Trang Dang is the Co-founder and CEO of Ru9, Vietnam’s sleep company which aspires to bring the value of a good sleeping experience closer to the local market. We caught up with Trang to learn more about her inspiration, Ru9’s core DNA, and how they are shaking up the local mattress industry.
Dropping her successful career in the advertising industry, Trang Dang co-founded Ru9 back in 2018, after her personal journey hunting for a comfortable mattress to suit her sensitive body as a result of a disc injury. Positioning themselves as a sleep company, Ru9 provides solutions that will aid your sleeping experience. Achieving a breathtaking 300% growth rate in 2020, under the heavy influence of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ru9 is disrupting the local mattress industry with their 100-night trial and free return policy.
As Ru9 steps into their third year with an aspiration to amp up Vietnam locals’ sleeping experience, we speak with Trang to uncover sleep secrets, Ru9’s core DNA, and their unique business practices that led to their rapid growth and success.
What inspired you to start Ru9?
Honestly, it was completely luck in disguise. Having no knowledge or interest, I never thought of starting a company about sleep or mattresses until I slipped my disc on one of my runs. During that time, I noticed how my body was more sensitive to sleep and I was in the market for a mattress that can give me more comfort, specifically foam mattresses. Today, you can hear a lot about foam mattresses as many companies are tapping into this but 3 years ago, it was unheard of. Finding many loopholes in the market as a consumer, that was when the thought came to me, why not start making foam mattresses in Vietnam as we are one of the countries best known for manufacturing.
Founded in 2018, I would say we were the first company to focus on the sleeping experience. Ru9 started with a mattress as a base product, and up until now, we have 10 different products which are all designed and manufactured to help you sleep better.
What is the meaning behind the name Ru9?
From a marketing perspective, I wanted a short name that is easy for both Vietnamese and foreigners to remember. Ru is derived from the word “ru ngủ” in Vietnamese, meaning lull to sleep while 9 is just a word play which means night and “cloud nine”. Overall, it is a resemblance of something soothing and smooth to lull you to sleep.
Can you elaborate on Ru9’s key business values?
At Ru9, we have 3 core values which we follow: honesty, care, and innovation.
[We value] honesty about our price, our mission, as well as all the customer services we provide. When we first rolled out our 100-night trial, 9 out of 10 customers thought of it as a marketing campaign, wondering how long it would last. But for us, this is one of our main policies as we want customers to experience the products.
Even though we started operating omnichannel last year, Ru9 was still primarily an online business for the first 2 years. We achieve honesty in pricing by producing and selling directly to customers, without going through distributors. This way, it helps with our cost management, allowing us to provide customers with the highest quality products, avoiding any unnecessary cuts.
Our second core value, one of Ru9’s [core] DNA, is caring. The reason why we have the 100-night trial policy is because I have experienced the tough journey of choosing a mattress as a consumer. Researching online, information is limited while the majority [of information available] is PR materials. Then when I go to the store, there is no extra value or information to make an informed decision. As for the stores at the time, even for big chains, there are no policies to invite people to lay on the mattress and try it. Even now at private distributors, you see mattresses laying like books on the shelves, and you can only look and touch it with your hands.
Buying a mattress is an expensive purchase which you expect to use over a long period of time, and nothing is as bad as going to bed every night and being reminded of your bad decision. That is why for every customer, we offer them consultation on their sleeping experience, asking about their current sleep situation and any problems with their mattresses. Through these questions, we can then provide them with a solution from our product range.
For many, when thinking about the mattress industry, they see it is already matured and little can be done about it. While there is such a hype about tech- multimillion dollar companies with major investments- tech also exists in the sleep industry under the form of applied tech. As a company, Ru9 is innovative in our own way, by looking for new innovations in materials, environmentally friendly solutions, or anything that supports a better sleeping experience.
As a business that provides sleeping solutions, Ru9 highlights the importance of sleeping well for personal wellbeing, but these concepts are new to Vietnamese consumers. Did you have any difficulties introducing your sleep solutions to the local market?
There were definitely lots of hurdles but I believe Vietnam was the best place to start Ru9. While before, the concept of a foam mattress was non-existent, nowadays, it starts integrating into consumer’s lives, specifically among the younger generation. With the never-ending increase of competition in the workplace, they understand that optimising their sleep and mental health leads to improvement in wellbeing, ultimately resulting in higher productivity.
Who does your customer base consist of?
Everyone thinks our target market is people from 45 years old, but that is not the case. We definitely do not have enough marketing money to convince them our mattresses are better than anything they have experienced over the past half of a century. To them, sleep is not a lifestyle. Therefore, to convince them, we would have to prove that our products can solve their problems. Instead, we take a different route and convince them indirectly through their kids, who are our main customers. With Asian culture, your kids would be the ones who take care of you when you get older. Because of that, as the younger generations are satisfied with our products, they will buy the mattresses for their parents.
One of Ru9’s unique business practices is your 100-night trial and free return policy. What made you continue to adopt and push forward with this even when investors saw it as a risk?
The investors on Shark Tank were just as concerned as my parents, or any of the people in my circle. They were worried about Vietnamese purchasing culture, where the chance of returning [a product] is high. After 3 years, I have proved this policy works. When you treat it as a policy instead of a marketing campaign, with the sole purpose designed to support and bring value to help your customers, they will become your hardcore supporters and spread their positive experience.
When running a company, there are a million things to think about and everything seems urgent, but there are two guidance questions I always keep in mind, no matter what I am doing: “Does it align with Ru9’s values?” and “Does it help our customers?”
Most startups look externally for funding while Ru9 took on a different route with bootstrapping. Can you elaborate more on this approach?
In a way, I see Ru9 as a company, not a startup. It is not an obvious choice, to bootstrap [rather than] gain funding from venture capital firms. But for me, I focus more on looking at business growth and up until now, Ru9 has been self-sufficient and achieved growth and profit to reinvest in ourselves and we hit all the numbers that we set out.
Are you open to looking for investors in the future?
After 3 years, we are ready to dive into the bigger ocean. For me, when looking for investors, it is not only about the financials, but also about whether their strategies, experiences, and connections align with Ru9’s growth plan. Similar to a marriage, the important factor when getting a business partner or investors is having our values aligned.
Did having a great team help contribute to Ru9’s success?
1000% correct. The hardest job as a CEO is taking care of your people- internal stakeholders who are the key defining factor. As a CEO, you are working for your team. You need to keep them motivated, show them guidance, and ensure they feel there is value in what they are doing.
You also have to look at the bigger picture and think about what your team wants to achieve. At Ru9, many have shifted to new roles that are completely different from their starting positions. While many view this as not knowing what they want, it is actually a win-win situation. When people work for what they are passionate about and are given opportunities to progress, it is not only better for themselves but ultimately, benefitting the company. This is why our team stays, as we open up new opportunities while investing in courses and equipment for them.
What can we look forward to seeing from Ru9 over the next few years?
Everything- even the smallest things can really affect your sleep as it is not just a physical state of your body. It is a mental state of your mind, emotional state of your heart in which all can influence your ability to sleep well. There are so many possibilities and categories we can go into. I would leave you to draw all the possibilities, anything from physical product, augmented experience, lighting, to even service.
At the core, Ru9 strives to provide solutions to help you sleep better with honesty, care, and innovation.