Welcome Jo & Nick! Could take us back to the very beginning of Bedfolk? How did you come up with the idea, and when did you make the leap into it full-time?
Of course. So first off - Nick and I are a married couple. We met at age 19 in university. We've been together 14 years and I think we've spent most of that time talking about starting a business. It was always something we were both hugely passionate about.
We spent our twenties working in separate domains, I was in the luxury interior design space and Nick was working in the city as a risk analyst. So even though we didn’t plan to share those skill-sets down the line, it worked out very well - combining a branding asset with structured, data-driven thinking.
The actual idea for Bedfolk came about when we bought our first flat together. We started shopping for things to furnish this little flat in London and we were looking for good quality pieces that were going to last, at a good price.
And the bedding category was the one where we couldn't find what we’d hoped for. We found ourselves in department stores, surrounded by plastic wrapped products riddled in industry jargon.
Even, as an interior designer, I couldn't understand which bedding I should buy. I stood there thinking surely other people were feeling this pain too. That should be our business. And we went for it.
So what was the very first step you took?
It wasn't a rash decision - we spent a year or so kind of throwing ideas around and scoping out market research, and thinking about what the brand should look like. We didn't do any surveys or anything too data heavy. It was more just us piecing together in our mind where the opportunity truly existed.
Once we had that locked down we went into the research and development phase, finding suppliers and partners, aligning on SKUs and price points.
And then somewhere around that same time we made some big personal decisions, like selling off our flat in London in order to start the business. That’s when we knew we were going all in. Looking back, I understand why everyone thought we were crazy. Those were huge risks - but we were committed to making Bedfolk happen.
Tell me a little bit more about the R&D phase. How did you tackle that?
We were not from a manufacturing background. So we had to educate ourselves, and basically spent our honeymoon travelling around Europe, meeting different mills and speaking to 3rd or 4th generation artisans to better understand what separated great bedding from the rest.
For months on end we used to carry around fabric swatches and basically ask any person to feel them with their eyes closed. All our friends were bored senseless of us talking about fabrics!
That learning process was long, but it was necessary. We could have launched with an off-the-shelf product line much faster, but it wouldn’t have gotten us to where we are today. Quality was absolutely non-negotiable and we wanted to offer our customers only the best.
Let's switch gears and talk about the launch. You spent 12 months working on this, nights and weekends. You made significant financial commitments to Bedfolk, and finally… you launch. How did that go?
It was… a little underwhelming. Definitely not a rocket ship launch.
We had tried to build an organic following via a bedding inspo Instagram account. We got people to sign up to a waitlist, to refer their friends to unlock launch discounts. But when our launch came around, my mum placed an order and so did a few strangers - but that was it.
You read success stories and assume that must be the norm. But actually in those very early days, I don't think anyone goes from zero to hero. And it's really important to acknowledge that because otherwise you might feel disheartened. Building a rocket ship overnight is fantasy, to do it takes relentless effort, drive and determination.
What started to work after that?
We’re on year 3 now. And in the last year we’ve seen really rapid growth, but that all snowballed from the efforts we’ve been putting in since day 1. We have strong organic repeat orders and we get plenty of new customers via word of mouth.
We invested in PR, but again on day one, if your imagery is not really strong, you can't get loads of press straight away. So that also can’t be turned on all at once.
What we have consistently found to be successful is to invest in photography. Most of the channels we spend time, money and energy on are on visual platforms, and that’s where we shine most. We built our own in-house studio in our second year and it was one of the best decisions we made in the early days, as it allowed us to control our aesthetic in-house (and save lots of money on hiring studios!)
When was your first hire? And how did you build out the team after that?
For the first year of operations, we carried on our existing full-time jobs in design and finance. And in the spring of 2019, just after a year of operation - we secured some angel investment. And that was the trigger for us to go full time. We started paying ourselves a (small) salary, we hired someone to help with packing and shipping and took on a little storage unit because by now the boxes of bedding were starting to actually creep into our own bedroom.
We hired our first full-time employee around the time we were 2 years old, and now we're a team of 18, and we will be hiring lots more people over the next 12 months too.
For that expansion, there was no real master plan, You just have to react to the needs of the business. So the first hires we made were in marketing, after that we noticed we were getting too many customer emails so we hired in customer care and then after that we needed extra resources with photo shoots, so that became the next focus.
It’s quite tricky to know who to hire and when, but so far I feel like we've done a decent job. We now have a great team who are passionate about Bedfolk. And that's absolutely invaluable when you're working in a startup.
Let's jump forward to today. You've grown enormously since launch. What have been some of the biggest growing pains?
Building the team and keeping all the different parts of the business resourced and moving at the same pace. That’s the biggest challenge.
Keeping up with the increase in demand is obviously a good problem to have, but in order to keep our promise to deliver a great experience to customers, we need to keep up on the hiring side of things and on the supply side of things with our mill in Portugal. For those reasons, we've had various periods where we were sold out, which is really frustrating because you're leaving cash on the table.
We’ve always done our fulfilment in-house, which is extremely key for us. It ensures consistency in the unboxing experience and keeps operations moving at the same pace as marketing, finance and the website evolution.
And today another of our biggest areas of evolution’s been with our supplier relationship. In the early days, it was very hard to do things completely differently. As a customer, you're tiny to them. But today, we’re a bigger percentage of their sales, and we're able to suggest changes more openly.
Final question from me: What advice would you give to younger versions of yourselves?
We touched on it earlier: I wish we allocated funds more equitably between product and marketing. You can have the best product in the world, but if no one knows about it, then you're not going to sell very much of it. Marketing is really important for D2C brands, and without it you’re going to struggle.
Another thing that I wish we'd done sooner is hire people. As a founder, it’s impossible to do everything, and had we hired sooner we could have grown faster.
And finally - invest in your website. Shopify is obviously brilliant, but the more you can remove friction from the purchase experience and invest in making your store a really pleasant shopping experience, the better you're going to do. And obviously Storetasker has been great to do that with great flexibility, and without having to invest a huge amount in an agency for a web rebuild.
Jo & Nick, thank you for your words of wisdom. Can’t wait to continue to support you with Storetasker and watch you grow!