I had the pleasure to interview Eugene Alletto. Eugene is the founder and CEO of Bedgear, a performance sleep gear company known for “performance” products — mattresses, sheets, pillows — and soon pet bedding. Bedgear’s key point of difference lies within fabrics that creates air flow so that you get a better-quality sleep with cooler temp. It is like the Under Armour of the $14 billion mattress industry with 50% growth last year alone and distribution in 4,000 retail stores. The company is a favorite among athletes like the Boston Red Sox and marathon runners like Shalane Flanagan. Eugene Alletto pioneered Air-X technology to help his son who was suffering from allergies and getting overheated when he slept. Eugene played football and once weighed 250 lbs so he is also a big believer in adopting healthier habits.
Thank you so much for joining us Eugene. What is your “backstory”?
I’ve worked since I was a child in high school. My dad passed away when I was 15, and I was the oldest of four, my youngest sister was three. My mom,was a nurse so she was able to go back to school.She instilled in me that if I wanted something I had to work for it. What I learned from that experience was if you work really hard you could ultimately get whatever you want.
And so I worked at a local Burger King when I was 15. I wasn’t proud of it, but it was super interesting. I’ll never forget when I was once asked to clean up the dining area.. It was time for my junior prom and I was there because I wanted to afford a limo like all my friends. Remember Limousines were like the big thing if you want to go to a prom, and we had no cash at the time o I did the deal. When they sent me out e to the dining hall and these kids that were older than I was made a mess and threw french fries at me. I kept my mouth shut, but remember being so upset and told myself that I was going to get through this but I am never going to be treated that way.
If you asked me when I was 17 or 16, I wouldn’t remember the story, but when you look back at your life you start to see these pinnacle moments. Being treated that way and in a position where you are looked upon different because of being overweight or I not one of the cool kids really resonated with me, so I developed this feeling about tolerance. When I meet people I think they may not be able to articulate what they feel about me but most that I meet feel that I have this charismatic way about me. But it’s not because I was born that way, it was because I conditioned myself to be tolerant of everybody. I think tolerance has a lot to do with my success because I am able to accept and be accepted in so many different places around the world.
It’s mind-blowing to me as I now get a chance to talk at schools like Wharton or High Point University, StonyBrook on Long Island and they’re also interested in how I became an entrepreneur? it’s not like you wake up one day and you say I’m going to run my own business it just kind of happens.
One of the things I talk to other entrepreneurs about is a lot of what happens to you as a young person really conditions you to be either a successful entrepreneur or someone who just goes and works for a company. I think losing a parent seems to be pretty consistent with what I see. I meet a lot of people that either, grew up in a broken home or lost a parent or even people that don’t get enough from their parents. There just seems to be this survival “I’m not going to be a victim” personality that really is what you need to become really, really good at whatever you choose to be when it comes to running your own business. Losing a parent was probably another important pinnacle moment within my backstory.
Another business piece that I think is important as a backstory is when I worked in a video store that became a “dial a video” where I would drive videos to these kids on Fridays and Saturday nights. That essentially was what’s considered streaming videos today (I was your streaming service). So I went around delivering videos but there was no way to collect money because unless the parents came in the store to pay the bill I I was chasing money. The owner couldn’t afford to pay me after months of doing this because he had no cash flow. So there I was a senior at the time and proposed to my boss “why don’t you give me a percent of the collections and let me see what I can do”. I ended up publishing a list of the family names that owed money and put it on the wall of the video store and within a week I collected half of the money back. They were embarrassed and wanted to get their name off the list. Brilliant.
So why is that an important lesson? I learned about the importance of cash flow and money collection.
A backstory is not really a backstory, it’s the story. Whatever you did in your life is what defines who you are. Either you move forward or you become paralyzed. So all of these things have turned out to be what my life has become.
In terms of my business story, the backstory behind BedGear, it’s that I’ve always been different. I see the world completely different. You know you show me white, I can show you its grey. You show me black, I’ll show you its white. I never want to be the same. I’ve always wanted to be unique and different and I think that’s what God really created us all for. The more you embrace who you are the more love and admiration I think people have for each other.
For me BedGear is nothing more than what I’ve always seen,which is white space. I always want to be that person that comes up with value. I’m an extreme skier, I’ve played extreme sports my whole life (I love lacrosse) and I noticed that in everything — the equipment has just gotten better and better and better.
I looked in the Home Furnishings business and realized that nothing has ever changed in 20 years. When it comes to sleep- everybody is so hyper focused on sleep,but nobody’s focused on the performance aspect of sleep.
What made BedGear unique and different is that we took a completely different approach to the entire industry. nstead of it being one size fits all we speak about how our bodies are absolutely different. We realized very quickly that the world is being underserved in the in the sleep category which is why we decided to start this company called BedGear.
So, if you ever gone to a mattress store, you’ll pick a mattress on your back, butyou’ll go home and sleep on your side. But if you go to purchase a nice suit you try iton, make sure that the arms and collar fit and then you have it tailored to you
So we built a product to make sure that it fits you comfortable the first night you get it so that we don’t have to worry about what’s going to be like a hundred nights from now. BedGear recognized that the consumer was being underserved and built a product based off of that process. Most companies build a product and then they try to sell you that product. We instead started with the process. Process was most important to us and once we identified that there was a problem, we then built a product to support that process.
This is completely the opposite of what everybody else did. Everybody else just took a mattress it and shoved it in a box. They then shipped it off and overcharged for it so that in case you don’t like it they have enough money for you to return it. e ,however,looked at you first and said you’re a right side sleeper, you sleep on your side, you probably are 44, 46 jacket so this is the right pillow and the right mattress for you to be a hundred percent comfortable. We start with process and then we support it with product.
What would you suggest to other CEOs to help their employees thrive in the workplace?
Get out of the way and let them actually do what they were hired for.
I’m really not a CEO. (I’m a founder and a visionary) once I realized that I wasn’t a CEO I realized what I needed to do to become a CEO. Being self-aware and being in perspective is so important for just to be a good person. As a founder and entrepreneur you’re not always equipped to manage people because you don’t even know how to manage yourself. Over the last four or five years of my life I’ve been recognizing that I suck as a CEO. I wasn’t built for that. I didn’t go to school for that, that’s not who I am. Most of my career(95 percent) I’ve worked for myself and started companies. How would I ever manage hundreds of people when I don’t even know how to manage myself? Being self-aware as an entrepreneur as a founder as a visionary is very, very important. So I’ve always realized that I need speed bumps because I drive really, really fast I don’t want to drive the car into the ditch o I always make sure that I hire somebody.
I usually hire a female. I don’t know why but females are a lot tougher than Men. Men — I don’t know what it is, but we’re a bunch of wimps. Females are really tough. 26 years ago I hired my first employee, Linda, who is still with me. Now I have woman named Shana. Shana just like Linda and my mom, have always been my speed bumps. I Drive really, really fast. I think I can jump and make it to the other side and I make sure that I have somebody just before I still can hit the brakes be able to sit down say “wait a minute you’re not going to make that you need a little more speed”. So, I’m learning how to manage myself and slowly I’ve been hiring professional managers that I install into the parts of the business that I need to grow at
I’m really good at marketing, I’m great at selling, I have a great eye for product but I am not capable of managing all the people. So I focus on being the vision, I focus on the innovation and then I hire people.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote?
You probably don’t have a long enough list to list it in your article.
First and foremost never be a victim. I’ve discovered from having a strong mother and losing a parent, never be a victim. If you know that you’re not going to be consumed by fear and not be a victim it’s amazing what you can accomplish — not being a victim is without question a focus all the time.
I don’t ever use the word failure. I don’t say that I’m going to fail or I don’t care if I fail, it’s okay to fail. When you use the word to a kid that’s it’s okay to fail — no kid wants to fail. Right, think about it it’s okay son just try and if you don’t like it’s okay if you fail. Wait a minute if I try this I could fail? That actually holds you back. I don’t agree with what everybody says “it’s okay to fail” I tell everybody I have never, ever failed at anything a because “You don’t fail, you learn” If you fail means you didn’t learn something. If you know that you can pull something out. It was really not a fail. So I tell people never fail. it’s the opposite of what people want to hear. Never fail, make sure you learn something. Pull something out of it.
The third thing that’s super important is “never give up”. My Sicilian grandfather taught me something that I to this day carryi with me “as long as you can convince one person to believe in your vision you never give up. If you’re the only person and you’re standing on an island and everybody even the people that love you even your dog you can’t convince one thing one human, one dog to stand with you, with what you believe in it’s time to join the crowd. But if you can convince one thing one to believe in your vision and what you’re doing never give up” and so I fight to the death but at the end of the day those speed bumps I put along that I talked about. I always make sure I have the strongest person in front of me and if I can’t convince that one person then I know internally I have to look at where I’m going and maybe I just have to fold my tent and go join the crowd
Those are the most important things that I’ve determined in my life that guide me.
I’ve been very blessed that many prominent CEOs and sports figures read my column. Here’s a chance maybe to shout out to them is there somebody in the world that you would like to have a breakfast or lunch with maybe they’ll see this?
I’m going to make it really, really disappointing. I will never be influenced by anybody. The reason I share that with you is it’s very, very easy to be influenced. And what I find is when you’re influenced by somebody you don’t become your best self. If you want to be your best self you have to be inspired by those around you those people that inspire you inspire you to be your best self. If you become weak and you decide that you choose to emulate somebody or be influenced by somebody it’s very hard for you to be your best self.
So, the only person I really wish, and I get emotional thinking about it, would be to see my dad again. You know losing a parent at 15, I wouldn’t be in front of you if my dad had still been alive because my life would be different. I embrace the loss of my dad, yet at the same time it would it be great to now have the opportunity to share s my learning’s
We sometimes spend so much time wanting everything for the best of our children and we do so many things for them that they don’t do for themselves. We take away, we don’t allow them the type of journey that we may have had. I guarantee you that your parents were very different with you than how you are with your parents and I’m sure with your kids. And I’m the same way with my kids and no matter how much I try I know that their journey will never be the same journey I have. Because it’s not just their journey a lot of what we do as a family we sort of hover and push them in a direction. I wasn’t pushed in the direction I was left alone to figure it out. So anyway, maybe it doesn’t give you what you’re looking for but it’s the way I look at the life.
Eugene, thank you. It was really a delight to have met you!
Originally published at medium.com