Inspired by a trip to Richard Branson’s island, Leesa beds down for international growth

They say never meet your heroes, but David Wolfe, founder of online luxury mattress provider Leesa, is quick to put that one to bed.

He has just returned from a week-long trip to Necker Island, the private retreat of Richard Branson, after Leesa was chosen as one of six fast-growing young businesses to meet the entrepreneurial legend in a performance-based competition run by ecommerce giant Shopify.

“I met Richard Branson!” exclaimed Wolfe now back in the US where he set up Leesa last year. “It was an extraordinary experience. To be in the same room as one of your career heroes was amazing. Almost everything he said was wise, irreverently wise. He was the entrepreneurial role model for my generation.”

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That isn’t a slip of the tongue. Wolfe is no starry-eyed twenty-something entrepreneur.

He has built up a succession of successful consumer-led ventures in areas such as travel and TV since moving to the US from his native UK 21 years ago. It is perhaps why Leesa is as much about “purpose as profit”.

For every online mattress the company sells it plants a tree, and for every ten it sends a mattress to a charity such as a homeless shelter.

“I’m not a young entrepreneur trying to make a fortune. I’ve been financially fortunate and we want to make the world a better place. Our motto is ‘a better place to sleep is a pathway to a better life’,” he said.

The pathway to Leesa began in 2004 when Wolfe met mattress industry veteran Jamie Diamonstein to help him source memory foam mattress pads which he sold directly to consumers using newspaper advertising.

That venture never really took off but Wolfe kept dreaming about selling mattresses directly to consumers – when he could actually get down to sleep.

“Over the years that followed, I had trouble sleeping. My wife and I bought beds offering all sorts of benefits, from coils to memory foam – nothing worked,” he recalled. “Then at the end of 2013, completely by chance, I met Jamie again in a restaurant that I’d never been to before and have never been to again. We talked about whether shipping luxury mattresses in a box to people’s homes was feasible. So we began.”

Wolfe said Diamonstein has reinvented the sleep experience by simplifying the mattress and taking out all the stuff that has been added for years to justify higher prices. It’s also a universal feel rather than soft, medium or firm.

The company was launched last December and it has to date shipped 18,000 mattresses to US consumers and is set to make $30m in sales this year.

“The pace of growth has been phenomenal. We sold more mattresses in August than I thought we would do for the whole year,” he said. “Our reviews have been incredible and the model is working.”

Matt Hayes, Leesa’s head of marketing, explained further: “Consumers want to buy online but previously the mattress industry has not been consumer friendly. There have been marketing gimmicks and when you go into a showroom and you test out two or three mattresses you have some salesman peering over you. It’s not a fun experience so we are giving the modern millennial, the modern consumer what they need.”

Read on to find out about Leesa’s celebrity backers and the advice gems provided by Branson.

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