Here Are 4 Tips From a Startup That’s About to Go Global

Casper CEO Philip Krim dishes on what he's learned

Since launching in April 2014, mattress brand Casper has set out to shake up the sleep industry and prove that consumers will buy $950 mattresses online. Now, it wants to take the concept global.

During a conference organized by mobile analytics company Appboy on Thursday, CEO Philip Krim talked about how he plans to take his brand international in the next year.

"We're very optimistic to bring our business model to Europe next," Krim said. "We're very soon going to launch some new products that we've been working on for more than a year. Our long-term vision is to build Casper to be the global top-of-mind brand that people think about when getting a better night's sleep."

Here are four lessons that Krim has learned since launching Casper.

1. Brick-and-mortar retail isn't dead.

Despite being an e-commerce-only brand, Casper is investing heavily in physical showrooms.

Casper has had storefronts in New York and Los Angeles for months. But today, the brand launched a pop-up store in Venice, Calif., that it considers to be its first full-fledged attempt at a bricks-and-mortar outlet.

"The showrooms are off the beaten path. You have to really find out about us online and make an appointment," Krim said. "The Venice pop-up is more of a traditional retail spot that you can find by walking by."

Casper has proven that people will buy big-ticket items like mattresses online, but Krim said people still crave the tactile, in-store shopping experience.

"We knew that there was going to be a big part of the population that would never buy a mattress unseen," Krim said. "We get to deal face-to-face with customers, ask them questions."

2. Traditional advertising works, but not from traditional agencies.

Casper leans heavily on out-of-home and traditional advertising to get the word out about the brand.

In New York, Casper is currently running an ad campaign on top of taxis, and it's also tested out-of-home ads in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago.

The mattress startup also launched its first TV spot two weeks ago—so it's clear it is not afraid of traditional media.

"A mattress is a highly considered purchase—it's not something you buy on a whim," Krim said. "Whether you learn about us because you saw our ad on the subway or a taxi top, we know that's not going to be what convinces you to buy the product."

Digital media, however, is what convinces someone to buy. "As you're doing research via search or social, [digital requires] different creative and strategic approaches," Krim said.

Casper has a 12-person marketing team and uses a hybrid model with agencies, meaning that the brand and agency teams work together to come up with campaigns.

With startups beginning to become more mainstream, traditional agencies are increasingly taking on more of their work. But that's not a model that Krim is interested in.

"We never wanted to be one of the smallest clients of the agency," he said. "We look for specialized, smaller shops that know a given channel really well."

For example, the brand worked with Brooklyn-based Red Antler (which specializes in marketing for startups) to design its packaging and direct a photo shoot.

3. Wearables aren't worth the hype—yet.

Startups like Jawbone are taking aim at the sleeping industry to improve people's lifestyle.

To better understand how consumers feel about wearables, Casper has used its research group—made of 13,000 consumers and called Casper Labs—to help with various product ideas.

Based on that research, Krim said wearables haven't proved to be a lucrative opportunity.

"Our conclusion right now is that there's no device out there that gives you a consistent and accurate picture of your sleep quality. We haven't seen the wearable category change the way that people improve their sleep," Krim said.

4. Content keeps folks interested.

In June, Casper launched a site called Van Winkle's that cranks out editorial content about sleep, backed by a team of journalists.

Since buying a mattress is not a quick purchase for most, the idea of the site is to educate consumers with everything they need to know about sleep. Article topics have ranged from how to fold a fitted sheet to the impact of sleep deprivation on post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for military troops.

One article that particularly struck a chord with consumers was a piece on research from a professor from the U.K.'s Northumbira University claiming that the sun will disappear by 2030.

"It got picked up by an environmental group and went crazy viral," said Krim. "There are so many facets of sleep and ways that you can tie it to people that's deeply important to them."