New DTC toolkit   //   January 26, 2024

Tuft & Needle founders go back to basics with new mattress startup Boring Mattress Co

A new startup wants to make the mattress industry boring again. 

This week, a new startup called Boring Mattress Co launched, hoping to shake up the industry. What makes this new startup particularly notable is that its founders already tried their hand at launching a mattress startup. Two of the company’s founders — Daehee Park and Tyler Marino — were the co-founder and first employee, respectively, at Tuft & Needle, a mattress startup that launched in 2012 and merged with Serta Simmons in 2018. The company’s third co-founder, Corben Leo, is a self-described “ethical hacker.”

According to the company’s website, Boring wants to help people “escape mattress hell” by offering a simpler shopping experience. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s remarkably similar to the premise that Tuft & Needle was founded on; though back then, mattress shopping was only just “terrible,” according to the founders.  

So what made mattress shopping go from terrible to hellish in a decade? The explosion of bed-in-a-box brands which stands at an (estimated) 175. This, combined with rising prices, has made it harder than ever for people to find the right mattress for them, at an affordable price. Boring’s bet — that launching yet another mattress brand will help simplify the industry — is one that’s dependent upon the startup avoiding some of the trappings that Tuft & Needle and other brands ran into. 

“The purpose of Boring is to offer a simple, no-frills option again, for customers,” Park told Modern Retail. 

Tuft & Needle was founded in 2012, and was self-funded by Park and his other co-founder, JT Marino. Tuft & Needle went about growing its brand the way many consumer startups do nowadays: first, it started as DTC brand, then it started selling through Amazon and experimented with opening its own retail store. According to Vox, the company grew to $170 million in revenue, profitably, and was the number one-rated mattress on Amazon for a while by the time it merged with Serta Simmons in 2018.

But, at the beginning of 2023, Serta Simmons filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, as “significant amounts of debt maturing in 2023 make the company’s capital structure unsustainable,” the company’s CFO said in a court filing at the time.” Park, for his part, left Serta Simmons in 2020. 

When Tuft & Needle first launched in 2012, “buying a mattress online was an unfamiliar, exotic thing,” Park said. Now, he thinks the problem is that as more mattress brands have launched — and added more options for the sake of growing their revenue and margins — shopping for mattresses has gotten more expensive, and more complicated. 

“On each of these DTC brand sites, they have a matrix of models now with anywhere from three to 12 different models, and it’s really hard to choose which one is the right choice for you,” Park said. Casper’s models, for example, now include “Original,” “The Casper,” “Original Hybrid,” and “Wave Hybrid.” 

He believes that rapid expansion into wholesale has also exacerbated this problem. “When you take on these channel partners… you have to share that margin,” he said. “Now, you’re not only having to bake in [the] cost of marketing, all the overhead with your own retail stores, but also the margin that you have to share with the partner side.” 

The explosion of mattress review sites that don’t always overtly disclose their ties to brands has also made the shopping experience confusing. Then, there are other mattress brands that have added unnecessary bells and whistles for the sake of standing out; Park cited green-tea infused mattresses as one example. 

Put together, “it’s more insane than ever before, shopping for a mattress,” Park said. 

As Park listed the various ways that Boring plans to stand out, they are similar to the tactics that are trotted out nearly anytime an upstart wants to disrupt an industry. He said that Boring “is not going to play games with customers.” He added that Boring plans to say things in a “brutally honest way.” 

A queen mattress — just called “the mattress” on the company’s website — goes for $799. Generally speaking, some of the most basic queen models sold through competitors like Saatva, Casper and Purple are going for $1,696, $845 and $1,099 right now respectively. (Though, to Park’s point, these prices are constantly changing due to sales). 

But to avoid some of the trappings that other startups that previously adopted these principles once ran into, Park said Boring won’t adopt as many wholesale partners as other brands. (He added, “I still think there’s an opportunity to have your own retail stores.”) He said the brand won’t do deals with affiliate mattress sites. Boring, he claimed, won’t take on outside funding (the company is self-funded right now). 

Park added that one of the reasons why Boring brought on its third co-founder, Leo, who doesn’t have any prior experience in the mattress industry, is “for a fresh perspective and to keep ourselves honest.” 

“To some degree, you know once you’re in the industry for a long-time you drink your own Kool-Aid,” Park said. 

Seth Basham, a managing director of Equity Research at Wedbush Securities who covers mattress companies like Sleep Number, Tempur Sealy and Purple, said that, generally speaking, one of the big challenges facing the mattress industry right now is that “demand has been extremely soft over the past two years.” That’s due to a combination of factors: a significant number of consumers bought mattresses during Covid as they were upgrading their homes, and depending on the material, mattresses don’t need to be replaced for five to 10 years.

Additionally, “the mass market consumer in particular has been much more disciplined with their spending,” due to inflation and tightening credit, Basham said.

He added that “to really grow substantially as an online-only brand is much more difficult these days…the primary reason is because of extremely competitive online advertising.” 

Park acknowledged that customer acquisition continues to be a big challenge for mattress brands today — namely, the rising cost of paid marketing, especially on Facebook and Google.

But, he said, “with our brand messaging — which is much punchier than before — it’s polarizing, it allows us to see things very differently. So we’re hopeful that that will allow us to stand out in the kind of noise of mattress advertising out there.”

This story has been updated to correct the founding year of Tuft & Needle in one instance, and to correct Leo’s title.