer. And one way to bridge that trust to your product is to partner and sell through the retailer. So it's a distribution strategy. It's not for everybody, but it does enable you to capitalize on the trust loyalty that the retailers establish, by being able to story-tell products for, maybe, decades. So I think that's smart. Well, Aaron, in wrapping up, I have three questions as part of our rapid-fire round. Are you ready to go?

Aaron Spivak:

Let's do it.

Chris Grouchy:

All right. What do you think is the most exciting opportunity in retail, post COVID?

Aaron Spivak:

In store retail?

Chris Grouchy:

Yes, in store retail, or even online retail.

Aaron Spivak:

Experiential retail is going to be really, really fun. People still want to get out. And, if they can have a opportunity to experience a brand, whether it be a product, or whatever, that's something that they're going to remember, as opposed to just walking in the mall and seeing every window have 50% off.

Chris Grouchy:

A brand you love, and why?

Aaron Spivak:

I would have to say my good friends at CROSSNET, developing a sport. I just love how holistic they go about their marketing, and how true to who they are as humans. And it's probably one of the most difficult things to do, is to develop a sport, because you need to do 11 different things at once, educate and create community, and do whatever. So kudos to them and what they've done so far. I'm excited to see that sport expand.

Chris Grouchy:

Love it. And last question. What is the kindest thing someone has ever done for you?

Aaron Spivak:

There's a lot. There's a lot of things that people have done. I would say the kindest thing someone's ever done was actually, during our run for Dragons' Den, one of the producers actually went out of her way to ensure that our pitch was good. She spent a lot of time with us. She helped us practice, and do all that stuff with her. And our pitch ended up being great. But she was a huge part of that.

Chris Grouchy:

That's amazing. Thank you so much, Aaron, for being on the podcast today. It was a pleasure. I learned a lot from our conversation. I'm sure our listeners did too. Anything you want to plug before we hop off?

Aaron Spivak:

I'm not a big plug guy. But I guess, if you want to connect, I'm more of a LinkedIn guy. So it's just Aaron Spivak on LinkedIn. That's usually where I post my business stuff. And then, our websites for Canada are just hush.ca and hushblankets.com, if you want to check out the product and hear everything about everything we spoke about today.

Chris Grouchy:

Awesome. All right, Aaron, thank you, so much. And it's been a pleasure.

Aaron Spivak:

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Chris Grouchy:

Thanks again, to Aaron, for coming on the show. And thank you for listening to the Legends of Retail Podcast. If you want to get notified about future episodes of the show, subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. You can also stay updated by following Convictional on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you've been enjoying the show so far, thank you. Please consider rating and reviewing the show on Apple Podcast or Spotify. It really helps us get the show in front of more listeners. Finally, if you want to share feedback on the show or want to recommend a guest for Season Two, you can follow me on Twitter and send me a DM @ChrisGrouchy, or you can email me, chris@convictional.com. Thanks again for listening, and see you next time.

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