50+ year-old serial entrepreneur, David Wolfe is only interested in building a company with "a soul." David is the CEO and founder of Leesa, one of the world's fastest growing companies. And this CEO is not satisfied with simply disrupting the mattress industry, David is also shaking up corporate social responsibility with an industry-leading initiative (the Leesa One-Ten program donates one mattress for every ten mattresses the company sells). All this from a company that is well, about the age most early-stage companies are still searching for a business model or pivoting their product.
As an experienced entrepreneur David decided with Leesa that he was not going to wait until some yet-to-be-determined date in the future, to turn his attention as CEO to giving back to the community and creating company culture.
"There's a huge difference between starting a business when you are 23 and starting one when you are 53. I've done both. In your 20's the focus is on wealth creation. It's all about "me." It's not that young founders don't care, it's just that many of them seem to be checking off a box in their hectic lives when they give back, whether its of their time or their money. I've always felt it's important that "giving" to those who need is just what you do. So with Leesa with did just that. If you wait until you are established and successful, it has less meaning and it doesn't become part of your company DNA."--David Wolfe
I caught up with David in New York City, on the eve of the opening of Leesa's first Dream Gallery in SoHo.
How did you convince your partners / investors to get behind Leesa's One-Ten Program?
My co-founder and my founding management team share my dream to build a company that measures its success as much by our impact on the world as we do by our revenue and profit. I think its fair to say that my co-founder's natural instinct was to wait until we could "afford" to do the things we are doing but as soon as I said "that's just the point. If you wait then you aren't building a company with a purpose."
I didn't realize how powerful this could be until our second major donation, to the Bowery Mission in New York City. A big team from Leesa came up from Virginia Beach with a truck full of mattresses and it was a life changing moment for us all. It was at that moment I realized that homelessness doesn't discriminate.
When we raised some external capital from TitleCard, I'm certain that one of the appeals was our social impact. Tyler Tysdal the CEO of TitleCard came to our Bowery Mission gifting event (and subsequently led Leesa's gifting event at the Denver Rescue Mission). Tyler stood with his young son on his shoulders almost in tears as he said how proud he was to be part of the work we are doing.
If any one associated with the company had doubts before, I think its fair to say now that everyone is on board with One-Ten.
What's been the impact of One-Ten to date?
We've donated over 4,000 mattresses and have another 1,000 committed around the country. We have narrowed our mission and broadened our geographic reach to be more impactful. We try to support shelters and homes that serve people seeking refuge from homelessness, domestic risk or sex trafficking. We are particularly careful to support organizations that have transition programs. We like our gifting partners to be aligned with our mission to provide a better place to sleep on a pathway to a better life.
What is the impact? We've touched thousands of lives. We've heard lots of stories about how our mattresses give people a little dignity back, but as much as we've had an impact on others, the bigger impact may be on the company. Leesa's social impact program is the fulfillment of a dream. As a kid I used to dream of one day being able to have an impact on people's lives. I never realized until now that you get back more than you could ever give.
One of your "David'isms" is "giving back is as important as a strong bottom line". What do you mean by that?
I hate the idea that in any given year, all you have at the end is that you are another year older and your bank balance has changed. The One-Ten program is helping us grow a loyal customer base and a strong company culture too.
Ok. Can you explain another of your "David'isms" for me--that is, the "underlying essence of a company can't be social impact"?
In an industry where competitors are popping out of the woodwork every day and where the incumbents are trying to defend themselves from the "disruptors," our social impact program is as important as our mattress as a differentiator. And at the heart of the company is an amazing product! Consumer Reports have rated our mattress above our competitors (we are the number three foam mattress in their latest ranking ahead of Tempurpedic and the big new competitors such as Casper, Tuft and Needle).
There are start-ups that make such a big deal about their social impact work that they seem to forget you have to build a company. You can't do that without a great product and an even better team of people. The underlying essence of any company are its customers and their experience with your product or service. If you get that right.. You can achieve anything.
Your believe that "Everyone has a dream" was the spark for The Dream Gallery. What's your dream for Leesa?
I've always been a dreamer. I think all entrepreneurs are. My dream for Leesa include more Dream Galleries, selling more amazing mattresses so the One-Ten program is helping more people, and watching Leesa's young management team grow and bring their own dreams to life. Yes, at the end of the day, I think my dream is to never stop dreaming.