By: Claire Crowley, Staff Writer
Mike Lindell’s journey from a struggling entrepreneur to “My Pillow” fame is hardly a fanciful bedtime story. I spoke with the man who’s helping American to sleep better at night about how he turned My Pillow from a dream into a multi-million dollar company and about his plans for the future.
Lindell speaks in the same bombastic tone that most people have become familiar with by watching his My Pillow infomercials. It’s an extroverted version of Lindell that he says is quite different from how he acted as a child growing up in Minnesota.
“I was very shy growing up and I had a fear of rejection,” stated Lindell. As he grew older, that shyness and fear were quickly quelled by entrepreneurial ambition. Working at a drive-in and a grocery store in his teenage years “were the last jobs I had where I worked for someone else,” explained Lindell.
When his sister’s waterbed leaked, flooding the carpet in her apartment, Lindell saw a business opportunity. He started down his path to entrepreneurship by opening a carpet cleaning business. Entrepreneurs “reverse engineer,” stated Lindell, they “start with the problem first.” Lindell’s knack for reverse engineering would later become the essence of his My Pillow success, but not before drugs and financial strife would leave him with many sleepless nights.
Addictions to drugs and alcohol lead Lindell to a stint in a rehab facility in California, but his preoccupation with entrepreneurship distracted him from focusing on sobriety. While at rehab, Lindell witnessed the popularity of lunch carts in the area. Long lines of businessmen would swarm the carts every afternoon. It was a foreign concept, one that he hadn’t yet seen in Minnesota. Recognizing a need for a similar business back home, Lindell decided to try his luck in the food and restaurant industry. Upon returning to Minnesota, Lindell bought five lunch carts and later expanded, buying several bars on contract for deed. Success was fleeting. Lindell admitted that the food and restaurant industry was “probably not the best business for someone with an addiction” and he found himself broke and battling a cocaine addiction, until one night’s sleep changed his life forever.
In 2003, the idea for My Pillow came to Lindell in a dream from God. “The logo for My Pillow came first,” said Lindell. “I woke up that day and wrote the logo all over the house,” he said. It was an act that he said his daughter described as “random.” A religious man, Lindell credits God for designing the blue, cartoonish characters that make up the soft, dreamy looking My Pillow logo.
While Lindell claims that God gave him the idea and logo for My Pillow, God left it up to Mike to provide himself with the blueprints for designing the pillow . The process of creating the perfect pillow took months, beginning with Lindell reverting to his knack for reverse engineering. Lindell recalled the sleep problems that he experienced as a child, problems which could have been eliminated with a properly designed pillow. “Sleep is about the distance from your head to your bed,” said Lindell. Determined to fill that distance with the perfect pillow, he recognized the need for a pillow design that would not go flat after several uses nor need to be doubled over in order to provide a good night’s sleep. “I wanted to make a pillow that was adjustable so I began experimenting with different foams and fillers on my deck.”
After finding an adjustable foam to fill his pillows, Lindell hit a roadblock. The foam couldn’t be cut into the size and shape that his My Pillow design called for. A lone hammermill in a farm field near his uncle’s house caught his attention. Lindell repurposed a hammermill, a machine that resizes corn and grain for farm animals feed, into a pillow foam cutting machine. “I finally had the perfect pillow,” said Lindell.
Confident with the perfection of his invention, Lindell set out to replace the generic pillows on America’s beds to his newly designed My Pillows. He ordered 30,000 plastic bags bearing the God-created My Pillow logo and began going door to door to box store buyers. “I was turned down everywhere I went,” said Lindell. Undeterred, Lindell opened a My Pillow kiosk where he made his first sale. “It’s a feeling that couldn’t be described, the feeling of selling something that you made yourself.” Despite receiving positive feedback from early My Pillow customers, Lindell couldn’t make a living selling a small volume of pillows at a kiosk. He expanded his market to consumers at state fairs and home and garden shows. He also experimented with print advertising.
My Pillow gained local popularity and it became apparent that Lindell’s true genius was not in designing the My Pillow product itself, but in creating the marketing plan behind the pillow. He applied his principle for reverse engineering yet again, but this time the problem that needed to be solved was not a wet carpet or a restless night’s sleep, the problem was that people weren’t excited to buy normal, generic pillows. The solution was a multitude of late night commercials that launched Lindell into unexpected fame.
“I had always wanted to do an infomercial,” Lindell said. The night before the filming his first My Pillow commercial, Lindell was reading his script and the shyness from his childhood returned. “I had never been so scared.” Despite his fear, Lindell ignored suggestions that he should not be in the commercials himself. It was a decision that would make Lindell, the middle-aged and mustached former cocaine addict, the face of My Pillow, the product that millions of Americans would soon enthusiastically rest their heads on every night.
“I was living in my sister’s basement, still broke when the commercial aired on October 7, 2011, at 3 o’clock in the morning,” said Lindell. “Forty days later we had five hundred employees and took in millions of dollars.” The commercials are straightforward and feature Lindell holding a My Pillow and touting its selling points which include being American made, machine washable and the necessary ingredient for a restful night’s sleep. “I credit God for giving me a platform,” he said.
Lindell’s financial and personal struggles are now behind him. Naming both Donald Trump and Jesus Christ as his biggest inspirations, Lindell has sold more than 41 million My Pillows. Lindell does not define success in terms of numbers. “Success is helping as many people as I can. Helping people doesn’t seem like work,” he said.
As for the future, Lindell is expanding the My Pillow brand to include mattress toppers, bed sheets and travel pillows. He’s also working to create a rehab facility to help those battling drug addiction. Whatever dreams come to him next, you know that they’ll find him while he is sleeping well.