Ariel Kaye is the Founder & CEO of Parachute, the fast-growing home essentials brand based in Venice Beach. Long intrigued by the interplay of design and wellness, Ariel established Parachute to fulfill consumers’ needs for high quality bedding and a good night’s sleep.
Within two years, Forbes declared that “Parachute Wins Over Millennials Tired Of Chain Store Bedding.” The brand has been called one of the “25 Hot Los Angeles Startups to Watch” by Business Insider, and has been featured in notable publications including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Architectural Digest and ELLE DECOR.
Prior to launching Parachute, Ariel spent ten years working in brand development and advertising in New York. Her experience yielded invaluable insight to consumer purchase behavior and the public’s growing interest in quality, craftsmanship and social responsibility – now tenets of the Parachute brand.
Read how she built the Parachute brand.
AP: So Ariel, tell me: You quit your job, moved back to LA, and started Parachute. Did you know you were going to start Parachute before you quit your job or were you planning to figure it out once you were back in LA?
Ariel: In the middle of 2012 I really decided I needed to start thinking about what was going to be next for me. I was ready to leave my job, and I was really ready to do something different. I really wanted to be part of something that was big, and I wanted to make an impact, and I wanted to take what I learned in advertising and my experience building brands and people, and do something with it.
I had a lot of friends that were joining start-ups or starting their own companies, and the direct-to-consumer brand movement had really just begun. I felt very inspired by all of that; I really wanted to pour everything that I had into work, and I felt like now was the time to really make my career into something that I was going to be proud of. I started thinking about what that would look like, and thought about companies I might want to join, and I kept coming back to the home, and wanting to be part of the home space.
“I was ready to leave my job, and I was really ready to do something different. I really wanted to be part of something that was big, and I wanted to make an impact…”
The idea for Parachute came into fruition in late December, early January. When I quit my job I had already put together a pitch deck and a business plan. I started talking to anyone and everyone I could who had any kind of relevant experience in textiles or manufacturing – I was very much committed to building the business. Originally I decided to move to LA a few months later. I was spending more time in LA after I lost my job, I grew up here, and it felt like the right place to build the business.
AP: Wow. Quitting your job is a scary thing to do. Most people would be too afraid to quit their jobs.
Ariel: It was really scary. I left a very comfortable job, and I think in retrospect, my naivete got me out of my job much sooner than I necessarily would have in retrospect preferred because I think part of the start-up world is that you see all these companies getting funded and people rising to success. So I was like, “Okay, if I quit my job by May I’ll have raised $100,000 and I’ll be able to pay myself a salary, and I’ll be able to do this and build a website, and all these things. But of course, it was so much harder than that, and none of that actually happened. I think being a little bit naive allowed me to take on things that were bigger than I may have done if I had known better (laughs).
AP: How did you get into the accelerator, Launchpad?
Ariel: The guy who was running Launchpad at the time, I happened to know through family friends. When I came back to LA, I reached out to him to learn more, and I was like, “I think I can be great in this program”, and he was like, “You’ve got an idea on a piece of paper, so why don’t you do a little bit more work and get a little bit further? Then we can talk.”
Again, I was naive. I thought it would be really easy for me to raise money. I had some meetings with early investors. People were like, “Yeah, it’s a great idea, but I need to see more.” That was the reoccurring theme for quite some time: “Yes, this could be great. You seem very passionate, and I get that you’re really excited about this, but I’m going to need more in order to actually write the check.”
As a sole founder, I was working out of my apartment and I was feeling really lonely and very isolated. There were good days and a lot of bad days. I was feeling like I made a mistake going through all the emotions you go through, especially early on, and a lot of them still find their way back from time-to-time too. But I really felt like I was in over my head, and that I did not have a support system.
I had friends who were sort of helpful, but at the end of the day, no one is really in the thick of it with you. I made a decision that I really wanted to join an accelerator program, and that being around other founders who were going through similar challenges, and getting to know a network of investors, and mentors, and advisors would be really important for me.
I decided that would be the next step. I was really persistent. I left emails for folks at Launchpad probably every two weeks with an update. I requested a meeting every month, and it took from February, March to October for them to finally say they were willing to accept me into the program. I was really persistent. I saw that this was going to be a great opportunity, and for me it was the only solution to the catch-22 of people saying: “It needs more progress”, “I need to see more progress before launch”, “Do you have customers?”
“I made a decision that I really wanted to join an accelerator program, and that being around other founders who were going through similar challenges, and getting to know a network of investors, and mentors, and advisors would be really important for me.”
So I joined and there were ten other small companies. I was the only sole founder in the group, but there were all these other teams there. I had someone to hang out with at 2 AM when I was packing boxes because they were also working as well. I had the community, and then I was able to meet investors and other mentors. It was very critical and helpful to me finding my success.
AP: What advice do you have for people who want to raise money, but are only in the idea or start-up phase? For instance, in order for you to have been able to manufacture your sheets, you needed to have capital. How were you able to convince investors your product was worth it and gain customers?
Ariel: I kept hearing: “You need customers. You need proof of concept. You need product market fit.” Originally I kept blocking the launch, and everything kept being delayed, because again, everything takes longer than you expect. I also needed some capital in order to buy inventory.
So I put together a simple, simple website that was just one page, a splash page. I set up a pre-sale. I didn’t have any product on hand at that point, but I was able to generate – through a lot of friends and family, and a lot of begging (laughs) – money. I got $10,000 or $11,000 worth of sales, and I was able to say, “Look. Here is $10,000. People have already given me money.” Obviously I could have returned it, but I was like, “I have this money now.”
Those people placed orders in August and I ended up shipping them their product in November. They definitely took a leap of faith, but in doing so that was what took it over the edge for the folks at Launchpad, and they were able to say, “Okay, you’ve got the customers. People are interested in this.”
“I wasn’t coming in for another meeting saying, ‘Well, I think I’m going to do this next.’ It was, ‘Okay, this is what I’ve done since you last saw me. Here it is. You can see it, you can click it on it, and it works. This is a thing.’ That persistence and follow-up, and showing that I was making strides despite having no capital at all was, I think what really took it over the line.”
I worked my network of people and got a few press pieces. I was able to say we’ve got some stories, we’ve got some workers, and this is going to happen. I think also at that stage if you’re meeting someone, accelerators typically will invest in companies past the ideation stage, finalized with an MVP, versus other bigger seed funds.
But by showing my determination and showing that I was just so committed to this, and also making progress. They were asking to see progress, and I was making progress. I wasn’t coming in for another meeting saying, “Well, I think I’m going to do this next.” It was, “Okay, this is what I’ve done since you last saw me. Here it is. You can see it, you can click it on it, and it works. This is a thing.” That persistence and follow-up, and showing that I was making strides despite having no capital at all was, I think what really took it over the line.
AP: What has this journey taught you about yourself?
Ariel: I mean, it’s been just the most transformative experience, I think, of my life. I’ve learned a lot about myself personally, and what I’m capable of if I put my mind to it. I’ve learned a lot about teamwork, and I’ve learned a lot about taking risks and not taking risks.
“…it’s been just the most transformative experience, I think, of my life. I’ve learned a lot about myself personally, and what I’m capable of if I put my mind to it. I’ve learned a lot about teamwork, and I’ve learned a lot about taking risks and not taking risks.”
I’ve met people and I’ve connected with people that I never, ever would have known. I’m part of a community that is inspiring, and that makes me proud to do what I’m doing every day. I think about who I was as a person four years ago, five years ago, before I started this journey, and I was a different person. It’s taught me so much about myself, and it trickles down into all aspects of my life.
AP: What has it been like growing the brand? How do you stay on target with your goals and know when it’s time to implement that next phase of your plan?
Ariel: I think for me, I have always believed that quality … if you’re in a product-based business, quality is so important. Having a clear point of view, and a clear narrative, and telling a real, compelling story is what people care about. That’s how you build the emotional connection.
“…if you’re in a product-based business, quality is so important. Having a clear point of view, and a clear narrative, and telling a real, compelling story is what people care about.”
Staying true to the brand has been first and foremost. I will never sacrifice the brand for growth. I will never cut corners in order to get to a new revenue target if it means putting a product out in the market that I’m not proud of or offering too many discounts or things that just feel diluted. For me, I set milestones, and we set goals, and they’re aggressive and we like to hit them, but we’re never going to do it at the stake of the brand.
I also feel lucky that I started this business around the time that a lot of businesses grew really, really fast and then crashed and burned. I’ve been really focused on building a healthy business, so we are thinking the metrics and the numbers we care most about isn’t necessarily the top line, it’s our repeat rate, and our NTS score, and our conversion rate, and how people are engaging with us. The things that show brand metrics versus shiny objects.
“You don’t want to be conclusive. You want to be growing. You want to be looking at challenges as opportunities.”
I realize that building a loyal customer base is everything, so think about how people engage with communities, but again, we’re never going to do it at the case of hurting the brand or introducing things that we don’t really believe in. I think there’s a really important balance of patience and persistence, and very measured growth that in the long run will pay dividends.
That’s sort of been our approach: Be smart and be strategic, listen to your customers, and understand what they want so you can deliver. We’re very focused on all the numbers, and we really want to understand what people resonate with and what they care about. That’s what we focus on, and we try to make sure that we’re not ever breaking our own creed, or getting too distracted by what we think is right, but what our customers feel is right.
We’re also really excited about growing, opening new retail stores, and doing things like that. Figuring out new ways to message people in different channels and media is really the fun part of it all. It’s an exciting time, and I think every six months, every year that this has gone through kind of a massive transformational stage. We look forward to these new stages. That’s why we’re in this kind of business. You don’t want to be conclusive. You want to be growing. You want to be looking at challenges as opportunities. There are problems to solve, and that’s the fun part.
AP: Based on what you just said, do you think it’s necessary to go into a business with a clear vision from the beginning? Or is it possible to create unplanned new lines of business based on customer feedback?
Ariel: Yeah, the vision we have is still the vision we’re executing. I felt like the bed was the most intimate place in the room, and being able to build that loyalty, get that trust, and have people say, “This is the best night of sleep I’ve ever had” is such a powerful value proposition.
“It’s easy to want it all at once, but take your time… We like to build. That allows us to get the feedback, listen and iterate, and improve as we go.”
But the vision was always to be a home brand, to be in multiple rooms of your home, and to really be that one-stop shop for home essentials. We want to be able to provide you with the best napkins and place mats and table cloths for entertaining, and the showers for the bathroom, and the robes for your bathroom and for your bed. We want to do sheets, and there’s more products that we want to do as well. Not rushing into things is important.
It’s easy to want it all at once, but take your time… When we launched our bath category we just launched towels. We spent a year almost just with towels. Then we launched robes, and shower curtains, and bath mats, and it’s been this growth. We don’t like to introduce everything at once in a category. We like to build. That allows us to get the feedback, listen and iterate, and improve as we go.
AP: Tell me about your partnerships with Habitat for Humanity and Nothing But Net. How did those partnerships come about?
Ariel: I grew up in a family where giving back and doing any work related to social justice or helping others was a part of life. When I started the business, I knew that before I even launched, I wanted to make sure we had a social component and we were able to give back.
We partnered with Nothing But Net because it felt like a natural fit. We felt they were an organization that was on the ground doing really impactful things, and we wanted to be a part of that. We’ve been working with Nothing But Net since before we launched.
With Habitat for Humanity, we wanted to figure out what we could do with donations. There were products we couldn’t resell that were still in great condition. So we’ve donated a lot of those products. For us, it’s really important to be thoughtful and mindful and grateful. I think people care about that today.
AP: What advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
Ariel: I used to have a professional wandering eye. My first few jobs right out of college were brief – one lasting only three months before I moved to the next. I was often restless and trying to make a bigger impact. Now I realize that committing to a job for an extended period of time would have allowed me to learn more. It’s hard to see the potential of what’s in front of you when you have one foot out the door.
AP: I read that you live by the mantra: “You Belong Here.” Why?
Ariel: I have the words “You Belong Here” on a neon sign in my living room. I was inspired by some neon work I’d seen at Art Basel many years ago, so I had that sign custom made. I like the positive and inclusive feel of those words.
“Wasting energy on every small detail hinders momentum. There will always be challenges, but keeping a positive, solutions-minded attitude and focusing on the big picture is imperative to moving forward.”
However, the mantra I truly live by is “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” When you are so deeply, emotionally invested in building something, it’s challenging to do anything but obsess over every mistake, delay or piece of criticism. Wasting energy on every small detail hinders momentum. There will always be challenges, but keeping a positive, solutions-minded attitude and focusing on the big picture is imperative to moving forward.
AP: What’s the one book that changed your life?
Ariel: I recently finished “The Art of Possibility” by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. It’s an inspiring read for people at all stages of their professional careers. The book is uplifting and filled with relevant anecdotes on everything from creativity to leadership.
AP: What sets Parachute apart from other bedding and home brands?
Ariel: Parachute is unparalleled in the quality, design and comfort of our home essentials. We are also committed to social responsibility.
By finding – and working directly with – the best factories around the world, we’re able to deliver a premium quality product that upholds the high standards and heritage of that region.
Instead of focusing on shifting styles and trends, we design each item to complement our entire assortment of home essentials. We offer timeless pieces intended to be layered, mixed and matched.
We sleep better knowing Parachute is doing its part to protect the planet. We’re committed to manufacturing products that surpass the most stringent safety and environmental protection standards. Our home essentials are Oeko-Tex certified, meaning they’re free of synthetics and harmful chemicals.
Essentially, Parachute makes modern Bedding and Bath essentials for a more a comfortable home. We’re providing a fresh alternative to what had been around for ages – in every aspect of the business.
Find out more about Parachute and try Parachute’s home products: