After being laid off in September 2017, Colin McIntosh launched Sheets & Giggles following a successful crowdfunding campaign. Sheets & Giggles manufactures eucalyptus lyocell bedding that uses up to 96% less water to make than cotton sheeting. It also uses no insecticides or pesticides. And the company is big on giving back, regularly donating to causes close to the community and planting 20,000 trees in the US from 2019 sales alone.
When it comes to numbers, Sheets & Giggles was profitable in its first 12 months and is consistently beating its growth targets YOY. The company continues to go from strength to strength, particularly as Colin moves from founder to CEO, so we chat with him to find out more.
Who are you and what brand did you start?
I’m Colin McIntosh, Founder & CEO of Sheets & Giggles™, a fast-growing direct-to-consumer brand based in Denver, USA. After getting laid off at 1pm on a Monday in September 2017, I launched Sheets & Giggles (S&G) on Indiegogo in 2018 with a crowdfunding campaign. Since then, S&G is one of the few companies to make revenue in its first 12 months of sales (and happily, more in the 12 months to follow).
S&G places an emphasis on doing good and having fun, especially with sustainably made products and socially responsible business practices. Our eucalyptus lyocell bedding uses up to 96% less water to make than cotton sheeting, and uses no insecticides or pesticides. We also plant a tree for every order – planting nearly 20,000 trees in the US from 2019 sales alone – and regularly donate to causes that our community cares about, like the $40,000 S&G recently contributed to COVID–19 emergency relief in Colorado.
Our customers are women and men of all ages, but we do see a lot of women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s choosing S&G as a sustainable, luxurious, solidly priced option for their bedrooms.
How did you come up with the idea, brand name and logo for Sheets & Giggles?
There are two major milestones when I think about the “idea” for Sheets & Giggles.
The first one is incredibly random. I was watching “War Dogs” with Miles Teller and Jonah Hill in summer 2017, and I got beyond frustrated with Miles Teller’s character for buying so much bedding inventory and being unable to sell it. He didn’t do any market research, didn’t understand his demographics, didn’t do any price testing, and didn’t validate the market before he invested money into the venture. So I paused the movie, wrote a business plan for a bedding company, and bought SheetsGiggles.com that night because I always think of a funny brand name and buy a domain when I come up with a business idea. (I’m a little neurotic if it’s not apparent by now.)
The second is getting laid off unceremoniously at 1pm on a Monday from a job I loved. I learned so many hard lessons from that business, and it was very emotional to see it end so suddenly and poorly. Three weeks later, I founded S&G. I think you need a bit of that “push” or breaking point sometimes to branch off and do your own thing.
As for the S&G brand name, I have four rules to a good brand name: it has to connote or denote what you do; it has to be memorable and easily spell-able; it must have good SEO; and you should preferably be able to secure a .com. Plus, it’s an admittedly decent pun, so I basically fell in love with the joke and maybe took it a little too far… I feel like I accidentally started a bedding company sometimes.
Describe the process of launching Sheets & Giggles?
In October 2017, I incorporated. For the first few months, I didn’t do much: website basic design and copy on Shopify, got a logo created, workshopped the business plan and financial model, and did materials and manufacturing research.
I knew from day one that we would need to do a crowdfund (because I didn’t think anyone would want to invest blindly in a pun-based bedding company with a first-time CEO), so in January 2018, we put our heads down on preparing for a May 1 launch on Indiegogo.
The first moment we knew we were on to something was when we set up some basic landing pages for email capture, ran some initial Facebook ads pushing traffic to it, and took home 35% of visitors’ emails in the first week. Over the next 8 weeks, we gathered 11,000 emails from people who were apparently psyched for the launch of this company they just heard of. On May 1 on Indiegogo, we raised near to our $50k goal whilst receiving a substantial amount of preorders. After that, I feel like there was no stopping us.
Since launch, what has worked best to attract and retain customers?
I have a firm belief that people buy things from people they like, and they actively avoid giving money to people they do not. So honestly, the #1 thing we do is personalization: replying to every email within an hour; replying to every FB comment; picking up the phone on the first ring (no robo-voice); no linking to FAQs to answer questions… just answer the freaking question; personal handwritten notes; free swag bags if you find the Easter Eggs on our site; packaging details; and so much more. Every time someone interacts with S&G, I want them to feel like they could have just had a convo with someone they legitimately like.
Beyond that, our content always leans towards surreal and ridiculous, and because of that, we have what I consider to be the most differentiated brand in the entire bedding industry. Our ads make people stop and say “What the f--- did I just see??” and I can’t tell you what that does for our clickthrough.
We also only email people with emails we'd enjoy ourselves; I hate it when brands email me incessantly, so we avoid that. Because we only email our list with engaging content, we have huge open rates and can direct action very meaningfully. Plus, we get to avoid that “brand exhaustion” that occurs when a company just keeps asking you for MORE MONEY PLEASE and hopefully have a longer window of brand affinity because of it.
Because of all this, I think we have great word of mouth. SEO on both Google and Amazon are also crucial to our organic traffic. I’m also active on reddit and get to interact with a lot of people 1:1 when our brand name pops up.
With regards to business growth, how have things changed from a digital, revenue, customer and sales perspective?
Every month except one in 2020 has had greater sales than the corresponding quarter in 2019, which was already 4x 2018’s sales. Right now our biggest challenge is staying in stock and keeping up with demand! It’s crazy and I can’t really believe it sometimes.
Because a one-man show doesn’t scale, I’ve had to transition from “founder” to “CEO” and it hasn’t always been smooth. My team has given me a lot of patience and leeway with the transition, which means patience with me micro-managing and slowly empowering department heads to be truly independent.
How is the business doing today and what does the future look like?
Extremely well. 2020 will be at last 3x 2019 and we’ll do that profitably, which is my #1 goal. I want to ensure that we control our own destiny as a company, and the only way to do that is to make sure we’re not dependent on outside capital. We haven’t raised a dollar in a year now, and have no plans or needs to do so this year, and that’s an awesome feeling that I don’t take for granted.
Long-term, I don’t have a hard-and-fast exit plan. All I can promise people is that I’ll always chase the optimal outcome, which does change from time to time, so flexibility is needed in my opinion when thinking about long-term plans.
What’s been the biggest learning experience since starting your own brand?
If you’re shipping goods, don’t use white packaging. Jesus Christ, don’t go with white packaging. (FedEx and UPS will take it as a challenge to see just how much they can damage it.)
Founders must transition into CEOs and be comfortable taking their hands off the wheel, otherwise your team will resent you and you will never be able to scale. Hire good people (you’ll hire people like yourself, honestly), and trust them and empower them.
What are your top 3 tips on how to setup an Ecom store for success?
I couldn't keep to 3, so here are my 4 tips ;
- There are good starter themes on Shopify that you can buy that work well out of the box, but a custom site for ~$15-20k will convert tremendously better. Don’t overpay and get suckered in by agencies charging $50-100k for a freaking website.
- If you’re crowdfunding, similar principle: don’t work with any agency that isn’t personally recommended to you by someone you trust. So many predators in that space who will take your $2,000 “setup” fee and then bail.
- Zig where others zag on brand voice; you have to differentiate everywhere you can in today’s environment. It’s ok if it doesn’t resonate with 80% of people; you want 20% to be obsessed with you.
- Treat your customers and community the way you want to be treated, lead by example, do good freely, and it’ll come back in spades.
What are some of your favorite online business tools you use to run Sheets & Giggles?
- Glew.io is useful for proper forecasting across Amazon and Shopify
- I love Judge.me for reviews; Shopify is of course lovely (just upgraded to Shopify Plus); and
- Brex is great for financing, terms are a 0% 60-day credit card with a limit equal to 75% of your trailing 30-day revenue.
|Analytics||Google Analytics, Shopify Analytics, Glew.io|
|Payments||PayPal, Shopify Payments, Amazon Pay|
|Advertising||Facebook, Instagram, Google|
See what tools other founders use here.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts or other educational resources?
The Techstars network and my mentors from there are invaluable and I couldn’t do anything without them. I’ve learned so much from Techstars over the years and would encourage people to read resources on techstars.com and apply if they have a startup that fits the criteria.
Who have been the most influential people for you during this business journey?
Probably in no particular order:
- Rand Fishkin for his focus on making money and not raising money;
- Chamath Palihapitiya for his focus on CSR;
- Mike Dubin for showing that a sense of humor can pay off at Dollar Shave Club;
- Casper and Purple for blazing a DTC trail in this industry; my parents, both of whom are entrepreneurs; and
- My Techstars / Colorado network, which completely changed my life and career.
Any other advice you’d like to share with other aspiring entrepreneurs?
Start with a business model that you feel extremely passionate about. Make sure it’s sustainable, scalable, and profitable quickly, and don’t assume that you can raise a dime. If the financial model works, and you get initial traction and interest from customers, only then would I recommend someone move forward with producing a product. I’ve seen too many people spend too much time and money on products that were doomed from the start because the market didn’t want or need them, or the margins just couldn’t work to build a long-term profitable business.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now or open to new investors?
Not right now, but we’re always open to strategic hires or investors.