Jason Elliott of Perfectly Snug: “It takes longer than you think to grow initial product sales”

It takes longer than you think to grow initial product sales. This makes sense that it takes time to gain credibility for a new brand and product, however, when you experience it this is quite unnerving. You want it to grow faster because you need the income, however, promotion takes time so you need patience […]

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It takes longer than you think to grow initial product sales. This makes sense that it takes time to gain credibility for a new brand and product, however, when you experience it this is quite unnerving. You want it to grow faster because you need the income, however, promotion takes time so you need patience and financial reserves.

As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Elliott.

Jason Elliott is the co-founder and President of Perfectly Snug — the sleep solution company behind the popular dual-climate controlled Smart Topper and app. The Smart Topper keeps the user and their partner at an ideal temperature all night, resulting in a deep, restful sleep. The integrated technology senses body temperature and auto-adjusts the amount of cooling or warming to ensure each person stays comfortable. Users can also set preferences and sleep/wake times for each person using the Perfectly Snug App.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I worked for a number of companies developing products as an engineering leader for 20 years and always found myself becoming a key decision maker both in technical and business aspects. My bent is to enjoy creating and learning by doing more than observing and learning by following. In pre-existing businesses, legacy business plans, culture and commitments limit an employee’s ability to affect change. I had always dreamed of starting a business that wasn’t bound by other people’s past and to experience the adventure of growing something new. For many years I would meet with various groups of like-minded people brainstorming what we could do but never came up with the ‘right idea’. Later I realized that the ‘right idea’ wasn’t the issue and that it was in fact my commitment level to find the ‘right idea’.

Three years ago, I was in a high responsibility position that was consuming me and I felt that I really needed a change. At that time, Marty Furse, who also co-founded Perfectly Snug, refreshed some brainstorming sessions with me. Marty gave me a very nice log book and said let’s start a business. Oddly enough, the log book was to me a symbol of commitment and I was in. It helped immensely that Marty had successfully started a couple of companies before.

We started developing ideas and over six months we had systematically dismissed them all. Then one night my family was staying at Marty’s home and we were putting the kids to bed and I mentioned, “You know, what I really need is a thermally controlled bed”. He looked at me and said, “That’s a great idea!”. This idea really stemmed from a desperate need I had to sleep, as I was always too hot to sleep well. We were on our way!

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

I was a terrible sleeper who was often awake at night tossing and turning trying to cool down enough to fall back asleep. I was perpetually exhausted. Marty and I had an idea for a product that would fix my sleep troubles. The product, what is now known as the Perfectly Snug Smart Topper, seemed like something that we could develop. We had a partially developed business plan. It wasn’t detailed enough but it looked exciting. I was still working at a job that consumed all my time and energy and I was making no progress towards getting our new business started. I realized it would remain a dream unless I quit my good paying job and took the risk, knowing that in one month we may decide it was a bad idea.

Looking back, that time could have been full of anxiety, with a family to support, no income, and a lot of uncertainty ahead. We weren’t sure if we could make the product we envisioned and we weren’t sure that anyone would buy it, however, a sense of adventure filled us, knowing that anxiety and fear would only prevent any good that we would accomplish.

The first task was to design and build a prototype to prove the product was possible, display it publicly, and see if people would buy it. Six months later after many iterations and failures, with our financial resources diminishing, we stood in a booth at a local home show talking to future customers. There was more interest than we expected, with a few people clinging to the prototype air-conditioned mattress topper saying, “Where have you been all my life?”.

Starting a business is truly an adventure and at the beginning of the journey it is full of uncertainty. Having a mindset that needs to know exactly how the future will unfold causes stress and creates hard times. A mindset that loves adventure and treats the entrepreneurial journey like following an ill-defined treasure map enables enjoyment within the uncertainty.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

The way to thrive through risk is faith — trusting that there can be and will be a good outcome. I am not such a stable personality myself, however, having a wise and mature business partner by my side was key. When we met technical or business disasters we would reassure each other that there would be a way forward and in time we would figure it out. I would also be lying if I said there weren’t some heartfelt prayers when our wisdom was insufficient.

So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

We have come a long way. We are now manufacturing and selling the Smart Topper and customers are telling us that it is changing their lives. Not only have I been sleeping awesomely for the past 2 years, we are now helping many to do the same. This is very satisfying. It makes me happy to hear from people how they are finally sleeping well.

Without persevering through failures and disappointments we would never have brought the Smart Topper to market and we wouldn’t be improving people’s lives now. Starting a business will never be easy and the process will never be flawless. Uncertainty is the only certainty.

We still have much adventure ahead of us as we reach out further and scale our business. The need for resilience never disappears in leading a business.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Near the beginning I had worked for about a week building an early prototype which turned out to be ill conceived. It involved many small pieces of foam glued in a complex shape. It was made of inadequate materials from my local hardware store in an attempt to get it done fast. Finally I finished it and laid on it for the first sleep test. The glue didn’t properly cure and the whole thing collapsed and was fused together making an instant waste of a week.

I nursed my engineer’s pride and put it in the garbage. A few days later Marty came up with an idea that kept that prototype in the garbage and we moved forward with a better idea.

I learned that it is ok to make mistakes. You can’t let mistakes hurt you and the best thing you can do is bounce back with a better idea.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We stand out because we genuinely care about our customers and we have a product that solves a big problem for them. The Smart Topper fixed my sleep trouble and there are many others like me. Sleep is a big deal. If you don’t sleep well it affects your productivity, mood, ambition level and relationships. In the words of one customer: “I sleep hot and have peripheral neuropathy and prior to purchasing the Smart Topper, my sleep was terrible for many years. The Smart Topper allows me to get comfortable enough so that I can sleep through the night. I am SO grateful that I discovered the Smart Topper. Thank you Perfectly Snug for your top-notch product and excellent customer service.”

The Smart Topper itself is a life changer for many people. There are products on the market that attempt to help people with sleep temperature issues, like ‘cooling’ gel memory foam, but they aren’t effective. The Smart Topper regulates the temperature of the bed surface with active cooling airflow and heating. Each side of the bed is individually controlled so each sleeper can have their own ideal temperature. It was designed with every detail considered to optimize your sleep quality.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

In my experience, having had a big burn out a number of years ago, the biggest factor is anxiety. When your mind is burdened with anxiety over the future or other people’s expectations your efforts turn to toil. Everything is harder when you are anxious and there is no joy in it. Have you ever noticed that if you enjoy what you are doing you can find the energy to keep going?

How do you avoid anxiety in the midst of uncertainty? That should be a long answer but simply here are a few things I have found liberating:

  1. It’s ok to fail. You will bounce back.
  2. Discipline yourself to leave work behind and have fun.
  3. Don’t let what other people think about you move you.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I am grateful for my business partner and co-founder Marty Furse. His character, skill and experience enabled our venture together. It’s very beneficial and maybe even necessary to an entrepreneur to have someone alongside who has successfully grown a business before. There have been many times that I would say to Marty that I don’t see how we are going to succeed. In a few words he inserted wisdom and hope based on his experience and perspective. That stable direction enabled success.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

The success I experienced in my career prior to starting Perfectly Snug provided me opportunities to gain deep and varied experience in product development, manufacturing and leadership. The more competent I became, the more opportunities I had to gain further competence. Now, all of this experience and learning has enabled me to start Perfectly Snug and develop a product that will help improve people’s lives by enabling them to sleep better.

Growing a company that sells a product is a great responsibility as it provides for employees, benefits suppliers and the local economy, however, it is even better if that product improves people’s lives. Improving people’s lives is what really drives us.

Success is a continuous process as is the choice that you have every day to do good and to benefit others — your customers, your employees, your suppliers and everyone your business touches. We make that decision everyday to the best of our ability.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I had contemplated and discussed entrepreneurship with many people over the years and had heard many golden nuggets of wisdom, however, I found that even though I was informed, experiencing the journey myself moved what I was told from theory to reality. For example, I was told ‘you’re going to have to work hard’ to which I nodded my head and said ‘no problem’, but after heading home at 10 pm every night for a number of weeks I realized that this level of hard work was a bigger sacrifice than I expected. Here are the things that I was told but didn’t fully understand:

  1. It takes longer than you think to grow initial product sales. This makes sense that it takes time to gain credibility for a new brand and product, however, when you experience it this is quite unnerving. You want it to grow faster because you need the income, however, promotion takes time so you need patience and financial reserves.
  2. It takes longer than you think to develop a product. I have developed products for 20 years and, to my disappointment, we still were derailed by unexpected complications. The great majority of people set optimistic plans in place. After all, who wants to kill a project before you start? My advice is to make sure that you have the finances and time held in contingency as you will likely need it.
  3. You need to start your marketing and sales efforts way before your product is ready. We displayed and tried to sell the first functioning prototype even though it took us another year to finish the product development. It is critical not only to develop the product but also to develop the marketing and sales. Too many companies polish their product up and then find out that nobody will buy it and that they don’t know how to sell it.
  4. As the leader of a startup you need to be an outward spokesman. Being an engineer focused on product development and manufacturing in the past, I didn’t understand the amount of outward promotion that the leader of a startup needs to do. You need to promote your brand and product all the time. There are very few conversations that I have that don’t eventually lead to presenting my company and product in some fashion. You are always on stage.
  5. The experience and leadership requirements change drastically as the company develops. I knew this intuitively but I’m struck by this every time there is a quantum change in the company’s operations. At the beginning, there were just two of us building stuff in my basement. It was lots of fun, no meetings, no presentations and lots of creating. A while later we leased a manufacturing site and hired a small staff of marketers and engineers. It was different. There were people to take care of and bigger decisions to make. Then we started selling. Now there was production busyness, suppliers and shipments to chase, customers to talk to, ecommerce, marketing and finance activities. It is still fun, but different. As a leader you need to change as the company changes. It’s sad to say goodbye to one phase that you’ve enjoyed but you must embrace what you need to do in the next phase.

Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?

Starting a company definitely provides oscillations from excitement to fear. It’s best to resist the temptation of short term sales and take a long term view of your venture. This is certainly hard to do. Every time we have a dip in sales I tend to get stressed and try to figure out if there’s something wrong. On the flip side we’ll get a bunch of orders at once, I celebrate, and then stress about manufacturing and deliveries. I told Marty of my behaviour and he said, “You are now a businessman!” This flip-flop is a natural behaviour but it is not productive or useful in leadership. Take a longer term perspective that isn’t tossed around by the day-to-day activities.

A particular example of an emotional low occurred while we were going through a painfully slow 3rd party certification process. We needed to purchase inventory well in advance due to long lead times. At this time it wasn’t clear that we were going to succeed in bringing the product to market or that it was going to be a good seller. I remember going into the bank and wiring a large sum to a supplier, thinking, “well we are really committed now!” At the same time we were unsuccessfully trying to generate some pre-sales without really knowing when we could deliver to customers. Fear could have stopped us but Marty and I both felt it was the right thing to do and to trust for a good outcome. It was the right decision. Making this decision on your own is tough but with a good partner it is easier.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Wherever you are and whatever you do, care for others before you care for yourself.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Connect with us online at www.perfectlysnug.com and @perfectlysnug on Instagram and Facebook.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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