Meet mattress king James Cox who just raised £5m for his startup Simba

We speak to James Cox, CEO and co-founder, Simba Sleep

VITAL STATISTICS

Company:  Simba Sleep

What it does, in a sentence:  Makes the most advanced mattress in the world, with one-type-fits- all sleep technology

Founded: February, London 2016

Founder/s:  James Cox, Steve Reid and the McClements family

Size of team: 22

THE NEED-TO-KNOW

What problem are you trying to solve?
We set out to simplify the complicated mattress market by creating a premium one-type-fits-all mattress that satisfies 95 per cent of the UK’s sleep needs. People have different mattress requirements – some people like firm, some soft, some like springs, some like memory foam. Simba has solved this problem by integrating technology into the design process in the form of the Simba Hybrid® – a next generation mattress with a complex layer cake of both foam and patented springs. It adapts to the weight and size of the person using the mattress to ensure they get the right support. In short, we’ve simplified sleep.

How big is the market – and how much of it do you think you can own?
At the moment, the UK mattress market is worth around £1 billion and Simba is currently the UK market leader in the online direct-to-consumer space by 20 per cent, having sold 15,000 of our Hybrid mattresses in just seven months since launch. We’re also growing by 40 per cent per month, which is incredible considering our age. The thing is, people want to know what they’re buying and what, exactly, they’re getting for their money; we make that very clear. We focus on improving people’s lives via sleep rather than owning our portion of the market at any cost. Of course, we want the company to do well, but we believe that success in business is delivering a great product to satisfy a genuine consumer need.

How do you make money?
We sell large volumes of mattresses at a fair price. How do we get that fair price? We streamline our supply chain and reflect the savings we make in the price we offer to customers. In simple terms: we predominantly cut out the middlemen. We deal directly with suppliers and manufacturers, reduce our logistics costs by delivering in a box (which is also much less cumbersome for our customers) and we are the retailer – except in the case of John Lewis with whom we have an exclusive partnership. John Lewis is arguably the most trusted bedroom furniture retailer in the UK, renowned for its expert product selection. For them to take on Simba as a start-up validates everything we do.

Who’s on your team that makes you think you can do this? 
It’s a real team effort. Andrew McClements has been in the business of making mattresses since the 70s; his experience meant it was easy to go direct. His experience of logistics, too, is second to none. Steve (Reid) and I have a solid knowledge of the tech industry and how to retail online from having worked in tech before starting Simba. Steve founded Tribesports.com and I worked funding and advising tech start-ups.

Who’s bankrolling you?

We have a growing cohort of brilliant investors who are business leaders in their own right: Tom Teichman (made.com; lastminute.com; notonthehighstreet.com), Nigel Wray (formerly Domino’s Pizza; Saracens; Prestbury Investment Holdings; Franchise Brands Plc); Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright (Innocent Drinks), The Jatania Family (formerly cosmetics giant Lornamead – Vosene, Yardley). As well as financial investment, we’re lucky to benefit from their wide-ranging industry experience, creativity and market knowledge.

What advice would you give other entrepreneurs trying to secure that kind of finance?
Make sure you get your projections right. If you do that then you’ll be able to ask for what you need – which is important – but also be able to confidently tell your investors what their returns will be. Make sure that you’ve done your research because investors will be cleverer than you!

What do you believe the key to growing this business is? 
The most important thing is to maintain a consistently excellent product. Not to rest on your laurels. Keep doing research and finding out what your customers want. Without a loyal customer base, you don’t have a business. Also, key to growing is to take a product to the right countries. Again, we wouldn’t do this without first making sure we understand what people in those markets are after and ensuring that what we’ve created will meet their needs. Ongoing research and product innovation are essential to growth.

What metrics do you look at every day?
We look at our return rate because this is a key indication of how happy our customers are and of the long-term health of the business. We give customers the chance to trial our beds for 100 days and our return rates are very low compared with other mattress brands on the market. We know from this that we’re doing something right! If our returns rates go up, it’s time to start investigating the reasons why.

What’s been the most unexpectedly valuable lesson you’ve learnt so far? 
You can’t just make mattresses appear out of thin air! Demand for Simba was much higher than we’d expected in the beginning and we had to really pull together to fulfil all our orders. We work with five different suppliers for each of the bespoke layers within the Hybrid, so it’s a lengthy process. Now we know that, we make sure to work well ahead of time.

What’s been your biggest mistake so far?

Our initial branding was too complicated in the beginning. It’s important that people know instantly what your product is and why it’s unique. Luckily we have a talented creative director who has stripped it back and made it relatable and interesting for anyone who lands on our site.

What do you think is on the horizon for your industry in the year ahead? 

The industry will continue to simplify its product ranges and develop new technologies with sleep-improving power. We’re always innovating our product – it’s essential to keep evolving just as people’s lives do.

Which London start-up/s are you watching, and why?

Monese – it’s a purely mobile banking app. It could be huge for the migrant population of Europe and people who need a more nimble banking service. 

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