Robes are the New Blazers: Parachute Founder and CEO Ariel Kaye
Home used to be "where the heart is." Well, right now, home is where everything is. And no one knows that better than my guest on today's Authentic Avenue.
Ariel Kaye is the Founder & CEO of Parachute, a home brand which focuses on bringing comfort to the everyday. I was especially excited to interview Ariel as I've previously featured her first hire, Luke Droulez.
Once a bedding brand, Parachute has extended its presence across the entire home -- and along the way, Ariel has similarly stretched her business past the inflexibilities of the past year. Today, we talk about that journey, plus what makes for the next greatest Parachuter.
Seeing as it all began with better sleep, I also made sure to ask Ariel what currently keeps her up at night, along with asking for her thoughts of that grand A word I study so closely (including what that particular page in her personal dictionary says).
Finally we also touch on the Homes for Dreams initiative, which is Ariel's personal way to give back via mentorship and support Black-owned businesses.
Enjoy! Full transcript below.
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TRANSCRIPT BELOW (powered by Descript; accuracy not guaranteed):
Adam Conner: Hey Ariel, how are you?
Ariel Kaye: I'm doing well. Thank you.
Adam Conner: I'm glad to talk to you because gosh, you must have had a crazy last year. I mean, everybody being at home and now. I would assume that coming out of this last one year period, everybody's got a fantastically upgraded home experience in part, thanks to you.
Um, and I do have a little bit of history with Parachute, but before I talk about that, just for our listeners who haven't, um, bought everything they need to through you, could you let me know and let us know what Parachute is.
Ariel Kaye: Sure. So we are a home lifestyle brand. I started Parachute in 2014, and we as a bedding brand and today we really create and make and develop and design products that are for every room in the home.
Uh, comfort is, is really core to everything that we do. So we really believe in creating a more comfortable life at home.
Adam Conner: Well, gosh, I can, I can relate to that for sure. Um, that was something comfort that I sought so strongly last year as did so many others and frankly, still doing it this year. But my history with Parachute goes on prior to even last year, because I've done this for many years, this podcasting with, uh, leaders of fantastic brands to learn about authenticity.
And one of those folks that I interviewed was a gentleman by the name of Luke Droulez. Now he told me that he was the first hire to Parachute, but. If this is now the second time, we'll be able to come back to the brand. It's nice to have you join our ranks. So, so thank you for that.
Ariel Kaye: You're welcome. Happy to be here.
Adam Conner: So when I talked to Luke and I know that he's now moved on, he had a fantastic story about what you all were doing in terms of building authentic community. What I want to know first is the way in which you seek to build talent around the team. What are those Luke-like qualities in people that you look for when building the best next and greatest Parachuters.
Ariel Kaye: Uh, we're looking for people that are really passionate. I'm passionate about the brand, passionate about their interests, passionate about the work that they do every day. And I would say one of the qualities that I look for the most is just flexibility at a startup. Um, you're constantly growing and evolving.
The needs are changing. Um, you're often pulled in different directions. Being able to evolve and iterate and grow quickly is often the name of the game. So people that just are very comfortable with being flexible and, um, are excited about the journey that you're on.
Adam Conner: Well, I know that you've had to be excited about this journey to have founded the company from the very beginning, but I also know that simply following a passion can sometimes result in not finding the most profitable or successful.
Journey through life. And the reason why I say that is because a professor at your Alma mater NYU and specifically stern professor Scott Galloway says that all the time. And you mentioned flexibility as a great trait for somebody on your team. How do you, and how have you effectively balance that passion with flexibility over the years?
Ariel Kaye: Well, I think at Parachute, you know, there's a few things that we really focus on. Um, so one is being a customer first business, and really focusing on how we can create the best experience for the customer from end to end. And so, as we create processes, as we create products, as we create experiences, um, we're always thinking about the customer first.
And so that, that as our guiding light helps us. Make decisions prioritize, think about, you know, how we should be developing and growing, um, so that we can grow with our customer and that our customer doesn't grow out of us.
Adam Conner: Yeah. You definitely want to make sure of that. And that's why I'm guessing you've expanded beyond just bedding.
Is that what you were hearing from consumers that allowed you to open up that product portfolio or were there other factors at play?
Ariel Kaye: Well, that was always the vision. So I started Parachute as a bedding brand because I believed that that was a really intimate part of the home and a place where we could really build trust as well, or, um, impacting someone's sleep experience.
So if, um, I was able to help transform a customer sleep experience, I believe that they would then trust and become loyal to the brand. As we expanded into natural extensions. We've taken an approach as a brand, as a lifestyle brand, um, to really open up our assortment. And, um, and yes, we definitely get that demand from our customers and get requests.
Um, and we, we have, you know, really great, um, processes for collecting and making sure feedback goes to the right people on our teams so that we can then in turn, create products that our customers are looking for. But, um, you know, some brands focus on one singular product. We've definitely taken a wider approach.
Adam Conner: Yeah, that was part of that. That was actually most of the conversation that I had with Luke way back. When was within building that authentic community, it's like, well, Does that influence other pieces of the business? The answer was of course, yes. And so I'm glad to know that that is at least playing part of it.
And I have to imagine over the last year, it maybe played in an outweighed piece of this. I want to go back to that flexibility because lots of things changed about last year, not just the increased desire for comfort everywhere. It could be, but also the way in which people lived in worked for you, as you were building the business through this, what was the biggest.
Hmm. What was the biggest area of inflexibility that you had to sort of force through?
Ariel Kaye: Um, that's a good question. I mean, there was a lot that was out of our control over the past year, year and a half. Um, and so, you know, there are, there are certain limitations I would say to, um, To being able to control things, um, when there's a global pandemic.
So, um, you know, we had to get creative and be opportunistic and see how we could look at problems as opportunities and, and shift and change. And, um, just be really nimble. But, um, You know, there are, there are a number of things, you know, if there's a container shortage or a delay in shipping, because people can't go to work.
I mean, you know, these things create, um, a significant ripple effect in, in many businesses. So, um, I think, you know, the biggest learning is, um, to always communicate and over-communicate, um, Things get tricky, but you know, for the most part, we were really lucky over the past year and a half, um, our relationships with our manufacturers and, uh, you know, allowed us to have very little disruption and, um, you know, we were able to really keep, keep the wheels moving.
Adam Conner: Yeah, well, that was a top of mine, of course, for so many people to figure out how in the heck to move on. That's a personal journey that I went through. The whole reason I'm doing this current iteration of the podcast world that I embody is because of big changes that happened last year. And so I always like to ask that, cause I feel like everybody has their individual and unique pain points.
Now people are starting very, very slowly. To return to work and yes, these variants of bound, but vaccinations are also on the rise. And in the meantime, people have been upgrading their homes, hopefully through Parachute to make it a lot more comfortable and to make it a multi-purpose area, as opposed to just the living space.
That may be, it was in 2019, and prior when people come back to the office, of course they'll spend less time at home, but my take is that they'll want to keep that same standard of living when they're there. Have you experienced that same, uh, that same notion amongst the consumer behavior that you've witnessed?
I guess what I'm asking broadly is that, how do you believe that the effects of the last year, uh, have, uh, have affected the world of home consumption?
Ariel Kaye: Yeah, I mean, I think home is really the center of activity at this point. And, um, You know, I really, I don't see that changing. Um, you know, we saw a, really, a really big and quick shift in consumer B and behavior.
And then also just like in terms of mindset about what our homes can do and how they can provide for us. So, you know, our home, like you said, You know, all of a sudden was not just a place to lounge or to hang out after work or in the mornings or on the weekends. It became the place that we worked and we worked out and we were entertained and where, you know, we had to have childcare.
I mean, there was so much that was happening within the four walls of our home in such a different way. Um, you know, I think the future of work is not going to look like the way it looked pre pandemic. I think most companies will. We'll try to make some sort of hybrid model, um, work because people have really, I think, benefited from the flexibility and the optionality that they get from spending time at home and being able to be remote and, um, You know, where we've also seen a significant migration of city dwellers to the suburbs.
Um, and so that has, you know, created a lasting impact, um, where people just have more space. Um, but I think this, like, you know, Parachute, we talk about these like moments in time and these things. Consumer shifts. And, um, you've seen it around wellness now for quite some time. And there's been brands that have really been catalysts of that.
And, you know, we really view ourselves at this as this catalyst for comfort and for, um, for being comfortable within the home. And so I don't see. I don't see that slowing down. Um, and I'm grateful for that.
Adam Conner: Well, so am I, and it's not that I have had really an in-office life, even for the last few years, truth be told the last time that I worked in an office was June of 2018.
So actually, you know, nearly two years prior to the, to the COVID wave really slammed in the U S in March of 20 bucks. My fiance who was working right across the wall from me right now is currently in that hybrid world and has absolutely made the upgrades here at home that she does not want to trade off of in a five day back at work scenario.
And I think a lot of people. In that same boat, I'm going to return to the story of my fiance towards the end of this. Cause I do have some personal advice ask for you as it relates to Parachutes offerings. But in the meantime, I have lived here at home basically for the last three years. And I think of a quote that you gave, uh, in Forbes actually back in March, back in March to Jeff, from which I have resonated with a lot and which I don't embody as much as I should, which is.
The robe is the new blazer. I've never heard that before. I haven't actually even done a full day in a robe and we're here on audio only. So we could both be enjoying that right now, but maybe we are, maybe we aren't. What other insights and comparisons like that, have you noticed crop up over the last year?
The robe is the new blazer. What else is the new, what else?
Ariel Kaye: Uh, that's a good question. The gym is the new garage. I mean, the garage is the new gym. Um, I don't know. I mean, I think there's, you know, Netflix is the new movie theater. Um, there's a number of, I mean, I think within the home, if you look around, like I said, there's, there's just, these spaces are having to serve many different purposes.
And I think we're, you know, the guest room is the new office. Um, I don't know if that's as specific as you were hoping for, but I do think that there's, um, you know, we've just seen this, like, um, the shift at this, uh, You know, creativity, um, in order to kind of figure things out, you know, around the home and with different products.
Adam Conner: Well, actually that's the perfect comparison, what you were making there because you were going through different areas of the home and explaining how they are now. Insert multi-purpose area here. Um, we're hosting a few folks coming in later this summer and they're going to stay in the spare bedroom in our apartment, which is my office.
I mean, you nailed it right there. I don't have a garage, but if I did, I'd probably throw some weights in there. That would be where I'd work. Um, you know, especially in the winter time I can stay inside. So I get that completely and do those passing thoughts also have an impact on the product areas in which you seek to expand going forward.
Not that Parachute will get into like the weight lifting business, but I'm curious if those insights have also colored where you plan to go.
Ariel Kaye: Yeah, we've absolutely started thinking about, you know, how can our products, um, help people in their home offices and what products would make sense for our assortment until you'll have to wait and see what that looks like.
Um, you don't have to wait too long cause it'll happen this fall. But yeah, I mean, there's. Products and things that we think about constantly. I mean, we're always thinking about what's happening contextually in the world, around us, in terms of what our customers need and how we can continue to add value in their lives.
And so, um, certainly we've spent a lot of time, you know, since the beginning of the pandemic to think about, you know, how can we continue to support our community? Um, we also, I mean, you mentioned. What I wish was even a more famous quote around robes because I think it's true. Yeah. Um,
Adam Conner: I can make that the title of this podcast. We could get it there. All right. We'll do it.
Ariel Kaye: I, you know, I think it's, it always resonates when I say it. So, um, people get a good chuckle out of it, but, you know, we last fall, we ended up accelerating a number of road launches and colors and things that we had planned for the following spring.
Um, because we were just seeing this. Um, you know, heightened demand. And so, you know, we, we definitely try to be as nimble and, um, as quick to introduce products that make sense for our customers in that moment, as we can given we, you know, we do have a considerable lead time, so things don't happen as fast as we always would like, but, um, we try to move fast, um, for that purpose.
Adam Conner: Well meeting people where they are is certainly a best in class strategy, pretty much, no matter what you do. And it is a common trait among those leaders in businesses who appear here because our focus is being as authentic as he can. And right now like that, that the word home, it can mean so many different things and, and not just it's, it's my office.
And it's where I sleep. It's where my eat was, where I eat. I mean, it, it is, uh, even more so a central pillar than it, than it ever was.
Ariel Kaye: Yeah, I'll give you another example of how we've done that. I mean, we have today we have 12 retail stores. Um, but you know, we, at the beginning of the pandemic realized Waller stores were closed, that when our stores did reopen, um, you know, people might prefer to buy online and pickup in store or they might prefer curbside pickup.
Um, and so, you know, these. Services that we had on the roadmap, but we accelerated them in order to make sure that they were ready for the time that our stores reopened so that we could be mindful of how customers might feel comfortable and how they might prefer to shop once our stores were able to reopen.
So, you know, I think really thinking about the customer and like I said, putting the customer first, um, you know, it might not be always the easiest path forward, but it's certainly the path that. We'll be most memorable and we'll provide, you know, a better experience. And I think that pays off in the long run.
Adam Conner: I agree. As long as you're willing to, to make that trade off, you know, those, those short-term maybe profitable areas. If you could trade them off for that longer term experience, I, I have witnessed and heard so many times that that that's always the better road. Um, and unfortunately, sometimes it is the road less taken, but it is the better one to be.
Now I must ask here. Cause I'd like to ask everybody when within these interviews, I focus on this, a word so much authenticity, everybody's got a different definition for it. There are infinite manifestations of it. And I'm curious what it means to you. So if you don't mind, if you had to define that word, like if I flipped open Ariel's dictionary and authentic where authenticity is on page 10, what does it say?
Ariel Kaye: That's a good question. I mean, I think so much. Of what we try to do is to create a brand that is authentic to Parachute. Um, you know, the first word that comes to mind is, is really genuine. I think like when you're authentic, you're really genuine. You're true to yourself. And for me as a founder, um, I think it manifests in the way that I listened to my instincts and I trust my gut.
Um, I think that's one of my superpowers. Um, I really lead. Lead in that way. And it's, you know, proven to be often, um, I would say 99% of the time, um, the right decisions are the ones that I intuitively feel and I can trust my gut on. Um, and so to me, that is a way of continuing to be authentic to who I am as a person, as an individual, as a leader.
Um, and, uh, And yeah, I think it's, it's one of the, the most important things that you can do personally, and as an organization.
Adam Conner: Yeah. That is certainly interesting. I'm glad that you gave me that. I wish I, I should probably compile some sort of dictionary like that with all the responses that I get, because I really haven't even heard one like that.
Like I said, everything, everything is is unique. And these learnings that you've picked up and that you're now sharing with me are not exclusive to this podcast and not even exclusive to your own business. I said earlier that people are saying that their home is used for so many different things, and they think of that word differently.
I know that you have as well. The Homes for Dreams initiative that you've done, which is to help other businesses on their path. And the reason that I focused on it was because, uh, it, it involves personal mentorship time with you. And, uh, an accelerator. Could you explain that a little bit? Cause I think that's one of the most authentic ways that leaders can be spreading their messages to help others.
Ariel Kaye: Sure. So, um, when I was getting perished off the ground, I joined an accelerator program in Los Angeles and that experience was really transformative for me. It helped me find. Uh, community, it helped me, um, get introduced to investors who ended up investing in our initial seed round. It helped me feel less alone and crazy and on an island of one, which is a very common feeling that you can have as a sole founder.
Um, and I. Found myself, um, you know, over the past few years, thinking about that experience often and how I could in turn, um, give back and we've been talking about, um, creating some sort of mentorship program and, and what that would mean for us, for myself and our team. And, um, This past year launched the homes for dreams initiative, which is a mentorship program to support black owned businesses.
Um, and it provides a grant as well as six months of mentorship time with our entire team and, uh, biweekly calls, um, or zooms with me and, um, access to the Parachute community and, um, you know, promotion through our marketing channels. And it's been such a great experience. I think for our team as a whole, as well for Taylor, who's the founder of nomads, which is a size inclusive swimmer brand.
Um, but you know, I think being able to put on that mentorship hat and, um, think about all the things that we've learned at Parachute and how we can apply them to other people's businesses is. Incredible gift to be able to pass on. And also there's so much learning that you get, um, reciprocally, um, through mentorship.
So, um, I've had such great conversations with Taylor and have learned myself along the way. And, um, this is a program that we're going to be continuing on. Um, every six months we'll have another, uh, company join, um, the program. And, um, we're really excited about it.
Adam Conner: Yeah, I love those sorts of things. And listeners, if you're interested in this sort of thing, you can check that out right there on their blog and, and check out the story of Taylor long and, and her organization as well.
That's nomads, swimwear.com. You can listen to them. Uh, and read more about it and, uh, yeah. And if you, if you apply, you'll see if you can get this mentorship time yourself. Sorry. I'll because I know as a solo founder, myself and granted for less time than you are, I've done this for maybe a year now. Um, that kind of thing is in valuable.
So I really appreciate the fact that you are doing it for others. Um, we need to help each other out, especially, uh, especially right now. Now I want to ask a couple more questions about the path forward and then quoting question just for me, but the first, and I suppose in the spirit of you starting out as a bedding company, I need to ask you these days, what keeps you up at night?
Ariel Kaye: Well, sometimes it's my seven month old baby. Um, and sometimes it's really thinking about the future. Um, you know, I'm so proud of our team and how far we've come. And we built, you know, really a remarkable business. Um, and we have such an incredible team, but, um, there's a lot of it. Big exciting opportunities on the horizon.
And, um, you know, I, I spend a lot of time up at night thinking about culture, um, thinking about how to protect our culture, um, as we grow and as we continue to hire people, especially right now, since we aren't getting that FaceTime, um, that you get in an office and how to preserve that culture in a digital environment, which is so difficult and so different.
Um, but you know, I spend a lot of time thinking about. Our team, um, and how to continue creating an environment that is wonderful to be a part of, um, one that fosters creativity and learning and development and career building. And, um, you know, I just really believe that, you know, there's, there's nothing, you're nothing without the team.
So that's what I spent a lot of time thinking about. Um, And then also, you know, I, you know, leading up to a launch or leading up to, uh, one of our two sales a year, Memorial day or black Friday cyber Monday. I mean, there's always these kinds of nerves around, um, around those moments. And, um, you know, I would just lastly say like, you know, right now I'm thinking a lot about what the world looks like in the next six to 12 months.
And, um, and how we can get back to some sort of, um, place where. Everyone can, can work together and be safe and maybe even go back to an office and do all that stuff. So thinking about that a lot.
Adam Conner: Me too. I'm thinking a lot about, Hey, actually, you know what I'm thinking a lot about, I'm thinking a lot about homes.
I'm thinking in the next year I might actually go out and get a house. Uh, I don't know if where I currently am, is that the best Margaret for that I live in the DC area and houses are like, all right, you want a house? Here's a couple of million dollars. And then maybe you get in, maybe you don't. But I thinking about that as well.
And so this leads to my penultimate question. This is one just for me. I mentioned earlier, my fiance working across the other wall here in the other spare bedroom, which is our other. And, um, the reason I ask about her is cause we're getting married in October and I don't want you to give away anything of what you're currently doing, that we cannot see on Parachute's website.
But, uh, maybe if I wanted to add in a little extra something to my registry, what, what, what should I do?
Ariel Kaye: Well, I think starting fresh with new sheets and new towels as a married couple is a really important part of, you know, just. Building a future together, um, may sound silly, but I just think that fresh, you know, new products, um, are just really special and they, they feel amazing.
And it's a great way to, to kick off life, um, as a married couple. So I would say I would get, um, some, either percale or brushed cotton, um, sheets and I would get. Bath bundle, which is just includes all the things you might need in our soft ribbed collection. Um, it's kind of new and one of my absolute favorites.
Um, and then I would stay tuned for September and October. Cause we've got some really big, exciting products launching.
Adam Conner: Well, that is extremely timely, selfishly, for me. And yeah, I'll go. I'll go look at that. It's not surprising that much of the software collection is sold out on Parachute. Very, very popular. Yeah.
Well, good, good, good, good. Now in the meantime, here's something which you could help me with right now is my final question of the day. It's kind of our advice column. I ask it to most people, but as I mentioned before, that word authenticity has infinite definitions, infinite manifestations, and also infinite opportunities for.
So I'll round out with this. Since many of our listeners are hoping to emulate journeys like yours, themselves, and always seeking to find out what is authentic to them. How would you advise that they carve their own paths to authenticity or rather their own authentic avenue?
Ariel Kaye: Um, I think it's sort of what I touched on before not to repeat, but, um, I think it's really about listening to yourself.
I mean, I think what I found, um, or what I continue to find all the time is that people have a lot of opinions and it's so important to have a solid network of, um, People to turn to, to ask for advice, um, mentors, friends, you know, other founders, people who have been in this journey and have, you know, experienced the highs and lows, um, to be able to kind of learn from.
But, um, I think at the end of the day, in order to pave your most authentic path, you have to do what feels right for you. And so, um, while it's tempting to. Um, to look at what other people do and try to emulate other people's journey is I think the best journey is the one that you're on and that's, um, you got to stay true to that.
Adam Conner: That's timeless advice. I really appreciate that. And Hey, I appreciate learning more from you. Not only about what you've learned over the last year, but a little bit about what keeps you up at night. And I do look forward to everything that you have launching very soon for what you could provide in this half hour.
I really appreciate it. And Ariel, thank you so much for joining the show.
Ariel Kaye: My pleasure.