In 2014, Casper made a splash in the $14 billion mattress industry with its mail-order mattresses. From the beginning, the startup took a minimalistic approach to product design. In an industry where consumers are pelted with many complicated choices–memory foam? box spring? water bed?–Casper launched a single mattress that its designers believed would cater to the widest range of consumers.
Jeff Chapin, one of Casper’s founders and the brand’s chief design officer, has been central to this simple, curated approach to product. Having spent a decade at Ideo, Chapin wants to use design to streamline the decision-making process for customers. Still, he believes that there is room for another mattress option within the Casper stable.
Over the last year, Chapin been leading a team of researchers, designers, and engineers at Casper Labs, the brand’s 5,000-square-foot R&D facility in San Francisco, as they developed an entirely new mattress. The Wave mattress stands out from existing products in the marketplace because it uses different materials along the length of the mattress to better accommodate the human body’s physiology. It will be marketed as a premium product, with a price tag roughly double that of the original Casper mattress; a regular queen-size Casper mattress is $950, while the same size Wave costs $1850.
“Our shoulders and hips are the heaviest parts of our body,” says Chapin, describing how the materials in the bed change as you go from the head to the torso to the legs, something that few other mattress brands have attempted. “We had a breakthrough when we decided we could change the surface of the mattress to better cradle and support these parts of the body. This would have the effect of aligning the spine.”
When you lie on a flat surface, your spine curves, since your shoulders and your butt jut out compared to your legs, torso, and head. The Wave has a layer of softer memory foam around your shoulders and bottom area that allow these parts of the body to sink in, ensuring the spine remains straight. Underneath this accommodating top layer there is a firmer latex layer that ensures that your entire body remains supported.
It was hard for me to wrap my head around this concept until I had a chance to test it out. I slept on the Wave for four nights and found it a fascinating, unusual experience. Just as Chapin said, my hips sank into the bed deeper than the rest of my body, which made me feel–for a split second–like I was off balance or unsteady. But once I got used to it, it was clear that my spine seemed straighter no matter what position I rolled into. Research shows that most people start off their night sleeping in one position, but rearrange themselves over the course of the night.
I felt very rested each morning after I slept on the Wave. I attributed this to several things.
First, I seemed to be able to sleep longer, since I didn’t feel uncomfortable lying on my back or side for seven hours. (One night I slept over nine hours, partly because I didn’t feel too stiff or achey to stay in bed–a regular problem for me).
Second, one interesting side effect of my hip area sinking in lower than usual is that my legs were at an incline, which was particularly relaxing after long days of walking, since generally my legs get a bit swollen if I’ve been on my feet for too much time.
Finally, the top layer that engulfed my body seemed to absorb any movement my husband made on his side of the bed.
Chapin explains that his team dug through millions of data points to develop this bed largely through Casper Labs, which has benefited from the $170 million infusion of funding that Casper received in June. The round was led by Target, and brought Casper’s investment coffers to $240 million.
Casper Labs employs a range of approaches to create new products. First, it examines and tests the latest high tech materials like weightless flo foam, a velvety material that appears to melt away upon touch, like cotton candy. This creates a comforting sensation for the sleeper.
Second, Casper Labs prototypes mattresses, then observes how humans interact with and sleep on these test beds in a climate-controlled bedroom. This is how Casper discovered that individuals create unique sleep climates around themselves because they release different amounts of moisture. (Based on this insight, Casper has determined that the key factor to a comfortable sheets and comforters is not regulating temperature, which is industry practice, but regulating humidity.)
Finally, Casper has recruited 20,000 loyal fans who are keen to provide insights. They each get an at-home kit that includes devices that capture data about their body and ambient temperature, humidity, and movement, allowing them to track their own sleep.
“At first, we wanted to keep all the gory details about our testing processes out of the consumer’s sight, since we thought it might be too much unnecessary details,” Chapin says. “But we’re finding that people are interested in the science of sleep and are fascinated by their own sleeping habits. So we’re slowly lifting the veil and allowing people to see the work that we’re doing.” Casper’s blog now contains charts about everything from sleeping positions to nocturnal body temperatures to canine sleep habits, to satisfy even the nerdiest amateur sleep scientist.
In early August, Casper Labs developed a high-tech humidity-fighting duvet, which it is crowdfunding via Kickstarter. The Wave is the second product to come out of the lab, but Chapin says that there are more to come. Together with his team, Chapin is helping Casper become known not only for its approach to selling beds, but also for finding radical solutions for better sleep. In doing so, they are keeping up with their larger competitors, such as Serta, which is investing $65 million in its Atlanta headquarters, which will contain an elaborate sleep testing facility.
When it come to the pricing, Chapin explains that the Wave was particularly expensive to make and manufacture. The company spared no expense, bringing in materials from Belgium, Germany, and Korea that contain the latest polymer technology that are more resilient, springing back faster upon touch and thereby providing better support. The Wave was also more costly to build since mattress factories aren’t equipped to churn out such a complex design, so Casper had to work with their suppliers on new production lines.
“With this mattress, we were definitely focused on designing the best product that we could, rather than the most cost-efficient,” Chapin explains, describing how this new product is different from the original Casper mattress. “If between five and 10 percent of our mattress sales are from the Wave, that will be a success.”
As Chapin and his team conducted consumer research as while working on the Wave, he discovered that there is a small sliver of people who will pay almost anything for a high-quality mattress. This group includes people who have incapacitating back or spinal issues and must spend money on chiropractors, massages, or doctors to tackle their issues. A bed that costs several thousands of dollars seems like a small expense in comparison. One woman he met was a firefighter who had a history of back issues that made it hard for her to do her job and had spent upwards of $5,000 on her previous mattresses.
“Mattresses companies can charge ludicrous prices for beds tailored to people with back problems,” Chapin says. “Our starting price is meant to be competitive with other high-end ergonomic mattresses, but as we continue working through our supply chain we are going to find ways to drive down the cost.”
One approach to driving down cost will be to buy materials for the Wave in bulk, as Casper continues to scale as a company. At some point, Casper may even own its own factories, allowing it to more efficiently produce mattresses.
“We want to serve people like this firefighter who really depend on having a good mattress to have a good quality of life,” he says.