Welcome back to Products Worth Talking About — the show about disruptive physical products and the people who built them. In today’s episode, we dive between the sheets as we chat with Colin McIntosh from Sheets & Giggles. We talk about the crazy inspiration for this company, his methodology for coming up with great brand names, and why most brands’ Instagrams are just plain boring!
Colin opens up about the pain of going through a layoff, and with so many people going through a similar situation forced by COVID-19, we believe you’ll get as much value as we did out of this discussion with Colin.
Let’s get cozy, put our feet up, and hear what Colin had to say.
Colin has always been an ideas man, and whenever he thought of a great business name, would buy the ‘name.com’ — so much so that he became a serial domain buyer. In the movie War Dogs, starring Jonah Hill, the character sells sheets out of the back of his car. Colin watched this character struggling to sell sheets to a retirement home and started analyzing how this character has all of this inventory and does not understand his core customer, doesn’t understand his pricing, and doesn’t understand the value proposition. That night, Colin wrote a business plan for a bed sheets company.
“Whenever I write a business plan, I bite on and gravitate towards … a funny name for blank. What’s a funny name for a bedsheets company? I [thought] Sheets & Giggles. That’s a funny name.” – Colin McIntosh
Colin immediately snapped up all the social handles for Sheets & Giggles too, which works well from a consistency perspective.
Colin’s previous company, Revolar, makers of discreet safety devices that send location-based distress signals, is where he wrote the original business plan in 2013 and honed that skill for Sheets & Giggles. Unfortunately, that all came to a crashing halt a few Mondays after thinking about Sheets & Giggles in 2017; at 1:00 PM he and his colleagues were laid off.
“We were talking about the last three or four years, how we had put so much into this company. I ended up telling my friends I got this idea for this company called Sheets & Giggles. I can’t stop thinking about the bedsheets company. My friends thought I lost my mind!” – Colin McIntosh
At that time the bed sheet industry was a massive commodities market with zero brand differentiation or brand loyalty. All the competitors were boring, and the market felt ready for a shakeup. With no good sustainable options on the market, everything was cotton and extremely water-intensive material. Colin learned all of this just by watching documentaries, and he became obsessed with learning from all the mistakes made at the previous company.
All these ingredients aligned for Colin to create a disruptive bed sheet company ready to inject some fun into a stale industry.
Colin follows four rules when he’s thinking about creating brand names:
Number 1: It has to be scalable, shareable, and memorable. No misspellings of common words and no fake words. Becoming scalable, shareable, and memorable will increase the word-of-mouth potential.
Number 2: It needs to denote what you do as a company. Casper is an example, you know what they do. He’s the friendly ghost and he comes out at night to help you sleep better. Sheets & Giggles demonstrates that they sell sheets, and even the competitors, Brooklinen, add “linen” on the end of their name, which is migrated branding.
Number 3: You must create really good SEO around it. If somebody searches for you, they must find you — not another competitor.
Number 4: To sell to Americans, you must have a .com. People in the States are less likely to buy your product on .net, .co, or .us, which is why you must find a .com to optimize sales.
Colin did a fantastic job with owning ‘Sheetsgiggles.com’ — hitting all four rules is a bullseye! If you’re evaluating your brand name, three out of four is good enough too.
Having “the brand” is one thing, trying to create “the voice” is an entirely different challenge.
Colin has a bit of an advantage over the rest of us here — his love of writing goes back to his school days.
“I’ve always loved writing. I went to a great high school, [had] really good professors at Emory University, and my favorite class was Shakespeare. Another piece of it [was knowing] how to avoid 99% of mistakes on the SAT grammar section.” – Colin McIntosh
Colin developed his creative writing around a deep understanding of language and how to avoid typical mistakes made in writing. College birthed his fiction writing, which was always filled with humor.
Revolar was a very serious brand. No humor. Colin was asked to proofread some copy and would respond with the errors before it went out. His comments weren’t well received, and so after that, he was never allowed to touch the copy again.
Imagine that — considering people say that the main reason Sheets & Giggles sell bedsheets successfully is the copy!
Up until the last two months, Colin oversaw the writing for every piece of copy, either crafting it from scratch or getting a bare-bones piece from a team member. Colin would build it out into long-form pieces, emails, websites, social — even ads. That created a bottleneck which they’ve only just rectified by hiring a content manager.
“When I [wrote] the job description for the content manager, I described it as, ‘If you think you can write for Seinfeld, come write for us instead.’ People come into the company and they have beliefs of what a consumer brand should do or act like. They say, ‘So what is our brand about?’ And I said, ‘Well, what’s Seinfeld about?’ And they [responded] ‘nothing.’ We’re a brand about nothing.” – Colin McIntosh
Sheets & Giggles has given themselves the freedom to be funny and have a lot of fun with our audience.
They have trained their audience to read every word because there are surprises and prizes on the site to find. This means people spend more time on each page before they exit — it’s a little game for them. Crucially, this gives Sheets & Giggles more time to convert them because they’re reading more copy.
Putting prizes in their copy on their website is one of the smartest concepts we’ve heard on this show! It’s as though they have an easter egg hunt on their site!
Sheets & Giggles may have the freedom to have fun with their copy, but they try to do it within specific guidelines.
“These guidelines really help us — we’re funny but not rude, crude, or juvenile. Punny but not corny, smart but not condescending. We’re sarcastic but never caustic. There are certain things that we do [have] to make sure that we don’t go overboard on anything. Generally speaking, the rule that I have is, if your most uptight customer in the world saw this, what is the worst thing that can happen?” – Colin McIntosh
When Sheets & Giggles started, the three major consumer brands in bedding were Parachute, Brooklinnen, and Boll and Branch. If you looked at all their Instagrams and shuffled their posts, you would not be able to tell the difference between the three of them.
Colin decided to go in with a totally blank canvas.
“Our first photoshoot, I had me and a bunch of my buddies get together, probably about 12 of my friends. It was Superbowl Sunday, 2018. I remember it because Tom Brady lost and couldn’t complete the comeback. My friends and I drank whiskey, we ate pizza, we smoked cigars.” – Colin McIntosh
Sounds like the perfect photoshoot for us! They created one photo that ended up becoming their most successful advertising photo by far. The photo was Colin and two of his buddies, Dan and Tony, all of them with beards, with the avocado face masks on with a glass of red wine, just talking to each other in bed with the sheets over their legs — perfectly encapsulating the brand in one picture.
Knowing how the idea was formed, the inspiration behind starting the company, and how Colin develops the brand voice — we’re curious about the launch.
“Chaos. I wasn’t sleeping. I didn’t sleep for a year. I think we started working earnestly on January 2nd, 2018. We already had the logo design, we had been doing materials research and manufacturing meetings for three months, understanding the space and building this knowledge base, writing business plans, financial models, but January was where [we launched]. I wanted to bring this to life in a totally organic consumer-driven way to prove this brand works. I worked backward from our goals [to create a launch plan].” – Colin McIntosh
Colin shares his formulas to help us understand what needs to happen to hit your internal goals without getting investors. He stipulates that whatever your internal goal is, 30% must happen on day one. Otherwise, you won’t hit the other 70% of your goal for the rest of the 29 days.
Let’s use $100,000 as an example of a goal, that means you need $30,000 on day one. The average person buys 1.5 units which is a $100 average order value. To reach $30,000 on day one with $100 average order value, you need 300 customers.
Now we have 300 customers as a useful target, and we can work backwards from there to figure out the work needed to achieve it.
Email converts reasonably at about 3%, 2% of you do something bad, 4% of you have something good, 1% if you’re terrible and 5% if you are amazing. To reach 300 customers at a 3% conversion rate from an email list means a total of 10,000 emails are needed.
Sheets & Giggles created Facebook ads and campaigns saying ‘Hey if you enter email, you’re locking into the best price you’ll ever get on the best bed sheets you’ll ever touch in your entire life.’
They qualified ‘the best sheets’ because they are softer than cotton, more breathable, cooling, moisture-wicking, and zero static — and on top of that, they’re sustainable. Bed, Bath, and Beyond sell their eucalyptus option for $180 for a King set and so the email subscribers locked the price in for $69 plus shipping. That first week they produced their first 1000 emails.
They ended up with 11,000 emails and converted their email list at 4% on day one! That’s $45,000 when their goal was $30,000. Sheets & Giggles ended up doing $284,000 over the course of the campaign.
This example demonstrates the power of effective email campaigning and how to understand the work needed to create your desired outcome.
We always ask the founders about their habits to hear what they think contributed to their success. We picked up on a couple of just listening to him — his ability to learn and execute quickly and effectively, is a big one. But when we asked, we didn’t quite get the answer we were expecting.
“I only have bad habits. In fact, I have imposter syndrome, and I have a funny story on that.” – Colin McIntosh
(Imposter syndrome is the feeling that you don’t deserve the success or accomplishments that you have because you’re just an imposter despite evidence to the contrary.)
“It’s common in everybody. I was sitting next to the co-founder of Craftsy on a panel, discussing imposter syndrome. They said, ‘We’re gonna start … by asking ‘What [does] imposter syndrome [mean] to you?’ Everybody had a very nice answer going down the line. It was a big crowd, probably a 500-person crowd, and [my answer] was ‘Imposter syndrome was a feeling I have by being on this panel sitting next to [successful CEOs]!’ – Colin McIntosh
Colin doesn’t have a typical entrepreneur, founder, or CEO routine. In fact, it’s a little ironic that the one thing Colin needs to be better at is sleeping! With a haphazard schedule, he works according to what is required day to day and only has a staff meeting at 10 AM scheduled daily.
The biggest thing Colin attributes his success to is talking to mentors and advisors.
With mentors playing such a pivotal role in Colin’s business success, we asked him for any advice on how to find a mentor.
“I’m very privileged in the sense that I’ve been through Techstars twice. I went once as a 25-year-old and again as a 29-year-old. The first time around I was living in Seattle and I dropped what I was doing, quit my job, and drove 20 hours to Denver because I knew it would be transformative for my career trajectory. The former VP of global sales at Sphero became my lead mentor that summer. Joe Houlihan taught me everything I know about consumer electronics and retail. Then my manager at my last company, Laura Sanchez — I learned so much from her on retail and distribution, and logistics.” – Colin McIntosh
Part of it is getting the opportunity to go through a program like Techstars where a mentor network falls in your lap. There’s another part to it though.
“I think if you’re 23, 24, 25, and you’re working at a startup, the best advice I can give people is go in early, stay until 10:00 pm, take out the trash, drink a ton of coffee, make a ton of coffee, do the little things, ask if you can help in certain ways, and find somebody in the company that you connect with on a personal level. Ask to get lunch with people. Say yes to events, and go to every event. It’s easier if you’re an extrovert, [but] if you don’t make that part of your educational process, then your opportunity won’t fall in your lap because you won’t let it.” – Colin McIntosh
What great advice to wrap up this episode of Products Worth Talking About.
We truly appreciated Colin joining us and giving us an inside view into the life cycle of Sheets & Giggles! We hope you enjoyed reading this post, and if you learned something today, we would love to hear from you. Take a screenshot of the episode and share your most significant takeaways with us on Instagram, @productsworthtalkingabout. You can watch the full show on YouTube, and remember to subscribe so that you can get new content delivered to you directly! Let us know what products and brands you want us to review or what founders you’d like us to interview!
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Thanks for reading! Until next time —
R.T. and Tyler