Entrepreneur Michal Szlas is the CEO and founder of OTTY Sleep, founded when other mattress retailers failed to live up to his expectations.
Tell us about your business, what does it do?
OTTY Sleep is a Leeds-based bed-in-a-box retailer launched in 2016, with a mission to become the world’s leading sleep brand. We have worked with a number of leading mattress manufacturers to create a “one-size fits all” product that is designed to bring the best night’s sleep to the UK.
Each mattress combines tried-and-tested materials with industry-leading technology, all of which works together to ensure our customers receive a good night’s rest. More importantly, all this comes at an affordable price, with the mattress being up to £150 less than our competitors, and with a 100-night free trial, it’s a risk free purchase for the consumer.
What did you do before you started this business?
Before launching OTTY, I had another business building a brand of mobile phone accessories. It gave me significant experience in marketing, eCommerce, logistics and management – all of which has aided me in my current role.
The phone accessory business was a successful venture, which massively amplified as I secured contracts with retailers and huge car manufacturers, including Nissan and Renault.
What inspired you to start up?
As well as being a young entrepreneur, I’m a keen martial artist and free-runner. I recognised the importance a good night’s sleep had on both physical and mental wellbeing, so I went on the search for a mattress that would give me the optimum amount of rest to match my busy lifestyle. Unfortunately, the purchasing experience was met with false marketing promises and high prices, and I decided do something about it.
I aimed to create a mattress that would give people from all walks of life the opportunity to discover the ultimate in mattress comfort at a price that didn’t break the bank, which inspired me to launch OTTY in 2016.
How would you describe your business to your grandma?
Imagine buying a mattress without having to go to the shop. You just go on the internet, press a few buttons and it’ll be delivered directly to your bedroom within a couple of days. You can sleep on it for a few weeks to see if the mattress is for you, and if you decide it’s not quite right, the same people will come and collect it and you’ll get a full refund.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
I’ve met many great people during my time in business, each who have instilled me with the confidence to work hard and make sure that everything I do, I do to the best of my ability.
Advice and support comes from many places – whether it’s from investors, my colleagues, fellow professionals or friends and family. They’re all on hand to answer any questions or offer me support if I need it.
Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?
I was lucky enough to be able to use savings from my previous ventures to launch OTTY. I had close relationships with the supplier, and the fact we were quickly profitable during the startup period meant that we quickly built some capital, and OTTY could support itself.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
When OTTY was first launched, I knew we were joining a saturated market, but was confident our USPs would be well embraced by those on the lookout for a mattress. However, I was hugely proud of our first year turnover of £1.7m – a figure that is expected to increase by more than 500% when our next turnover is announced in July 2018.
I think what makes it more special is the fact that we’re operating at such a low overhead level with a small team, but we don’t let that compromise our overall service. It’s a testament to the hard work the OTTY team and I have put in to make the company a success.
How do you differentiate your business from others?
From the get-go, we knew we wanted to prevent the things that made my initial experience so negative. My USPs were to create an industry leading and innovative product at a cost-effective price point, while ensuring the purchasing experience was as fluent and easy as possible.
None of this came easy though, as I had to closely monitor the company’s profit margins. I launched OTTY on a shoestring when compared to our nearest competitors, many of which raised substantial funds or were owned by large corporations. However, I think we found the right balance, which is proven by our two years of success.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
It’s great, but hard work. Many people have the notion that the boss has all the freedom, but it’s pretty much the opposite. As boss, you’re ultimately the problem solver – you need to make sure everything is running fluently, while fixing any problems that may occur, and If you don’t make the right decisions, you pay for it.
Sure, you can take a week off without having to ask for permission if you want, but more realistically, you’re working 16-hour days and weekends on a weekly basis! It’s something I’ve grown to love though, and I wouldn’t change it.
Where do you see your business in 5 years time?
I’m confident that in five years’ time, we’ll be one of the UK’s leading mattress companies.
As well as having an increasingly prominent position in the UK, we’ve recently expanded into Germany, with other European countries to follow. This will build our brand awareness across the continent, allow us to hire more members of staff and introduce more products to the current range.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Know your market, know your customer and know your numbers.
If you understand your target audience, what they’re prepared to pay and how to reach them, you’re onto a winner!
Our BQ Bulletin emails will land in your inbox at 7.30am, Monday to Friday, with a mix of the latest local business news, national news, and features to inspire you. Sign up here!
Click here to read our privacy statement