Mike Rowe: Welcome back. My name is Mike, and this is part two of episode 8. If you’ve just finished part one, you’re in the right place. If you haven’t, there’s a lot of content we cover in part one that you’re probably missing. If you want the whole story, you’ll need to jump back to episode 8.1 and listen to that. But if you’re all set and good to go, then I got you. So without further ado, please enjoy episode 8.2 with Hayley Worley.
Welcome back to part two, Hayley, it’s again so great to have you.
Hayley Worley: Yeah. Thank you. I’m really loving chatting.
Mike Rowe: Yeah. I’d love to go a little bit behind the scenes and understand how you first prioritize your ideas, time, and money at the start of launching The Sheet Society. Can you take us back to that time and what that was like?
Hayley Worley: Yeah. That was such a struggle. I guess, you know, people talk about start-up capital, and you know, what money you need to start a business. And no one kind of talks about keep going capital, and that’s kind of where you need most of your cash. So, you know, being a product-based business we invested all of our initial investment in product. So by the time we got the product here, there wasn’t really much money for anything else.
So that meant we had to, you know, do our own shoots, and build the website out ourselves. And we didn’t have that kind of runway that a lot of brands starting out have. So, for me, it was about being conscious about keeping the balance between business building and revenue generating, and trying to split my time equally. And as far as prioritizing money, everything that we spent money on in the early days needed to have a return. You know, we couldn’t be launching campaigns that were just for brand awareness. They needed to be for conversion because we needed to make sure we had a viable business. And people were, you know, able to purchase that product.
So, yeah, it was a really fine balance to contend with, but I read a book early on called “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” and that really set me up for success. And, yeah, just being mindful that everything I was doing had to see a result was what kept me going in the meantime. And, you know, if it was my part-time gig early on, I guess I could have been a bit more relaxed and, you know, taken a bit longer with things, but because I jumped off the deep end, I needed to be really ruthless with time, and energy, and even headspace too.
You know, to be able to, you know, look at a product, and you know, be in the facts and figures and billing a business and looking at cash flow. But then also free up your head space to think creatively about, you know, what’s coming through in design, and textiles, and colors, and things like that. But yeah, it was something I really struggled with in the beginning because you need to be in the right frame of mind to do each of those roles. So, yeah, it’s always a struggle.
Mike Rowe: And how did you find—or how do you find—the context shift between creative and design and like analytics and business and growth and that mindset? Like what do you do? You mentioned you kind of split your time between two different parts like building the business and generating revenue. Do you think about it the same way when it comes to your time and where you put your attention in the business itself?
Hayley Worley: Yeah. Always. And I’m much more mindful of that now, and I’m much more mindful of the power of being in the right headspace for the right thinking. And so, you know, having the flexibility to wake up and say, “Mm, I’m feeling creative today. I might follow that path.” Or, you know, being really deep into numbers and spreadsheets. You know, there’s a time when you really enjoy that, but you know, not when you have to or you’re made to do that. So having that freedom to flip between the two and follow the way your headspace is feeling is really important to make sure you’re putting out the best work in each of those areas.
Mike Rowe: Yeah. And how do you find that works with working with others? Like, you know, being able to take time to go deep creatively might not be necessarily a linear process? Like sometimes creative work can be two steps forward, 20 steps back, two steps to the side, and you never know where you’re going. I imagine that sometimes could present some challenges to your team who are probably, you know, working to schedules or trying to ship orders. Like is there some natural conflict that maybe creativity gives you in your business?
Hayley Worley: Yeah, there definitely is. And I think we’re lucky as a business the core of what we sell is those sheets. So, you know, the colored sheets is what makes the business great, and that’s pretty much on autopilot at the moment. Like we’ve created this beautiful product and it’s just making sure we’re in stock of that.
So there’s not that pressure to say, “Okay, what’s the next big thing, you know, next month? You know, what are we bringing out for Christmas?” It’s not, yeah, like we don’t have that deadline and our business isn’t relying on those ideas to stay afloat. So we’re really lucky that having a core program enables us to be a bit more free and fluid with how we design these fashion items like the corduroy.
And we spoke about boucle before, I can’t predict that, like I can’t go into trends and say, “Hey, this is gonna be cool.” We’re leaning into trends like that. So, you know, we mention the velvet was really popular, and then that was just a case of it coming through naturally, and us picking that up as a brand naturally. So although it annoys my husband sometime who is a very analytical person, he will say to me, “Okay, what’s your ideas?” And I’ll say, “Well, I haven’t had them yet.” And he’s like, “Well, just tell me what they are.”
Mike Rowe: You don’t understand, I haven’t had them!
Hayley Worley: Yeah, I know. You can’t just pull an idea out of nowhere. You need to have the right headspace, and it needs to be in the right context, and it needs to have that thought behind it, and for it to be a meaningful idea. So, yeah, I think having that core business that’s our kind of always on or business as usual and that’s kind of bread and butter has allowed us to be more fluid and easy with all the other stuff.
And taking that pressure off really helps with creativity. And as a team, we’re really implementing this thing we’re calling it “the dwell,” where we have an idea, and everyone kind of, you know, has their say on it. And then we don’t talk about it for a week and you just let it sit in the back of your head and I think that’s when best ideas come is when, you know, you’ve sparked something and then you can think about it, you know, when you’re in the right head space. You know, you might be driving home, and just listening to the radio, and you know, an idea might come to you that, yeah, the power of the dwell is what we’re embracing at the moment.
Mike Rowe: Mm, that’s actually a really interesting idea. This concept of dwelling makes me wonder around your process like end ideas. Is there a particular time or a place that you get your best ideas or you start drawing these really interesting, spontaneous connections? Is there a certain way it looks or is it pretty free form and flowing?
Hayley Worley: It’s definitely free form and flowing. I think if you try and put parameters over something creatively, that’s when you start to create friction. And, yeah, I really believe that freeing up your headspace is the best way to approach that.
Mike Rowe: And with ideas, as well, you mention like a key part of the process is dwelling. So you take that wait to rest and come back. The way that you kind of described it, it sounded like it was a process that was more than just you. It was like it sounded like a team is like new fabrics, and like the concept of a new product’s something that you tackle as a team or is it something you initially have some kind of spark of an idea and do some work on individually in isolation before coming back to the team with some further details? Like how does your, I guess, design process work at The Sheet Society?
Hayley Worley: It’s a bit of everything, and I think that’s what makes it so magical, is that you know, we would have customer service say, “Oh you know, people are asking for this. You know, can we deliver on that?” And you know, we’ll have our marketing team say, “Hey, we want to shoot in this location, and we think that it would be really beautiful.”
So you’ve got to take it from everywhere and I think we have such a beautiful collaborative environment at The Sheet Society that, you now, even our warehouse manager can come up and say, “Hey, what about this guys? You know, I want to change this process. Or I think the customers would really enjoy this. Or, you know, how about we add this step into the packing process?” So having that open door and creating that environment where, you know, everyone can play the part in shaping the way that the brand is and the way that the brand can grow is really important.
Because, yeah, our product is so important but it’s also all those other things that helps sell and build the brand. Product is just one element in it, but you know, if the marketing team says, “Hey, we want to, you know, design this ad type, it’s like an interactive Instagram Story, but we need, you know, we need a way to interact with the fitted sheet, and we want to do a time lapse,” Or things like that. It kind of comes from different areas and it’s a bit of a push and pull.
But, yeah, it means that everyone feels involved and then, you know, the outcome’s the best. I’m not kind of locking myself in a room saying, “Okay, I found these ideas, and this is what we’re doing.” It’s always a bit of a conversation.
Mike Rowe: It sounds like you leveraged the mindset of your team and everyone feels like they’re part of the business like they’re a stakeholder in what they get to create with this business, which is really cool too.
Hayley Worley: Yeah. Absolutely. And I eventually want to get the customers involved more in that too. Like we’ve mentioned maybe doing surveys, and you know, asking people exactly what they want. And I think the brand is in a really good spot now where we can do that. You know, we’ve been through that stage of actually saying, “Okay, guys, here’s the vision, get on board with it, this is what we’re trying to do.” Now that that’s clear, it’s like, “Okay, help shape the future of this brand. You know, what do you want to see from us? You know, you love our stripes range, okay cool, let’s add some more stripes in. Let’s go, you know, darker stripes. You know, things like that, so how we can build out on a product offering with the customer involved too.”
Mike Rowe: Mm. That’s really cool. I was hoping you might be able to like take us back to one of the first international photo shoots that you’ve ever done in Greece. And what it was actually like to carry about 120 kilos of, you know, bed sheets through customs into a foreign country. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Hayley Worley: This is a great example of sometimes things don’t always go your way. So the business had probably been a year old. We’d had our cotton program and I wanted to launch into linen. And having, you know, linen is obviously grown in Europe, so we get ours from France, selling the idea of like a European summer, this beautiful Mediterranean vibe was, you know, right on the top of my mood board. So we’d booked this beautiful shoot location in Greece, and we were gonna go over, and it was perfect timing because we could shoot in like July, August when it was cooler over here and we could have all the content ready to launch our summer campaign, which starts in like September for Australia.
So it was finding a supplier of linen, and that’s really difficult to manage because they buy the yarns from Europe, and then the raw materials are shipped over to China, and then that’s where it’s woven, and dyed. And so I guess in that process China didn’t really have a handle on the supply chain, so they’re at the mercy of how much linen is grown in France.
So finding the supplies that can access that is really difficult. So we tested a few suppliers, and we gave the supplier the go ahead, and obviously it’s a really small order because it’s our first range, and linen’s much more expensive than cotton, so we weren’t able to invest collectively into it.
But it got to the stage where the factory were dying up our bulk order and the Chinese government had put regulations in for dye hazards to cut the amount of emissions that they were bringing out into the waterways. Which in theory s so fantastic and like we completely support that, but in execution, the dye house decided that they would only work a half amount of time instead of figuring out a way to cut their emissions by 50%. They just decided to cut their orders by 50%.
So that meant our order was getting pushed back, and pushed back, and pushed back, and it was always the smallest one. And so we kind of never got forward with that and it kind of happened that it was like six weeks late, and then seven weeks late, and then this photo shoot was approaching, and I still didn’t see any samples. And I was just getting nothing on the phone and nothing on communicating with them from Australia, so I jumped on a plane, and I went over there.
The plan was to go to China, pick up the samples, and take them to Greece. So I arrived in China, still nothing, went up to the dye house, closed, nothing you could do. So in the end, I managed to take the raw linen fabric, take it to my digital printer over there, and we digitally printed the solid colors into the five colors in the range. So had my samples that I could shoot, and once we shot them in the background, then we would have been pushed trough the dye house, and by the time we got the shoot images, then it would all launch as a capsule.
So yeah, this stage I’m in China with 120 kilos of sheets, and trying to figure out a way to get to Greece. And all the big airlines charged you for extra baggage per kilo, and it was just extortion, and so I found an airline that went through Russia that you could buy an extra bag rather than an extra kilo. So I could fill them up to 23 kilo each.
And then by the time I arrived in Greece, it had just been such a nightmare to get to this point, and you know, obviously flying through Russia, and then I came out of the airport in Greece. And if you can imagine, like I’m like a tiny statute of a girl, and I had like six massive suitcases. And I was just frazzled, and I was just like happy to be there, but just like at my wit’s end.
The lady from customs wagged me over and she was like, “What? What are you doing? What is all this?” And so I was like, “You are not taking these off me. I have come far too far to get here.” And so I just had to kind of talk my way through. And she was like, “Okay, what’s in this bag?” And I was like, “Oh, bed sheets.” And she’s like, “Okay. What about this bag?” “Yeah, bed sheets.” She’s like, “And all these other bags?” I was like, “I really like bed sheets.” And in the end we got through, and she thought I was a bit mad.
But yeah, we did the shoot, and it was really beautiful, but and we launched the images online. The customers just didn’t, it didn’t relate to it at all. You know, you kind of think it was quite arrogant to see this Melbourne brand thinking that they could shoot in this beautiful setting in Greece. And, you know, our customers just didn’t relate to that at all. So it was a bit of a shame, but it just goes to show, you know, hard work and dedication can only get you so far.
But yeah, I mean I don’t regret it at all. It was a really great learning curve, and you know, to this day you know, we’ve got such a successful linen program, and you know, this season we’re doing another relaunch. We’ve got all the best solid colors in cotton coming over to our linen program, and we’re launching this really killer stripe campaign. So it’s just one of those things you go through to grow out a business, and you obviously make some shit calls, but at the end of the day, you get through.
Mike Rowe: Yeah. It sounds like it was a really great learning experience because if you have to do an international shoot again, you’d know what to expect around supply, and product, and customs, and all sorts of stuff.
Hayley Worley: Yeah. I’m not gonna say never again, but it’s still quite raw.
Mike Rowe: What went through your mind when that customs agent waved you over? Was it panic? What was it?
Hayley Worley: Yeah. It was. And obviously I don’t condone lying to a customs agent, but at this stage, after everything that happened with like the fabric, and the mills, and then going over, and then having just been in Russia to get to Greece. I was like, “There’s just no way you’re taking these off me. I don’t care if I sound like a crazy woman.” So, yeah, spinning this story about needing to change my bed sheets every night, and I was on holiday for, you know, five days, but you know, I couldn’t possibly sleep in the same set every night.
Mike Rowe: That’s an excellent story.
Hayley Worley: You’ve got to do what you got to do.
Mike Rowe: I’m curious about the manufacturing side of things as well. Cause obviously there’s the manufacturer really kept pushing your order back, and back, and back, which puts pressure on shoot dates, and delivery, and things like that. I want to understand a little bit about your process to find your manufacturers and where you went in the beginning to source your first manufacturer. Who would be willing to work with you because, you know, I’ve heard stories of young businesses at the start that could not get a manufacturer to even like return an email because of the size, and order quantities, and things like that. So how did that process look like for you?
Hayley Worley: Yeah. I think with that in my background I kind of came into it a bit arrogant, if I’m honest. You know, I’ve been traveling to regions like Guangzhou and Shenzhen that are clothing manufacturing towns. And I kind of knew them like the back of my hand, so I you know, ask people if they knew people who made bedding, and I tried to kind of figure that out. I wanted to be close to this Guangzhou fabric market because that’s where all the fashion tech sales were coming out. But I just was met with blank looks from everyone.
And then I guess it kind of took a bit of a blow to my ego, but it just meant that I needed to do more research. And China is a really unique place. So I’ve been in car journeys, you know, for four or five hours before between towns, and you know, I’ve gone through this big town and I’ve asked the person in the car, you know, “What’s this town? Like what are they specializing in?” And, you know, they could just be this massive town that just makes tube socks.
And so it’s definitely region orientated so where a different product is manufactured. And so having that understanding meant that I just needed to find my town, my bedding town. And so I took on an external agent, so just by Upwork, I just found someone, you know, in Hong Kong who spoke the local language and was able to research different areas that I could buy from. And it was important for me that that agent wasn’t tied to like a long term relationship, it was more like an introduction. And it was also important that he, you know, was able to look at it quite objectively.
So I said, you know, “In China, I don’t care where it is, find me where the best supplies are.” So, you know, a lot of agents, you know, will take you on and then you always work through them, and then they manage the factory profile. But I knew that once I was introduced to the right factory, I could work with them directly and not have that middle man in there.
So that was a game changer. He came back to me with, you know, ten different factories and said, “Okay, these are who they are, these are who they make for, these are where they’re located. These are the…” I send them my spec sheets, and they said, “You know, these are the approximate prices that you’re looking at.” And after that, I just jumped on a plane, and I took him with me, and he introduced me to a few different factories. We went out there, and after that the next step is to get them to sample for you. So I think that the best thing about that is to have just one clear spec and give that same spec, so all the exact same information to the different factories. So that when you get your first samples back and your first costs, you can look at them and know that they were all given the same brief. So it’s a good starting point.
Mike Rowe: Almost like a controlled experiment, right? Like they get the same thing, let’s see what they all produce.
Hayley Worley: Absolutely. And then, you know, you’ve got to sleep in them, you’ve got to test them, you’ve got to wear them, and you’ve got to find that good relationship as well with, you know, work with them. Especially from my point of view, like I’m giving them all my personal money. And they’re the key for me being successful in my business.
So the first supplier that took us on for our cotton program, he was really fantastic, and he was willing to take on our small quantities, and I kind of sold him on the dream as much as I did on the product. And then after six months he just was like, “Hayley, I can’t keep up with you anymore. I’m sorry, but your best option is to find someone else.” So that threw a bit of a sputter in the works initially, and then we, you know, moved suppliers because I had all those relationships. And I’d kind of sampled with a few others, so it kind of made the move a lot easier.
And then probably six or nine months after that he called me up again and said, “Hey, I’ve moved factories, and I’m really ready for you. I want your business back and I want to work with you again.” So, yeah, we’ve been working with him ever since, and having that relationship is so important.
And it’s honestly been really hard being a female founder ,and going over to China quite often on my own, and then entering into environments where it’s a male dominated industry. Especially when you’re walking into a factory, you know, they take you upstairs and you’re in this man’s office, and it’s quite a daunting experience. So that’s been a struggle in itself. We’ve had a few suppliers come out to Melbourne to meet us as well. You know, I’ll greet them, and then take them to our meeting room, and you know, business protocol is for them to walk over to my husband’s desk and introduce themselves to him like he owns the company.
So it takes a bit of a blow, and it certainly is a struggle. You know, it’s just one of those things culturally that, you know, you need to deal with. And, you know, my husband’s really good about it, he says, “Oh, don’t bother talking to me. Like I’m not the boss, she runs the whole thing.” So, yeah, it’s a tough one. But, really, like I’ve got such great relationships with my suppliers now and they’re really, really key to us growing, and you know, I think it’s important, you know, to push them to a sense, but then to also understand that, you know, they’re working for you as well. And, you know, part of that the way we work is we never push them to meet unrealistic deadlines, like we’ll never penalize them for being late, any of that. And that’s just, yeah, about building that relationship.
Which, I think in the industry, has just improved substantially. Even the last few years, like I remember working with Chinese suppliers, you know, ten years ago and you know, you would just be hounding them. But now it’s like a much more collaborative nature, and transparency is really key. So, yeah, I love dealing with China, and I hope I can portray that enough to our customers that, you know, it’s a conscious decision to produce from there because they make the best product and they’re the best to work with. And, yeah, China gets a really bad rap, and it’s kind of sad.
Mike Rowe: Mm. It sounds like in that whole experience as well, like being a woman just made the experience inherently harder because of the history and the way that things kind of worked in a lot of ways. Like it’s a male-dominated industry, you know, there’s cultural things at play, there are, you know, masculine things at play. Being a female founder, how did you work through those challenges yourself? Because it does, I imagine, take quite a lot to put that aside and think about the greater vision of the business and what you’re really there for. But at the same time, it sucks that you still experience that kind of stuff.
Hayley Worley: Yeah. I kind of like to say that I’m a bit of a silent Feminist. I don’t believe that you need to shout it out and say, “I’m being treated unfairly.” Because I think sometimes you’re just, you know, reiterating the problem. So, for me, it’s just about not even acknowledging it, just moving forward, and being like, “Cool. I own the business, so if you want to work with me, you’re going to have to chat with me and move your ego aside.”
Mike Rowe: You need that like, “I’m C.E.O., bitch,” business card.
Hayley Worley: Yes. Yes. But, yeah, I mean I think I’m headstrong, and yeah, arrogant enough to just kind of push through, and then I just brush it off. You know, I don’t let it get to me, and yeah, I’m confident enough to keep pushing through.
Mike Rowe: Mm. And is there any like advice in that experience that you could pass on to other female founders as well that might be considering making a product overseas, and you know, the things that they might be in for to kind of expect in a lot of ways?
Hayley Worley: Yeah. I wouldn’t let it hold you back at all. Like, China especially, is a really safe place, so I wouldn’t… I’ve never felt unsafe in any situation. Even, you know, traveling there on my own. And just owning it, too, like the only way to prove these old men wrong is to just actually prove them wrong. And to be present and to push them, and yeah, and I’m sure our suppliers look at me now and they’re just incredibly proud of this. And, you know, I have that little respect now that, yeah, I had to earn in the beginning, but yeah, it’s definitely made it a bit more sweet at the other side.
Mike Rowe: Mm. And when you made the transition from your first manufacturer to the second before you went back to the original manufacturer, did you notice any difference in the product? Like what was it like? So I bet that one manufacturer, like they would source cotton from a certain way, they would mill it in a certain way, or they would like have unique things to their manufacturing experience that they would do that would give the product characteristics that perhaps another manufacturer doesn’t have. Did you notice anything, any difference in quality, improvements, and like lacks things like that, that you know, you were like, “Oh, I can live with this now, but I really want something better?”
Hayley Worley: Well, I think that’s the really great thing about our product, and the way that we’ve designed it is exactly to our specifications. So, you know, we have a certain yarn count, we have a certain density, we have a certain weight, we have you know, a certain cotton plant that you’re able to harvest. So like being really clear and defined on all of those details meant that, you know, we didn’t notice a difference and I guess that’s really important to us as a business because we don’t sell things in sets.
And for a while there we had, you know, pillowcases from one set of supplier and fitted sheets from another supplier. And, you know, we couldn’t show the consumer that they were ordered on different times because they’ve bought them as a set. So that was just we’re having a really clear spec sheet, and of course, things are different. Like the barcode stickers are upside down, or you know, the cotton’s come in wrong. But yeah, it’s just that quality control, which I think we nail because we’re really clear about what we want. You know, we know that we want, you know, brand and zippers from this supplier. So that’s on our product, take it or leave it. So, yeah, there were a few hiccups, but I don’t think you would have noticed.
Mike Rowe: Mm. And in all this process, it sounds like having strong relationships formed, and even to start, are really important to the success of a company that’s tried to produce product out of China. Like you mentioned the almost like negotiator that you hired that could kind of go out and source things for you. You had to build a relationship with that person, and that they then built a relationship with the manufacturer who then you built a relationship. There seems to be a lot of rapport and relationship-building in this process. How key is that for you in your business at the moment?
Hayley Worley: Yeah. So important. And I think that goes down to another issue. You know, we’re hiring at the moment, and that like people management, and you know, finding the right people for the role and like getting them along for the journey, and like having good communication. And, yeah, I mean you can have a really great product, but if you don’t know how to communicate that or sell them on the dream too, that can be really detrimental. And I think with that, like honesty is just so important.
I’ve never claimed to be an expert at everything I do, but like I’ll certainly give it my all and try. So, you know, if you’re honest with your suppliers, and you know, you quite often are. “Hey, I know I need X, Y, and Z, but I don’t know about, you know, these other things. This is what I’m trying to solve. Can you help me?” That humility and, you know, that willingness to take them on board too and utilize what they know as well has been really important. And that only comes from , you know, a good place of, you know, being responsive to that, and being collaborative, and yeah.
Mike Rowe: Mm. Humility sounds like it’s a really important part of the process as well because something I think about a lot is like I’m not the expert in a lot of ways either. Like I’m not the best podcaster in the world, but I know that there are other people that I can learn from that can contribute value to if I can look for it myself. And it sounds like, you know, you’re open to the expertise of others. You’re not like shoehorning your vision as perfect. You’re like, “This is the vision, but help me expand it, make it bigger and better.”
Hayley Worley: Yeah. And then people are more invested because they feel like they’ve come on that journey with you and they’re a part of that as well, and that’s something so special.
Mike Rowe: Mm-hmm. Now, well, you seem to be doing really well. You’re set to turn over like $15 million this financial year. A figure that has, you know, grown and grown even in the last week since we’ve started this conversation. You’ve mentioned that there was a secret to your success earlier in the interview, but I’m wondering like are there some aspects that come together that you think make your specific secret sauce to your business? It sounds like it might be like a mix of design and product, and care and attention to detail, but this dogged like resilience to just overcome obstacles as well.
Hayley Worley: Yeah. Totally. And I mean I’m quite open to talk about revenue, but it’s definitely not a money game for us. Like we just love succeeding and like love growing it, and it just so happens that that number is a really good gauge of how hard you’re working and how successful the business is. I don’t think there’s one secret behind our growth, but yeah, I think definitely the product speaks for itself. And then the other digital marketing piece I think has been a really, really interesting one for us. And, you know, figuring out that cost per conversion and really factoring that in to the way that we do business.
You know, we call it ROAs—return on ad spend—and we keep that under a certain percentage. And when I was learning about digital marketing at the start, there was a saying that I was told, and you know, in the early days you kind of use digital marketing and that as a slot machine. You know, you put some money in, not sure how much you’re getting out. And then the goal is to get that honey, so it’s like a vending machine. You know, if you spend $30 on digital ads, you’re going to get a conversion, and you know that that average spend from that customer is going to be X. And, you know, in our case they’re going to come back and put 30% of those people are going to come back and purchase from you.
So, yeah, it’s just figuring out all those metrics that’s been really good to help us grow. And the great thing about digital only business is there are so many metrics, but there’s also so much noise in that space too. You know, you could drown in conversion rate, and impressions, and all these other things that, you know, aren’t that important that as a whole make such a big difference. So for us it was like pulling out ones that we think we can move the needle on. And then, yeah, moving that needle when we can.
But yeah, it all goes back to the product, right? You can sell something, but if the product’s not good, they’re not gonna come back, and they’re not going to enjoy it. So, yeah, it’s a big pie.
Mike Rowe: Yeah. It sounds like focusing on metrics that matter is a meaningful part of your business. And maybe like the potential revenue that you stand to make is a reflection of people’s response to the product and how much they’re loving it. Like if you’ve got a repeat rate of 30%, that’s huge. Like I don’t know many brands that have that kind of level of repeat rate.
So, for you as the founder, the shepherd of the vision, what does it mean to you to have that overwhelming positive response? And that people do really love what you make and what you do.
Hayley Worley: Yeah, that’s the most encouraging thing of the whole thing. And I think sometimes I get down, but I just head to our reviews page, and you know read what customers are saying about the brand and how they’re interacting with it. And, you know, there’s some really genuine comments there. Like, you know, you’ve helped me sleep better, and you know you’ve overcome all these hurdles. So, yeah, it’s really beautiful.
And I think if we go back to metrics and we talk about revenue, you know, the decision we made to enter this market, everyone owning a bed and everyone being able to buy bed sheets means that, you know, we’re only 1% of the market in Australia. So that potentially is also huge. So, yeah, it’s having an understanding of how it all works together.
Mike Rowe: And I had the privilege of being able to drop off a microphone and check out your warehouse, and your office—at social distance, of course. And it was really exciting to see how your team’s working and packing fulfilling orders, how your creative team’s up there hustling upstairs, how you’ve got your showroom downstairs. I’m wondering in this crazy unprecedented era have you like done anything differently outside of needing to, you know, adapt to remote work? Is the way that you’re working together as a team different now than it was before March?
Hayley Worley: That’s a tough one because I would say yes, but because we’re moving quicker. And I think that here like our employees especially are appreciating the work that’s in their life at the moment. You know, we don’t really have much else that’s going on. So, you know, being really fulfilled and the job is really important. And, you know, obviously seeing that huge growth since COVID, so that’s helped the way that we’re working together.
But as far as changing ways of working, I haven’t seen a huge shift. Like we were already like a tech business, we were already online, already used tools like Slack and Asana, so it’s just been second nature. You know, we had a few staff in the office yesterday, you know, come in to pick up things, or to chat, and they were like, “Oh, I just can’t wait to come back here.” So that’s a really cool environment that I’ve created that, you know, you actually want to be in the office.
You know, we’ve had some interviews recently, and a few of the candidates are like, “Oh, can I work from home?” And we’re like, “Yeah, you can, but you’re going to want to be in here. This is where the action is.” Like you said before, like especially working for a startup, and with it growing so much, like you want to see the Aus Post guy trying to fit four pallets in back of your van everyday. Like you want to hear the phone ring with customers. Like you want to hear the door open with customers coming in the front door.
Like, you know, you want to be around it and I think that energy that working for a business, and certainly business is going really well, can create and that’s a part of that traction. And I really believe that, you know, traction is everything. And I mentioned earlier, you know, how did you get started? I just did one thing after another, and that kind of starts the wheels rolling. And, you know, that feeling of having traction, and you know, doing the right thing fuels doing more of the right thing, and it just it spirals out of control.
Mike Rowe: Mm. Speaking of the space, actually, it wasn’t always a place that sold sheets, was it? I remember when we were there together you told me about what it originally was for, and I’m hoping you might be able to share a little bit about that as well.
Hayley Worley: Yeah. So when we were looking for a new space, we were in a shared workspace out in Kensington called Click Collective, and so we were looking for a space that was big enough to have a store, and a warehouse, and an office. And we found this absolute dump on Johnson Street, and it was actually a testing center for infectious diseases. So it was awful.
Mike Rowe: Ironic given the era we’re in.
Hayley Worley: I know. It was awful. It had these awful partitions, and [???][36:25] carpet, and then like all these petri dishes. And I remember going into the space, and I had my son with me at the time when he was like three or four months old, and there was this room out the back it was like hazmat, like don’t come in there. I was like, “Oh God, what is this?” And to this day we still get samples of specimens through the front door.
Mike Rowe: Wow. That’s crazy. It sounds like setting up a business you don’t really know what you’re going to get when it comes to the space that you operate inside of.
Hayley Worley: No. Not at all. And I mean we made the definite wrong call for coming into this space because we’ve grown out of it already. So I think our warehouse is around about 120 square meters, we’re looking for a new space at the moment that’s over 3,000 square meters. So, yeah, just the growth has been insane, and yeah, we’ve kind of taken a [???][37:16] approach to that decision rather than look and feel, and when we came into this space here we were like, “Oh, it’s huge compared to what we’ve got.” But we’ve had to plan out maybe the next three to five years of our lease terms and say, “Okay, how much are going to grow? What volume do we need to store here?” So that’s so exciting. We’re hoping to move in the next few months, which should be really fun.
Mike Rowe: Wow. Is the vision for the space to be the place that you fulfill out of ongoing in the future? Is that going to become like your home in Australia that you base and send product from?
Hayley Worley: Yeah. I think so. We would love to keep it all in under the one roof—the warehousing, and you know, the marketing teams, and the office teams. We just know that warehousing is so important to the end user. Like we would never not do that. And, you know, that experience of packing the order correctly and making sure the handwritten note is in there, and making sure the order’s shipped on time too.
You know, we had a sale last week, like a flash sale just before COVID hit—sorry, before the next lockdown’s hit. And, you know, because we own our warehousing, we were able to come in on a Sunday, and we had a full time here, and then we pushed it all out, and then, you know, customers got their orders next day.
So having that flexibility and, you know, that ability to work harder when we need to is really, really important to us. So yeah, we love the warehouse. We love operations. So not that side of it, focus is on the pretty side of things—the design, and the marketing, and you know, the photo shoots. Like I’m well aware that it’s the ops side of things that needs to have a really strong focus, and that’s where we’re focusing our growth on too. You know, I’ve got growth plans in terms of growing the brand, we need to first back that up with a bigger warehouse and a warehouse management system and a really strong team there before we start turning the tap on with our digital ads because we never want to offer a bad experience.
Mike Rowe: Mm. Yeah. You would possibly solve a problem and create a whole lot more if you did it in the opposite.
Hayley Worley: Totally.
Mike Rowe: It sounds like in all of this, like you’ve definitely evolved, the business has changed over the last three, four, years. Being the founder, how have you personally seen the business or your idea evolve to become what it is now? Because if I think about my experience with things that I’ve made in the past, like I’ve had an idea and I thought about what it looked like, but when it came into the world it looked a little bit different. Like pretty much the same, but something special was added to it when it came into existence. And I’m wondering like, you know, getting that first version live, after the Greek photo shoot, that kind of you know, was effortful and didn’t really work. Like how have you seen this kind of change and kind of the ebbs and flow of business evolve over the time?
Hayley Worley: Yeah, well, I think it’s really exciting to be able to work with experts. And rather than the D.I.Y. approach, and there’s a time and place for, you know, learning things, and upscaling, and really having a go. And I do believe that as a founder you should be across everything that’s in your business. But, yeah, it’s like we’re working with a copywriter that can help us, and like you know, being able to hire really people that are experts at what they do to really polish it. So I feel like I kind of, you know, got the first version of the business, and the brand, and then I’m having other people help iterate it to make it the best version of itself.
Mike Rowe: Mm. And what lessons do you think you’ve personally learned that you’ve got the most value out of that maybe didn’t occur that great at the time, but now upon reflection, seem like solid lessons?
Hayley Worley: I think the digital marketing thing was the biggest thing I learned just because there’s so much noise around that space. You know, we can go to an agency and they can say, “Oh yeah, you know, we get this impression, and this CBC, and all these other things,” and just drown you in figures. And, you know, try and make themselves look good. And I’m not saying that all agencies do that, but you know, unless you know what you’re talking about or know what to look for, there’s no way you can possibly manage that side of it.
So I’m really glad that I rolled up my sleeves and really got involved in that so that I have a good understanding of that. But now I’m learning the lesson of letting go. So I would say that like s a founder, you have to wear all the hats, and now I’m taking hats off and giving hats way, and that’s just a different skill altogether. You know, I started the business because I love product and that’s what I want to do, but you know, eventually we’ll have a product designer, and a product manager, and you know, I won’t be doing that. My day won’t look like that.
And I’m struggling with a whole new set of skills that I need to learn in terms of setting goals for the business, and you know, being a visionary and leading the team. Which is another skill all in itself, and I’m not going to pretend I know the answers or know what to do, but I’ve learnt these skills through starting up the business of, you know, what to do when you don’t know what to do.
Mike Rowe: What’s an example of what to do when you don’t know what to do? Like what would you do?
Hayley Worley: I think just be honest about not knowing what to do. And that’s why I think having a good network is really important. You know, I’ve got a really good friendship circle of people who have e-commerce businesses, and product-based brands, and you know saying, “Hey, I’ve got this issue. Has anyone had it before? Does anyone know what to do? Can anyone help?” And that’s that humility that we touched on, and the honesty. You know, even if you look like you know what you’re doing, sometimes you don’t know what you’re doing. And then that’s completely fine, too.
Mike Rowe: Yeah. At essence, I think everyone to some degree, is just making it all up as they go along trying to figure it out themselves.
Hayley Worley: Totally. I’m glad a lot of people are honest about that now.
Mike Rowe: Yeah. Speaking of that, actually, something I did want to cover was for all the working from home families out there and founding teams, like I know you and Andy, you founded this business together, you both lie together, you’re both partners, you both work together, you both have children. How do you manage all of that given all of that really?
Hayley Worley: Look, it’s in some ways it’s actually great because we know how we work together and we have that level of honesty together. You know, we can get in the car at the end of the day and be like, “You really fucked that up.” And I think, you know, with some founders, you know, you don’t want to step on their toes. So in some sense it’s really good, in the other sense that, you know, we never stop working is also really hard. And I think that’s something that we’re struggling with at the moment, especially with working from home it’s, you know, you’ve got to just draw that line where, you know, you’re not living at work and where that starts and stops.
So, yeah, it’s definitely a struggle. I’ve actually—this is going to sound stupid, but I actually think having a child has really helped with that balance because it separates it, right? We’re at the office together and our son’s at daycare, but then when we pick him up, it’s like, “Okay, cool, forget everything that happened that day. There’s this little ray of sunshine in our life that just wants to see you, and play with you.” And so it’s been really beautiful and it’s helped me manage that life-work balance.
And that’s something I really struggled with in the early days, especially being the mum and the founder. Because, you know, I’ve come from this hustle environment where it’s like the more you work, the more you can get out of it, and you know, just work, and work, and work and get it done. And then having to stop and look after a little kid and start a new job that you have no idea how to do, like motherhood, no idea. There’s no rulebook on how to do that. You can’t attend like webinars or upskill with that, you just kind of have to do it. It was really hard and I did really miss working.
And so then I felt I needed to add work back into my life to keep that work-life balance. You know, people say, when they say work-life balance it’s normally you’re working too hard, put some more life in. But for me, it was like, “Hang on, you need more work to keep it balanced.”
And so yeah, it’s been a bit of a journey, but I think the best thing about Andy and I is we have a really good mutual respect for each other, and we’re really lucky that we’re similar in a lot of ways, but also our skillsets are completely opposite. You know, I’m the design and the creative side, and he’s really numbers and finance and operations. So we’re lucky that we have these, I guess, clear things that we look after. And it was good early on to just say, “Okay, if it’s a decision about A, B, C, that’s on you, and then if it’s a decision about these other things, then that’s on me,” and just drawing that line in the sand. And it’s not to say we don’t have, you know, discussions, or disagreements, or things like that. But we know where the buck stops, and yeah, it’s been really fun.
Mike Rowe: It sounds like you’ve got a really clear division of who has the call in what areas. And there might be challenge or discussion or debate or whatever that shows up, but you know, you know that that other person has that final call in that domain and that you can go back to doing your design, and doing the other thousands of problems that you’ve got to overcome running a business and growing a business.
Hayley Worley: Yeah. And that respect that like, okay, I don’t agree with that decision, but I know that Andy strongly agrees, and I’m willing to take that on board that he knows better than I do in that space, and he’s obviously making the right call for the business.
Mike Rowe: Yeah, it sounds like trust is really important to not only like the personal relationship, and the family that you have, but the business that you’re creating together as well.
Hayley Worley: Yeah. Definitely.
Mike Rowe: So have you had to put in place any like different things that you do, like different ways you do downtime, or you know, how you play with your son and then eventually will be your children. Like have you done anything differently now that you’ve started this business together? Like how do you separate that line between work and home?
Hayley Worley: Yeah. I think that’s really important. You know, we set a rule a couple of months ago there was no business in the bedroom. And like as soon as you go into bed at night, like no matter what it is, you don’t talk about it. You know, we’re here, we’re going to wind down, and then we’re going to go to sleep. And I think it’s just knowing that, you know, creating space to relax and step away actually makes the time that you do step back into the business more valuable. And knowing that, you know, feeling rested and refreshed, and you know, with a clear outlook on things is more powerful than just doing more hours and working all the time.
Mike Rowe: Yeah. You don’t even know at that point if what you’re working on is effective and it’s useful. It’s just you’re throwing hours at it for the sake of throwing hours at it.
Hayley Worley: Yeah. Totally. And that’s not great. Like we spoke about the dwell before, like you need the time to dwell to then, you know, look at it in a different light.
Mike Rowe: Mm. And is there any like favorite way that you like to take time away from work, get space, unwind? Do you do yoga or is there like some kind of particular Hayley method that you use that you find reliable in this crazy time?
Hayley Worley: I know. I’m a big traveler, so my husband and I, he’s from England so we spent I think four years in our 20s just traveling and living abroad. So that’s how we fill our cup. So it’s been a bit hard at the moment not being able to travel. We had some big plans this year that obviously got canceled. So it’s just about finding other ways. You know, we’ve renovated our house during COVID, and that’s kind of made it feel like a bit of a resort or a bit of a space that we want to be in. So, yeah, it’s hard, there’s not one thing I do that fills my cup, but yeah, just recognizing that down time.
Mike Rowe: Mm. That’s so great. Looking to the future with where the business is going, like you mentioned you’ve got the builder, and you’ve been working on it for a few years, and you know, testing it myself like it’s coming together beautifully, it’s a beautiful experience to go through. You also noted that you’re doing some work with augmented reality, I believe, and a little bit of A.I.? Can you talk us through like just some like vision of what might be coming down the pipe for those that are following along with the journey?
Hayley Worley: Yeah. So we launched it last week actually. So it’s such an exciting tool. When we launched the bed builder that was a huge part, you know, like the huge pivotal point in our business. And then we kind of threw the idea out of like, “Oh, what if we could do this in A.R.? Like what if people can actually position their bed in their actual room?” And it was kind of a bit of a pipedream at the time, but you know, threw it out to the network and said, “Hey, does anyone know anyone that can help with this?” And we actually found a Melbourne-based designer who is in that space, and we caught up with them, and they seemed really on board, but the issue with that was that it’s an A.R. experience, but for a configurator.
And so you jump into configurator and I think there’s 4 trillion possible options that you can design in the bed builder. So then this A.R. functionality needed to be able to take the one in 4 trillion and project that into your space. So that was a real struggle, like you know, a lot of people are putting on the website at the moment and it’s like, “Okay, here’s this chair in your space,” and you know, that technology has evolved, but the way that we had approached it is completely different.
So, yeah, we’ve used what’s called a quick look function in the A.R. tools that’s built for Apple and Android just in your browser. So that was a really important decision to make not to do it in an app because we didn’t want people to download an app, and there to be a huge drop off. So, yeah, that’s so exciting is the team we’ve worked with, they’ve worked really hard to, you know, build in all of our different colors and textures. So we’re able to project that out into A.R.
And, look, it’s not perfect. One of the things we struggle with is that it projects the bed on top of your bed because it’s not able to kind of like put it in your bed cause where the center of gravity is in the A.R., but I think that tech is really evolving. And the way we’ve built it out to work with this quick look function on Apple and Android is that we’re able to adapt to whatever updates they’re providing so hopefully it will get better over time.
So at the moment it’s a bit of fun and it’s really cool to kind of see it, and you know, you’re actually able to like walk up to your bed, and look in the bed, and go around it. And if you’ve got like an artwork on the wall that you want to pair it with that it’s a bit of fun and, look, I wouldn’t say it’s like making the cash registers ring, but it’s good to position ourselves as that brand that’s pushing it as much as we can.
And in the tech space, I think a lot of online businesses can just, you know, build a website and it’s kind of a bit set and forget. But we’re really willing to invest time into building out this tech, and to be the leaders in our category. And, you know, no one’s doing this in the whole world, so we were the first to market with that, and I think even with this, you know, integrating the A.R. with the 4 trillion options, that capability to do that within a fraction of a second. Our A.R. designer doesn’t think that anyone else is doing that in the world and we built that right in Melbourne, which is so cool.
Mike Rowe: And it sounds like even if it isn’t perfect now, like your iterative design culture means that just by design it’s going to eventually get better. But I think also as well like technology is just ramping up and developments are just changing so rapidly. So it’s very hard to keep pace, but your decision to keep that in browser seems to be a really smart one given that, you know, browsers are pretty universal. Like you can download your favorite one, whatever it is, and you know, they have set kind of settings that they operate in a certain way. But anyone with some form of device can access it, so anyone with a device could potentially be a customer for you in a lot of ways as well.
Hayley Worley: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.
Mike Rowe: Given that there’s a lot that you’re building, there’s a lot that you’re trying to push forward, you’re trying to push, you know, even to have an A.I. product or an A.I. tool in, you know, something as everyday as bedding like speaks to where the company I think is going in the future. But I guess my real question is how do you know when a new product is ready and ready for people to enjoy?
Hayley Worley: Yeah. I think that it’s ready when you’re willing to put it out there and get feedback on it. And I am never one to, you know, sit on something until it’s 1,000% correct. Because even when you think it’s correct it could still be changed. And you don’t really know that until you put it out there to the world. So I would say you know it’s ready when it’s good enough, and it gives you that, I guess it positions yourself in that way.
And we ask this question in an interview, “Would you rather be good enough and on time or perfect and late?” And it really speaks a lot to people’s personality, and I’m very much good enough and on time, especially when you’ve got so much on your plate. And, you know, while sleeping on something can then hold you back in all these other things. And, you know, talking the traction before as well. Like I’m the worst at spelling because I’m like you know what I’m trying to say, I’m not going to try and perfect it for you, I’m moving onto the next thing.
Mike Rowe: It’s good enough.
Hayley Worley: Yeah. Totally.
Mike Rowe: No one’s going to read this artifact in history.
Hayley Worley: I know, which is probably like if you’re a perfectionist, it’s probably a shit way of looking at it. But for me, I’m onto the next thing already, and that’s more important to me. Because I’m moving a thousand miles an hour, and if it means by fixing my typos I can’t do this other thing today, then I’m sorry, I’m just going to keep churning through.
Mike Rowe: It sounds like you keep your context on the real job that you need done. Like spelling isn’t that useful when it comes to bringing a product to market. Like it is on the website, of course, when people buy it because they get really annoyed about that kind of stuff, but the communication between your team, like the spelling doesn’t matter that much, right, because it doesn’t get you closer to your result, so.
Hayley Worley: Yeah.
Mike Rowe: Yeah, I very much am connected to the like just in time, you know, good enough but on time. I also love, you know, just in time design as well. Like I personally don’t believe in design for the sake of design. Like design when you have a problem and a need for it and design when you need to, not just for the sake of doing it all the time.
Hayley Worley: Yeah. Absolutely. And that speak to before when you were saying like where do you get your inspiration from and that comes when it’s ready.
Mike Rowe: Mm-hmm. Now beside corduroy and boucle, are there—and if I pronounced that correctly, of course.
Hayley Worley: You did. You nailed it.
Mike Rowe: Are there any new fabrics on the way that you can share some details of?
Hayley Worley: Yeah, we’re bringing out an organic cotton. So we’re really excited to move towards that. When we first launched the brand we had an organic offering in like a beautiful warm white color. But because the premise of the brand was to mix and match, and it was this dressing yourself, you know, like putting together an outfit, it was our brighter colors and our pop colors that really sold. And no one seemed to be really keen on the organic. So I was all for it, and I think holistically it sounds like a good product to sell, but it just wasn’t really right. And I think with everything’s happened this year, you know there’s a big switch to kind of living a bit more mindfully. I’m really ready to bring it back into a product offering, so I’m really excited by that, and I’m looking into more sustainable processes.
I’m really inspired by a brand called Pangaia from the U.S., so they’re using like botanical dyes, and you know, each item has a story of like how it was recycled, and you know, they’ve got like an avocado range where, you know, they’ve extracted different elements. So, yeah, they’ve done really well over in the U.S. they’re selling tracksuits at the best time to ever sell tracksuits.
Mike Rowe: Oh, 100%.
Hayley Worley: But, yeah, I’m really inspired by that. And like of course we use sustainable processes anyway. Like our dyes are reactive dyes, which means that we can cut down on like waste water, and you know, dye at a lower temperature, and so we’re always doing that anyway. It’s part of our always on strategy. But, yeah, definitely looking into, yeah, that more organic side of things and seeing how we can explore that for a business.
Mike Rowe: Wow. It sounds like it’s a really exciting future that you guys or you all are creating together.
Hayley Worley: Yeah. It’s fun to be on the other side of it and have the resources and the time to really, you know, invest back into the product.
Mike Rowe: Mm. Well, this has been so great, Hayley, like we’ve covered so much. You provided so much value to people that are launching their own business, a lot of really like uncanny stories as well. Like that trip to Greece and what that looked like, that was quite hectic. I’m just curious like is there any final parting advice you’d give for any emerging young person that wants to found a company that’s product-based in this current era?
Hayley Worley: Yeah. I think just get out there. Like just start with one thing and then one thing leads to the next thing, which leads to the next, and then you’re off and running. So, yeah, if you’ve got an idea, you know, start the sampling phase. If you think you have a business, you know, start designing a logo. Like, you know, by the time you know, three or four weeks in, you’ll have a bit of a suite, and it starts to build on that, and that’s where I get most of my encouragement from. So just give it a go, like I’m a huge hater in like the “what if,” like I had this idea once but I never pursued it. Like even if it doesn’t work out, like you’ll learn a lot on the process anyway, so give it all a go.
Mike Rowe: Mm. And where can people learn more about you and what you’re doing at The Sheet Society?
Hayley Worley: Yeah. Jump onto our website, I’ve got some really good pages in the footer, there’s like about us, and there’s about our fabrics, and things like that. Definitely follow us on Instagram to keep up with what we’re doing, all of our campaigns that we’re running. But, yeah, if people want to reach out to me on LinkedIn I’m more than happy to chat. Just drop me a message.
Mike Rowe: That’s fantastic. Well, thank you, Hayley. It’s been a great conversation and I’ve loved getting into the details and understanding like just how unique your business is, and what you are all doing together. And how you seemed to have really, in the last few years, built a strong business that’s design and product-led, but also there’s a real sense of community in your space with your team, so I think it’s a real testament to your vision that you’ve been able to pull all this together. So you should be really super proud of, you know, what you’re ongoingly are producing.
Hayley Worley: Aw, thank you, Mike. I’ve really loved chatting to you. Yeah, I love your podcast, and yeah, you’ve got some killer questions. And, yeah, I’ll always be a fan.
Mike Rowe: Well, this has been huge, but everything good must come to an end. If you liked this episode and want to hear more, you can get “The Goods” on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite podcast network, or listening app. Thank you for listening. Until next time, this is Mike signing off.