Date: August 16, 2017
Attendee and Guest: Kelly Coughlin, CEO, BankBosun; Mike Lindell, CEO, MyPillow.com
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Kelly Coughlin is a CPA and CEO of BankBosun, a management consulting firm helping bank C Level Officers navigate risk and discover reward. He is the host of the syndicated audio podcast, BankBosun.com. Kelly brings over 25 years of experience with companies like PWC, Lloyds Bank, and Merrill Lynch. On the podcast Kelly interviews key executives in the banking ecosystem to provide bank C suite officers, risk management, technology, and investment ideas and solutions to help them navigate risks and discover rewards. And now your host, Kelly Coughlin.
Greetings, this is Kelly Coughlin, CEO of BankBosun, helping bank C- suite execs navigate risks and discover reward in a sea of threats and opportunities. I used to sing an Irish song to my four girls when they were young called John O’Dreams. It’s one of my favorites?and the song song went like this, “The prince and the ploughman, the slave and the freeman, all find their comfort in old John O’Dreams.” So, John O’Dreams is like the sand man representing sleep. What’s that have to do with BankBosun and bankers? Well all of us need our sleep, even brilliant successful bankers, and who better to help you sleep than, For the best night’s sleep in the whole wide world visit MyPillow.com, Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow.com.
Kelly: Mike, are you there?
Mike: Yes, I am. It’s great to be here.
Kelly: Great! Mike, many thanks for taking the time to do this interview. I am not sure if you know this but you have become somewhat of a cult celebrity figure from your MyPillow ads on TV, I suppose. Very impressive, so congratulations on being a rock star.
Mike: Okay, thank you.
Kelly: I want to focus kind of on the business part of things, but I do have one question for you on your recent ad change. There you are, you are waking up in this couple’s bathroom/bedroom with your pillow. I mean, Mike, don’t some of the iron rangers in Minnesota raise their eyebrows a bit at that?
Mike: I don’t know what clip you’re seeing, but I am actually in their mirror they open up their cabinet in the morning when they get up and say, hear that guy, the MyPillow guy, and then we go from there and then I go to their bedroom and see what they are sleeping on with their pillows and correct them in that, and we go through all the problems they have with their current pillows. But it has been amazing, that ad and the other ads that we have made right now.
Kelly: Yeah, well I am really intrigued about your ad spend and your budget and your ROI on that, but before we get into that, as much as I would like to give you the opportunity to promote the pillows, I think we’ll focus on the business part of MyPillow.com company, some of the background on you personally and then, in business, how did you get started, the history of MyPillow, especially the early foundation years.
Mike: Well, I have always been an entrepreneur and my last job was in 1980s where I worked for someone, but I had a carpet cleaning business and then I had a lunch wagon business, and I had some bar and restaurants that I bought, but everything I did I sold to a bank. I had a lot of problems with the banks, so when I started MyPillow I actually spent two years inventing it and I had sold the bar that I had at the time and I ran the money completely down to nothing. So, when I finally had the MyPillow invented I mortgaged our house to the hilt. I had four little kids and we were all in and that’s all we had left in the world, just a few pillows and a dream.
Kelly: You’ve started this up in northern Minnesota, is that where you are from?
Mike: I am from far west of Minneapolis, it’s my home town. I grew up in Chaska, Minnesota, and when I invented the pillow it took a couple years. I actually had, like I said, I didn’t have any money left and I walked into box stores and they said, how many would you like, and they laughed at me, and I had people laughed that you are never going to get a partner on a pillow and all these different things. And then a friend of mine finally said, and he said, why don’t you do a kiosk? And I said, how do you spell that? I didn’t know what a kiosk was. And I ended up doing the kiosk and we only sell like 80 pillows. And one of the guys that had bought one there actually called me in January of that year and said, are you the guy that have been in this pillow from Minnesota? And he said, this pillow changed my life. And he said, I run a Minneapolis home and garden show, would you like a spot in there? And that started where I did shows for seven years, home shows and fairs and any place there was people.
Kelly: Did you man the booth yourself in the early years?
Mike: Yeah, I did everything, made the pillows, faced a lot of it, virtually, people tried to take the company. I had my own demons, I was a crack cocaine addict, so I had a lot of problems, but yeah, I did the booth, I did all my own manufacturing, learnt how to sew, I worked out of a little garage, I took any phone calls. Myself and my family, we did everything ourselves, everything, even the design on the packaging. We still do to this day. We do everything ourselves.
Kelly: How did you get your funding?your start-up funding?
Mike: Yeah, that’s when I mortgaged my house and I had money from a business I had sold a couple of years earlier but with four kids and not working at the time and just advancing the store I ended up at nothing. So, basically I took every money I made in the show and I would roll it back in to buy product the next time or to buy raw materials and so I didn’t have any funding. I never had.
Kelly: Ownership, has that always stayed the same, since inception?
Mike: Yeah, I’m the majority owner of the company. I have had stock with my friends and employees and stock that I have given away and a couple of people that buy into it back in the day and so it is all like a big family.
Kelly: Why pillows? How did you find, or how did you select that industry of all the things to get into? What was it about the pillow industry?
Mike: Well, I have always had problems with pillows, even when you go back from when I was 16 years old and I worked in a grocery store in Chaska, Minnesota, and one of my first pay checks I went and bought a pillow. It was 1977, and I said if I go and buy a nice pillow maybe it will work, and it didn’t. It was a down pillow I got at home and it didn’t work. I couldn’t return it and, I don’t know, maybe it was my calling, but I just had problems. All my life my pillows would go flat. I would use my arms, headaches, neck-aches, I had all these things that I knew the pillows were the problem and I tried every pillow through all my life and nothing ever worked. Basically, out of my own necessity, at first I am going, I want something you can move and adjust and would make it fit me rather than me trying to fit the pillow, and kept thinking to myself, well they make all different size clothes for people, how can they give us a pillow and say it’s going to work for all of us and none of them ever do.
Kelly: Which pillows or which type of pillows were you really trying to compete with?
Mike: No, there was nothing out there like MyPillow. I had a dream of the logo and I wrote the logo all over the house, MyPillow, and my daughter came upstairs, one of my daughters, in the middle of the night, she was like nine or ten years old, she said, what are you doing dad, and I said, I am going to invent this amazing pillow. And she grabbed her water and she said, that’s truly random, and she went back downstairs. And then I just had an idea, I wanted something that you could just adjust and move. And it wasn’t necessarily what was going to be inside it, I wanted it to be soft like down, but I wanted it to be support. I wanted it to have everything you would ever want in a pillow. If you ask every single person, what would you like in a pillow? Whatever came out of their mouth, my pillow would have. You know, I was so particular, once, you know, I tried over 94 different kinds of foams and stuff to go inside a pillow and poured stuff on a deck. One of my sons and I, every day we get home and he would try different things like, you know, some mad scientist. And so, it was a lot of trial and error and I would get close and then once I had it invented, I wanted it so you could wash and dry it. In pillows traditionally, you couldn’t do that before, and I wanted it to last so I put a 10 year warranty, and then the washing and drying, adding that to the mix, that took another two months. I would first engineer what the product should be and all the problems I had and why they didn’t work and then you just solve each problem. So, it was kind of reverse engineering of what I wanted and say, okay, this pillow goes flat, well, let’s make it so it won’t go flat at night. Well, this one here I want to build it wash and dry, let’s make it so you can wash and dry it. Well, this pillow it feels soft but you can adjust it, everybody’s shoulders are different. So there was a lot of that went into the inventing of it.
Kelly: Oh, kind of traditional things that many people do, kind of the business school activities, you look at your market; look at your competitors; look at the price points; look at demand; how are you going to fill that, you kind of said, to hell with all that, I’m not going to do that. Did you do any analytics, before you got neck deep into this on pricing and market demand or anything like that?
Mike: I did absolutely no analytics. I just drop my life, I thought, wow, am I the only one out there that has problems with pillows and sleep? I started asking around and it wasn’t just me. Every single person had the same problem. So many people at that time thought, oh that’s your bed, or I’ll just go and cotch some place and just sit, oh, I just sleep, I guess when we get older we just, you know, our sleep is worse. And we have insomnia and all these problems associated with sleep. I didn’t buy that from many and I didn’t believe this. So, my philosophy was, you solve these problems, and if I can do that for myself and then these other casting out I gave some to other people to try and it solved everybody’s sleep problems. So, I’m going, if you do that and then the price points and stuff came later. And I actually got myself in a lot of trouble, selling at a lower price at one time and then with my marketing, if you want to talk about that in a minute, I just wanted to help people get great sleep and then I didn’t know anything about indirect cost, direct costs and all these other things at the time.
Kelly: Interesting. So, you claim that they are made in Minnesota, where do you get all your materials?
Mike: My patent form is made in Wisconsin. I have never changed off of that, that is the formula that they tried to duplicate in other places but they can’t. So, like for my neighboring state of Wisconsin, the foam gets poured there, I get the stuff, I run it through my machine then I patent the runs, makes the different sizes. There are three different sizes that all go into the pillow. One is the size of a quarter, one is the size of a dime and one is the size of down and then they are all mixed together proportionally. And these other machines, the fabric got cotton grown here and California and the Carolinas. We do all our own cutting, sewing. We have machines that fill. I have over 1500 employees now. So, we do everything in Minnesota. I have two factories in Chaska, my neighboring town. I guess we have about 350,000 square feet now of factory and then I have, right outside as I am sitting here, my own call center because I…when I did shows for seven years I knew at those shows what kept me going is people kept coming up and telling other people that already had the pillow then, this is the most amazing product I have ever used, not pillow, product. And I am getting all this amazing feedback and it just kept me going that was so powerful. I like helping people. Then I said, you know what, if nobody will take my pillow I am going to bring it to the people. So, I did my own infomercial in the summer of 2011 and it aired…it was a real audience, just me and a friend of mine. I had never been on TV before, and it launched October 7, 2011 and I had five employees and 40 days later I had 500 employees.
Kelly: Alright, how much did that infomercial cost you, do you recall?
Mike: To produce it was $150,000 or $200,000, something like that, but I was told I needed movie stars and all this and I said, why, I think people are tired, they just want honesty and they are tired of seeing infomercials that claim this and do this, and like I said, it was a real audience and then I just told my friends and family. I didn’t have any money. I said, guys if we all put in money on this we are going to be the biggest infomercial ever and they all believed me and I didn’t know that most infomercials fail in this country. And by December 26 of 2011 we are the number one infomercial in the world.
Kelly: How many people did you get in on that?
Mike: It was just, I don’t know, maybe 20 of us, just friends and family. We all just threw in everything we could into just get it going. And over the next six months we took in tens of millions of dollars, because every ad that went out, you know, we are making the pillows, it was a miracle we all got out in time. But the bigger companies didn’t believe me that I was going to get that big that quick. So, we didn’t get good pricing on raw materials. We were taken advantage of. I learned so much from the spring of 2012 because my advertising dollars were spent on audiences that weren’t my audience and I didn’t know they were bad at the time. It’s like batting a 100 hitter instead of batting all your 300 hitters. We took in all those tens of millions and we were in the hole by June. And I’m going, what happened here? And when you look at nowadays the stuff I learn, and every ad you now you ever see for My Pillow I view that as my only business, that particular ad at that moment in time. So, if that doesn’t make its number in direct sales, I never re-up it again. And I do that for every ad you ever see. I don’t do branding, I get direct marketing or I am getting direct sales from that ad and then, obviously, you get the branding comes secondary. I know where every ad dollar, I know my audience so well, I know my demographics, I know who is buying. You think everybody needs a pillow but everybody doesn’t buy a pillow. The millennials are one group that’s really hard to crack. I do the same thing for my customers. I view every customer like it’s my only customer. That has been the success of MyPillow because I could spend, at $1.5 million a week on advertising, easy. And if I had an ad that went out and it didn’t make us money I will never do it again. If every company in this country knew where to spend their advertising dollar and knew they were actually getting a good return and didn’t advertise the thing that didn’t work, product cost in this country would go way down because you wouldn’t have all that wasted advertising out there.
Kelly: So, in 2016, the election year, you spent quite a bit of money on advertising at Fox and CNN and I’m sure many, many others during that period, how much did you spend in 2016?
Mike: By the way, it’s not just CNN and Fox, we do 18,000 radio reads a week. Radio is one of our biggest venues too. In TV, we do hundreds of stations across the country, but we probably spend 1.5 million a week times 52.
Kelly: In TV and radio or just TV?
Mike: That’s probably just TV.
Kelly: So that’s the biggest…well, that’s one of the biggest part of your budget, because you go direct, you are not doing anything wholesale, right?
Mike: No. While we do…You know, we have some box stores, we do a little bit of wholesaling but we are in some stores across the country too but that’s not our…Our biggest thing is direct to the consumer. That’s our biggest part of our business and I love that part. I love being on TV, and we do our own advertisement. It’s really easy in radio because the radio hosts, you get them and their family believing in the product and nothing better to sell if you are a radio host, if you believe in the product you are selling, that it’s helping you, most likely it’s going to help someone else.
Kelly: I heard that Dana Perino on Fox news one time singing your jingle and I thought, man, that’s got to be terrific for you.
Mike: [Laughs] I was just at the White House for the Made in America, I got to meet, last summer, Mr. Trump, the President he called me to meet him before he was elected and it was all about meeting and talking about, wow, Mike, your company is everything I want in this country, and he goes, you have all these employees, and we talked about the inner cities and stuff. And here again and I get invited, a year later, to the White House for…and all these other manufacturers were there and what an amazing time. We talked about how it’s so important that this stuff be made here, and it’s quite an honor to be there for that.
Kelly: I know you attended the Trump rally and certainly you are a big supporter of Trump, that of course can be politically toxic these days. Has it helped or hurt your business?
Mike: Right, well, like I said, for me, it has been an easy decision because of that meeting I had with him last summer. I wasn’t political before that and then when I met him I was all in. That he would be the best President ever, I still stand by that. I know where his heart is. I know what he is going to do. It’s too bad he gets attacked all the time. I actually went to the third debate. I was in the spin room. I went all in. I spoke at the Minnesota rally about two days before the election when he flew in here to talk. So, I just know this was what I was supposed to do and we let the chips fall where they fell and it hasn’t hurt us. If someone doesn’t want to buy a pillow, because I met a guy that I know is going to help this country and I’m aligned with, I am going to do it with the stuff. I am doing with the inner cities and my foundation, we align perfectly and I have access now to be able to do that, to help all these things. I have been very blessed with this platform to help people, and that aligns with the President, so would I change anything, absolutely not. Will I ever change what I do? No!
Kelly: Well, that’s just great, Mike. It’s quite a success story and I think that is terrific. Do you have any of your favorite quotes or sayings or any beliefs you want to share with us that kind of helped you get through your challenging years?
Mike: I am going to say a couple things but one thing about manufacturing here in the U.S. I want to tell people, this is when I was just at the White House, this got brought up, anyone that thinks they are saving a bunch of money by going over and getting it made overseas if you are a small entrepreneur, and you have got to realize, your money is tied up for three months. Those products are going to take two months, six to eight weeks to get here. Now, if your market changes, let’s say you get too big, they are not here in time, you end up air shipping them in, or let’s say, by the time it gets here your markets changed and now you are sitting on all that inventory or if it’s not the quality you expected, you have that, it becomes quite costly. So, there are so many things that I don’t think people realize. And then if you get in trouble what happens then is big companies will come in and try and gobble you up and give you pennies on a dollar because they have the money to do it where you didn’t have that money to do that. So that was one of the things with made in the U.S.A. And I firmly believe that people nowadays, where we are at, that I would say by telling people, you are made here, I think that’s at least a 20 percent lift in sales, that’s just my opinion. When you talk about perseverance, and as an entrepreneur, a business owner, I’ll say I faced a lot of adversity I am quite a story of hope, from a crack cocaine addict to where I am at now. I quit everything by the grace of God, January 16, 2009, everything overnight, and I’m doing so much nationally with all these different places, like your Teen Challenges, Union Gospel, Salvation Army, all these places to help people in that area. But as far as entrepreneurship, if you don’t believe in your own product, it has to start there and it has to start, you know, not giving up. Still if something happens, like I see it happens all the time, because I get approached by entrepreneurs and inventors and everything, all the time, they’ll get one little obstacle, number one, out of fear they won’t get it out there, they are afraid to jump in, out of fear. What if I fail? What if I fail? And that’s one thing that will block them from even starting. But then when they do come across something that happens to them, that’s a little adversity they are facing, but might seem devastating at the time, you look back on that and you’re going, wow, that had to happen. I mean, I can look back at My Pillow and so many different things happened and I look back and I go, wow, that had to happen at the time. And you come through it and you learn from it and you look back later on and you go, wow, that had to happen. That wasn’t so bad. That was meant to be.
Kelly: Well, Mike, I hope I get a chance to meet you some time. It sounds like you are just one heck of a business executive, but more importantly a terrific human being. I appreciate your time on this podcast and I encourage all our listeners to go out and order one or two pillows from MyPillow.com. And tell them BankBosun sent you?and they won’t know what the heck you are talking about. Mike, I wish you the best of luck and success going forward. Thank you.
Mike: Thanks a lot.
Outro: We want to thank you for listening to the syndicated audio program, BankBosun.com The audio content is produced by Kelly Coughlin, Chief Executive Officer of BankBosun, LLC; and syndicated by Seth Greene, Market Domination LLC, with the help of Kevin Boyle. Video content is produced by The Guildmaster Studio, Keenan Bobson Boyle. The voice introduction is me, Karim Kronfli. The program is hosted by Kelly Coughlin. If you like this program, please tell us. If you don’t, please tell us how we can improve it. Now, some disclaimers. Kelly is licensed with the Minnesota State Board of Accountancy as a Certified Public Accountant. The views expressed here are solely those of Kelly Coughlin and his guests in their private capacity and do not in any other way represent the views of any other agent, principal, employer, employee, vendor or supplier.