Why This Bed-In-A-Box Company Chose Charlotte as its HQ
Muse Mattress chose former textile hub, South End, Charlotte, out of all the places in the world for the e-commerce company to be based.
Muse CEO Gabriel Dungan doesn’t have an average work history.
The 2004 UNC Chapel Hill alumnus left the Tar Heel state immediately after graduation to begin a career in Hong Kong working in international trade. After about a year of learning the language and becoming entrenched in the culture, Dungan left the Hong Kong company to join a French group out of Shanghai.
“For many people who start their own businesses, something happens that sparks an opportunity and changes everything,” Dungan recalls. “My career move to Shanghai was that pivotal moment for me.”
The French-based company was in the home furnishings space and sold products for the top of the bed. Dungan opened their Shanghai office in 2005, and when the company went to acquire another one, Dungan knew it was time to move on. “I felt I had grown tremendously during that time period and I knew I was ready to pursue building my own venture,” he explains. And so began the journey to what would eventually become the bed-in-a-box startup, Muse, that launched in late 2016.
Gabriel Dungan, CEO of Muse.
Dungan jumped into the memory foam industry somewhat late in 2007 developing mattress toppers and other foam products. The company got its start by securing placement on the shelves of a handful of retailers around the world and on Amazon. It wasn’t until last November that the 35-year-old decided to launch Muse as a stand-alone e-commerce store. Despite the competition in the bed delivery space, Dungan was confident that building a brand that relied on delivering choice in bedding would pay off. And by offering one of the longest sleep trials in the industry (120 nights), he hopes his customers will give the startup a chance.
The products Muse offers, by the way, are the stuff sweaty sleepers dream of. Memory foam mattresses that cool you off mid-sleep are just one of the items that use technology to increase user coolness and comfort.
“Everyone in bed-in-a-box says they have the perfect mattress,” he says, “but we took it a step further in an attempt to dethrone the “one-size-fits-all” approach to sleep by catering to different needs.” Dungan wrote an algorithm that took many things into consideration—keywords in competitor reviews, different foam densities, and foam deflection values, to name a few. All of these values have enabled him to create the Sleep Personality Quiz on Muse’s website which helps determine each individual’s ideal mattress based on his or her sleeping style, preferred firmness, and sleep temperature.
And as the company grows and more data (such as helpful reviews) becomes available, the company will continuously tweak the algorithm. He wants to make it future-proof.
Another point of differentiation for Muse? A lot of people in the bed-in-a-box industry are programmers or marketers, but Dungan’s team has mixed backgrounds that better encapsulate the industrial part of the textiles industry. That savviness is what led to the integration of cooling foam and fabric components into every Muse product—a big win for hot sleepers and one of the brand’s key features.
“We want to use our know-how to deliver an incredible night’s sleep and a better value to the consumer. We are obsessed,” Dungan says, smiling. “With the coolest fabric currently on the market, we can’t technically undo the laws of thermodynamics, but we’re always trying.”
Is Muse a millennial’s dream come true? Maybe. Especially considering the fact Dungan chose former textile hub, South End, Charlotte, out of all the places in the world for Muse to be based.
Having spent a third of his life living outside of the United States speaking several different languages, the Asheville native had the innate urge to just “come home.”
“I picked Charlotte because it was not too far from home and yet an expanding place where we could grow the business from a supply chain perspective to bring manufacturing back to the U.S.,” he says. The mattresses are currently made in Indiana, but Dungan noted that manufacturing in nearby Cornelius is another to-do on his list.
Dungan also sees the value in being able to pull talented people from North Carolina universities, and he’s excited about Charlotte’s younger, enthusiastic workforce that may enjoy doing something that’s not totally digital. “It’s a plus that we sell something physical—we actually get to touch and feel the product before it’s shipped out to the consumer,” says Dungan.
Though Dungan’s business has international roots and still employs workers in Shanghai, for the young CEO, there’s no place like home (and there’s nothing like Charlotte’s booming beer scene). Maybe that’s why Dungan chose a location between Triple C and Lenny Boy Brewing in historic South End.