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Best of Bootstrapping: Tuft & Needle CEO Bootstraps to Over $100 Million

Posted on Friday, Aug 9th 2019

Online mattress is the hottest e-commerce category these days, and here is yet another one delivering venture-scale growth without venture capital. Tuft & Needle CEO JT Marino shares his story.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?

JT Marino: I was born in Phoenix, but I grew up in Pennsylvania. I went to Penn State. That’s where I met my co-founder, Daehee Park. From there, my career took me to Silicon Valley working for several startups. That’s where my co-founder and I stuck together. We were at a company at Palo Alto and we decided that we wanted to build something of our own. Based on our previous experience with startups, we wanted to do it a different way.

We wanted to avoid raising capital. We wanted to avoid software. We wanted to try something totally different and focus it around a problem that we understood and that we had personal experience with. That’s essentially my background. I’m a software engineer and designer focusing on product development.

Sramana Mitra: What kind of company in Silicon Valley did you work for?

JT Marino: It was a high-tech software startup devolping web and mobile applications. It raised a significant amount of money, but it wasn’t necessarily a name you might recognize. My background was primarily product development within software.

Sramana Mitra: You decided to move to Arizona because?

JT Marino: We wanted to build this company in a sustainable way. A company that was profitable from the beginning and didn’t need capital investments. That meant we had to get very scrappy which included cutting our own costs, hiring in a less competitive environment, and being able to reduce our rent.

Later on, as we ended up incorporating in Phoenix, we learned more and more that there’s a lot of upside here that we didn’t even realize. There’s an enormously large pool of talent that comes out of Phoenix and goes to Silicon Valley. We had this pool we could recruit from. Another is that the attitudes of people in Phoenix are more in line with our attitude and culture as a company.

Sramana Mitra: Tell me the founding story. How did you zero in on the idea of what kind of a business you were going to build?

JT Marino: We wanted to start a company together. We had talked about it in college.

Sramana Mitra: How many people are we talking about?

JT Marino: It was just me and my best friend. We wanted to start something on our own. We actually had an idea. The idea came from an experience I personally had. I had to go shopping for a mattress. Suffice it to say, it was the worst shopping experience of my life. It was very confusing. This idea kept coming back to us. As we poked around, we realized that it wasn’t just me who’s experiencing this.

We asked people what their experience has been. What we did next was we wrote down every single thing that we had experienced as a problem using the mattress. We took this and wrote at the top, “The Hate List.” We took that list and built a test website. This was in June of 2012. Based on our list, we essentially described what the mattress would be like. It was the whole thesis.

We got a photo stock image of a mattress and launched the site. We took out a Google Ad. 15 minutes later, we made a sale. We didn’t have a product. That sale didn’t complete, but there was an attempt at processing the transaction. That was our signal that we were onto something.

Our discussion continues here.

This segment is a part in the series : Best of Bootstrapping

. Bootstrapping to an Exit
. Why is Bootstrapping Important?
. How Can You Play this Low-Probability Game Intelligently?
. Do NOT Go to VCs as Beggars - Go as Kings
. Excess is NOT Required for Success
. Bootstrap First and Raise Money Later
. Some Bootstrapping to Exit Case Studies
. The Buy Side of Bootstrapping to an Exit
. Blitzscaling vs. Bootstrapping
. Bootstrapping to Unicorns
. Cinedigm Acquires Bootstrapped 1Mby1M Company Future Today for $60 Million
. Mailchimp Bootstraps to $600M Revenue
. Bootstrapping from Arizona to $10 Million
. Bootstrapped Basecamp Executes a No Nonsense Strategy
. How Under30Experiences Bootstrapped to $5 Million
. Bootstrapping with a Paycheck
. How CEO Amjad Hussain Bootstrapped using Services from Michigan
. Seed Investors Who Like Bootstrapped Businesses
. How iHeartRaves CEO Bootstrapped a Niche e-Commerce Company to $20 Million
. Bootstrapping with Services
. How The Intern Group CEO David Lloyd Bootstrapped to $13 Million
. How Passageways CEO Paroon Chadha Bootstrapped from Indiana
. How SmartBuyGlasses CEO David Menning Bootstrapped to $50 Million
. Death by Overfunding
. How RainmakerForce CEO Mack Sundaram Bootstrapped Decisively to $5 Million+
. How FormAssembly CEO Bootstrapped a Virtual Company with a Paycheck
. TimeSlips CEO Mitch Russo Bootstrapped to Exit with Sage
. The VC-Entrepreneur Compensation Disbalance
. BioConnect CEO Bootstraps with Sophisticated Strategic Maneuvering
. Tremend CEO Marius Hanganu Bootstraps from Romania
. Gesture CEO Jim Alvarez Bootstraps to $10 Million
. SproutLoud CEO Bootstraps to $30 Million from Florida
. Tuft & Needle CEO Bootstraps to Over $100 Million
. Co-founders Bootstrap Linguamatics to Over $10M from the UK
. Ownership Matters
. Vainu Co-founder Mikko Honkanen Bootstraps from Finland
. Entrepreneur Couple Bootstraps to $10M from Colorado
. Power2Motivate CEO Bootstraps to $80M from Canada
. Financial DNA CEO Bootstraps to $10M+ from Australia
. Big Barker CEO Bootstraps a Niche E-commerce Brand
. PrecisionLender CEO Bootstraps to Over $10M from North Carolina
. Master Bootstrappers with Over $1B in Exits
. Ultra Mobile Founder Bootstraps to Over $100 Million
. Bootstrapping a Two-Sided Marketplace to $10M
. Can You Bootstrap a Virtual Company to Over $5 Million?
. Capital Efficient Entrepreneurs Turn $1M into $80M
. Discussing the Journey Through Failure to Success
. From a Small Town to $12 Million
. Bootstrapping to Y Combinator and $10 Million Series A
. Bootstrapping a Marketplace to Over $10 Million
. Freightwise Bootstraps to $33 Million
. Bootstraps First to $5M ARR, Raises $10M Later
. Bootstraps in Europe, Raises Money and Goes Global in the US
. English Major Bootstraps a Tech Company
. Bootstraps with a Paycheck to $15M from Tennessee
. Queue-It Bootstraps from Denmark to the US
. Bootstrapping A Virtual Company To $25M
. ActiveCampaign CEO Bootstraps Using Services to $40M
. Alteryx Bootstrapped with Services to a Public Unicorn
. Inspyrus Bootstraps Using Services to an Awesome Business Model
. CEO Bootstraps Using Services to Millions from Russia
. Wiredrive CEO Bootstraps Using Services to $10M
. Scaling to Over $10M by Bootstrapping Using Services
. Bootstraps Using Services from Poland to a US SaaS Company
. ButcherBox CEO Bootstraps a Perishable Meat Business to Significant Scale
. Waveform CEO Bootstraps to $8M
. Bootstrapped Entrepreneurship from Estonia
. From Laid-off Engineer to Successful Startup CEO
. Imagine Easy Solutions CEO Bootstraps to Exit
. BannerBuzz CEO Bootstraps to $35M
. Bootstrapping a Virtual Company to Scale
. Bootstrapping Using Services from Wisconsin
. Best Tactic for B2B Startups
. Bootstrapping by Piggybacking from Romania
. Bootstrap First, Then Scale with VC Funds
. Bootstrap to +$10M First, Raise Money Later
. Madwire CEO Bootstrapped First, Raised Money Later to $120M
. Bootstrap Using Services First, Raise Money Later

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