Colin McIntosh is the founder and CEO of Sheets & Giggles, a D2C (direct-to-consumer) bedding brand that manufactures and sells ultra high quality and sustainable sheets for its customers on Shopify and Amazon. S&G is a Techstars Boulder 2019 company, but remains 90% revenue-funded. Here, we’ll discover Colin’s entrepreneurial journey and why, of all niches, he’s chosen bedding as the niche in which to stake his claim. This is a 2-part story. In this first one we’ll focus on Colin’s story. In the next piece we’ll get more tactical with some of his incredible advice for D2C entrepreneurs.
Colin grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but attended college in Atlanta, Georgia at Emory University. There, Colin earned his BBA with an emphasis on Finance and Economics, with a minor in Business Law.
Colin is a proud Emory University graduate because its alumni include some very impressive internet entrepreneurs, including Dollar Shave Club’s Michael Dubin, who graduated from Emory in 2004. If you’re unfamiliar with DSC, they were responsible for one of the internet’s most famous viral YouTube videos.
Renowned alumni aside, Emory is mostly known as a school for banking, so it’s no surprise that Colin’s first job after graduation was with Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund.
“I ended up working my first job out of school with the world's largest hedge fund, a place called Bridgewater associates in Connecticut,” Colin told me. “I was in the trading technology department there. And that did not go well. I think I got fired in five months.”
Now, 22 years old, recently fired and living in Norwalk Connecticut, Colin had no idea what he was going to do or where he would go. “You know, you get fired from your first job. It's like your life is over,” Colin said. “ But Bridgewater had a reputation for letting people go really fast. So now I look back on that and I'm glad I lasted five months.”
Coincidentally enough, Colin was then hired on as a recruiter for the same third-party recruiting agency that had hired him for Bridgewater. He would even go on to recruit other candidates for the company who’d fired him.
Even stranger, eventually Colin would hire himself for one of the agency’s clients based in Seattle.
“And that's how I got into startups when I was 24,” Colin recalled. “The job was a Biz Dev role that was open and the startup’s CEO really liked me for the job. So he hired me. That’s a really good way to leave a recruiting firm. Everybody gets paid.”
In 2015, Colin was granted an amazing opportunity to join another company about to enter Techstars Boulder. That company was Revolar. Revolar is a kind of 21st-century life alert, specifically built for young women.
“We were trying to fight against sexual assault and violence,” Colin told me. And it was an emergency button that you could wear very discreetly. We ended up doing pretty well. We raised several million dollars. We went through Techstars. I moved down to Denver for that in 2015, full time. I did that for about three years. Revolar still exists, but it's no longer what it once was, unfortunately. That's a long story, so I won't get into it, but about three weeks after I left Revolar was when I decided I wanted to be my own CEO and my own founder.”
Colin regrets that things didn’t work out with Revolar because he feels the company’s mission was, and still is, incredibly important. And even though it didn’t turn out as expected, Colin is still proud of the work he and the team did there. And as a founding team member and Head of Business Development, Colin was on the front lines for it all.
“From a business perspective, we were in Target, we were in Brookstone, we were in a few T-Mobile stores, Amazon launchpad. We had deals with HSN and QVC. I’m really proud of what we did. We ended up sending out 60,000 alerts. We saved some lives. I'm really, really proud of, of the work there, but it was a really big learning experience for me too.”
Colin left Revolar in September 2017, and three weeks later, on October 19th, 2017, he founded S&GS&G.
“For October through December it was the holidays, there was traveling,” Colin said. “So I was just kind of brainstorming, doing the logo, calligraphy for the logo, and I really didn't do much work for it until January, 2018 and that's when we really started. When I say we, I mean literally me and an intern started working on it in January, 2018 and we ended up doing a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo in May, 2018, so just over a year ago. It actually ended, June 15th, 2018.”
Colin raised $284,000 on Indiegogo. It was the biggest bedding campaign in Indiegogo history, and the second ever largest crowdfunding campaign in the bedding industry.
“It was really exciting because we also had two other bedding campaigns launch the same week as us and one made $50K and the other made $15K, so we really blew our competition out of the water on that platform.”
While S&G could have likely done a much bigger crowdfunding on Kickstarter, which gets something like 3x the daily traffic of Indiegogo, Colin was wary to go too big too soon.
“Frankly, a lot of people always think that bigger is better when it comes to crowdfunding,” Colin told me. “We couldn't have fulfilled all those orders in 2018 if we tripled our order volume with Kickstarter. And so I wouldn't say that was like one of the strategic reasons, but ended up being one of the side benefits. It was just enough to go to market, but also controllable to deliver on time and in-full. Um, whereas sometimes you get people, and this is actually kind of the curse of crowdfunding. Sometimes you get these runaway crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter where, you know, they want to make $100,000 and they make $1.5 million or something like that.”
Colin says that because many crowdfunders are inexperienced with manufacturing, this order volume becomes a curse. Many don’t have the discipline to turn off the firehose before things get out of control.
“They end up taking 10X the order volume they originally anticipated,” Colin told me. “And then a lot of founders don't understand that means they need 10X for raw materials. What does that do to their lead times? Can even get this many components for this and the part that goes into the product? What does that do for your delivery dates? How many units can you get out the door every single day in October? There's so many different pieces to it that a lot of people don't fully appreciate. And so I'm actually glad that our campaign ended up being large but controllable.”
I’d been waiting to ask Colin about his choice of industry for nearly 20 minutes. On the surface, it seems like an odd choice for a D2C startp, and an even odder choice for admittance into the Techstars Boulder accelerator.
I did, however, have my own theories.
Turns out, I was pretty close.
“I think you're hitting it exactly,” Colin told me. “So first and foremost, I'm a big, I'm a big sustainability person. And my last company was literally trying to fight sexual assault and violence on college campuses. It was like a very mission driven company. But I didn't want to do something as heavy as that. I mean three years of that and, while I could have gone on longer if we had been more successful, it starts to wear on you with the stories and the things you hear. I did want something a little lighter, but I still wanted something mission driven. And so I knew I wanted to do something with sustainability.”
S&G delivers on that sustainability mission. Their eco-friendly eucalyptus lyocell sheets have a near-zero environmental impact, with up to:
“I also wanted to build a business model that I felt very passionately about, and I think a lot of founders and entrepreneurs don't do this,” Colin told me. “A lot of people get obsessed with a problem and a solution that they built and then they try to build a business model around the solution. For me, I basically built a business model where I said, okay, ‘it needs to be a sustainable product that’s a physical good that has a lower complexity supply chain other than an electronic, and that has a massive commodities market behind it. That way I can carve out my own niche and be profitable early on in that space because it's a huge space. I wanted something that was highly fragmented so there's no market leader that I had to chip away at and steal market share from. And then I wanted something that was largely, like you said, traditionally physical retail, so I could help bring it online with a direct to consumer model. And then I also really wanted something that was a really bland, boring space with zero brand differentiation or loyalty so I could kind of zig where everybody else was zagging.”
S&G doesn’t disappoint here either. From their messaging to their content to the assets on their website, it’s clear that Colin is building a different type of bedding company. Just look below at one of their most popular photos to date.
As I mentioned at the outset of this article, S&G is 90% revenue funded. They’ve opted to grow as organically as possible, only taking on minimal investment to fuel the fire.
Here’s how things are going at S&G:
The great reviews are one of the things Colin is most proud about, but not only with the percentage of 5-star reviews. He’s more proud of the small amount of time it took them to get there.
“We’re not just talking sheet [ 😂]. We have no control over our Amazon reviews and 88% are five star. We now have more than Brooklinen, who is a darling in the bed sheets industry because of their 'luxury' cotton sheets, which are more expensive than our sustainable premium eucalyptus ones. Brooklinen has only 73 reviews in over a year on Amazon, and we have 99 in four months; theirs are 60% five-star and 16% one-star, and we only have 3% 1-star reviews in comparison."
On the business side of things, S&G is trying to grow 4X in the coming year, which is Colin’s year-over-year goal, and the company is already on track to hit or surpass that.
In terms of product development, S&G is releasing its first non-bedding product in August, an ultra-premium eucalyptus throw blanket.
“We're probably going to do a crowdfunding campaign just for that,” Colin said. It's beautiful. It's only going to be 40 bucks, which I'm thrilled about. It's comparative to like other normal throw blankets that you can find at Target in terms of pricing, but it's way more premium. It's crazy soft to the touch. It's extremely cool to the touch. It's breathable. And it's also 100% sustainable.”
The team is also incredibly excited to launch an all-new eucalyptus comforter. And this comforter is, you guessed it, ultra-premium.
“There’s a competitor in the comforter space that's like 50+ employees,” Colin told me. “They're pretty well known. They sell a eucalyptus comforter. Now the thing about their eucalyptus comforter is that it's 80% eucalyptus lyocell and 20% recycled polyester on the covering. I assume they do that to cut costs because eucalyptus is expensive. And then inside, it's only something like a 20% eucalyptus fill and a 80% recycled polyester fill.”
Colin isn’t knocking the competition for using recycled polyester. After all, it means less plastic bottles that end up in the ocean. It’s still environmentally friendly, just not as environmentally friendly.
“Our comforter that we'll be releasing in the fall, that we've been working really hard on, has a 100% eucalyptus covering and is extremely premium, it's fantastic. And inside we're going with a 50/50 eucalyptus and recycled polyester filling. So we're still using about 27 recycled plastic bottles in every one, but we're cutting down that polyester because it's still not as good for the environment. We're experimenting with a 100% eucalyptus fill, which has challenges because people expect a certain loft from their comforters. Ours is going to dwarf the competition in terms of quality, and it's going to be offered at the same price or a lower price."
There’s some exciting things on the horizon for Colin and the S&G team and we look forward to seeing them come to fruition. If you’re in the market for some of the best bedding on the planet, head on over to S&G and order yourself a set. Based on the customer reviews alone, it sounds like it might just change your life.
In the second part of this series we’ll get more tactical with some incredible advice for Shopify entrepreneurs.