NYLP: Stepping on to the Launch Pod we have Vicki Fulop the Co-founder of Brooklinen. Thank you for stepping on to Launch Pod Vicki.
Vicki: Thank you for having me.
NYLP: So your sheets are fantastic. How are they different than other people’s sheets?
Vicki: They are different first and foremost due to the quality. We are able to deliver a superior quality, affordable price point because we have cut out the middleman for our sheets. So they’re woven from a long staple cotton which allows you to create a finer and more durable and softer weave. So that’s what makes them superior and different. And then there are a lot of things in addition to that like our mix and match functionality but that goes outside of the specific quality in our functionality where you can take our white sheets. So for example in mix and match with a window pane duvet cover and smoked stripped pillow cases which is a lot of patterns in one. But basically you can style the way you’d like and everything plays well together. So you can build on your Brooklinen sheets or if you get all of your sets mixed up in a hamper, you’ll still have a nice set in your linen closet because they all complement each other very nicely. It’s like idiot-proof is what we like to call it.
NYLP: That is like fantastic. So what are other sheets made out of that are different than yours, the ones that people were buying in stores before?
Vicki: Sheets are woven from a lot of different fabrications. Cotton is one of the most popular products but lower quality sheets are woven from a short staple cotton. Or sometimes from a double-ply and there’s been a lot of misrepresentation in the marketplace focused on thread count where they will say that the higher the thread count, the better the quality of the sheet. But what it really is, is using multiple plies which is twisting multiple fibers together to create one piece of thread. And those plies actually will tend to poke out of the weave and result in a coarser less durable sheet. They peel more and they’re weaker because it’s, imagine, like creating a braid with tiny short little braids of grass instead of long ones. That’s how I would compare it. The thread is less strong and it’s also a lot rougher. So the difference with us is that we take a more high-end high-quality sheet approach which usually would cost upwards of hundreds of dollars. And that’s how Rich and I started the company. It’s because we slept on really nice sheets one day on vacation and we wanted them for ourselves and we couldn’t figure out at first why they were so expensive. I think they were like $800. So we started researching the textiles ourselves and realized that high-end sheets were being marked up very significantly in department stores for the shelving fees, the distribution between different stores, the designer markup, licensing, etc. So we could take that long staple cotton high-quality weave but cut out a lot of…all of the excess costs and just have the quality costs and pass the savings on to our customer.
NYLP: I’m glad that you brought up the story of how you got into the business and that you wanted high-quality sheets yourself. What made you want to do this business?
Vicki: There’s a number of things. First and foremost, we both I think always would talk about things that we wanted to start together. I think that was just a Rich and I thing where we are always kind of bouncing the ideas around each other and were like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could run something or make something together and do this or do that.” We always bounce ideas back and forth between each other and we’re creatively driven. And when this came along, where we slept on really nice sheets and we took a deep dive. So what happened…the reason we decided to start it literally is because we wanted really nice sheets. We got super into these sheets, we tried to buy them at the hotel that we were at. We looked on the maid’s cart and they were way overpriced. And so we started researching why they were so expensive trying to back channel getting our way into it. And then this was around the time of Warby Parker making luxury products a lot more affordable. And as we researched also, we found that bedding industry hadn’t been disrupted or kind of shaken up in many years and it was so antiquated. And we really saw an area with a market where we could bring our vision like our design, and luxury as convenience just deliver the products straight to someone’s door and make it a pleasant experience where you don’t have to go to Bed Bath & Beyond and look at the wall of the options and everything’s in the PVC plastic and this is too much and overwhelming. And we wanted to simplify and just bring beautiful, minimalist high-end bedding to market. We really just thought that there was a gap that we could fill that people would enjoy.
NYLP: And so walk me through the steps. You love these sheets, you want them for yourself and then you think, “Okay let’s research this.” How do you research how sheets are manufactured?
Vicki: We went to Barnes & Noble in Union Square and posted up and started looking at textile books. We just got like nerded out on it. So that is how you start. You just start reading up on it and then Rich started trying to contact factories, anyone and everyone he could asking friends, “Do you know someone in the textile industry that can advise us? Do you know how we can get in touch with the factory?” And that’s kind of how it started maybe getting a recommendation from a friend or somebody’s dad might know someone like cold emailing via Google. We took every route that we could. And it took about a year for us of research and trying to figure it out and getting smart and educating ourselves on textiles so that we could prototype our ideal sheets and get the price right.
It was a lot of research. We also interviewed customers in stores, in big-box stores, nicer home décor stores, and coffee shops to see what they would spend on sheets and what they were looking for. Because everybody needs then at some point in time and how to they shop for them? We wanted to kind of figure out where people stood and what they were thinking to see if we were really on to something.
NYLP: And what were they thinking?
Vicki: They were thinking that they would online spend around a $100. They would try it out for more, for a higher price. It might take more research, maybe they want to go in person and feel. So we thought that would be a good anchor. So we did research and they were also super into the idea of not having to go to a store and shop for them. They were like, “We wish this existed.”
NYLP: And so you spend a year researching and then you launch with a Kickstarter campaign. And so you had never done any sheet manufacturing, no one had seen the sheets and yet you were able to have an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign. How does that happen because I feel like sheets people want to touch them, they want to know at least someone has a background in the industry. And yet you were trying to raise, what? $50,000 and then did how much more than that?
Vicki: We did $237,000. So we did a lot better than we…
NYLP: Right. So you did about five times more than what you’re expecting and you’d never made a sheet before.
Vicki: That’s true. So the way we approached that is we did have a little bit of a strategy for our Kickstarter. We saved up some money that we used to prototype about 60 sets of sheets. We found a factory that was willing to take a chance on us to produce a small batch. We’re very fortunate it took a long time. So they said, “Okay, we’ll slot you on the backend of our production run, we’ll do a small run.” “Great.” So we made these 60 sets of sheets. And in advance of our Kickstarter, we actually handwrote notes to some bloggers, home decor bloggers that I followed. I was a fan of some writers Rich was a fan of we just said, “Hey we’re doing a Kickstarter, you know, this is our story, this is the company that we’re starting. Please try these sheets out. If you like them, please share our story.” I believe we rented a Zipcar and we drove around hand-delivering about 30 of these sets. And people really liked the sheets. So they wrote about it, they blogged about it, and it helped to get our Kickstarter a little bit of a fire and a little bit of buzz. And other people got interested and that’s how it was.
NYLP: Where was the factory?
Vicki: It’s in Israel.
NYLP: And is that your factory now?
Vicki: Yeah. There and then. So we’re so happy and I’m so happy they took a chance on us. Now we’re not their little baby client anymore, we’ve grown.
NYLP: You’re running the factory?
Vicki: Not quite but…
NYLP: So what is the process when someone is trying one of your sheets? Because you’re an online brand, no one can really touch and feel your sheets until they buy them. How do you convince people, you know, aside from Kickstarter and getting bloggers and those endorsements to say, “You know what try these sheets that you’ve never touched before,” because if you go to a department store or Bed Bath & Beyond sometimes they have these sheets out and you can touch them. It’s hard to imagine what is like sleeping on them but at least you can have that tactile sense and say, “You know what, this is softer, this is hard and I think I’d like this or I don’t.” How do you tell that story to people and say, “You know what, these are sheets that you should have even though you can’t try them.”
Vicki: I think that was an interesting challenge that we faced in the beginning that we still face. So we find a way to educate our customer on our sheets as best as we can. One obviously is photography. So they see what they’re getting, they see the color, the pattern, so they know they like what it looks like. And then we describe verbally the weaves. For example, the percale is a matte kind of crisp feel. It’s like the cool side of the pillow. Sateen is very smooth and soft or looks as a sateen weave and it’s a very smooth and soft kind of silky. So that at least helps them picture what it feels like.
And then we rely on reviews. There are people that are willing to take a chance and they can read reviews. And we have strong reviews that I think gives them that third party validation. And then, also if for any reason they’re not happy, we’ll take it back. They go, “We need to try it out.” And we have a lifetime warranty on our sheets that they keep them and if not, you know, a 60 day return policy. If they don’t like them, they just return them.
NYLP: What percentage of people are returning them?
Vicki: We have a very low percentage. I don’t remember the exact number and I can get back to you on it but it’s very low. So we do very well.
NYLP: Well, people are buying the sheets in droves. The first year…let me make sure I get these numbers right. You did the Kickstarter campaign and you said $237,000. And then the next year it was about $2.5 million?
Vicki: Yes. That’s correct.
NYLP: How do you go to from $237,500 to $2.5 million?
Vicki: They just took off. I mean, honestly it was like word of mouth. We weren’t doing any advertising. We only had organic, we didn’t have a PR agency at that time. We just had an organic press, me reaching out and saying, “Hey try these sheets, I think you’ll like them.” And then people were writing and saying, “Oh my god, I love these sheets.” So it was word of mouth. Well, social media, people would take pictures and be like, “I just discovered this awesome new brand.” It just took off.
NYLP: And then the following year 10x growth again.
NYLP: Even more people referring other people.
Vicki: Yeah. It was exponential growth. I mean, then we also started to also do some digital marketing to acquire new customers. And that’s Rich, I have to give him credit, is really great and smart with that. And we also would analyze customer data where we’re always speaking to our customers and saying, “What do you want next?” You know, like making adjustments that people would request. The example that I always give is people wrote in and said, “Well it’d be really great if I knew which side the fitted sheet she goes on, you know, like it’s not clear.” So we added long side, short side for the fitted sheet. We added duvet corner ties so inside your duvet won’t move around in you duvet cover envelope, closures for our pillow cases. So those were all customer requests that we were able to make very quickly. So I think that the agility and the responsiveness and connection to customers has really helped us grow. And we have a pretty strong return rate.
NYLP: For people buying more sheets.
Vicki: Then we expanded. They asked for comforters so we did the same process but for comforters. Now we do comforters and pillows, candles. So we expanded within the bedroom but we’ve added on products to help people make their whole bedroom a Brooklinen bedroom.
NLYP: So you spent a year researching sheets and fabrics and manufacturers. When you were expanding the products, how do you decide, “Okay, this is something that we can do for the quality and the price point that people want?”
Vicki: It’s a good question. We test ourselves first. We test like we’re our own guinea pigs and we just test a lot. We’ll test differently for comforters, for example, different shells to make sure they have the right tactile softness. We test different lofts of down. We know that good down comes from Canada. So we sourced…you know, our comforters
are made in Canada and also in the United States. So we get educated on the raw materials and we go from there.
NLYP: So back to your amazing growth, first year $237,000. Two years later, $25 million. What were the processes like to get to that $25 million? How were you able to manage that growth and still deliver the quality and have the employees that you want?
Vicki: We’ve actually stayed very lean and that was great. That helped us a lot. We’ve been…we’re involved…Rich and I are involved in every step of the process – the design, making sure…we engineer every new piece ourselves. One of the ways that we’ve done it, is to actually…we’ve grown as a company and our revenue has grown greatly. But we don’t launch new products as much or as frequently as others. So we’ll focus on the infrastructure and in our core products just doing them what we do really, really well. So keeping our products’ selection somewhat curated and tight has helped us. And then we’ve scaled as needed. We’ll try to do everything ourselves so we know the role and what we need and then add on from there. We’ll outsource sometimes to agencies as needed to help us grow. That’s usually what we will do, outsource as needed, just try to keep it really lean.
I don’t know, we grew our customer service team I would say pretty quickly because that’s the most important well, one of the most important parts, as we really want to service our customers and always leave them happy or with a positive experience even if for any reason they don’t like the product. We’ve kind of focused on that and we hired an operations person and it’s all good from there.
NLYP: I know customer service is really important for you guys. And how do you impose that on your customer service representatives and bring that culture to them and say, “You know what we want the customer to happy.” Because from what I understand from the beginning, it was you and your husband, Rich doing everything and being the customer service. And then now you have a whole lot more people doing that and how do you say, “You know what these are our values and we want the customer to be happy.”
Vicki: I mean, we say just that. We work for people that are familiar with the brand and ethos, you know, when they’re applying. And also we say exactly that we have a pretty thorough trading system that we do. And we actually have everyone in the company trained in customer service even if they’re a senior level person before they do another role because that’s how they learn who we are. So we set them up with a set of sheets right away. When they come on, that’s like their starters. They should be sleeping on them and feeling them. And then we say that it’s a life-long relationship. That’s really the important thing is to make the person feel that there is another person that cares about them on the other end that wants to leave them happy and go the extra mile, whatever that means.
NLYP: So in terms of coming up with new products you mentioned that you’ve expanded to other parts of the bedroom comforters and pillows and so forth. But now you’re launching a new set of sheets.
Vicki: So we’re doing linen. The way we’re kind of approaching it, we’re taking a step back and thinking about how we tend to change our sheets with the season. And how that’s, you know, a very popular thing for many people. So we’re coming out with linen which is a very different weave and look from cotton. And it has this like beautifully rumpled vintage lived in texture look. So we started from that and it’s also very soft breathable, it’s airier. It’s just like a vacation in your home. So that’s…we started with the feeling and wanting to create that and sourced our linen from there. And we went with the stonewashed feel because we wanted to be like the best linen that we could make. We created a stonewashed linen that’s really soft because linen can be a little rough sometimes, I mean really kind of gauzy. So it’s like a little bit of a…like feels like a breeze when you’re sleeping.
NLYP: Because linen is more breathable is that why?
Vicki: It is. It’s more breathable and it actually is more absorbent and wicks moisture away from the body even better than cotton. You generally, you want to sleep in natural fibers, cotton or linen if you want to stay cool because they are the most breathable and airy of fabrics. Like if you get into like silk has a tighter weave and it’s really soft but it retains heat and synthetics also don’t ventilate. So you go from there and then linen is the most breathable. So you stay very cool and it’s a good temperature regulator in general because it wicks moisture away from the body very well.
NYLP: Who is your ideal customer?
Vicki: My ideal customer, I mean anyone is my ideal customer. I don’t discriminate.
NYLP: Everyone is your ideal customer.
Vicki: Everyone, everyone should have great sheets.
NYLP: Everyone should have Brooklinen sheets. And who are you targeting with your marketing?
Vicki: Who are we targeting with our marketing? I mean we, again, we try to be very inclusive. We started out with a very millennial customer and I think because that was kind of who we were and how we tended to speak. I guess, you know, that we attracted the millennials. So that is who our customer has tended to be. And also our customers are all over the 50 states but our hotspots are the Northeast, New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, LA, very strong in urban areas. And also Phoenix is very strong.
NYLP: And how do you reach these people?
Vicki: Social media. We do both organic and digital or social media marketing. Facebook is a huge part of that and Instagram ads. That’s actually the only marketing that we do. We don’t do like print ads or anything. We do subway campaigns in New York City sometimes like ad campaigns but social media marketing is the way that we reach our customers and organic press.
NYLP: So you are the chief communications officer. How did you come up with the brand behind Brooklinen because I find that very interesting as well. The way that you have decided in addition to going direct-to-consumer and that being part of the motivation. But you’ve differentiated yourself in some sense as making Brooklinen a brand.
Vicki: That’s true. I think that we felt that there was no brand loyalty in this space. People just kind of saw bedding as something functional but as a chore. And we felt that it didn’t have to be that way. So we wanted to turn a somewhat unpleasant experience shopping for bedding and schlepping it around on the subway like an experience into something positive. So it started from there and then we just thought about what is the brand that we would like? What do we want it to be? We want it to be friendly, we want it to create a beautiful experience where it feels like you’re getting a gift in the mail. We wanted to deliver convenience to people. And that’s how I think we differentiated ourselves. We didn’t want to be fussy or super formal. We wanted it to feel genuine and lived in and we strategized about that even in our photo shoots. Like in some of our ads you’ll see maybe somebody eating a pizza in bed because that happens, you know, sometimes.
NYLP: Especially when the sheets are comfortable. You just don’t want to leave the bed at all.
Vicki: And it’s like after a long night. Yeah, you don’t want to leave bed exactly or so we’re doing it in bed or just we do photo-shoots with people in bed. We didn’t want it to be just a perfect looking bed that seems untouchable or maybe you make your bed and it looks like that for a second. But we wanted it to feel alive and real.
NYLP: And that was all your idea?
Vicki: Well, my husband and I. I can’t take all the credit.
NYLP: How did you come up with that brand identity?
Vicki: That’s a good question. I don’t know how. I think it just was like what feels…like what do we see that we don’t connect with and what do we connect with? That’s kind of how we approached the thinking. Perfect beds didn’t like pictures of only perfect beds didn’t feel genuine to us. We just wanted something relatable. I guess that’s how it came out like what feels relatable and, you know, fun like? What do people live like that…so how do we represent how people actually live? So brand identity was like we thought everyone deserves a great night sleep. And how do we give people something that’s beautiful and high quality and simple? That’s where that really came out of, not fussy, not convoluted, just straightforward, easy and beautiful. Everyone’s happy.
With the packaging and all of that, we wanted to feel like you’re getting a gift and everything had to make sense. Like the linens can be heavy, so obviously we want a branded box because we want it to look cool and interesting. But we plan for specifically a briefcase style box so it would be easy to carry. And the same for the tote bag, we wanted people to be able to have a momento and it was certainly cool. It’s another way for people to discover our brand without us talking to them. You know, it’s a conversation starter of like, “What’s Brooklinen?” “Well, I’ve got these awesome sheets and like now, you know, I’m getting to use a tote bag.”
But it’s also because usually, sheets would come in plastic and that was kind of wasteful. So we thought maybe if you at least package them in a tote bag, then you can have that to use for the future. So it was just a nicer way to package it. In the card, we wanted to leave something behind some way for people like a call for action to interact with us and help spread the word.
NYLP: And so when you we were coming up with the idea for Brooklinen, you saw that the bedding industry needed disruption. What was it like before Brooklinen entered the marketplace?
Vicki: It was very different. When we entered the marketplace which was over three years ago now, there were, to my knowledge, there were no direct-to-consumer mattress companies or anything like that. There were only a few direct-to-consumer companies. Everlane, Warby Parker. So the bedding market and home decor in general was very segment. You had only the big-box stores, overwhelming options. A lot of misrepresentation in terms of thread count, promising that thread count would be higher quality when a lot of times that’s not the case. And then the other end which was very high-end, high quality, but unattainable pricing a lot of the times for many people. And in like maybe more embroidery and like kind of fussy designs and you had to go to the store. So there was no kind of like middle-ground I want to say. And nothing I think that felt like kind of young and fresh at least to us.
NYLP: And so what were people saying when you and your husband were pointing around and saying, “You know what, we want to do a direct-to-consumer bedding company?”
Vicki: Well, the people in the bedding industry were like, “Okay, you know, go for it.” Like they were kind of saying like we’ve never seen someone your age and it’s like why do you want to get in this? Everyone, they were like, “We’ve never seen someone even in your generation. Like you’re a young person entering this market, what are you doing?” They were intrigued and kind of puzzled by us, textile backgrounds. So they were just kind of like open but perplexed. And then I think friends and family, so you know, people definitely thought we were crazy. They were like, “Sheets, really?” Rich’s mom was like, “Maybe you should just do this on the side, like just get a…you know, you can still do it but get a real job. That was kind of like the response that we got.
NYLP: So people thought you were crazy at first and then imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. There are a lot more direct-to-consumer
brands, a lot more direct-to-consumer sleeping brands too. How do you see this competition and how are you trying to differentiate yourself from the competition?
Vicki: We always try to be at the forefront and think of new and interesting things to do. So that’s how we want to differentiate ourselves, whether it’s coming up with the best weaves and just sticking to like having just the best product, the best price, being straightforward and awesome. That’s kind of like a good goal I feel like to stick to for us. And then I’d like to do more on interesting things. Like I’m interested in doing collaborations and we use certain designers to have limited edition prints and patterns. I think that would be cool. It’s something I’d like to explore further but in general, all the mattress companies popping up I think it’s awesome. I feel like the interior design industry in general is having a revolution. All these things that used to be such a chore and be so difficult and so annoying to do are now easy and fun and it’s great. Even interior design used to be something that luxury most people didn’t think that they could access. And now you have companies like, Homepolish that bring that to the masses as well and I think it’s really cool.
NYLP: And so that’s one of the things, you brought up mattress companies or people buying items online. I looked at mattresses online myself and sheets and everything else like that. And it’s hard particularly when you’ve never tried the product. You Google something and it’s like how do you differentiate between one and the other, one mattress and the other, one sheet and the other? One, let’s say, eyeglass company and the other. All these new direct-to-consumer brands. So how are you doing that?
Vicki: I think you have to look at reviews, honestly. That’s a really great way for you to get feedback. Just get reviews from people that have purchased the product and experienced it before. Read posts from companies. There’s this…Sweethome does third-party testing and I use them myself.
NYLP: When are people buying sheets in their lives?
Vicki: People are buying sheets year-round but obviously there are spikes for when people are getting married, when people are moving. Like every milestone, college or starting a job, a second job. Maybe they’re on their second job and they’re making a little bit more money and their mom is not buying their sheets anymore. They want to treat themselves to something nice in their bedroom and create a beautiful oasis. Maybe, they weren’t able to do that before then they’ll kind of be like, “Oh I’m going to get nice sheets now.” So those are the times where you really see a bump but it’s really year-round. We see people replace their sheets fairly often because they want another set or they’d just, you know, like to get a new set of sheets for the season or the guest room. I mean, you’d be surprised.
NYLP: So, I’m interested in one in particular which is people getting married. And because a lot of the way that wedding registries traditionally work is the Bed Bath & Beyond, the department store and where sheets are commonly sold. How are you trying to attack that market?
Vicki: We’re on Zola. For everybody who doesn’t know, they are a centralized wedding registry. So you can register for contribution to your honeymoon, for a down payment, for your favorite items from any store, whether it’s West Elm or any product that you want you can register for on Zola. So we’re one of the brands on Zola, it’s super cool. It’s like one centralized registry that makes everything really easy.
NYLP: And one of the fantastic things that I think about your company is the name Brooklinen. And that Brooklyn brand. And this being the New York Launch Pod, what is that Brooklyn brand mean to you as you’re bringing it throughout the country and throughout the world?
Vicki: The way we got the name is a funny story. Rich was there, so I’m telling his story. Basically, that he was at a party, he was talking about us starting a new company and it was in Brooklyn and we were making linen, so we don’t know how to name it. And somebody was like, “Oh like Brooklinen?” And we were just like, “Oh yeah.” And then he immediately started searching for available domain names and it was available. And that was how Brooklinen got named by a friend of a friend at a party. It just was like a Eureka moment. But what the brand means to us, I think it comes back to who we are I guess. That’s where we got our start. We had an office in Greenpoint where after our Kickstarter we packed all of the boxes ourselves with help from friends and task rabbits. And it was where we started to figure out how to run a business. We had to figure out how to get a warehouse because we could not keep up with packing all the boxes. So it’s about, I guess, who we are and we love Brooklyn and making your dreams come true and the best city in the world. That’s what it means to me.
NYLP: So we talked about your incredible sales growth. Recently, you’ve also raised $10 million in financing which was you were bootstrapping all along and very proud of bootstrapping which I think is fantastic. But now you have this big war chest, let’s call it. What do you plan on doing with that?
Vicki: I think it’s going to help us scale. Like it goes to your question of how were you able to grow yourselves and we’ve been very lean. We only have about 12 people in our office in New York City and we have about 15 people are doing customer service for us remotely as well. It’s going to help us scale and keep up with demand as we grow and it’s going to help us, I think, deliver more of what our customers want. From like something I’ve talked about before is like I really want to be able to do same day delivery. Because you want what you want when you want it. I think those are kind of the biggest things we want to be able to be better responsive to our customers more agile and expand, you know, maybe new categories. But we want to be able to do the R&D the right way. And be really focused and smart about it but scale.
NYLP: Have you thought about other distribution channels maybe for people who are adverse to buying sheets online to have a showroom or something like that?
Vicki: We’ve thought about it. So far we really want to stay very focused and do direct-to-consumer. We know that that’s a direction some have gone in. We’re not doing that anytime soon. I can’t…never say never but we want to be as efficient and focused as possible. And for now this distribution channel really works for us. So we don’t want to expand into new areas just yet. Part of our big thing is being really focused, really lean. So this money will help us scale but we want to do it in a really smart and efficient way.
NYLP: What about partnerships with other brands? We mentioned mattress companies and everything else like that. It’s seems like there’s a great opportunity for you guys to partner with other brands that are out there.
Vicki: Yeah, I think that would be cool. And we’ve done little things before actually with mattress brands like pop-ups up at their store and we have a little bit of a partnership with The Laundress. And we sell them… The Laundress is the best smelling and eco-friendly and wonderful laundry detergent and they’re kind of the experts on how to care for your…for everything outside of just laundry. They’re just the care experts, that’s what I’m going to call them. So we sell them through our store and we have a partnership with Pendleton too. So we like to look for cool opportunities to work with other brands. So that would be a really exciting thing to explore further.
NYLP: And I don’t want to gloss over it but bootstrapping, incredible part to your story. What was that like and why did you decide to do that?
Vicki: That was challenging. A lot of it was out of necessity. We raised what we could raise on Kickstarter but that went towards our first production run, our first inventory. But I think bootstrapping helped us retain creative control which was really important to us. We could figure out how to run the business the right…not only creative control where we could design the way we’d like and manufacture the products that we thought was right. But market the way we thought was right and speak to people and really prove that our methods could work. And run the company in a way that we thought made sense. We didn’t want to burn through money and have a big marketing budget. We really wanted to figure out the more like smart operations areas of the business. That’s what we did.
But it was also out of necessity. We don’t have backgrounds where we come from a lot of money either of us. So it was just kind of grew from something small and just an idea that we kept nurturing and growing organically. But, yes, it was challenging. We used the sharing economy. We’ve relied on friends a lot in the beginning. Our friend, my best friend was a stylist for a photo shoot and the photographer was a friend of a friend. And he borrowed his friend’s studio. So there was a lot of people doing favors for us and using the sharing economy from the Zipcars in Kickstarter to renting an office in Washington. It really helped us grow in a way that made sense for our business.
NYLP: So you started with a shoestring budget and then you grew 10x, we discussed that. And then 10X again and I think doubled the following year?
Vicki: We grew, yeah, we’ve grown 10x year over year. From Kickstarter, 10x. So the following year was $2.5 million and this past year was $25 million revenue.
NYLP: And then you raised $10 million in equity financing. How are you feeling right now?
Vicki: I’m feeling very good and very focused on just staying in the course and growing our company and getting Brooklinen in every bedroom. There are many more customers for us to reach, more good nights to be had.
NYLP: So husband and wife team, everyone has heard how charming you are throughout the course of the interview. In preparing, I heard how great Rich is and it just seems because of the two of you, your company was destined for success. Because you just have like the yin and the yang. But you are around each other all the time. What is it like working with your husband? And has there been a friction point where you’re like, “You know what, we need X, Y and Z for groceries and by the way our revenue is not where it needs to be or where I thought it would be,” something like that?
Vicki: Not that, thank God, but sure, I mean, realist…yes. So the positives first. I think that we are very fortunate to be able to work together. First I’m an immigrant so I come from the former Soviet Union where it was like we didn’t even have creative industries as a job that I could pursue realistically. I mean my parents were like doctor and lawyer, you know. They just didn’t know any better and they really wanted me to have a secure job and a creative role didn’t seem secure to them. So it was a very scary thing. So I feel fortunate to even have been able to pursue this at all because it’s…the chances of succeeding are small. And it’s a new world that I had to discover with my husband and he has a similar background. So I think we feel fortunate that we’re able to do this and that we’re able to do what we love together that we get to see each other every day. And we try to find time like, you know, in between travel or having jobs pulling us apart for many long hours which we’ve had before. So we try to remember like we’re in a very fortunate position to be able to work together and do this at all.
And by having said that, we’ve definitely had fights about work or tiffs. What happens is that, you know, somehow it will come up at home or maybe it’s like, “I don’t want to talk about work right now.” Or, “We really have to figure this out,” like stuff like that. And when we are both working out of our apartment I think we had more cabin fever and more friction. So it’s like, “What are you working on, you should do it this way.” Or, “What are you working on you should do it this way?” But being in the office, this definitely makes it easier because we have pretty divided up roles. So we check in with each other and we get to see each other but I handle like a lot of the creative work and communications, press and I really oversee that side of things. And he’s overseeing a lot of the finances, the operations, a lot of the paid marketing end of things. So he’s working on with people. So our roles don’t overlap. We like to divide and conquer like I’m running our photo shoots, he’s running something else.
NYLP: Well, you’re fantastic. I certainly suggest people research Rich and find out how fantastic he is. And the company is fantastic. How do people find out more about Brooklinen?
Vicki: They can go to brooklinen.com, that’s our website or they can check us out on Instagram. It’s @Brooklinen.
NYLP: Well, Vicki Fulop, thank you for stepping onto the New York Launch Pod and sharing your time with us.
Vicki: Thank you for having me.
NYLP: And if you want to learn more about the New York Launch Pod, you can visit nylauchpod.com for transcripts of the episode including this one. And follow us on social media @NYLaunchPod and if you enjoyed this episode, leave a review on iTunes. It does help people discover the episode and it is greatly appreciated.SHARE THIS: