Rich Fulop and Dave Fortune, MBA Class of 2014
A few weeks before starting at Stern in August 2012, Rich and his wife took a short trip to Las Vegas. While in Vegas, Rich and his wife stayed at the Wynn Las Vegas, where Rich had an experience that got him started on the path to starting his own business. As Rich tells it, “The sheets at the Wynn were the most comfortable sheets I’d ever slept on, but when I went to the gift shop to look into buying some, I was shocked to find out they were $800 a set.” After a bit of investigation, Rich came to realize there wasn’t any in the market offering really high quality bedding at an affordable price. Rich continued, “the bedding market is really fragmented and there’s just a ton of misinformation out there. It’s hard to find good sheets and even harder to find a good deal.”
After LAUNCH, Rich put the business idea on the back burner for a little while, but when he began getting serious about starting a business, he realized he would need some help. He recruited fellow Sternies, David Fortune and Ben Hyman to help him get the idea off the ground. Rich, David and Ben were all blockmates and had also previously worked together, brainstorming business ideas, so they were familiar with the strengths and experience each of them could bring to the table. Rich would handle marketing and strategy, having previously worked in sales on Wall Street and marketing/strategy for the MLS. David would be responsible for financial, accounting, and legal, having previously practiced law and accounting, while Ben would handle logistics relying on his experience in factories in Southeast Asia.
Over the summer, Rich and Ben began contacting factories around the world to identify potential suppliers. Later in the summer, they both visited factories overseas to begin building relationships and working out supply terms. In August, the trio incorporated their business as Brooklinen, rented some office space, and printed business cards, then got down to the business of building the “Warby Parker of bedding.”
They set out to create a brand that offered products that were stylish and high quality, while offering affordable prices and having a transparent supply chain. They knew they’d need to combat some common misconceptions prevalent in the bedding industry to succeed, in particular, the belief that thread count equates with quality.
Brooklinen currently work with a factory in the Middle East, as well as factories here in the New York area (including one in Greenpoint, located a few blocks from Brooklinen’s office). The company has managed to design a product that would typically cost around $500 retail and offer it for $100 by cutting out costs that don’t add to the user experience such as licensing, slotting, wholesalers, and tariffs.
One of the biggest challenges they faced was getting up to speed on an industry where none of them had ever worked. The team spent a significant amount of time doing basic background research on the industry, reading about textiles, the bedding industry, consumer habits and the like. They also spent months tracking down suppliers and trying to identify factories that could make high quality products that were also willing to work with them on small, custom batch manufacturing.
The process of finding suppliers provided the trio with one of the key lessons they have learned in starting a new business: when you’re the little guy, things take time – suppliers don’t jump at your beck and call.
Another thing they have learned is that as founders, you’ve got to always be selling the business, even to your suppliers. As David put it, “at this stage, we’re a small fry for most of our suppliers and if we hadn’t been able to convince them that the idea has legs and we can execute it, they wouldn’t have been willing to play ball.”
The biggest positive surprise in getting started was how much everyone is rooting for you to succeed and how many people are willing to go out of their way to help you. We’ve gotten so much support from the Stern community.
On the flipside, it was surprising how hard it is to keep to a timetable. Every time you think you’ve got things figured out, another problem pops up to slow you down. It’s hard enough to get everything done on your own end that you have to get done, not to mention how many other people’s schedules you’re constantly working around to try to make sure you pull everything off.
Another big surprise was how much pressure there can be in the b-school setting to try to go and recruit, and to look at other offers/options. If you’re here at Stern, you’ve got lots of opportunities in front of you, so it’s hard not to get distracted or wonder if you’re making a huge mistake. Ben actually took another job and will be going to do that after school.
To date, Brooklinen is still being funded by family and friends. We have had some preliminary discussions with more traditional funders but at this point we are looking to complete our Kickstarter before we try to raise the next round of funds. The company is also applying to some incubators and accelerators for this summer, and assuming all goes well, we’re both hoping to work on this full time this summer. We’re hoping to launch a full line of sheets (6-8 patterns and colors) over the summer on our webstore and continue to build the brand and expand organically. Ideally, we’ll eventually begin offering other fabrics/lines (performance fabrics, organic, Made in Brooklyn) and related products (e.g. pajamas, towels, etc.).
As far as advice for other Sternies looking to get a business started, the founders recommend that you don’t wait – everything will take longer than you expect and there’s will be numerous delays you can’t anticipate. This is a golden opportunity to take a risk, and the sooner you start working on your idea, the sooner you can start seeing results.
Brooklinen’s Kickstarter begins on 4/21, and orders should begin shipping in June.