Get Comfy with Leo Wang, the Man Who Made $15M Recycling 7 Million Water Bottles

Ever wonder what it is like to sleep on a cloud?

If you are flopped on your bed right now, take a moment to stretch those legs and find your comforter’s care label. Is it made out of polyester or acrylic materials? If so, you might want to consider an alternative—most of those purportedly “hypoallergenic” and “safe” materials contain toxic chemicals like crude oil.


So who can you trust to deliver that perfect (and safe) snooze cloud? If you want to channel your inner eco-warrior—and sleep like a god—CEO Leo Wang’s bedding company, Buffy, might be the answer.


Launched in 2017, Wang’s company uses trendy, colorful advertising tactics, cheap price points and eco-friendly imperatives have that proved to be undisputable corollaries to Buffy’s continued success. In just a year and a half, Buffy has unsurprisingly become one of the most popular bedding companies among millennial and Gen-Z consumers—generations that are highly attuned to and sympathetic toward our planet’s ever-growing environmental disasters. Buffy sells a singular comforter in three sizes, and as the business grows day by day, so does our attention toward the ethical nature of our spending habits, which is, frankly, only a good thing.


ONE37pm spoke with Wang and got the inside scoop on Buffy’s marketing strategies and future plans, the journey of turning his family’s weaving mill into a multimillion-dollar business and how his company managed to recycle 7 million plastic water bottles.

Where did the inspiration for Buffy come from?


Leo Wang: Well, it just so happens that my family has been in the textile business for almost 30 years. Mom and Dad had a weaving mill in northern China. It’s a pretty big operation—they’ve actually been making about 40,000 to 50,000 meters of fabric every day for almost two decades. So we’ve been behind the scenes making bedding products for all the big-box retailers like Target, Kohl’s and Walmart. It was really apparent to me that everything we were doing could be rewritten.


How is this comforter different from everything else that’s on the market?


Wang: We took a gamble making our product out of unfamiliar materials like regenerated eucalyptus and recycled bottles. The risk is that people might find that strange and push it away, but there is the possibility that it might actually pique their interest. So the materials are absolutely different. About 70 recycled bottles that come from landfills and oceans are in each comforter we make. We’ve actually, through comforter sales alone in about a year and a half, repurposed 7 million recycled bottles. Ultimately, we ended up with a product that, instead of wasting thousands of gallons of water for every comforter or harming animals through animal cruelty, helps save tons of water and dilutes the impact of the textile industry.

The one thing a young entrepreneur learns the hardest—it’s probably the cruelest but most impactful lesson—is that you might have a fantastic idea and be really knowledgeable about it and have really thought through it and have this terrific vision and everyone you tell loves it, but ultimately, the one person you really need to convince is reality.


What is your marketing plan?

Wang: We launched this company in December 2017, about a year and a half ago. When we first came out, we were mostly growing through a combination of Facebook and Instagram ads, as well as word of mouth. We were able to do an incredible amount of business at that time, generating around $15 million in revenue. We were not expecting it; people are blown away by it. The venture capital community’s jaw dropped. I think that success can be partly attributed to our gamble to do something very different with our product. This year, we’re going from a comforter company to becoming a more complete bedding company. So we just launched a duvet cover made from our very sustainable materials. In terms of marketing this year, we definitely have to spread out a lot. There’s a lot more influencer work, a lot more PR, a lot more affiliate marketing, a lot more out-of-home advertising in terms of billboards and subways. We have a really strong presence, and I think we have at least one ad in 50% of the taxis around New York City. 

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What is the most important lesson you have learned in this business?


Wang: I have fumbled around with and invested in different companies and projects before Buffy. Before that, I was a management consultant. I think the one thing a young entrepreneur learns the hardest—it’s probably the cruelest but most impactful lesson—is that you might have a fantastic idea and be really knowledgeable about it and have really thought through it and have this terrific vision and everyone you tell loves it, but ultimately, the one person you really need to convince is reality.


Your ability to test the idea against reality in an either cheap, fast or iterative way is probably the most important determinant of whether you’re going to be able to pull this off. So for us, that was asking ourselves, “So you think you can make a comforter out of a totally different material with a sustainability mission in mind? OK, that sounds great. Sounds like there is probably a millennial audience that would be interested in that.” But then the challenge is how do you prove that to yourself, and how do you show that to reality and make it want your product?


Have you found that the try-before-you-buy strategy works?


Wang: Oh, it is hugely helpful. I think it has quite effectively reduced our cost of customer acquisition anywhere from a third to a half. Meaning that, at any point, we can sell a third to a half more volume than we otherwise would have that month.


The way we look at it, it’s basically an artificial cost of customer acquisition reducer. On the margin, people are checking us out and they’re like, “Oh wait, I could actually check this out for free?” It just makes it that much more seamless and much less of a commitment. I think a lot of e-commerce businesses should be considering how to build that offer into their online platform and their operation.


On the flip side, if your return rate is very high, then it is not very economical. [laughs] You’re actually just wasting a lot of money on shipping things back and forth. But we have luckily had an average return rate of about 4% to 6%, which is really best-in-class for this category and makes it worthwhile.

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