10172017

Purple pillow talk lands UV50 No. 2 Startup to Watch

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DREAM JOB: Sam Bernards joined Purple as CEO in September 2016. He left a job that he loved at Peak Ventures in order to lead the Purple rocketship. What sold him on the gig? “I shared with the founders my vision of an innovation factory, which would take the passion and hustle of a startup and combine it with the resources and scalability of a large organization,” Bernards says. “Their eyes lit up. My eyes lit up. And that night, I was so excited by the opportunity, I couldn’t sleep.” Somebody get that man a Purple. (Photo by Dave Blackhurst/UVBizQ)

As told by Briana Stewart

Purple is a total dreamboat. The mattress company is kicking pain and taking fame. Two inventor brothers, Tony and Terry Pearce, designed a patent-pending machine to create mattresses that are simultaneously soft and strong (aka Goldilocks approved). And the response has been “just right,” with nearly $200 million in sales, 11,000-plus 5-star customer reviews, and more than 500 million video views. What’s more, the company has nearly 700 employees, 664,000 square feet of manufacturing space, and as of July 2017, an investment valuation of over a billion dollars in a reverse merger with GPAC (that will eventually take Purple public). Purple is coloring outside the lines, and CEO Sam Bernards sat down with BusinessQ to talk the company’s colorful origins and “unicorn” future. Let’s pillow talk.


Purple is a startup, but the story is 20 years in the making. Tony and Terry Pearce created a wheelchair. It was lighter and more durable than anything on the market. But they learned what people in wheelchairs care about most is comfort.

Decubitus ulcers, or bed sores, are common among people in wheelchairs — they are painful and difficult to heal. So the Pearce brothers took to their engineering minds and asked themselves, “How do we eradicate compression sores?”

What they came up with was this — Hyper-Elastic Polymer — now known as Purple. There is nothing else like it on the market. When you push into all other cushioning materials, they push back. But with Purple, force is distributed and your body is protected with comfort.

“Our customers gave us show rooms all over the world.” — Sam Bernards, CEO of Purple in Alpine

There are zero known instances of these compression sores for people using our technology — either in wheelchairs or medical beds. Moreover, it has healed people who previously suffered from compression sores. It’s absolutely remarkable.

This began the first of three phases for the company: licensing. Not just for wheelchairs and medical beds, but for all sorts of consumer products. The company partnered with businesses like Nike, Dr. Scholl’s and JanSport.

That period of history shifted to the second phase: manufacturing. In 2010, the founders mortgaged their homes to acquire the old Peppermint Place candy factory in Alpine. They created a team of engineers and mechanics to figure out how to manufacture comfort on a larger scale. At that time, they designed and sold seat cushions.

Then they had a realization inspired by their medical bed. When people sleep better, they eat better, they feel better, they perform better. And the founders were (literally) sitting on technology that could help people do just that.

The question was how. It should have been impossible. But our company does the impossible by breaking down complicated tasks into smaller, more possible tasks. We are tenacious. And ultimately, the team created a machine called Mattress Max, which enabled them to manufacture the technology into a king-size bed.

PURPLE POWER

Purple technology is used in a variety of ways, including mattresses, pillows, sheets and seat cushions. The customer reviews are what literal dreams are made of. But don’t take our word for it:

“My name is Vinny. I am disabled and suffer from Spastic Cerebral Palsy. My disability causes me to suffer with constant back and leg pain. My wife and I purchased our mattress on 4/28/2017. After the first night of sleeping on our Purple, I had no pain at all, and have had no pain since. This product has saved my life.”

In 2015, we pulled together a team of digital marketing consultants — each with their own specialty — and most of whom have since joined Purple and now form the foundation of our marketing team. The collected efforts of that group created the new brand Purple. And when we coupled an amazing product with amazing marketing, people purchased it.

Not only did people purchase it — they told their friends and neighbors how life-changing it was. People shared their experiences on social media. And then they pulled their friends and neighbors into the sanctity of their bedrooms and said, “You gotta try this.” Our customers gave us show rooms all over the world.

We went from zero to hero. The genius behind our popular Goldilocks marketing campaign was that it made the science visually compelling and inherently understandable. The response was instant and dramatic. We had thousands of orders, and we could only manufacture 10 a day.

The production team rallied. They figured out how to double the amount of daily production. It still wasn’t enough. So they doubled it again. Still not enough. And again. And again. We had to put the brakes on our marketing efforts to enable production to catch up with the demand.

We are on track to be one of the biggest employers in Utah. Our state has become a tech hub, which is wonderful. But we are bringing manufacturing jobs back into the mix — as well as the American dream of building something along with it.

This past July we signed a letter of intent with GPAC that sets the stage for our next chapter. We have received so much interest from the investor community, and this feels like a great fit. There is talk of us being the next unicorn out of Utah, and we’re grateful for the attention. What is more important to us, however, is improving our customers’ lives.

Feel better. Those are the two words at the heart of what we care about. Our goal is to help 1 billion people around the world feel better in the way they sleep, sit and stand. And the life-changing customer reviews we receive give us the greatest motivation of all. We are hungry to help people.


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