Karl Shevick: Co-founder & CEO of Earthfoam

Episode 456

Karl Shevick, Co-Founder and CEO of Earthfoam, the sustainable sleep brand that raises the standards of quality, comfort, durability, and transparency within a misunderstood industry is here with us to discuss the mattress and sleep industry, how they hedge against greenwashing to deliver an honest product working directly with the farmers in its supply chain to ensure quality and care at every stage of production. We learn all about his journey, lessons along the way and what’s on deck for the Earthfoam brand. This interview is filled with all sorts of interesting tidbits that will keep you asking for me and I know that you will be glad you listened. Now on #TheKaraGoldinShow.

Resources from
this episode:


Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone, it’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show. And I’m so excited to have my next guest. Here we have Carl Chevak, who is the co founder and CEO of Earth phone. And you may or may not have tried Earth foam, but you absolutely need to try Earth foam. It is an incredible, incredible mattress. But also, if you’ve already purchased a mattress, and you’re not in the mood to upgrade that at this time, you could also get a mattress pad, which is what I did. And they also have pillows, and they have so many other things. And it’s just a great brand and a quality product, we’re gonna get into what makes it unique. How the sustainable sleep brand raises the standards of quality, comfort, durability, and transparency within a very misunderstood industry. For most and with six, environmental and social impact certifications, backing up their production and quality standards, Earth foam hedges against greenwashing to deliver an honest product working directly with the farmers and its supply chain. We’ll definitely talk to Carl a little bit more about this. But also, how in the heck did he decide to start this company? Initially with his with his brother as well. And we’ll talk a lot more about that, too. So welcome to the show, Carl,

Karl Shevick 2:11
thank you so much for having me, Kara. Absolutely. I

Kara Goldin 2:14
love founder stories and the entrepreneurs stories. And yours definitely was one and I appreciate your product and the quality and everything that you stand for. So congratulations, first of all, it’s really awesome.

Karl Shevick 2:30
Thank you. Thank you so much.

Kara Goldin 2:31
So where did the name Earth foam come from?

Karl Shevick 2:35
So we have another brand called sleep on latex. We started in 2013. And so the product that we’re selling is is latex foam, which is something a lot of people aren’t familiar with. It’s a really old material that was used in mattresses. And I came across it at some point I was doing another business. And I found there was this niche market for people looking for latex mattresses and latex mattress toppers. And so that’s kind of how I got into this business. You know, it became very apparent to me, at some point that the word latex was really throwing people off. And people have like the complete opposite associations with latex of what the product actually is. We’re selling a product that’s natural, it stays very cool. It’s really comfortable. People don’t think of those things when they hear the word latex. And so we have this audience that knows what latex foam is. And so it’s sleep on latex, we were able to connect really well with those people. But we felt like we kind of just needed to give them material a different name to connect with a wider audience because I just found time and time again that that was a barrier with people like when people would ask what I do, I tell them about our mattresses, and I’d say they’re made with this material called latex foam. That sounds weird. And so like then the the focus kind of like became rather than starting at zero and trying to get to 10. Like in convincing somebody that this was a product they should want. It’s like you’re starting at negative 10. And then you got to get to zero before you can get to 10. And so that’s really the real basic idea of Earth’s love is let’s give this material a name. That really better expresses what it is.

Kara Goldin 4:26
I love that so how did this all start? I mean, did you grow up in a family that was in the mattress industry? Or how did this how did this all begin?

Karl Shevick 4:38
Yes, not at all it a lot of people I talked to like think this is a family business because it’s a it’s a crazy kind of niche to get into. But no I actually I came out of college and I worked for a company that did contract selling so they were doing a lot of stuff for the military, like a lot of things for the military are still selling I’m in the US. And I ended up going off on my own and trying to start my own business doing contract sewing, that didn’t really work out, I got into doing beanbag chairs. And I was trying to sell beanbag chairs online, which I found there was just a ton of competition. And so then I started looking for other things I could sell online, and one of my suppliers had latex. And so I kind of just got really interested in it, I found there was there was this market of people that were looking for latex foam. And I found that I could sell it at a pretty good price compared to what other people were selling it for online. So that that was the beginning. And at first I was I would actually just get orders. And then I would go to my supplier, and I would just buy from them and like go straight to the UPS store and box it up and send it to the customer. And I started doing drop shipping. And then I decided to buy a container of this foam from a supplier Sri Lanka. And then I ran into the problem of I needed to unload the container. So I’ve hired my brother to help me unload it. And he’s been running the business with me ever since that.

Kara Goldin 6:12
And was it initially very local in Chicago initially or

Karl Shevick 6:17
no, it’s actually always been like across the US. So it’s kind of just been divided on like different markets that we’ve gone after. So in the beginning, I was selling everything on eBay. Then we started our website, and we were selling everything on the website. And then we went and started selling on Amazon. So it’s really never been a local thing. The funny thing is now we’ve kind of gained enough notoriety that yesterday, we just had somebody who came into the warehouse, and we’ve been getting this more and more. Like, you know, every few days, we get somebody that comes into the warehouse and wants to try our mattresses. So it’s starting to turn into a local thing, even though it’s never been that before.

Kara Goldin 6:59
That’s so funny. How did you know? I mean, you mentioned eBay, like how did you know how to start this? I mean, it just as it sounds so daunting?

Karl Shevick 7:10
Yeah. So I, you know, I’ve always wanted to own my own business. And so like, you know, as a kid, I was always coming up with business ideas. And actually, my brother was kind of involved in that with me, too, when we were kids. And somehow, at some point, we got into selling things on eBay, I think actually, he’s he was doing that first. And I saw like, you know, he was just like buying us stuff and selling it on eBay. And he’d like kind of knew what he could sell on eBay. And then when I was at college, I found that like, at the end of the semester, people would return the books to the bookstore. And they’d have, like a bunch of books that they couldn’t use, but I could sell those on eBay. And so that kind of like got us into the mindset of selling things online.

Kara Goldin 7:58
That’s wild. So the mattress industry is known for having sales around holidays. And somebody I was just talking to somebody about this the other day, like sometimes they’ll wait until Labor Day and Memorial Day, but things like that you weren’t used to right. And yet the consumer had been trained to sort of wait for those sales. And can you talk a little bit more about sort of that, like trends like that, that you had to adjust to?

Karl Shevick 8:31
Yeah, yeah, sure. So yeah, the sales thing is something we definitely had to pay a lot of attention to, whether we like it or not. And so our mindset has always been that we want to be transparent, and we want to be straightforward with our customers. And so the problem I have a lot of times with sales is that, you know, our cost doesn’t change day to day. So let’s say we have a bunch of mattresses we need to get rid of, okay, then there’s a real reason to have the sale. Um, you know, I guess you can make the argument that like days, like Black Friday, there was a lot of competition. So it’s like, you want to fight for furs for sales on that day. And it’s more important to bring down the prices. But, you know, our attitude is we don’t want somebody to buy something one day and then see it cost less the next day, like a mattress is a thing that you need to evaluate over a long period of time we give people 100 Day trials. And so I don’t really think it’s fair to sell to somebody at one price. And then like, you know, 50 days after they got it, you drastically dropped down the prices. Likewise, you see a lot of mattress companies that always have some sale. It’s just like a never ending sale. And I think that comes from the fact that how often are people shopping for mattresses like it’s very rare, and so you kind of need a reason to be pushed into buying And sale is like an easy, easy read, it’s an easy way to create that urgency so that people feel like they have to buy today. But again, we really feel like our product. If you do your research, you’ll find like, We’re selling a really good product, it’s at a really good price. We have like a lot of certifications that people are interested in. And so we’ve, we’ve done a lot of work on our supply chain. And we feel like we just want to present that to people in a straightforward way and say, okay, here was our cost, here’s what we need to sell you the product that, and this is the price that we’re going to sell it now, sometimes things change, and we have to change our prices, we’re always trying to bring our prices down actually as much as possible. But we don’t want to create a dynamic where either we’re giving people like a false choice of like they have to buy today or the price is going to go back up. And we don’t want to like get people to think that the price is lower when it’s not actually lower.

Kara Goldin 11:05
Yeah, absolutely. So I can only imagine you have your first product, right? And how do you? How do you get the word out to consumers that you actually have this product? I mean, you’re posting it in these different services, whether it’s Amazon, or you probably had it on your website 10 years ago, also on eBay, some other like, how did you actually tell consumers that you’re open for business? I mean, it must have been scary, because you had to pay for the product upfront before selling it. And, you know, I can just imagine those early days.

Karl Shevick 11:45
Yeah. And that was really the opportunity for us is that we saw fit that that would always be the barrier to sell something to a customer is, how do you let them know that this product is out there. And so what we found was that with eBay, like there was an opportunity where people were looking for this product, and we could sell it at a very competitive price. And doing that and like creating sales, we could kind of raise go up in the rankings on eBay, and then more people would find us. And so you know that to some extent is what we’ve done with our website, and like search engine rankings, and what we’ve done with Amazon. So that’s that’s really been our strategy so far, is to just create a product that brings really good value, and people want to buy. And then naturally that’s like brought us up in the rankings. Whether that’s Amazon or website or or eBay.

Kara Goldin 12:45
So you launched Earth foam second to your initial company. So and you talked a little bit about why you decided to do that. But how many years old is Earth foam at this point?

Karl Shevick 13:00
Yeah, so let’s foam is not even a year old. approach one year old. Yeah.

Kara Goldin 13:07
That’s awesome. And you have a little bit different process than what you were used to. Can you share a little bit more about that? And why you decided to have a different supply chain for this company?

Karl Shevick 13:21
Yeah, yeah, definitely. So with this phone, we really wanted to create a product that would appeal to a wider audience. So previously, we were really going after like that niche audience that was looking just for the product that we’re selling. But with other foam, we want to appeal to anybody buying a mattress. At the same time, we started working on building a factory in Sri Lanka. And we thought it would be really cool to tie in our supply chain and our factory into this new brand identity. And that’s really just, you know, our effort to create more transparency about the product, which I really believe is the future with, especially with E commerce is people want to know where their products are coming from. They want to know how it’s made. They want to know how its source. And so we felt like we had a really great opportunity to do that and really integrate the idea of the supply chain in general.

Kara Goldin 14:23
And so what do you think are like the dirty little secrets of the mattress industry? You know, like, how does the industry need to change overall Do you believe

Karl Shevick 14:34
so I always feel like it’s really crazy with the mattress industry. You don’t have really any other industry that’s so low tech, that’s always talking about high tech, this high tech that you go to any mattress like website, and they’re talking about some new high tech material that they’re using. And you know, there’s little changes that they’re they’re making with the material but really It’s all just marketing. And so we’re trying to go in the opposite direction of we’re saying, Actually, we have this material that’s really old. It’s been around since like the 40s, and 50s, it was kind of just forgotten about, but it’s better than what anybody else is selling. And we’re trying to make things more simple. We’re not trying to make things more complicated. So that I guess that’s, that’s the general thing that I see with the mattress industry is it tries to make things really complicated. And I think everybody’s trying to gain an edge on each other by saying they have something that their competitor doesn’t. But none of it is really true. And in the end, consumers get really confused about what’s even going on and what they’re buying. And like, I don’t think he would talk to many people even know what materials are in the mattress that they sleep on. Because there’s just so much going on. So we’re trying to go in the complete opposite direction, and just make it really simple for consumers.

Kara Goldin 16:02
So what has been the most difficult part of building this business do you believe?

Karl Shevick 16:08
I think, you know, it’s probably the same thing for any entrepreneur, it’s, there’s always a struggle, and you always have ideas for things that you want to do. But then there’s just day to day things that come up. So you can you can create, like, whatever long term strategy you want. But then you go in, and like something happens, and you have to deal with it. And I think it’s very challenging to balance those two things to try to like, achieve your long term strategy, while also addressing the day to day things. Because you can’t just like say, you know, forget about the stuff that came up today. Like, you have to deal with that. And you have to deal with it effectively. But at the same time, you can’t get locked in the mode, where you’re just putting out fires all the time, and you’re not really focusing on your long term goals.

Kara Goldin 17:03
It’s so true. And I think it’s, it’s, you know, it’s putting out fires. So I had somebody before starting can’t, I’ll never forget, he had talked to me about how the it’s like pick and shovel work, and how it’s, you know, you put out one fire, and then the next one, and then that same fire reignited, and then you know, and it’s this constant battle, and you have to be able to keep your wits about you. And, you know, and keep focusing on what you can control and what you can’t control, you just keep working at it. But it’s, it’s definitely challenging. No matter what industry you’re, you’re in, for sure. So everybody has a pinch me moment, as an entrepreneur where you’re just, you know, you’re very excited, maybe it’s a distributor story, maybe it’s a customer story. You know, every, maybe it’s raising money or selling your company, or whatever it is, I’d love to hear what that is for you.

Karl Shevick 18:14
You know, so we, um, we had a few different facilities. So we started out and we were in like a really small space, it was like, you know, 1500 square feet, it was just me and my brother, and we barely had room for us than like the inventory that we had. And we moved to a slightly bigger space. And it just became very apparent that like, we just didn’t have enough. Even in that space, it was there were a number of spaces in the building. And we started out with one and then we took another and then it was like, even if we take all of the space in this building, it’s not going to be enough for us. And it was just becoming difficult to like unload containers and just even get to inventory because we had so much like piled up in front of it. And so we really came to the realization we need, we need a bigger space. And we found a warehouse that’s 40,000 square feet that we’re still in, in Niles which is just outside of Chicago. And I signed the lease. And then I remember going into the space after I signed the lease that it was a brand new building, so nothing was built out yet. And it was just completely empty. And it looks so humongous. And I was just like, Oh my God, what did I just do? So it was a combination of like, you know, I was excited to get in there. And I was excited that we had made it that far. And I was like scared. It’s like, I just signed this space for five years. Like aren’t we gonna make, like, a lot of money here. So it’s but I feel like it’s always that with your own business. It’s like, you can’t get too excited because every time You get excited, there’s some challenge that’s coming up do

Kara Goldin 20:03
so true, what’s the most popular product that you have.

Karl Shevick 20:07
So our most popular product is actually the the toppers that we sell. So, you know, we this time of year, we get a lot of people buying toppers for college dorm rooms. So we call this topper season, because we’re just a useful one, a lot of twin XL toppers coming through. And, you know, I think for a lot of people, they’ve already bought a mattress, and maybe they’re not comfortable with the mattress that they have. And so they’re trying to find a way to improve the mattress. And so buying a topper is like a much easier way to step into getting a material or getting some a product from us that they can use on their mattress, rather than jumping into getting a whole mattress. And we’ve had a lot of customers that will get a topper and then love the topper and later on, come back and actually buy a mattress from us when they’re ready for it.

Kara Goldin 21:03
That’s awesome. And you guys also do pillows as well. And when did you start doing that from the beginning, where you also

Karl Shevick 21:12
chose from the beat from the beginning. And actually, that was the first thing like latex pillows, were the first thing I really found out about when it came to latex foam. And so I’ve always been a big advocate of our pillows, actually, it’s not nearly as popular as our mattresses and toppers that I always tell people, if you’re going to get one thing, just get a good pillow, that can really make a huge difference, especially for the money.

Kara Goldin 21:42
Yeah, definitely. So when you think about your company, you’re 10 years old. Now, when you think about the company, it’s always challenging, I think for people to know, like, what is? What is success? Like, when is a business successful? When do you know that it’s successful? How would you answer that?

Karl Shevick 22:06
Yeah, I mean, I, I kind of never feel like we’re successful, you know, because I feel like I’m learning every day. And so sometimes I think I have a tendency to like, kind of forget all the things that I’ve learned and just kind of poopoo that because it’s like, Well, that happened already, like I’m here. And so I’m more focused on all the things that I have to learn and all the things that I have to do to be more successful. So I don’t know, I haven’t hit that point where I feel like, you know, I think sometimes people like me look at our company, and feel like, oh, it’s successful. But I always think like there’s more things to do. And so I’ve yet to hit that’s quite successful.

Kara Goldin 22:54
I just had Charles Kahn on who is the chairman of Patagonia. And he talks about Yvonne and how sort of how he views that. And Yvonne is always breaking things at Patagonia and breaking things in terms of things that everybody thinks are successful and really great. And then he takes out his knife and breaks the jacket and says, I wonder if it could be this way or this way or this way. So I mean, that’s just an example of, you know, the consumer may feel that it’s successful. And the typical great entrepreneur is always going to try and make it better. Right.

Karl Shevick 23:37
And I think there’s lots of different measures of success. Like, you know, of course, you need to be financially successful to build a business. But I always think like a really good measure of our success is how long employees are staying with us. When I was first building my business, and I was buying materials from a lot of other businesses, I got the opportunity to go there and see a bunch of businesses. And I saw that like, you know, the businesses that I really respected, had the same people there all the time. And businesses that I didn’t, they were always like churning through people. And of course, you can’t, not everybody is going to be a good fit for your company. But I do think that’s, that’s a really good measure. And likewise, just, you know, the work that we’ve done with our supply chain, I think how responsible you’re being as a company, you might do things that are not necessarily going to impact the bottom line, and maybe consumers don’t even notice, but really contribute to your success as a company. And I think owning a business you have to have that pride that like you’ll want to do things even when it’s not going to have a financial benefit. Just because you want to make your company better.

Kara Goldin 24:55
Yeah, definitely. When you close your eyes and think about the company that you’ve built, and the brand that you’ve built brands. Earth foam is new, but definitely you’re off to the races for sure. What are you most proud of? I think founders don’t always get to share those stories when you talked about your supply chain and things that you’re doing in Sri Lanka. And and they’re they’re just they’re really hard components that are really important to building the brand. But would you say there’s something that you’re personally really proud of that you and or, you know, your company has done?

Karl Shevick 25:36
I think just the how we’ve grown as a team, and I think the team of people that we have, you know, I think it took us a while to get to that point where I did really feel feel proud of that. But I feel like we’ve created a good team, and we’ve created a good culture, and we’ve created a company that people want to be a part of. And so that that’s something that Yeah, yeah,

Kara Goldin 26:04
definitely, what do you enjoy most about being a, an entrepreneur,

Karl Shevick 26:11
I enjoy creating. So, you know, the thing I enjoy the most is just like, sitting down with nobody around with my notebook, and just kind of like jotting down ideas and like starting to crunch numbers. And so it creating can take so many different forms, like you can create financially, then, I love like working on creating products, I love working on creating our website. Probably too much I like all those things, it’s like hard for me to pull away. But that’s definitely what I’m most passionate about, is just creating new things like coming up with an idea, and then figuring out how to bring it out into fruition.

Kara Goldin 26:54
So best advice that you’ve ever received, that you want to share with people listening, that really kind of gets you maybe, on those tough days to right, or maybe tough days of the past where you kept thinking back to that advice. And you thought, you know, that sort of helped me to think about how I was going to be able to get through this.

Karl Shevick 27:19
Yeah, I think you know, something that I’ve heard from a number of different sources that I respect, and I feel like it served me very well, is just how important your word is when you’re dealing with people. And that is to live by your word, no matter if you tell somebody, you’re going to do something and later on, it turns out, it’s not to your benefit to do it, you still have to do it, whatever you say. That’s, that’s what you have to do. And so I think that’s really that’s like really at the base of doing anything as an entrepreneur is you’re working with other people, and you need people to trust them believe in you. And I think your word is so important. And

Kara Goldin 28:04
I couldn’t agree more. So very, very critical. So Carl, thank you so much for sharing all about your journey and your wisdom and your lessons and everybody needs to check out what Earthrealm is doing. For sure. And definitely buy a pillow a mattress topper a mattress. But I really appreciate the founding story and and everything that you’re doing. I think it’s it’s great wisdom, for sure. So thank you.

Karl Shevick 28:36
Thank you so much, Kara. It was really a pleasure being here and really enjoyed talking to you.

Kara Goldin 28:41
Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review. And feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my book undaunted, which I share my journey, including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And thanks everyone for listening. Have a great rest of the week, and 2023 and goodbye for now. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the book.com and learn how to look your have doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time, you’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight? Send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening