“Starting a company is like having a child — it requires 24/7 attention and care.”
Words of Wisdom with Martin Rawls-Meehan, CEO and Co-Founder of Reverie.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Martin Rawls-Meehan, CEO and Co-Founder of Reverie. I founded the business in 2003 shortly after graduating from college, and have been passionately driving massive growth in the sleep technology space ever since. I am a lifelong learner, and have a B.A. from Princeton University, a Masters from the London School of Economics, a Juris Doctor in Law from NYU and a Law and Business certificate from NYU’s Stern School of Business.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I was born in Boston, but I spent most of my childhood in Metro Detroit. My parents were both Sociology professors, and we ended up moving around a bit when I was a kid as they worked through graduate school and their post-doc appointments, finally settling in the Detroit area because it was the only city where they could both get jobs. As a child of two professors business probably wasn’t my expected life path, but I was raised to be independent and I’ve always enjoyed challenging the status quo — so in many ways I probably gravitated naturally to being an entrepreneur. After graduating from Princeton, my childhood friend Tony Chang and I talked about going into business together. Like all “kids” that talk about going into business with each other, we had a lot of big ideas about what we could accomplish and what industries we could take over. “Sleep” was one of those industries, and we ended up founding Reverie in 2003 and from there the adventure started.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Hmmm…great question. A lot of funny and interesting things have happened to me over the years, but the thing that jumps to mind right now was the time I flew to Shanghai to do a live infomercial on Chinese television (in Chinese) for Reverie China. I got off the plane and pretty much went straight to the studio — it was all live, all in Chinese, and it was definitely a blur. I was pitching our Reverie DreamCell mattress in Chinese to a Chinese audience watching on TV around China…it’s hard enough to pitch a product on live TV in your native language, so this was pretty hilarious. Not sure I did a great job, but thankfully they put me out there with another pitchman who helped me out quite a bit. A great experience…not sure I’d do it again that way, but in hindsight it’s pretty funny to think about.
So what exactly does your company do?
Reverie helps people live better lives through the power of sleep. We design, manufacture and sell customized and customizable mattresses and adjustable power bases (what we call “Sleep Systems”). Through our new “Sleep Concierge” team, we also educate and coach people on how to improve their sleep hygiene and habits to get the most out of their sleep system and improve their health, happiness, and overall well being.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We believe great sleep helps people live better lives. Period. Because that is what drives us every day, we take a very broad view on what our marketplace is and who our competitors are — we don’t think of other bedding companies as our competitors, we look at anything people are spending dollars on that isn’t helping them the way great sleep can and we see that as the competition. If we can really open people’s eyes to what good sleep means to them and how we can help them get it, our success will naturally flow from that.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
One person I’m very grateful to is my business partner’s father, HT Chang. When Tony and I were first getting started he provided a lot of guidance, advice, and support. I know I have learned a lot from him and wouldn’t be where I am in business without his help. Frankly, there have been a lot of people that have helped me along the way — too many to thank individually in this limited space. I’m someone that believes that nobody succeeds on their own, and I am definitely an example of that.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I think that like almost any other business owner, I’m proud of the fact that we have grown a business that has created real jobs and a real family at Reverie. We are also a community-oriented company, and we do a lot of work with charities like Sweet Dreamzz and Wounded Warriors to give back to the people who make our world a better place. I’d also say that our success by its very nature brings good into the world — we are focused on helping people sleep better, and therefore our success at doing that brings good into the world because when people sleep better they live better, happier lives. The science shows us that this is simply a fact, and every day there is more research backing it up. It’s a great feeling knowing that our company success is in and of itself a positive for the world around us.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why.
- Starting a company is like having a child — it requires 24/7 attention and care. One of the things that you don’t really understand until you have already begun the adventure is that in many ways starting and running a company is like having a child. Start-ups are fragile, they require attention and care all the time (including the middle of the night), and even if you’ve read all the books there are about starting and running a business there really is no “playbook” or instruction manual for success. It really comes down to giving it all the love and attention you possibly can, and figuring things out as you go along. As a father of two beautiful daughters I sometimes sit back and laugh at how similar starting a company and having children can actually be at times. Obviously they are not the same, and nothing can compare with the joys of being a parent, but if you want your business to be truly successful you are going to have to put similar amounts of energy into your business as you do raising your children, and in many ways you must treat it like you would one of your own children.
- You will always have a “boss.” I know that one of the great appeals of starting a company with my friend 15 years ago was the idea that we would be free from the constraints of having a boss — we could make our own decisions and if we were successful ultimately we would carve our path, doing things how we saw fit and answering to no one. The problem is, even if you don’t have a “boss” in your company that you have to report to, you are ultimately accountable to somebody. For me it is our customers — we depend on them for our success, and we are here to serve them. People vote with their pocketbooks, and we need to deliver an amazing product and customer experience if we are going to earn the right to call them customers.
- You will fail a lot more than you succeed. Starting a company and making it successful is much more about dealing with failure than it is success. Failure comes early and often in most startups. How you deal with that adversity, and specifically how you turn the negatives into positives, will determine whether you are successful. I probably called on hundreds of retailers and distributors before I made my first sale. I went through multiple product iterations before we had something that really took off in the market place. I failed, or at least I didn’t succeed, time and time again early on at Reverie. I had to learn to bounce back from failure and find ways to flip the negatives into positives — without that I never would have made it through the early years.
- Enjoy the ride. Early on you are running at 200 miles an hour, 24/7, doing everything and anything you can to make the business successful. It is just so hard getting things off the ground that when you finally do succeed you almost don’t know what to do with it. So, in my case, I just kept running 200 miles and hour 24/7, and I think most entrepreneurs end up doing the same. Success somehow makes you work harder and appreciate that success less than you should. I wish somebody would have told me to sit back more in the early days and just appreciate the ride, the ups and downs, the struggle of getting a business off the ground. It is so hard to have that perspective when you are in the middle of the struggle, but if I’d had it I know that I would have appreciated some of the cool early successes (and even failures) that we had and been better off for it.
- Pull band-aids. One of the things that I’ve always found hardest to do is to fire employees. I’ve always been so proud of starting a business that creates jobs, and it pains me whenever I have to let somebody go. This has caused me to hesitate and keep people in positions for longer than I should. It is particularly hard when the person works their tail off and they’ve been with you for a while, and you realize that they are no longer a good fit for the company or their role. What I’ve come to appreciate, though, is that keeping people in positions where they don’t belong is doing a disservice to everybody else in the company — I have a duty to every employee here to put the company in the best position for success that I can. If I hold back on letting somebody go because it is hard, I am putting everybody else in a bad spot because the company would be in a better place if I made the tough decision. I don’t hesitate now like I used to — it still hurts me to have to make these choices, especially when it is somebody that I know works hard and cares about the company, but I know it is my job and responsibility to make the tough choices and my burden to live with it. Doing the right thing hurts sometimes, but such is the burden of leadership.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Wow — great question! I had to think hard about this one. There are a lot of people I’d love to have a one on one breakfast/lunch with. If I had to pick one person right now it would be Elon Musk — he’s going all in on game changing technologies in industries that will have a massive impact on the future of our planet and the human race. I To have the chance to pick his brain for a little while would be a phenomenal opportunity. Hopefully he is reading this — maybe we can make a trade…I would be more than happy to do a full sleep consultation and set him up with a sleep system over lunch! :)