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20k investment turned to 4.4 million in just 3 years, w/ Hayley Worley, Founder of The Sheet Society

The Sheet Society is in the business of creating cosy sweet dreams and disrupting the global sleep industry, growing over a staggering 300% in just twelve months.

Born out of a desire to make purchasing bed linen uncomplicated and accessible, while also giving customer’s an extension of their personal style, and making sheet shopping sexy, Hayley & her husband Andy started The Sheet Society in 2017 with just $20k.


Fast-forward to 2020 and the bedding mecca is set to turn over $4.4million this financial year.

We’re chatting about how she hustled in the beginning working two other jobs and upskilling in digital marketing in the evenings.

Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!


Let's jump into this episode. Female startup presence. Yeah, I guess I worked for a small business before I started The Sheet Society and I just loved that every day was different. I was doing design. I was being production but I was opening a store and kind of just love that hustling environment and so I just knew that like I didn't want to just be pigeonholed into the one job.

00:03:15Edit So I kind of always knew that starting a business is for me. So yeah, I guess I just took the leap and and made it happen. How come you went into bedding though, like did you have an interest in that category or had you noticed a gap in the market? What led you there? Yeah, probably a gap in the market. So I've always been including in production in a sort of around colors and fabrics and I just completely fell out of love of the fashion game. We're working for a fast fashion retailer and it was always like, you know who this, what are the celebrities wearing? And I remember the moment exactly, it was right after the met ball and the girls at work were like, oh my God, did you see what g did was wearing? And I was like, I couldn't care less, I just knew that I needed to get out of there, it wasn't for me anymore. Um and so yeah, I was just kind of wanted to be in fabrics and colors and it's still around that environment. Um and I just kind of thought, yeah, I could probably do that in the bedding space and no one was really catering for, I guess dressing your bed and kind of, it was around about the time when blush pink was really cool and I remember I bought like blush shoes, blush t shirt and I just wanted to have blush sheets and I was like, well no one's really doing like this on trend bedding.

00:04:31Edit So I kind of just had that light bulb moment and I remember telling a few of my friends and they're like, what? You're gonna make bedsheets? But were I? And I was like, guys, just wait, it's going to be really cool, just just stay with me. And I remember we launched with like that beautiful blush pink, and we had like a really lovely blush suede and we had this beautiful terracotta color which I got from um inspired by the timberland boot that everyone was wearing at that stage. And so yeah, I just brought it to life really in terms of like our marketing campaigns, we were showing like messy beds and die with guys with shirts off. And yeah, it wasn't until I guess I had all the product and the imagery that I could really articulated to people about what the brand actually was. And I guess you also had that price point difference where you weren't kind of like, you're creating a premium product, but not at the premium price point. It was like, well, I mean if you look at the sheet industry, it's so broken. I mean you've got big plays in the industry that are saying that a set of sheets should be $500, but it's reduced down to $170.

00:05:39Edit And there was just this, I guess discount mentality around buying sheets and a lot of people just wouldn't buy them unless they're on clearance in this are on sale. And so we just wanted to kind of throw that out the window. And a big part of what made, what made our brand successful is that we don't sell them in sets. Like I would buy a set of sheets and I'd never use a flat cheeks, they couldn't be bothered washing it or I remember buying a quick cover and doing a set and I took it away on holiday and then I think I lost a pillow and then it meant I couldn't ever use that again because it wasn't matching anymore. And so we sell everything is separate and it's kind of like carefree approach to buying, betting honest pricing and then that mix and match mentality too. So you can really dress your bed like you would yourself all the colors go together and you can really piece together your bed like you wouldn't outfit, wow. And were you able to take your background from the fashion label and like take the production and the manufacturing learnings that you had there and implement them into the new business.

00:06:44Edit Yeah, definitely. To an extent. I mean the sheets are all about the fabric. So that was really key for me and that was kind of the easy bit. I guess if I look at launching a brand that design and production time, that was, you know, my bread and butter. So that happened quite quickly. It wasn't until I got the product here that I was like crab. I don't even know how to do any marketing, like what I do now. I've got all these sheets here, but like what happens now? Oh my gosh, how many shades did you have? I think there were like five pallets of sheets that arrived because they're so big and bulky, right? And I was like, oh how do I sell these, what do I do now? And I guess for me that was when the fun really kicked off. And I remember I was working two jobs at the time. I would get my online orders. I would go to office, works in the morning. I was print out my labels, I would go to the storage shed and I would pack up the orders and put them in my car, go to work on my lunch break. I would go out to the post office and post them and then it was kind of all just repeat again like that.

00:07:47Edit And I think after two months of just doing that and juggling, I was like, I just can't do this anymore. I've got like invested all my money into buying these sheets. I need to invest all my time into really selling them and growing the business. So I remember the day that I quit my job and I came home and told my husband and he was like, what you can read write. And I was like, yeah, I'll figure that out. Oh My gosh, yeah, big moment. Big moment for you. I read that you started the business with $20,000 in capital. I imagine that would have gone to getting the product or that kind of thing. But did it also go towards marketing and what were you doing in those early days to find your customers? Yeah. Like if none of that money went towards marketing because I didn't really know what marketing was. So I mean they say, you know, you've got you've got to invest, startup capital and I guess that word is just so okay, it's so definitive, right, this is the money you need to start. And so I spent all that money on product and I got the product here and I was like, okay, I probably need more money to them try and sell it.

00:08:52Edit So it may be really lean in that regard. I kind of had a digital marketing strategy and I really just had to go in there myself and I remember setting up um facebook ad account and you know, running my own ads in the beginning and it's just such a powerful tool like anyone anywhere can jump onto business manager and you know, posting photos, boost them or you know, build out a little sales funnel and and we were just monitoring it daily, I would put in, you know, $100 and at the end of the day, okay, how much did I get back? Okay, that didn't work. Try something again tomorrow. Try a different tactic. Try a different audience. Um And I was just living like hand to mouth, like every bit of money I put into this platform, I needed to get it out and I think that's really um given us a good sounding board for how we can scale because all of our marketing money is accountable. It's not like a marketing budget where you spend that and then you hope it comes back. It's like daily.

00:09:53Edit Okay, it didn't work. What didn't work? You know, let's try and find more money to spend more money tomorrow. So yeah, it's been really fun. It's so, it's almost like gambling in a way trying to find different customers on facebook, but when it works, it's really, really fun. What were the kinds of things in those early days that were, you know, the big levers like that? You would wake up and be like, oh my gosh, we had hundreds of orders or, and you know, you saw that change in the business? What were the kinds of things that led to that? Yeah, I think it was our social media, like in the back of your mind, I think everyone in our demographic is like funk. I probably should wash my sheets. Like how long has it been? I need to be appropriate adult. Um And so I guess no one's been marketing sheets to that demographic. So when you're showing our audience a picture of a beautiful bed or like a puppy on a bed, it's kind of like that moment, like, okay, I probably should buy this now. So it's kind of like right place, right time with our marketing and just being really responsive to that is what made it work in the early days.

00:11:01Edit Yeah, your sheets and your, your content on social media is absolutely stunning. It looks so comfy. I was looking at um you know those pictures that you have online, where the beds are towards the windows and you can see out and it's really light and really soft and fluffy. I'm like, oh yeah, that looks good. Yeah, definitely. Like where you'd rather be. I want to talk about something that a lot of people, well, I assume a lot of people struggle with, and that's the tax side of things in the early days. Um I read that you had found a really great accountant that was good at small business. Um And I want to talk about your experience in finding someone who could help you in those early days set up the business properly, get the right numbers, all that kind of thing. Yeah, Cool. I guess we were lucky when we're looking for an accountant, we were really sure um that we needed to find someone that knows the online space and knows how how Nikon businesses spend money and make money because it's a completely different ballgame, like I guess you're old school accountants wouldn't really understand um you know how dynamic it can be.

00:12:11Edit You know, you spend, I don't know, two or $3000 in peaceful gardens that week and then you get the money two days later from your Shopify store. So it's just, it's the pace in which it moves can be really fast. So it's been really integral finding a financial advisor that has that experience. So yeah, he's worked with a few e commerce friends and he's been really great to our success and helping us understand things to like, even in the first year, I remember like doing our first financial, your accounting and I was like, well I don't know have any money. I feel like things are going so well and he was like Haley, you know, all the money you're putting in your buying stocks so although you don't have anything to show for it, you've actually got this stock here and and like I promise one day it will kind of level out and it just kind of turns into this beast with a product based business, you know, at the start when we're looking at capital, it was like, okay let's spend this $20,000 on product for example, we could make $40,000 off that product, but the reality is you probably only sell half of it, so you're back at 20,000 again but you need a but you need $40,000 to buy more so it's like where do you get this money from and when do you hit that feeling?

00:13:26Edit So just helping us understand the bigger picture and that it's not an overnight success and you do need to keep putting more money into it. Like startup capital is such a lot because it's like it's ongoing capital and its like growth capital that you need, it's not this pool of money that you start with and then um you won't need to borrow more to scale. Mhm. Yeah. Well and did you have to get you know loans or angel investment or anything to keep that growth capital pool going. Yeah definitely. We managed it on a really good combination of different credit cards for a while. Um there was one stage where I sold my car to fund some stock um and was driving around in my mom's car for a few months but we were really adamant that we didn't want to take investment um and I'm really glad that we didn't because I just love that freedom of being able to make our own decisions and you know I guess people taking capital that comes with that mentoring and there are definitely benefits to it but with us Yeah, I just love that were so dynamic and and now that we just kind of do have a bit more money behind us, it's up to us how we want to spend it and you know if we want to grow internationally or invest more in um you know different stores like we can pull those levers now so yeah, I wouldn't change anything.

00:14:50Edit That's amazing and I want to quickly just backtrack for one second. What advice do you have for someone looking for an accountant? A good accountant? Like how should people be finding an accountant in the early days? Um definitely word of mouth I would reach out to I guess anyone who's in a similar business or in a similar growth stage of business um and and then you ask them who they use or and then even like interviewing them, you know you're talking to the valley commerce and you know how they reconcile, you know digital marketing spends and things like that and um yeah having a really good understanding that they get what your end goal is to, I guess a lot of people started business because they want to take money out, A lot of people want to start on their business because they want to kind of work in the business and watch it grow. So yeah, it's all about kind of knowing what your goal is and making sure that that's lined. Yeah. Really cool. Really interesting. I want to switch topics to talk a bit more about your marketing now.

00:15:57Edit I know that you guys have done super well, you're on track to doing nearly 4.5 million this year, which is you know three years in. That's absolutely incredible, congratulations by the way, what are the kind of things you're doing now to acquire customers at scale? Yeah, I think it's a really interesting one because you know, people talk about marketing is in like okay what little tactics are doing, like how you're optimizing your ads, you know, how are using email marketing and all of those things are really greatly there's to pull but I kind of came to me one day when we were trying to optimize copy on our ads and I was like, you know what, what if we had just a better product to sell rather than talking about it in a different light. So for us it's been really important to improve the product as much as we could. And that in itself is really why our marketing is so successful. So you know, our court covers have a zipper on it, which people love, like we've got a really thick elastic and are fitted sheet which people just are obsessed over like pillow cases have an extra deep flap and All of those little things make the customer experience more valuable, which means they talk about it with their friends.

00:17:10Edit And um and I think that word of mouth piece has just been so important for us and our repeat customer rate is around about I think 25%. So you know, people are loving us and people are coming back and and that's been really successful in our marketing, just having a really good product to sell. You guys have like a 05 star reviews. It's pretty cool, It's so cool. I was like 300 pages of five star reviews all right now, and it's so funny just to see people so passionate about sheets, because it's just, it's so heartwarming like those little things in your life that you can just make so much better just make such a huge difference. So yeah, for us, it's been about improving the product and then the marketing comes from that to um like if we look at our products, we kind of run our margins a little bit differently because we're fully online. So instead of gets factoring in marketing costs below the line, so after we calculate our margin, we put it at the top.

00:18:13Edit So our first margin is how much you paid for the goods and how much it costs us to sell the goods and that's our margin. So we always factor in that cost of selling the product into our first margin. So if we can get a word of mouth sail and we haven't had to pay to get them in, that's just so much more valuable for our business. Yeah, I think it's definitely key to be making sure that I think it actually gets lost sometimes that people aren't focused on the building the best possible product that people want to shout about, a lot of people on the podcast actually very much talk about the word of mouth, like success that they've had and because they've built such amazing products, but yeah, I think sometimes people, or companies can forget that key part of it. Yeah, I'm crazy so much to think about you and you go to meetups and talk to other people and you know, some people will say like email marketing, like you need to focus on this and you need to get this open rate and that's so important, and then your digital people say like, oh, CPC, that's all that matters, and you can just get bogged down in all these different metrics and as a, as a founder, you kind of like, okay, well where do I go?

00:19:20Edit But I think, you know, as a family, you've got to stay true to yourself and your product and and that's the thing that really should get you over the line. For sure. What are some of the challenges that you face as a founder at this stage of your business? I guess like from the last few years to now, I've been able to make things happen just by doing more and I guess being so agile, you know, if I was shooting something and we wanted to shoot to be really successful, that I could roll up my sleeves and I could get it done and and I guess that's what having a startups all about, but at the moment, like the biggest challenge I've got is kind of growing out a team and instead of doing it switched to leading and making sure that I'm giving the right messages to my staff and empowering them to make the right decisions and making sure that they can support us on our journey of growing the business. So I've never kind of set out to be a leader, which is so crazy to think about, you know, I started the business just because I loved working and I wanted to do what I loved, um but it gets to a stage where you're like, okay, I can't just roll up my sleeves anymore, I've got to make sure that everyone else knows what they're doing and I've got to have it clear enough vision to project that.

00:20:36Edit So yeah, I'm finding that really hard, but I'm excited to focus on it and make it better, and, you know, I'm really humble about that too, you know, especially when talking to my team, I'm like, okay guys, I'm not sure what the right thing to do is, but like, what do you guys think, how can I support you? Have you got everything you need? So yeah, I'm really challenged, but I'm also really excited about learning more in that space for sure, sounds like you'll be a great leader. I want to ask you what your advice is for any women who are looking to start a business or who have a big idea. Yeah, I think knowing the market and that's quite a broad thing to say. But part of the reason why I guess our brand has been so successful is that we've got less barriers to purchase. Like everyone in Australia has a bed. So essentially everyone in the world or in Australia at the moment is our customers. So, you know, with other people sounding businesses, I think it's really important to know what your pool of potential customers is and what those barriers would be.

00:21:42Edit So for example, in fashion, you know, you've got to design something and it's got to be the right style, it's got to be the right fit, it's going to be the right size, You've got all these different barriers, whereas with our product, you know, it always fits. There's no queen bed, that's not a queen bed, it never really doesn't look good on you. It's not really the style. So I think I kind of like breaking down those barriers, you know, that's why our business has been so successful. So I think if you're able to think about that really conceptually and understand, you know what barriers you can jump over before even launching. I think that's really valuable for sure, Absolutely Amazing. We're up to the six quick questions question. Number one is what's your why this is such a hard one? I'm probably the worst articulating?

00:22:43Edit So I if I can probably tell you a sentence and it's that feeling that you get after having a long day and you get into your bed and you're like, oh like there is nowhere else I want to be right now and you're just so incredibly happy. You know, you might have freshly washed sheets on and it's just like if you're doing is giving you a bit of a cuddle and you're like, yes, I'm happy and it's just that feeling, that's why we do it and you know, just that little little pleasure you get at the end of the day and then also on the other end, like when you wake up and you've got a good night's sleep and you wake up and you're like yeah I've got this, I've got today. Um so it's a very long answer, but no, I love it and I so agree, betting is so important, betting is like mandatory, you can't have crappy bedding. The worst, different. I totally get it. Giving that feeling to people all around the country is amazing. Question.

00:23:43Edit Number two is what was the number one marketing moment that made your business pop? I think for me it was about understanding digital marketing. Um you know, I don't have a marketing background and also, you know entering into an e commerce business? I was kind of like, well, like what is what's the cost per conversion, like what does role as mean, like I can't go a minute further without knowing this. So I think educating myself in that area has just been a game changer and essentially earlier on running my own ads and and understanding what levers I can pull and if results were actually good results has just made such a difference. And even now, I mean we've got an agency that manage our digital marketing but knowing, you know, when I have discussions with them, you know, they can't pull the wool over my eyes and I think a lot of people, you know, are involved in digital marketing and can just get swamped over by all this information and there's so many metrics that you can look at, you know, time on site and you know, conversion made and wave should switch your focus.

00:24:51Edit But yeah, just really understanding that has been so important. Yeah, it's a great skill to have, even if it's not going to be you actually executing, it's really important to understand and to understand the possibilities. Um, and as well to kind of figure out that, you know the loop of you put money in, you get money back, you reinvest it, it's like going around in that amazing. Yeah and like the why why is it working and how can I make this better? Yes, 100% 100 question, number three is ready, hang out to get smarter um yeah, I don't know, a lot of people say, you know, you know, go to meetups and talk to as many people as you can and, and I tried that for a while, but I kind of just felt like all these conversations I was having with so surface level. So I've got a really good group of friends that have e commerce businesses that aren't competing with mine. So we can have really meaningful conversations about what's working in their business, what's not working in their business and you know what their winds were.

00:25:54Edit And I can also just be so open and share mine too. And I feel like that's where I've got the most valuable insights. Yeah, absolutely. For sure. I, I learned from all the people I speak to two. That's where I'm hanging out to get some water. Question number four is how do you win the day and that's around your am and your PM rituals that keep you feeling happy, fulfilled, successful, productive. Yeah, I think I would have answered this question completely different last year. I've just had a a young boy, so I had my first son in May last year. So before that I was kind of so focused in the business and if you had asked me, you know how when the day I'd be like all of my things have been ticked off and I'm like I had all these meetings and I've just been so successful and really productive and all of these winds and I was just so high on achievements and then having a child and going on maternity leave, it's just a complete game changer and you get to the end of the day and I'd be like, I haven't achieved a single thing today.

00:26:58Edit You know, I haven't done the washing, I haven't done anything and it's a different type of day and I just realized like I couldn't work off that achievement happiness ratio anymore. And it just meant that, you know, winning the day was ending the day happy and that's all that mattered. It didn't matter how many things you ticked off your to do list or you know how it was successful? You were um, it was just that you had had a good day anyway, able to appreciate what had happened and just taking it for what it is and so winning the day is just about being happy no matter what has happened. That's nice. That's a nice way to look at it. Question number five is if you only had $1000 left in your business bank account, where would you spend it definitely on facebook ads, I'd be confident in the return ratio 100 percent, 100%.

00:28:04Edit And final question is how do you deal with failure and that can be around like a personal experience that you want to share or it can just be your general mindset and approach towards it. Yeah, I think in the first year, I mean you're just working so hard at growing a business and like things don't really get traction, but I think it was like 6 to 9 months, we were seeing like, you know, regular sales coming through and it was so hard because it's, that's the stage that you've worked the hardest and I feel like you just every day, it's like, okay, you know, I tried really hard today and I just used to have this motto like, because the hours were just never enough, I just used to get to the end of the day, you know, I'd be like, cool, I'll just try again tomorrow. So I'd come home and my husband be like, how was your day? And I was like, it was fun, I'm gonna try again tomorrow and just having my attitude to be like, cool, you know, today is done, but like tomorrow is a fresh outlook and I'll just keep trying. So it really set me up in a really good mindset to not just count anything as a loss, but just like setting up for, you know, a fresh clean, just like the next day.

00:29:13Edit Oh yeah, I Love it one step at a time. Uh thank you so much for being on the podcast. I love talking to you and learning about your business today. Thank you. It's been really great. Thanks for having me.

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