Sam and Kacey Malouf: Building a Truly Innovative Company
Sam and Kacey Malouf: Building a Truly Innovative Company
Last week I attended an Entrepreneurship Series lecture at Utah State University, commonly known as "The most valuable class you will ever take." Guest speakers Sam and Kacey Malouf, local entrepreneurs and Aggie Alumni (that's our mascot) came to talk about their amazingly different company. It's called Malouf.
To start, Sam and Kacey were excellent role models of the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit. I looked forward to writing this blog post and sharing it with Motilek Wood Bowties followers and other entrepreneurial like-minded people, but particularly because Malouf is an incredible company, and that's not an exaggeration! I have a few friends who work there that have only the greatest to say of it., not to mention the general view of locals on the company. The entrepreneurial spirit, innovation, and culture Malouf has is one-of-a-kind. I took over three pages of notes from their speech, and I’ll start at the beginning, sharing my thoughts on what I find most important as it relates to innovative thinking, which is what I try so hard to make apparent in every product and interaction someone has with Motilek Wood Bowties.
“We Hire People Based on their Values, not their Skills”
said Sam and Kacey Malouf. “We can teach anyone certain skills. We want to know if they’re honest, if they can communicate, if they take responsibility, and if they can take and give critique.” The example they shared was evidence to this. In 2009, six years after they started Malouf, they hired their first employee (a friend) and had him doing unorthodox relative to high level of education. “The first person we hired had a Masters, but we had him pulling sheets in the back. He wasn’t too good for that.”
There’s such a controversy on this topic amongst students, including me. We hear from some that skills are what you want from college and from others that “the ability to learn” is important (thus, the specific degree isn’t very relevant). I was a senior in the Jon M. Huntsman business school and just this semester switched to Communication Studies under that intent that I didn’t need a Business Administration degree, considering I already have extensive business experience and started and run Motilek Wood Bowties. On top of this, I had no intent to graduate and then become a “business administrator”. Instead, as soon as I graduate, I intend all my time will be put towards Motilek Wood Bowties and creating the newest, coolest, and nicest wood products out there that our customers want. I argued that a communication degree would still practically help a lot in my goals. It seems that at least from what they said, Sam and Kacey would support that.
As of now, Motilek Wood Bowties is a two-man band. The second man is Isaac, who joined last summer in 2018. He is incredibly smart and academically in the top tier of his major. His national and international titles in robotics competitions prove that. Uniquely, too, he surprises me at how creative he is with his hands in building things.
Despite his skills, I wanted Isaac to join (and so did he) more so because he wanted to jump in and help build an awesome small business and create new products (our friendship helped, too). What Sam and Kacey said at least affirms what we're doing in some way - that value is often more important than skill.
Sam and Kacey were also incredible risk-takers. They went out on huge limbs and big stakes, yet they did so confidently. In the first 6 years of their business, the owners of Malouf had racked up more than $1,000,000 dollars in credit card debt. They had a binder of credit cards! One student asked how they chose to take such a risk and then how they dealt with the emotional toll of it. Kacey responded that they were prepared and knew their idea was solid. She also said the debt came over time to a point that, “If all went to heck, we could sell all of our inventory and at least break even.” Sam just responded, “Sometimes, you just go do it. You just gotta jump in.” In response to another’s question, he noted that this wasn’t their first entrepreneurial endeavor. “We tried all sorts of stuff before our sheets. Clocks, treadmills, watches, and we failed a lot. But our sheets stuck.” He continued, “I told Kacey this is the best time to get in debt! You got to embrace unconventional and gorilla tactics.”
I find their entrepreneurial spirit so inspiring because they make innovation sound so enticing. The potential, but sometimes improbable, gains of an innovative risk like Malouf sound so rewarding and satisfying.
Culture Built on Creativity and Innovation
The last point I want to share pertains specifically to Sam and Kacey’s innovative spirit as it’s manifest in their company culture. Truly it’s likely unlike any company I know. They educate their employees a lot, give them PTO to go serve in one of their non-profits, have unique and empowering non profit organizations, and more. Above all this, though, is their in-house lunch. They have fifteen full-time chefs that cook lunch for all of their employees every single day. “And it is EXPENSIVE!” emphasized Sam and Kacey multiple times. “But we really feel like the closeness, uniqueness, and collaboration we get from it is worth it. We want them to be happy and want them to want to give their best each day.” Because of this their 270ish employees in their main location all know each other.
“Before we hired our first full-time chef we always got food for our employees and always paid for it.” She continued, “A family environment for us is important. We wanted them to stay together for lunch and have a good time so they could collaborate and their relationships could build, and not leaving work did that.” And that’s stuck for almost ten years.
In conclusion, I’ve learned more from Sam and Kacey Malouf than anyone else that innovation is risky. The immense credit card debt the Maloufs built and the try-and-fail endeavors before that are testament. But someone asked, “Would Malouf ever become public?” Sam and Kacey replied with a solid no. “We stay private because shareholders wouldn’t support our culture. They certainly wouldn’t support our lunches.”
Innovation is risky because it’s unconventional. What’s unconventional is often unexpected and unknown, and that can be scary. Seeing that innovation come to fruition also requires true competence in communication - the ability to instill your inspiring creativity in others. And Sam and Kacey have that, and that’s something I truly aspire to see in Motilek Wood Bowties' crew and customers.
Malouf sells high-quality and fine bedding products, like sheets, pillows, frames, and more. Check them out at https://www.maloufsleep.com/.