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“Five things I wish someone told me before I became a CEO” With Kristin Marquet & Ron Rudzin of Saatva

I wish someone had told me that data would be the most important thing for the success of an internet e-commerce business. For twenty years in my prior retail company, I’d been very successful intuitively, but that doesn’t cut it in today’s data-driven marketplace. If I had it to do over again, I would have […]

I wish someone had told me that data would be the most important thing for the success of an internet e-commerce business. For twenty years in my prior retail company, I’d been very successful intuitively, but that doesn’t cut it in today’s data-driven marketplace. If I had it to do over again, I would have built my data team first, and taken resources that I put towards other things and invested them in their data capabilities instead.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Ron Rudzon, CEO of Saatva. Prior to founding Saatva, Ron spent his career investing in and managing businesses in the home furnishings industry. In 2007, he had a simple idea: make the most luxurious and comfortable mattress possible and sell it directly to the customer with no retail markups. He launched the Saatva luxury innerspring mattress in 2010. The combination of old-fashioned customer service with the modern efficiencies of e-commerce quickly put Saatva on the map. Today Saatva is one of the largest online luxury mattress companies in the country, with 18 partner factories and 150 delivery hubs throughout the continental U.S. and Canada. It has earned a spot on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies for four consecutive years.


Thank you so much for joining us Ron! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Istarted working when I was 16, for a furniture store called Jennifer House that was owned by a friend of my father. I fell in love with the business. I got very good at understanding the mentality of the customer, how to approach them, how to sell. When I was 20, I invested in my first store. By then Jennifer House had become Jennifer Convertibles, and from there they grew into a 200-store national chain.

We had a successful 30-year run, but by 2008, I started thinking about what I could do next. I was fascinated by the internet and intrigued by how much time my wife and daughter were spending online. I knew from my experience in home furnishings that luxury mattresses were the highest margin item, and I decided to target that with e-commerce. That was the beginning of Saatva. Since then, we’ve been offering luxury bedding products and industry-leading customer service to consumers all over the country.

Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?

Coming from a national retail chain, I was excited that all my employees could be in one place, and they could do more business with fewer employees. But I didn’t realize that e-commerce never closes! Early on, I also didn’t realize the extent to which data drives the digital marketplace. In the retail business, so much was done intuitively, but the e-commerce world is much more about efficiency. Although we had a lot of fast growth and we were successful early, we would have been more so if we invested in data sooner. My team and I have been applying huge resources to data for years now.

What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?

Running a multi-store retail chain earlier in my career gave me the knowledge I needed to succeed later. By the time I was 19, Ron had already learned management skills, the distribution side of a business, the manufacturing side of a business. He understood P&L statements and retail math — how businesses make money. All the skills I learned from my earlier career gave me the ideas and knowhow to start Saatva.

Can you share your “Five things I wish someone told me before I became a CEO”.

1. Learn to let go

You have to trust the team around you. As the founder of the company, I was used to having a hand in everything that went on. It was hard for me to let go of all the things I’d been holding onto so tightly. I wish someone had told me to get comfortable delegating right from the beginning. It may sound obvious but it’s true: hire the best people and trust them to do their jobs. Know when to step back. I didn’t do that for a long time.

2. Trust your gut

While it’s true that you have to hire the right team and let them have control, as the leader there are times when you also have to trust your gut. I wish someone had told me to trust my gut a little more. There are certain things I know, not because of intelligence but because I’ve been involved with every aspect of change and innovation that the company has gone through. Because of that experience, there are times when I will solicit input from top leadership, take it all in, thank everyone for their opinions — and then I will make the call. Even if everyone else agrees and I don’t, which rarely ever happens. You gotta go with your gut.

3. Invest in data

I wish someone had told me that data would be the most important thing for the success of an internet e-commerce business. For twenty years in my prior retail company, I’d been very successful intuitively, but that doesn’t cut it in today’s data-driven marketplace. If I had it to do over again, I would have built my data team first, and taken resources that I put towards other things and invested them in their data capabilities instead.

4. Set your own pace

As with most lessons, I learned this one the hard way. I wish someone had told me not to let any outside influences push me to prioritize speedy growth. When you’re young, you’re moving so fast and you get so excited about the growth that it throws you off. But you don’t need to lead the pack. It’s better to have patience and build a great business that has long-term sustainability. The time will come when you are able to explode and grow. That’s a lesson I took with me to Saatva. I could have raised a lot more money, taken on more partners, grown a lot faster — that would have been very easy for me to do. Instead, being ROI focused from the beginning allowed me to think clearly and go at a pace I was comfortable with. When you’re not sweating, you can sit back and make really smart decisions with your team. And that’s what we do.

5. The store never closes

Before Saatva, I ran a chain of 219 retail stores across the country. My whole life revolved around sales numbers and the stores, seven days a week. When I started an internet company, it was a revelation that I could run a successful business with just a handful of employees, all of them sitting together in one room, and not have to worry about stores, commercial rents, landlords, or any of those pressures. I thought that was amazing. What I didn’t realize is that when you’re in e-commerce, the store is open 24 hours a day! In traditional retail, when the doors closed at 8 o’clock on a Saturday night we were done. When I’m out to dinner on a Saturday night now, I come home and there is still action going on. I’m still looking at numbers, working with the night staff, dealing with emails coming in. Ecommerce never closes. I’m fortunate that I’m well enough in shape to keep up with it all.

What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Cultivate a life outside of work. If you’re an entrepreneur, most of your new ideas will come to you outside of normal work hours, while reading the Sunday business section, reading books, keeping up with people in the business community. That’s where you’re going to find those nuggets that you can bring back to your own endeavor. People think you get up, you go to work, everything happens there. My best ideas have come outside of my regular work hours. For me, success is never one dimensional, it’s never just about money. It’s life, love, family, outside interests. Being excited about a lot of different things in life is what makes a great entrepreneur.

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?

That’s easy — my business partner Harley Greenfield. Harley has an incredibly long view for business that I always try to emulate. Harley never thinks small. If you care for the business the right way, think about it the right way, work it the right way, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish. If it weren’t for him, I would have been bogged down so many times in the nuances of growth and the struggles. But because of Harley, I have always kept the long-term vision front and center in his mind. That drove me every day, the idea that he could make anything.

Here’s just one example — when I was starting Saatva, I would say to Harley, “I think we can make this a billion-dollar company. And he said, why only a billion?”

What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?

Personally: I want to learn how to vacation better. My wife and daughter are very good at it, while I’m still working on it. I get anxious and misses the business after a few days. I have to learn how to let that go.

Professionally: Continuing to grow Saatva and being the top mattress e-commerce retailer in the country is always the end goal. Not just the biggest but the one with the healthiest, most sustainable business for the long term. A more micro-goal for me within the company is spending more one-on-one time with people across departments to learn from them and hear their feedback. That’s how we will continue to grow our teams and improve the business as a whole.

What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?

Before I’m done at Saatva, I want them to be the next big “S” brand. Sealy, Serta, Simmons — it’s fitting that the next one is an e-commerce company. For the team that helped me get here, I want to do everything I can to ensure that they have developed the skill sets they need to continue in their careers in such a healthy way that they can go on to start their own companies. I want to be able to help them achieve their goals.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!

I would like to go into less privileged communities, where young people may not have the means to get to see how Wall Street works, or how a technology company works, and teach them about how business really works. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking to do something in a creative field, in sales, in finance — everybody needs to understand the math of business. If you’re an artist, for example, you have to understand the value of your art, the value of your time, and what your true costs are. I’m involved with the Newcomer’s School, a high school in Queens, N.Y., where the student body is made up of immigrants recently arrived in America. I want to help teach them the steps they need to take to understand the business landscape and how to become productive earners in the world.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can connect with me on LinkedIn and you can follow our Saatva social media accounts here:

· Twitter

· Instagram

· Facebook

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