What sparked your interest in launching a mattress startup?
I have been in mattress/furniture business for over 30 years, so it has always been in my blood.
I started in this business in the late '70s representing a mattress machinery company in Florida that opened up the China market by selling used machinery. China quickly became a successful market, which led to the development of a sales and service network globally. Shortly thereafter, this Florida company was acquired by Leggett & Platt, one of the largest furniture manufacturing companies in the world.
During the 1990s, when wholly owned companies were first permitted in China, Leggett began manufacturing its mattress, automotive, and furniture components locally. At the time, mattresses in China were primitive and rock hard. We literally had to educate consumers about the product and sleep science.
How did you change people’s perception of the mattress in China?
One of the challenges of expanding our business to China was we had to show consumers how mattress should function and perform and what constitutes a good night's sleep. We brought in experts, hosted seminars with show & tell, explained how mattresses were constructed, and more. Gradually, consumer acceptance grew, and over a decade's time, American-style mattresses became more of the norm.
What would you say is your superpower?
Patience, and my ability to recognize and adapt to different cultures. Over my career, I’ve worked with people in many diverse cultures and with different backgrounds, customs and dialects. I’ve had to be patient and open to learning and embracing these differences.
Perhaps this has to do with my upbringing. I was born in Shanghai. I speak Shanghainese, but there are regional dialects throughout Asia that I’ve learned to adapt to. Knowing the language and local customs definitely helps in doing business internationally.
What’s your kryptonite?
Impatience. While I’m a patient person, I am also impatient absent progress.
Outside of the office, do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do?
I like cooking and I love to travel. Travel itineraries usually include local cuisine considerations. For example, if I go to Singapore I would make sure I have a Singapore chili crab and Indian curry fish head stew. In Hong Kong, the itinerary would include Dim Sum or the Saigon Seafood Market. For me, local cuisines are part of the reward of international travel.
I also collect turtle figurines. I have a small collection of about 50. In Asian cultures, turtles symbolize longevity and patience. It's like the story of the tortoise and the hare. The tortoise, while slow, is steady and patient.
Who is someone that has changed your life?
Harry Cornell, the former Chairman and CEO of Leggett & Platt. When the local Florida machinery company I was representing was acquired by Leggett, we had the good fortune to report to Mr. Cornell directly. He was a dynamic leader, great thinker, and set the vision to grow the company.
Was this what you imagined your retirement would look like?
I never imagined I would launch a startup in my retirement, but I’ve always been a busy person. My wife is a physician and is still working, so I figured I might as well keep working.
Any advice you’d give aspiring founders?
Recent legislation has allowed startups to use crowdfunding as a way to access venture capital.
Take advantage of these opportunities to create new inventions and and take disruptive ideas and products to the market.
What do you think it means to be a leader in today’s business world?
In today's business world, there are certainly the very visible leaders, but the silent majority leaders are important contributors in bringing the next generation into the fold. These may be the true unsung heroes.