Episode 5: Jas Bagniewski – Underground Caves To The Best Selling Product On Groupon Ever

Show Notes

Jas was at Rocket Internet, and set up a few companies. He sold City Deal to Groupon and ran Zolando which was the biggest ecommerce company to come out of Europe. Groupon was focussed on services, so Jas decided to look at high margin products that could be sourced locally and they done a mattress deal on Groupon. From idea to launch, they made a website, went to a few manufacturers. One of the manufacturers said they are biggest and can handle 20,000+ mattresses. They put the deal live and sold 6,000 mattresses on the first day! They then went back to the manufacturers and told them they had secured 6,000 orders that need to be delivered in one month. 

They worked with a company in Blackburn who ended up digging tunnels at the back of their office to keep the production going because neighbours had complained and closed down the office. 

How did you launch 3 companies while working full time?

The companies that Jas launched were actually for Rocket Internet. Their initial idea for Europe was to launch a few companies and eBay seemed the most interesting. They went to eBay and said they want to take it to Europe, eBay didn’t think Europe would be interested in ecommerce, so the Samwer brothers built a mini eBay themselves and 100 days later they sold it for 50 milion. They also sold the company Jamster and City Deal.

How did you go from idea to launching on Groupon in a space of just two weeks!

Jas was quite lucky to have three people working with him. All three focussed on different areas, Jas focussed on building websites, another person focussed on sourcing the product and the last person focussed on logistics, delivery, customer service, etc. 

Broadly speaking, Marketing, Web/Product Management and Fund Raising are the three areas you need to focus on when launching a product on Groupon. 

Millions of things get sold on Groupon, how did you know what would work?

A guy contacted him from Groupon, that was from a Groupon store on Phoenix and identified that selling mattresses was so popular it crashed it site, so it was luck of the draw, they expected to sell 50–100, but sold 6,000.

How did you iterate the product for those 6,000 mattresses? 

At the time Jas missed his train and he had 15 minutes to make a decision, so he sat on quite a few mattresses and chose the one which was within his price range and ordered those!

Since then, they’ve gone through multiple iterations and when someone called and told us they wanted to return the product they used that research top optimise a mattress that would work well for people.

As they expanded, they got product specialists and mattress experts and told them they wanted it to be cooler, and bouncier, they done all this research while selling on Groupon. By this time they had sold over 75,000 mattresses and had a very good idea of what works. 

At what point where you ready to leave the corporate world to go off on your own?

Jas always wanted to eventually leave, he left the Samwer brothers multiple times and failed every time and they took him back every time. There’s about 40,000 people now but at the time there was only about 30 people, so in the beginning they gave him an equity stake to go out and build a company in Poland. The more Jas did it, the more he realised he wanted to run his own company. 

When you failed, what were your lessons from these failures?

  1. It’s really important to hire good people. Initially they hired young people because they were confident enough to tell these guys what to do, but eventually you realise all the knowledge is coming from you. At Eve Sleep now, they have people who are incredible and just get on with it from a variety of backgrounds once you explain to them what the strategy is. 
  2. Raising a lot of money. They raised very aggressively until they got to 57m, this gives you some buffer and allows you to take some risk because you’ve got room for error. 

As someone who’s very experienced in raising money, what did you learn throughout this process and what’s the best way to raise funding?

Honestly, you just got to keep on doing it. The more you do it, the better you get. You’ll get a lot of push back so you’ll hear a lot of rejection and so you’ve just got to be very thick skinned. 

One of the Samwer brothers, introduced them to most of the VCs in London which really helped. However it’s about building something big, don’t get caught on the small details, focus on what the vision is and where you can take mattresses. 

What did you learn from these brothers that were clearly very influential in your life?

Jas worked on an internet company and he had no idea where to start. They mentioned to him that he needed to him think big but focus small, what’s the next things you need to do. Think in tiny steps and add up.

Work harder than anybody else. Not in terms of sitting in front of a computer, but think from the perspective of never giving up and taking a no for an answer. 

On a personal level, where do you get that drive from?

Jas really enjoys the process, with a market cap at 150m it’s great but that wasn’t the goal from the outset. He just loves the process, proving people wrong, but doesn’t enjoy things just because they are successful and it’s for these reasons that he enjoyed the ones that failed just as much as he enjoyed the ones that succeeded. 

Your focussed changed from Sales to actually doing branding, how did that transition happen?

Kuba Wieczore was about to setup a branding agency. They wanted to build something more substantial, so he jumped on board as one of the main co-founders. 

How do you keep people interested in just one product?

It’s about inspiring customers when they first come across your product because it’s a onetime purchase. They do now have 15 products on the website and they intend to keep adding more as the years go by. 

What was your drive to keep your mattress simple as opposed to making iterations and launching pocket sprung, memory foam etc.?

When they launched on Groupon they only launched one time of mattress. It was difficult to explain to customers what “soft” or “firm”. As they started talking with customers, they realised that if they offer a 100 day trial customers can decide for themselves if the product if right for them so they made it instrumental to their marketing. It’s like when you go to a hotel room, you don’t ask about the type of bed, you just expect a comfortable bed and that’s what Eve is.

What are the key elements of creating a distinctive brand?

  1. A point of view. So many mattresses out there, they got stuck on there that’s interesting. Every great day starts the night before. No sleep brand talks about being awake.
  2. Simple, catchy message and making something interesting.

How do you deal with copycat brands that start cropping up? 

Guys in the US done some clever PR things that Eve could do, some of their competitors could go into retail stores and do things in a better way than them, but they been doing so much longer with more markets and products. 

Eve Sleep is more of a leader in the market because they’ve been doing it longer than everybody else so they ensure they keep current by being creative. 

How do you keep innovating as a company and as a brand to stay at the forefront of the industry?

Although they hired people, none of the leadership are from the Mattress Industry. They bring the best from amazing companies from all around the UK and just fuse together the best of what everybody brings. 

One day they had an investor who said they’ve never invested in a company without seeing their offices, so they rented an office for one day and got a lot of friends to sit with their laptops on the desks. They then had the investor meeting which was about 10 minutes at which point they tried on the mattress and sat on it — this is a real story about being creative and that’s what the branding and the mattress brings. 

How do you do things differently?

It’s hard, there’s a few boring things they would have done differently i.e. perhaps not launch in certain markets too fast, didn’t take the restrictions of other markets too seriously etc. However when you look around there’s a lot to be grateful for. You work with your buddies and cousins, and you have an amazing company with people you love and a market cap at £150m, it’s hard to think of the failures. There’s a few boring things like a poor accounting software, but that’s insignificant. 

By the time they launched Eve, they knew exactly what to do to make it a success because they had already experienced a lot of the failures prior to launching Eve. 

How did you convince investors without having a brand, offices, and email lists etc.? How did you convey to them you’re a serious company? 

The whole process from idea to launch took about 5 months and they had an incredible team which made them seem credible because they knew the category really well. Their first round of funding was at £600k, which was pretty small for a VC. They were very lean initially and Jas lived off the money he made from selling mattresses.

However, what investors want to see is some traction. A lot of the £600k went into marketing, tech and IT but as they started seeing press and traction, they started investing more money in the later rounds. 

They didn’t raise money until they were really confident that it would work?

They were a money machine from day one by making £2m so they didn’t feel the need to go to investors. This time he just had an amazing brand and he felt so confident that he knew exactly what he was doing, and so much so that they said well if it doesn’t work we should just give up. Everything was aligned to perfection.

When you did the Marketing Strategies initially, how did you promote to market? Was it key words or growth hacking strategies?

When they first went to market they got a bit of press because they raised funding. Their product was for the consumer market so it generated more interested. The next 3–4 months they focussed on Google Ads and keyword bidding which Jas had done while at Rocket Internet. As they grew, they focussed on Facebook Ads and had an agency to help with that, and as they grew very big they tried TV and Underground, but it’s very expensive so if you do it, ensure you have a financial buffer to iterate and fail like A/B testing. 

Press: funding round, it got a bit of interest, google ads, keyword bidding, 3–4 

What‘s our advice for going into business with friends and family?

When it’s good, it’s great, but when it’s bad it’s a disaster. Jas and Kuba think very similarly despite coming from different backgrounds. They have completely different skills but think along the same lines. There’s not a right solution for this. Two of Jas’s friends left Eve Sleep, but they still remained good friends.

A lot of nasty things were said and done but you need to remember your friends and family above all else. 

Did you have any formal process in place to catch up with each other? 

Not really, we’re family so there’s no formal process. You’ve got to be thick skinned and comfortable with what people say about you. It requires you to have humility and when you’re wrong the ability to say sorry. It’s okay to disagree with each other but because of how busy they both are there’s no formalities in place because family trumps business. 

How did you deal with naysayers and those saying your ideas won’t work?

Honestly, it came from years and years being in the game. After a while it doesn’t affect you anymore. If people are wrong then that’s great, and if people are right then that’s fine too. In the beginning you’ll remember all those that said you won’t be successful, but later on you’ll see those exact same people either switch or continue to say those things so you realise it doesn’t really matter what anybody thinks. 

With your mattresses you went to market without a product, would you recommend this strategy?

It doesn’t matter because with each batch they sent it was iterated from the last. The first was good enough but they made changes as they went along, and now they have some of the best reviews in the country

How to manage control and still without overseeing too heavily what people are doing?

The 6–7 direct reports have constant communication with Jas and they are discussing things all day. Initially Jas used to micro manage, but now he tried not to interfere. The people he’s working with are some of the best in the industry and they’ve earned the ability to be able to be left with what they need to do because they’ve proven and delivered time and time again. Remember the goal is not to be in control because you don’t need to. Overtime you’ll get the balance right.

How did you cope mentally during the difficult time?

Even when the business wasn’t doing well, Jas loved every moment of it. As part of his morning routine he’d go for a surf in California at 6am before the kids got up. This was his way of coping, but also that he surrounded himself with friends and family that even in the worst of times things didn’t seem too bad. 

How did you embed you vision and culture in people?

Jas chose people that were a lot more sociable than him including James and Kuba. These guys were a lot more fun! Jas mentions that he’s approachable but he likes to focus and let people who are more sociable take control in places that are the their strengths. He’s seen companies with good cultures thrive and those that don’t have good cultures tend to fall apart very quickly. 

What advice would you have for a company that’s looking to scale as quickly as Eve Sleep?

  1. Start funding rounds asap. Once you get the money in, raise even more money even if you don’t need to. Investors have the ability to sense desperation and you always want to be in a position where you don’t need it because this energy comes across. 
  2. Hire the best people. 

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