Don’t just sit there – go to nuggetcomfort.com!
As a little boy with a lot of energy, David Baron too often heard “that’s not a toy.” Delicate things, dangerous things, and things his mother claimed were “just for looks” – he converted them into tools and toys. He broke things, and sometimes broke himself. So he decided early on that when he grew up, he wanted to change that and be able to say, “that’s a toy.”
As a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, he discovered that sleeping on a futon – particularly a cheap one – was way less than desirable. He found they broke, they were cumbersome, and they ended up in the dumpster. He was offended that the big box stores could get away with that, basically “tricking customers.” It hit him: that was the opportunity to make something better, and way more delightful. He was on track to become a successful manufacturing entrepreneur just a few years later.
Baron, CEO of Nuggetcomfort.com, an e-commerce business based in downtown Durham that sells fun foam futons called Nuggets, is a native of Atlanta. Prior to Monday’s speaking engagement, his experience with Rotary was “a dedicated park bench on a corner in suburban Dunwoody, Georgia.” He appeared a bit taken aback by the size of his Rotary audience, but quickly warmed to his topic.
He came to UNC as a Morehead scholar, a self-described “idealistic environmental science major.” There, he developed his idea for unbreakable, modular, portable foam futons that blurred the line between toy and furniture. His first prototype, in keeping with his environmental science ideology, was a mushroom-and-kapok (a deciduous tropical tree in the silk and cotton family) filled version that “smelled like a compost pile,” he said with a wry smile.
Upon graduation, Baron returned to his parents’ home in Atlanta, filling the garage and basement to the brim with bamboo to build frames. “My parents were nothing short of angels,” he confided. He created 150 prototypes to test his unconventional concept: lego-like furniture held together by friction alone. And he set a goal – if he could sell them within 90 days, he would feel confident moving forward.
Baron decided to move back to the Triangle, choosing Durham rather than Chapel Hill because of the Bull City’s emerging entrepreneurial climate. Baron chose to bring in Ryan Cocca, a “super creative and super caring” friend from UNC, as a partner in the startup. Together, they developed the brand and the first true Nugget iteration of four full-foam cushions, weighing in at 27 pounds. No bamboo frames, just foam – and the stage was set.
Baron was curious about minimalism as a concept that maximizes joy and comfort and function, citing sources such as Michael Porter (“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do”) and Kanye West (“Everything I’m not made me everything I am”). He contends that it’s important to focus on doing something great instead of many things just sort of well. So he focused on making Nugget “as simple as possible, but not simpler” and avoided screws and glues and bolts and bars. He said Nugget’s less-is-more design is exactly what makes it so kid-safe, so cozy, so easy to move around, and so versatile: it’s a couch, but it’s also a bed, hammock, fort, and soccer goal.
The business partners chose to use Kickstarter, the world’s largest funding platform for creative products, to raise money for their concept. After reaching 484 percent of their funding goal, Nuggetcomfort.com was born. Now headquartered in the American Underground, the company manufactures its products in a warehouse in east Durham.
Baron and Cocca agreed that to maintain control and quality, they would source their materials locally, and manage everything from the orders to the manufacturing to the distribution of the product. They allow customers on nuggetcomfort.com to mix-and-match colors from among 10 durable microsuede options. And most importantly, they built their own machinery to vacuum pack and compress the whole couch into a small box, so it ships direct to doorsteps. All told, they decided on a $229 price point, which includes shipping.
By avoiding retail markups and extra freight trips, Baron claims to “pack as much quality and value into the fairest price possible.” So they are vigilant about remaining totally focused on their business philosophy: receive an order; craft the products carefully, one at a time; and ship directly to the customer. The stores – outside of nuggetcomfort.com – that carry (or are about to carry) Nuggets fit into this model. They are online retailers that don’t actually touch the product: Wayfair.com, RoomsToGo.com, Staples.com, and Amazon.com.
Baron talks about scalability, and growing the team, with the same careful and deliberate strategies that have brought Nugget to where it is today.
Throughout his talk, Baron unequivocally praised the Durham entrepreneurial ecosystem for its support. “Startup communities in New York, San Francisco, et cetera – they have this ‘fail fast’ mentality. Durham has allowed, even encouraged us, to be innovative yet deliberate in the development of our concept,” he said.
“The cost of living here let me take my time. The American Underground office space, the warehouse space, the community infrastructure, let me take my time,” he continued. “But most important, the Southern warmth and slower pace of life let me take my time.”
“The notion of ‘overnight success’ is often a myth,” Baron stressed. “In reality, ‘overnight successes’ take years. By being allowed to take our time, ultimately the end quality of the product will be better, and our opportunities for success will be greater.”
Rotarians asked questions until President B.C. Dash adjourned the meeting, then dozens more crowded around Baron for the following half hour. When queried about his work schedule, Baron replied with a smile, “There is life lived during work.” Another plus for Durham’s startup culture.
Submitted by Carver C. Weaver
Editor’s note: Mr. Baron was introduced by Rotarian Rory Gillis of Durham Magazine. This month’s issue of the magazine also profiles Mr. Baron and NuggetComfort.com. Ms. Gillis is in the picture at the head of Carver’s write-up and they are being photo-bombed by Anna Jones.