Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I am the CEO & co-founder of Manta Sleep mask, the only mask designed, constructed, and optimized for deepest-possible sleep in any environment. Manta Sleep masks provide 100% blackout for maximized sleep quality — so users feel 100%, all the time. Just a pinprick of light can disrupt REM and deep sleep, leading to post-sleep tiredness. That’s why Manta perfectly covers and conforms to the eyes to block 100% of light, even in broad daylight — so users always get deep, uninterrupted sleep.
Manta Sleep Mask offers a personalized-for-your-face fit — your eye covers’ position, angle and strap tightness are infinitely adjustable for a fit so seamless, you barely feel your mask on your face. It's like it was custom-made for you. Every detail is engineered for unmatched comfort, in any position. Manta is designed for no-compromises comfort and constructed with super soft, breathable, durable materials that gently conform to your face without putting any pressure on your eyelids or lashes. So you snooze soundly whether you’re on your back, side, or stomach.
A huge part of Manta Sleep's mission is our Pro-Nap Movement, which is all about rejecting counterproductive, nap-shaming corporate BS — we want to create a community that incites empowerment and change in our corporations and communities. It’s about reclaiming what should have always been yours in the first place: your vitality. We believe that great sleep is the non-negotiable foundation you need to create your best life. It’s impossible to unlock your full potential if you’re not getting an afternoon nap every day.
Thus, everything we do at Manta Sleep is fueled by our drive to enable better lives through better sleep and regular naps. We believe that napping at work should be celebrated, not condemned. And we believe naps beat coffee because our bodies are wired to nap. Naps give you energy, focus, strength, and clarity that you don’t get when you grind through the afternoon. That said, daily naps have been baked into Manta Sleep’s culture since day one. We hope other business leaders follow our lead and take daily naps, as it will help them maximize their potential and bring their companies to new levels of success.
We are anti-hustle culture. Working long hours and “hustling” is absolutely idiotic because nobody can make great decisions working 12 hours a day. At that point, you're just a walking zombie working on low-value tasks and pretending like you are actually doing something important. You are pretending like you are actually making it work and “succeeding”, when in fact, you're just using mindless work as an excuse to make yourself feel better. In order to live a good life, a happy life, there are several pillars in our lives that we need to make sure to take care of: Health, Wealth, Family, and Friends. When these go out of sync, life sucks. You basically have to keep it balanced to live a good life.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I’ve been a light sleeper for as long as I could remember, and I started using a sleep mask when I was 15 years old. The problem with generic sleep masks is that they are either uncomfortable, don’t block out the light, or fall apart after three months. And I always thought we could build a better product, so my business partner and I started Manta Sleep, launching our sleep mask by crowdfunding via Kickstarter and Indiegogo — we ended up raising $700,000+ to start the company!
Another part of the inspiration is… I’ve always felt that as a light sleeper if somehow I was able to improve the quality of my sleep, I’d be the king of the world. I experienced a lot of frustration from not being able to sleep well and then waking up tired, and then not having enough energy and concentration to pursue my goals in life. So a central focus of Manta Sleep is to empower light sleepers to sleep better so they can do more in life. They will be able to pursue their goals and live better lives.
We are anti-hustle culture. Working long hours and “hustling” is absolutely idiotic because nobody can make great decisions working 12 hours a day. At that point, you're just a walking zombie working on low-value tasks and pretending like you are actually doing something important.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The first thing we did was market research — we bought most of the sleep masks on the market and studied their strengths and weaknesses, as well as looked at online reviews. I also have been using sleep masks for the last 15 years of my life, so I had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to improve on. At this stage, we didn’t know what the final product was going to look like yet, but we did have a set of goals we wanted to achieve with Manta Sleep Mask.
- 100% blackout
- Luxurious material
- Fits all types of faces
Early version of Manta Sleep Mask
The next stage is where I had luck — my business partner is an industrial designer, so he drew things, made things, and generally just experimented with the designs for us to play around with. If you do not have an industrial designer co-founder or team member, what I would suggest is to work with a design agency, or fly to wherever your manufacturer is and work directly with the factory. The latter option works pretty well if you are just getting started.
We spent $50,000 on Facebook ads to drive traffic profitability to the crowdfunding campaign. Paid traffic is critical for crowdfunding because it’s much more reliable and consistent compared to something like PR.
Once we figured out the prototype, the remaining effort was spent on working with our manufacturers to make Manta Sleep a reality. There are always kinks that need to be worked out when taking a product from the prototype stage to mass manufacturing, and here again, the fastest way to get it done is to go straight to the factory.
Early version of Manta Sleep Mask
Describe the process of launching the business.
We had done a couple of successful Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns previously and chose to go the crowdfunding route. Not only did this help us raise capital to finance production, but also it gave us a lot of positive and public PR. We ended up raising more than $700,000 on Kickstarter and Indiegogo combined, which was more than we thought would’ve been possible.
At the start of the campaign, I honestly didn’t think we’d be able to raise more than $200,000. The key to our success lies within a few factors:
#1 The product design was unique, fresh, and a little weird. Many customers described it as a “mini-bra for your face.” This captured a lot of interest and attention.
#2 The product category and price were just right. The product category had broad appeal, and the price was low enough so that it became an impulse buy. Both of these factors helped our campaign accelerate.
#3 We spent $50,000 on Facebook ads to drive traffic profitability to the Kickstarter / Indiegogo campaign. We already had several successful businesses prior to Manta Sleep and had money to spend. Paid traffic is critical for crowdfunding because it’s much more reliable and consistent compared to something like PR.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Product innovation is what got us here today. Sleep masks have been around for a long time, there are a lot of companies making them, but we were able to disrupt the category by coming in with an objectively better-designed product that serves the customer better. Thus, product innovation is something that we will continue to focus on and invest in.
Beyond product innovation, branding, being clear with our messaging, and creating emotional connections with our customers are important to separate ourselves from the competitors. Over time, even the most innovative products will get copied and commoditized, so our focus is no longer ONLY on "making the best sleep mask", but also on developing a product portfolio that will help "create the best sleep experience" for our customers.
Manta Sleep was able to grow so quickly in the first few years as a result of our success in paid traffic. First, with Facebook ads, and then followed by Google and YouTube ads. Most businesses start or succeed on just a couple of marketing channels before branching out to more channels. As long as you figure out what your channel is (SEO, paid traffic, email marketing, video, podcasts, influencer marketing, public relations, etc.), you've got a good chance of scaling rapidly. The key is to test, learn, and rapidly iterate and improve your process. You're often going to have to try a lot of things before something sticks.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Manta Sleep's vision is to empower light sleepers to sleep better so they can do more. So in that sense, we aren't a “sleep mask” company — we're really a “sleep empowerment” company. The plan is to be clear with our WHY and keep innovating on products that can empower people to sleep better. We've got a ton of exciting products in the pipeline, and as long as our focus is on adding value for our 300,000+ (and rapidly growing) customer base, we will also grow as a company.
We are investing heavily into research and product development, and plan to launch four more flagship products around the sleep optimization experience in the next couple of years. International expansion outside of the US, which is currently our primary market, is also underway.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I spent so many years early on in my entrepreneurial journey as a “keyboard warrior”, just banging it away on the keyboard and trying to figure out everything myself. This was really slow going. My business grew significantly when I decided just to spend the money to go to conferences and meet people and exchange ideas. So if I could start my business again, I would not try to figure it all out by myself; I'd go out there and meet people, as even a single idea from someone else can change the trajectory of a business (it did for me). It may seem like a lot of money to go to some of these conferences, especially when you're starting and don't have a lot of cash, but it's definitely worth it in the long run.
It also really helps to have a clear idea of WHY you want to launch a business. This will help you stay steady and work through the inevitable ups and downs. Most people fail in entrepreneurship, not because of a lack of smarts, money, or ideas. They fail because they don't persist. To persist, it really helps if you've got a strong reason behind it. Beyond that, just do it. There is no better way to learn and succeed than by jumping in and actually doing.
Break a big goal into smaller goals, and celebrate those successes at the smaller-goal level. Big ideas, can be challenging and intimidating, so we all get overwhelmed sometimes.
Finally, focus on making sales for the first three years. That's all you should worry about. I see a lot of people “playing business”, ie: getting an office, business cards, designing a website, etc. These are just distractions — your job as the founder is to work on the difficult problems and get sales. Only worry about the other stuff once you've got sales coming in.
Also, I spent so many years early on in my entrepreneurial journey as a 'keyboard warrior', just banging it away on the keyboard and trying to figure out everything myself. This was really slow going. My business grew significantly when I decided just to spend the money to go to conferences and meet people and exchange ideas. So I'd say, don't try to figure it all out by yourself; go out there and meet people, as even a single idea from someone else can change the trajectory of your business (it did for me). It may seem like a lot of money to go to some of these conferences, especially when you're starting and don't have a lot of cash, but it's definitely worth it in the long run.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
1) Notion. My favorite thing about it is all the templates people have already created that you can just download and use. For example:
- a to-do list
- a task prioritization system
- a decision-making process
- a weekly review
- a daily review
- a note-taking system
2) Asana. We use this at a company level for project management, and it works pretty well for a team of 20.
3) Zoom. We have a distributed team, and Zoom makes team meetings easy!
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I recommend reading A Guide to the Good Life, by William B. Irvine. It translates stoicism in a way that can be understood by the modern man. I'm a huge fan of stoicism, as it's actionable and can be used to improve the quality of our lives in a short amount of time.
At the end of the day, even if I were flipping burgers at McDonald's, the quality of my life (access to technology, medicine, food) is probably 100x better than the lives of kings and queens just 300 years ago. There is a lot to appreciate, and this book gives a framework on how to be happy.
One podcast I'm a big fan of is Mixergy. When I first started my entrepreneurial journey, listening to all the stories of the other entrepreneurs succeeding in vastly different ways gave me a lot of ideas. It also made me realize that they aren't all that different from me, which gave me the confidence to persist and keep going.
One online course I recommend is Digital Marketer, as it has some really solid marketing classes and provides a fantastic foundation.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Know your WHY. You've got to have grit and persistence to bring ideas to life. Whether it's money, passion, belief in something, etc., whatever it is, you have to know your WHY, because that's going to carry you through all the difficulties of bringing something to life.
Break a big goal into smaller goals, and celebrate those successes at the smaller-goal level. Big ideas can be challenging and intimidating, so we all get overwhelmed sometimes. But, by breaking the big goal into many smaller pieces, it's much easier to tackle and keep track. We tend to overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can do in a year.
Mistakes will be made, and mistakes are a necessary part of everyone's learning process. If you can't handle your people making mistakes, you'll never be able to delegate effectively, and they will feel as if they don't have ownership or control of the process (because they won't). When everything is done well, then you have amazing people with accountability doing work better than you, as the entrepreneur/CEO, could ever do. This then frees up your time to focus on higher-level strategy and vision, which is what you're supposed to do sitting in the CEO seat.
Finally, you've got to be accountable. Some people are good at doing this all by themselves. Others are not. If you are not, hire a coach or pay a friend to make sure they keep you accountable.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’re always looking for talent who believe in the same things we believe in to join the team. Right now, we are particularly focused on these areas:
- SEO marketing
- Product design
- Product development
However, even if you don’t fit into any of the above areas, feel free to drop us a message so we can connect. We can always create positions for people who are a cultural fit and believe in our vision.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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