Conversation with Charisse Swartzburg, Founder & Dreamer in Chief, iDreamBest, LLC
Using Sleep Deprivation & the Scientific Method
December 6, 2017
1. What is your business?
My business is called iDreamBest, and we sell CozyCloud Deluxe pillows. Our pillows are made in the USA from CertiPUR-US® certified shredded memory foam and sold exclusively through Amazon Prime. CertiPUR-US® certifies that our foam is as pure as you can find on the market today: no mercury, lead, formaldehyde, phthalates or anything else you wouldn’t want to be sleeping next to. We use shredded memory foam because, unlike the one solid block of memory foam, shredded foam contours to the shape of the head and neck. We tested many kinds of foam and fiber combinations, and we determined that the current shredded memory foam composition that we are using was the best way to go.
The bamboo cover keeps the pillow cool at night and this is important for anyone who experiences night sweats. In addition, bamboo is hypoallergenic, and this was important to me because my daughter is asthmatic and the pillow is great for chronic allergy sufferers.
2. What made you decide to start your business and/or switch careers?
We started this business after I became a mother, and I became painfully aware of the impact of poor sleep on my health. I had difficulty sleeping due to neck pain. I had been to the doctor, the acupuncturist, bought expensive massages, but the pain was chronic. We changed our bed to see if that could help, and but we still had old, bad pillows. My husband also had sleep troubles—he was sleeping with 2-3 pillows and snoring and tossing and turning. This business really started with the thought: what if I could make the ideal pillow?
As you know, everyone sleeps, and good quality sleep is the cheapest form of stress relief. In addition to sleeping, the quality of a person’s sleep is important.
I partnered with a manufacturer, and I used my background in biotech clinical trials to test them. We made eight iterations, I had friends give me feedback, I slept on all of them, and we whittled them down to the top two. For me, the key considerations were, “What was the quality of my sleep?” and “How was my neck pain in the morning?” We narrowed down the eight options to two pillows, but we couldn’t decide whether the softer version or the firmer version was best. Ultimately, we decided to sell both.
3. Was there one moment that gave you the confidence that this was a good idea?
I had such trouble with sleep before I had my ideal pillow, and I figured that there must be other people like me. Whenever I read the Amazon online reviews of my pillow, I know I am doing the right thing. There is a reason why we have 4.5 stars on Amazon. When you get a positive review it means to me that we are helping people. When we get negative reviews, we reach out to see how we can help the reviewer. Usually, it is exchanging the pillow for a softer or firmer version.
4. What are some successes you have had with your business that make you proud?
In the past eight months, we have sold over 9,000 pillows. As you may know, there are many kinds of pillows sold on Amazon. Our pillow is shredded memory foam, and even with that composition filling, we have many pillow competitors. Amazon is an open marketplace, but if you provide a well-designed pillow and provide thoughtful customer service, you will succeed.
In order to get on Amazon Prime, we had to apply for brand registry. So now we own the brand CozyCloud Deluxe Pillow on Amazon Prime, and Amazon helps us protect the name. Sometimes I am on the phone with Amazon for hours to get a fake seller listing removed.
I found that the trick with standing out on Amazon is recognizing that there are many sellers and committing to advertising. And to be clear, advertising on Amazon is effectively paying for clicks. We got sales immediately after advertising—it was almost instantaneous, probably the same day. The sales started out slowly—one here, one there–because we had no reviews. Some purchasers wait for 20 Verified Purchaser reviews before they buy, so that was our key hurdle. Once we hit that magic number of 20 reviews, the company very quickly was at break even.
5. What are some of your current challenges?
The next focus for us is becoming a federally accredited woman-owned business. Becoming accredited as a woman-owned business came out of an offer from Amazon. Amazon reached out to us to ask whether we wanted to become an Amazon Business seller. This basically meant that our pillow business had sufficient volume to qualify to sell to Amazon’s corporate or bulk buyers. Before we can be an Amazon Business seller, though, we need to go through an Amazon accreditation program.
And then once we started down the bulk business path, we also started to realize the power of becoming accredited as a Women-Owned Small Businesses (WOSB is run by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Apparently, this program used to be focused on helping minority-owned businesses compete for government contracts, but now it has been extended to women-owned. Since iDreamBest is majority woman-owned, I felt like that could be a nice next step. We have the volume to fulfill large orders, and I liked the idea of extending the company into something that had a similar volume angle as Amazon. It felt like only a small iteration to another avenue of sales.
6. What are some of the biggest positive or negative surprises in your business?
Fake sellers. I didn’t know that there were so many groups on Amazon that weren’t real until I had this pillow business. Anybody in any corner of the world can sell on Amazon, and when we first launched there were foreign sellers copying our listing and trying to sell our product. Amazon would take down the bad listings, but it took a while.
Now, I am constantly looking to find fake sellers and that is why the Verified Purchaser reviews are so valuable. In our Seller profile, we note the possibility of unintentionally buying from a copycat of CozyCloud and reiterate that only purchases from iDreamBest will be covered by our 10-year warranty.
7. Have there been positive or negative impacts on your family and work/life balance once your business was off the ground?
Online selling is amazing for time management and having other commitments. I have my regular job, so I am able to work around that and, since everything is virtual, I can postpone something if my daughter is sick. I think it is very positive to have that choice of when to get things done.
8. What would be your biggest piece of advice you would give to yourself ten years ago?
I would say, grow a thicker skin. We sell a lot of pillows and anyone can post a terrible Verified Purchaser review. I used to spend a lot of time trying to see what the issue was—factory error or shipping damage, etc. Then I realized that some people are just having a bad day. Sometimes the pillow just doesn’t help them. It’s natural. As a hard working person, I try to mitigate criticism. Now I just try to take it in stride and remember that tomorrow is another day. You can’t please everybody.
9. Do you use social media for marketing your business?
We want to, although we haven’t yet. I feel that social media is tricky, so we may hire someone to run social media for us later this year.
10. What are your hopes for your business for the next five years?
We want to be able to sell to hotels and hospitals. I am speaking to a bunch of people to get advice on how best to meet their needs.
We are also looking into increasing our use of Amazon Affiliate Marketing, Amazon’s advertising platform. Affiliate Marketing places relevant ads on our website and gives us a percentage of sales that result in a click on our website. This is an easy source of revenue for us and helps us recoup what we spent on website design.
Conversation date: 6/10/2017
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