Nicole Tapscott was referred to her current job by a friend. Well, sort of. Tapscott’s friend, a resident of New York city, was raving about a purchase he’d recently made, and the product in question—a mattress from U.S. e-commerce retailer Casper Sleep—was such an unlikely candidate for consumer delight that Tapscott felt the need to find out more.
“I don’t think anyone’s ever said they were delighted by their mattress-buying experience,” laughs Tapscott. So enthusiastic was her friend about his dealings with the company that she reached out to the company and spoke with CEO Philip Krim, who told her how many requests he was getting to bring the product across the border. Tapscott signed on to help Casper do that, becoming general manager for Canada in December last year.
Tapscott draws a sharp contrast between the traditional mattress-buying process and the way her company works. Instead of including the costs of showrooms, cyclical promotions and salespeople’s commissions in the price of a mattress, Casper sells offers one kind of sleeping surface in six sizes, and priced between $725 and $1,275.
In the two years since it launched, Casper has sold more than $100 million worth of mattresses to more than 100,000 customers. Tapscott says the company’s growth shows that the industry was “tired, maybe even exhausted—not to use too many sleep puns—and it really needed to be upended.”
Here are three questions businesses looking to follow Casper’s disruptive example need to ask themselves.
1. What’s the problem?
Krim and his four co-founders came up with the Casper concept while working on an unrelated business at a New York co-working space. “They noticed that people were sleeping on couches [or] beanbag chairs, working all night and surviving off Red Bull,” Tapscott recounts. The group wondered why these people weren’t taking their shuteye seriously. The answer they arrived at: Setting up a restful sleep was too difficult a process.
Looking around yourself like the Casper founders did can be a great way to have this kind of ‘lightbulb moment’ says Tapscott. “Identify the areas in your life [where] you experience a product or service that you feel is sub-optimal,” she suggests.
2. How big is this opportunity?
Once you’ve found a pain point, you need to work out whether it’s unique to you, or if other people feel it too. “If you look at an industry that appears to be broken, is it broken for you [and] your demographic, or is it broken across the country [and] different groups of people?” she asks.
In Casper’s case, the sheer size of the mattress industry—$14 billion in the U.S., and about a tenth that in Canada—presented the answer. But Tapscott says the company also needed to understand the difference between the two sets of consumers. Canadians, for example, tend to avoid making big-ticket purchases online for fear of customs and duties. So Casper took care of those charges for all shipments across the border.
“Understand your local market needs,” Tapscott counsels. “Not everybody’s expectations or desires are the same in every market.”
3. Can you provide something better?
It’s not enough to provide a me-too or just-good-enough alternative to an existing product or service. To disrupt an industry, your offering needs to be a significant improvement on what’s currently available. “If you provide better-quality products [or services] all of a sudden you elevate a very traditional transaction,” says Tapscott.
Rather than offer an incremental upgrade, Casper invented a whole new category, Tapscott claims. “We weren’t simply taking a spring mattress and selling it online,” she says. Casper focused on the engineering and the delivery process, creating a highly-rated sleep surface and a packing process that fits its mattresses into a box the size of a mini-fridge. When demand outstripped supply post-launch, the company sent customers rollup mattresses as placeholders until they could fulfill the orders.
Tapscott says that kind of investment in user happiness has to be at the core of your transformative business plan. “You may want to disrupt an industry, but you want a consumer to have a better experience with your product over someone else’s.”
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