Entrepreneurs' success helps save koalas

Mitch Taylor (at front) and Dany Milham are remaking the matress-buying experience

Koala Mattress’s founders can rest well at night knowing their online business is saving koalas while making a bad night’s sleep extinct.

It’s a feel-good story. Two tech-savvy entrepreneurs, formerly of laid-back Byron Bay on the far north coast of New South Wales, create a new foam mattress that offers a dreamy sleep, no matter how restless your partner.

Customers in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne can have it delivered, compressed in a box, within four hours of an online order. Best of all, some of the proceeds go towards adopting sick and injured koalas.

Koala Mattress launched late in 2015, with co-founders Mitch Taylor and Dany Milham at the helm and backers including Australia’s cricket captain Steve Smith. It made about A$1 million in sales in its first 79 days, says Taylor, and in January this year its revenue hit A$36 million.

The business has already expanded into New Zealand, with Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Japan set to come online this year.

Taylor believes the Koala Ecofoam mattress supersedes its spring and memory foam competitors. The brand’s social media ads show a person can jump on the mattress without knocking over a wine glass also sitting on the bed – that’s good news for people who suffer sleepless nights due to a partner tossing and turning.

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Taylor and Milham were confident their mattress-direct-to-consumer model had legs. The furniture and mattress sector has a bad reputation for high mark-ups and slow deliveries, and was ripe for change. However, the pair wanted their business to do more than just make money.

“Growing up in Byron, we both love the outdoors and the natural environment and we want to protect it for generations to come,” Taylor says.

The pair aligned their brand with saving the koala, surely the world’s snooziest marsupial. When customers purchase a Koala Mattress, they help fund the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie, which has been rescuing and rehabilitating koalas on the NSW mid-north coast since 1973.

“The work they do at the hospital is amazing. To be able to [contribute] to something to protect the species is the most rewarding thing for us,” says Taylor. The New Zealand arm of the business supports programs to help sick kiwis.

“To be able to [contribute] to something to protect the species is the most rewarding thing for us.”

The in-house development of proprietary software, called Gum Leaf, has also been crucial. Gum Leaf, Taylor says, is the key to the business living up to its promise of free, rapid deliveries. The software manages and integrates Koala Mattress’s e-commerce platform, couriers, warehouses, inventory, emails and even which koalas are to be adopted.

Despite the apparently seamless success, running such a fast-growing business has been a “huge learning curve”, says Taylor. Fine-tuning product development and manufacture has caused some headaches, with some suppliers struggling to keep up with demand.

Yet the blueprint for success is in place. In each new market, the focus will be on quality products that can be shipped and assembled quickly. As well, a vulnerable species in each country will be selected to benefit from sales proceeds.

“That’s the model we are going to transfer internationally and that resonates with anyone who has bought furniture before,” says Taylor.

One piece of advice

“After Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Workweek, you have a lot of people thinking running e-commerce businesses is easy. It hasn’t been like that for us. You have to work your butt off. So just work as hard as you can until you get the results.”

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