Designing the ideal sleep experience  – Alexandra Zatarain, Co-Founder & VP of Brand & Marketing at Eight SleepFeatured

Hi Elphas! I’m Co-Founder and VP of Brand & Marketing at Eight Sleep, the world’s first sleep fitness company. We’ve designed the ultimate sleep experience with the help of more than 44 million hours of sleep data. We also took Eight Sleep through the Y Combinator Summer 2015 batch.Before founding Eight Sleep, I worked in marketing at a number of startups and academic institutions. I grew up in Tijuana, Mexico and now live in New York City where Eight Sleep is headquartered. I have a B.S. in Communication Science from Tecnologico de Monterrey.I’m also an early Elpha member (back when Elpha was called Leap)!Ask me anything about how to get a good night of sleep, startup life in New York, consumer tech, launching new products, branding, PR and comms, or something else!
@azatarain wow, congrats Alexandra!!! Sounds super interesting! I have such a hard time when it comes to sleep and would love to find out more. I'll send you a LikedIn request as I'd love to learn more!
Hi! this is an AMA so please ask your questions here and Alexandra will reply in the thread. Thanks!
Hi @stephaniemelodia happy to chat sleep here. I've learned a lot about it in the past 5 years. Honestly, the best I can recommend is to read the book Why We Sleep. We gift it to everyone who joins the company because it's a great resource that highlights things that everyone should know about sleep and how our lifestyle choices affect our sleep too. For example, most people don't know that decaf coffee DOES have caffeine, 30% of what a regular coffee has. So it still affects your sleep.
It sounds super interesting and is honestly a subject area that fascinates me so much! I'm convinced I have a displaced body clock as I am the most extreme night owl I have ever met and my sleeping patterns are insane! (Btw I'm new to Elpha and still figuring out how it all works, and just figured out what AMA is, lol)Burning question: when are you coming over to the UK?
Sometimes I wish I was a night owl so I could work while everyone else sleeps, unbothered! I don't have plans for UK soon, but will be speaking at Web Summit this year in Lisbon in case you are around.
Yes I will be, would be great to connect with you there :)
What do you think is the hardest part about branding and marketing for startups in the consumer tech space?
What I’ve seen is that it’s really hard for startups to nail their positioning and messaging hierarchy. And it’s crucial, doesn’t matter if you are consumer or b2b company. For consumer companies specifically, there’s the challenge of acquiring customers. Most startups, particularly outside of NY, don’t invest in a brand and a community, and they rely on paid media. That becomes a huge challenge to scale. It’s hard to build a brand and a community because you can’t fake it. It’s all about your product or service and finding people who like it and advocate for it.
Yes! I’m working on this for brands right now. Paid media strategy can only take you so far if you don’t have a brand worth remembering. Thank you for the validation!
Nice!! would love to hear if you have any tips to share :)
Thank you for being here, Alexandra! I'm fascinated by your company and also sleep science! What's your take on differentiating Eight Sleep in the crowded marketplace on new mattresses: it seems like every home goods company is trying to make a new mattress.
Great question! In all honesty, we struggled with this a lot, particularly last year. When the company started back in 2015, we launched a smart cover that could make any bed smart. It tracked your sleep, warmed your bed, connected to your smart home. That was our pitch - I know, we were crazy. But we sold 8k of those in pre-orders in a couple of months. So we realized there was an opportunity. We considered ourselves a sleep tech company back then, and that's how we described Eight Sleep.We didn't get to do mattresses until much later. The reason we did it is that most mattress companies tried to license or acquire our technology. We went into very deep discussions with some brands. But it didn't make sense for our business. So we decided to own the comfort part of sleep, to develop it with our own methods, driven by data, and make the best bed possible that would pair well with our technology. The issue with that product launch is that consumers began seeing us as a mattress company, a different kind -a smart mattress company. And that kind of sucks, because that market is so saturated. We did a lot of soul searching and in Q4 last year we finalized a positioning exercise that surfaced our clear position in the market: we are a health and wellness company focused on sleep fitness. We are creating the sleep fitness category. We are the Peloton of sleep.To activate this in the market we are being much more conscious about our brand, how we look and how we sound. We are doing partnerships in the health and wellness space, we are mindful of where we live in retail, of what press of want to be a part of, of what influencers we work with, etc. It's like bringing an entirely new world to life. Super fun. This is actually the work I focus on the day to day now.
This is really interesting! Thank you so much for sharing your story and the company journey. Yes, I wasn't getting the "sleep fitness" at first, but after hearing you describe it, it makes a lot of sense. I'm very excited to see how the consumers view your company differently as you move forward with this new market. Go Alexandra and tea!
I notice that Eight Sleep has four co-founders with you as the only female. Could you tell us more about how you decided to start a company with your co-founders, and how the dynamic has been since the beginning in 2014 to raising Series B?
We are three Italians and one Mexican. A fun group 😎 when Matteo and Max bad built a prototype of our first product they asked if I wanted to join them to oversee marketing of the product to consumers. I decided to join them because I believed in their skills and their vision, and I love to spend time with them. Matteo is my husband actually and Eight Sleep isn’t our first rodeo in the entrepreneurship world. So I was happy to do this together and commit the next 10+ years of our life to it. The relationship has changed as we’ve grown. We are still small, but bigger than the first group of 4. The more you grow the easier it is to professionalize the roles, to hold each other accountable. We have a larger executive team now so we aren’t just founders , we are executives and we all need to deliver results equally.
Thanks so much! I love learning about sleep :)-What are your thoughts around optimal times to sleep and wake up? I've heard about sleep types and I've historically been a night person but have been transitioning to waking up earlier and earlier, because I am an artist and prefer to do some of my practice in the mornings before the day flies in. To what degree do we embrace our natural/historical patterns versus try to change them? How does that impact productivity?-Have you explored dream research much? What interesting learnings have you found there?-What are the best ways to gauge the quality of sleep I'm getting?-I feel like I end up cramped in the same position when I sleep, and that that's been affecting my neck. I've thought about filming a night of my sleep to see what exactly is happening. How do you maintain healthy sleeping positions throughout the night?-What is your sleep routine?
Love these questions!- Optimal sleep times are anything that works for you as long as you are consistent. Ideally you don't want to go to sleep too late because no matter if you are a night owl or early bird (which is genetically determined), around 3-4 am we are all very tired and need to recover. But when it comes to sleep times it really is about being consistent every single day: go to bed at the same time every day, and wake up at the same time every day. I do this, it makes a world of difference I how you feel. You stop needing an alarm to wake up!- I'm personally a fan of dreams because I dream every night and I always remember my dreams in the morning. I'm fascinated by how the brain processes information while you dream and the connections it makes. I have not dug much into researching that and since our product currently doesn't track brain waves it may take some time for us to get data we can connect to our other metrics.- The best way to gauge the quality of sleep is 1) do you feel energized all through the day? Trust your gut on that, and 2) track it and see if you are getting enough and if you are being consistent. Sometimes you may feel like you are energized but you may not be getting enough sleep. A very small percentage of the population can thrive on less than 6 hours of sleep. So we shouldn't fool ourselves to think that we are getting enough sleep just because coffee or adrenaline is getting us through the day.- Try to use pillows to maintain a healthy sleep position. One behind your head that isn't too tall. Your head should not tilt forward. One next to you may help you sleep on your side vs. going on your stomach which is not good for your lower back. - My sleep routine: I'm in bed most nights by 9:30pm (usually 9) and I wake up between 5 and 5:30am. Weekends in bed by 9:30pm, awake by 6. My husband and I keep the same routine, which helps A LOT. We very rarely use the phone in bed, we don't keep a TV in the bedroom. We sleep on a Pod of course :)
Thanks so much for your replies!
Hi, Alexandra! What are your thoughts on polyphasic sleep cycles (I remember the Uberman cycle coming up on reddit several years ago)? Are they at all good for you short- or long-term? Or just total nonsense?
Personally, I've never tried it. I'm not into crazy sleep hacking (yet) because I currently stick to the basics: enough sleep, keep a consistent schedule every day of the week, use your bed for sleep only, and sleep in the right environment - bed, temperature, light, noise, pillow, sheets, etc. The basics are hard because most people don't prioritize sleep. But once you do and feel the benefits, you never go back :) I'd love to hear if you've ever tried polyphasic sleep and how that worked for you! Or any other sleep hacks.
Thanks so much for the reply! Good to know that the basics are important. :)
Hi Alexandra! I am super late to this party (I just joined Elpha recently), but would love to ask you a few questions! - I have a very hard time falling asleep at night, I get in bed around 930/10pm and it usually takes me about 45-60 minutes to fall asleep. I have a 15 month old baby girl, which means that the mornings are out of my control in terms of when I wake up and I consistently feel exhausted. Any tips on how to all asleep faster? - What do you think about the app "Calm"? I got a free trial, I worry that spending more time on my phone right before bed might not be helping.Thank you so much!
Hi Sandy! Some recommendations for falling asleep faster:- Make sure your bedroom and bed are at the right temperature. Generally cooler is better. When it's too warm you'll find yourself tossing and turning. Particularly if it's taking you 40-60 minutes to fall asleep all that time awake lying in bed means your body is warming up the mattress making it even harder for your body to reach the right core body temperature to fall asleep. - Try going to bed once you're really tired. You can deprive yourself of some hours of sleep for a day or two, and then go to bed only when you are really ready to sleep. This way you will remove the anxiety of wondering whether you'll be able to fall asleep or not. - You could also try falling asleep on the couch initially. And then go to bed once you've passed out or are close to it. The reason for this is to connect the bed with healthy and deep sleep and disconnect it from any anxiety that comes from lying awake for so many minutes. - Have you tried melatonin? We sell a really good one from Thorne on We've tested it and found it to be quite effective. Don't recommend you take it every night though as to not make your body dependent on it. - I definitely recommend meditation and relaxing sounds. But I personally believe they should be done BEFORE bedtime and not while you are already in bed. The reason is that your bed should be for sleep. A symptom of sleep fitness is when you are able to reconcile sleep relatively quickly (5-15 minutes). So build a wind-down routine for outside of the bed, and then go to bed once you're tired and ready to fall asleep. Hope that helps! ping my anytime with sleep questions :)
This is super helpful, thank you so much for the tips! These are great. Will definitely check out your website :)
Hello Alexandra, I was wondering if you'd share some tips about startup life in New York? Also about finding and working with investors?Thank you and looking foward to your reply,Vanessa
Hi Vanessa, I love working in NYC. Startup life is quite vibrant and there are companies in every field who are succeeding in the city. Working with investors can be great, especially when they believe in your vision. Finding them isn't easy. It took us a while to get investors onboard when we first started. We mostly raised money from friends and family first until we proved our product had traction and could build a compelling story for seed-stage investors. Going through YC helped a lot, to legitimize our story and give us the access to investors that we needed when raising our seed round.
Thank you for the reply 😀
What sheets, comforter, pillows do you recommend?
For pillows I love this Malouf pillow. It's my favorite. I've had mine for 2+ years and it's still perfect: sheets, I have these cheap sheets that we prototyped in China that I love, honestly I don't know the brand, but they are my fave. I'd recommend Tencel sheets, they feel like silk but much more fresh, they are great for the summer.Comforter, I haven't tried Buffy but have heard great things if you want to check that one out!
Thanks for joining us, Alexandra!As a reminder: this is part of our ongoing series with Elpha members doing incredible work.
Thanks to everyone for asking great questions and thanks for joining us, Alexandra! This AMA is now over.
Alexandra, as a fellow marketer who helps startups scale and scale-ups grow, I'm always curious to learn how your role has evolved across Eight Sleep's journey. How did it change post-YC to now? Thanks for your time. :) PS I may have missed this but I'd rather give it a shot than not.
Hi Pooja! It has evolved a lot actually. Until 3 months ago I was the head of marketing - formally the CMO (the C-level title is kind of ridiculous given that we were a small company). Was overseeing everything marketing: performance, brand, PR, comms, retailers. Three months ago I hired a senior and experienced manager to take care of performance so that I can focus on brand marketing. I had this vision for the marketing org 3 years ago and finally got to the point where we could make it happen. Effectively, now our SVP of Growth and I are peers. This was a big change, I ceded 80% of the marketing team to him and now have to build a brand org for myself. Had to leave my ego entirely out the door to make this move but I know that it's the right thing to do for the company. In the end, I'm a founder and I want our company to succeed. I'm very excited that I can now focus on what I'm strongest at so I can contribute my best work to the company.