In just over two years, Michal Szlas has built an online business which is on the verge of turning over £10m. Mark Casci reports.
When Michal Szlas was 14-years-old his family moved from his home in Wejherowo in Poland to Yorkshire.
The young man could not speak the language and had limited connections to the area outside of his immediate family.
However, he knew very clearly that he wanted to be a businessman who would create brands and build them.
Today the 25-year-old entrepreneur is the founder and chief executive of online mattress retailer OTTY.
In his first year of trading, Mr Szlas’s firm turned over £1.7m and this year he is expecting that figure to rise to the £8m to £10m mark.
“I have never worked for anybody,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“It was natural to me. My mum had her own business, my dad had his own business – it was just natural to go for it on my own.
“And also I guess I was lucky enough to meet the right people to help me get to where I am.
“I have never done business studies. You do what you have to do.
“I think it is quite easy to build your own business, you just have an idea and the passion to spend a lot of time on it.”
Based from an office in Leeds and with warehouses in Manchester, Leeds and Buxton, Mr Szlas is selling a mattress of his own bespoke design.
The young entrepreneur has ambitious growth plans for the business which he expects to take into the OTTY brand into Germany this year, with France, the Netherlands and his native Poland also on his list of target territories.
The firm has come a long way in a short space of time and Mr Szlas ascribes the growth to the emphasis he and his team have placed on the product.
“We were basically looking to provide a product for everyone,” he said.
“Everyone needs a mattress, everyone needs a bed to sleep on.
“The mattress, is unlike any other mattress in the UK. It is my own bespoke product.
“So we could do a product that was different from everybody else at a good price, which is what I wanted it to be. If it was too expensive then you wouldn’t be targeting everybody.”
Buying a personal item like a mattress online may not seem like the obvious fit for an online firm but Mr Szlas said that consumer trends and the firm’s approach were making much headway in the sector.
“Back in the day people did not trust the internet so much whereas now you have so much security from buying online,” he said.
“It is so much easier, you can go on your phone, buy it and it is delivered the next day.
“And especially seeing as we offer a 100-night trial, you have got nothing to lose.
“If anything it is going to get bigger and bigger. I think a lot of the stores are going to have to catch up and do something similar, otherwise they are going to get left behind.”
The mattress industry has seen a lot of change in recent years with the advent of technology such as memory foam and cooling gels. In the end the product that the business came up with is one that brings all of these together.
“When we spoke to our factory and did a survey there was a very mixed response from people in terms of whether they wanted a spring mattress or a memory foam mattress.
“And because our factory was very flexible they could do us a mattress with both. Nobody was doing that.
“We have springs, a layer of memory foam and then added a cooling gel into the top layer of memory foam so that it helps you stay cool at night. A big problem with the foam is you sink down it, you get stuck and you overheat.
“That was something we wanted to address before pushing the product out.”
Outside of work Mr Szlas is a fitness enthusiast and he thinks that the product’s success comes from increasing consumer demand for healthier lifestyles, with sleep being at the heart of this, as well as a thirst for products which move on from established norms.
He said: “We tried to move away from the old white mattress. The way we do our photography and the way we promote the product on our website is quite stylish. We don’t want it to be clinical, white mattresses that looks boring.”
He added: “Some of our advertising says ‘you will sleep a third of your life’. For some people it is a lot of money but I don’t think people put as much value in a good night’s sleep.
“People are getting more and more aware of the health benefits of a good night’s sleep. People are using apps to track sleep and the number of steps they do and are generally getting more healthy, and sleep is a massive part of that.”
The brand itself has enjoyed high-profile endorsements from the likes of Professor Green and Mr Szlas has now found himself in a situation where he is expanding his reach and the size of his staff.
“The first year was basically me,” he said.
“I had a couple of people from my previous business giving me a hand here and there but I was mostly outsourcing the work to agencies.
“Now we are growing a team. I have five people working for me now and we are hiring three or four more people in the next month to two months and we are growing into Germany.
“I want to build a company that is running itself.
“I have a map of where I want to go.”
Mr Szlas said his passion comes from creating a brand and building. Beyond OTTY he has a number of avenues he wants to explore but that for now the customer satisfaction feedback he is getting is keeping his enthusiasm levels very high.
“I wouldn’t class myself as a mattress salesman, I like to build a brand online and I like to take something from zero to something.
“People telling us it made a difference with bad backs etc. means a lot.”