Mattress entrepreneur Jas Bagniewski explains how developing his skills at e-commerce giants helped him discover fresh approaches to an old-school project.
What’s your business background?
I studied for an MBA at Cambridge University in 2007. After that I went to work for Rocket Internet, a Berlin-based incubator, founded by three brothers, Alexander, Marc and Oliver Samwer. It’s now very large, with several thousand employees in its combined subsidiary companies. When I joined, it had just 40 staff. I worked with the brothers directly.
I rolled out three companies while I was there. I launched a price comparison website in Poland and headed up [price comparison site] CityDeal there, which was then sold to Groupon. After that I helped run Groupon in the UK.
Working with Groupon was the most significant experience for me and my current business. I joined when the company was making the transition from discounted services to products, so I spent a lot of time analysing the kinds of goods that could work for them. I started considering mattresses, because they traditionally have very high margins that lent themselves to a discount model.
The whole industry around mattresses was very old school and archaic. The consumer experience was poor as well: bad returns processes, complexity of choice and long wait times for delivery. Products were being sold in an inefficient manner, so I concentrated on how to make every aspect of the experience better. That’s what led to Eve.
How did you build the Eve brand?
I contacted my cousin, Kuba Wieczorek, who at that point was head of sports marketing for Channel 4. He was looking to set up his own branding agency. I asked him if he could build us a brand in a week or two. He explained that it didn’t really work like that – that it can take years. I said: “Okay, a month then.” He joined us as a co-founder.
When we started, people said that it would be incredibly difficult to build a brand around mattresses
Kuba saw that mattresses had traditionally been marketed in a – quite literally – sleepy manner, with people on advertisements whispering and talking about clouds. The colour palette was grey and white. He developed an effective strapline: “Every great day starts the night before.” That’s the point from which we built the brand and it summed up the energy of the company.
Where do you see your business and the wider market going?
The company has six products and operates in 12 countries. We’re planning to expand our product range and want to carry on building awareness of the brand across Europe.
When we started, people said that it would be incredibly difficult to build a brand around mattresses. They said that people just buy them, put a sheet over them and forget about them – it’s a commodity.
We’ve found it to be the opposite. There’s lots of great stuff that happens in bed. People have sex, relax, cuddle their partners and read books with their kids. We tried to build a brand around that warmth and engagement. That also tapped into social media, building word of mouth around our product.
Don’t tell yourself that you need to be the biggest company in the world
We’re thinking about products such as candles and pyjamas – things that are more traditionally associated with a lifestyle brand. That’s where the market is going. It’s an enormous category, part of the wellness and mindfulness movement. Sleep is part of the package with exercise and diet.
I’m inspired by the way brands such as [tonic and mixers producer] Fever-Tree and [technology company] GoPro have marketed themselves – they’ve really optimised one product and taken it to the next level. When I used to buy a camera, I thought about shutter speeds and battery life. GoPro did a great marketing job by concentrating on the experience that a user is trying to record with a camera.
We’ve been approached by some brilliant brands about setting up partnerships. But having grown so fast recently, we’ve got to keep a check on how much we’re doing and stay focused.
What advice do you have on managing growth?
Don’t get distracted. Don’t tell yourself that you need to be the biggest company in the world. Start by working out what you need to do today, and then what you need to do tomorrow. How can you make everything 10pc better? When you compound that improvement, it adds up very quickly, so set yourself manageable targets.
When hiring, recruit people who are great at what you’re bad at. Look at some of the biggest brands and ask yourself who’s driving their success – and what they would want in a role. One of most important metrics for recruitment is not: can this person do the job now? Rather it's: can they do it in a much larger company? What about five years from now?
How would you sum up your leadership style?
I started out with my best friend and my cousin. We had strong relationships already; I had known them for years. That laid the basis for a very trusting environment where people have the freedom to
get on with their areas of work.
The most important thing as a leader is to make sure that you love your workplace and you feel proud when you come into the office. That’s what builds a good culture from the top down. Think about success as being day in, day out, rather than just an end goal.