Elle Liu always had trouble drifting off at night. As a hot sleeper, her slumber would be interrupted by having to toss off her bed sheets whenever they became too suffocating. It’s a frustration that many share—but in Elle’s case, it it sparked an idea that changed her life and launched her down the path of entrepreneurship.
Since most bed sheets are made from cotton, sleepers crawl into them every night without realizing that more comfortable and sustainable options are out there.
“Cotton is actually not a very sleep-friendly fabric. It’s not very eco-friendly either,” shared Elle on the Shopify Masters podcast. “I found out that cotton is one of the dirtiest and thirstiest crops. So it takes a significant amount of water and pesticide to grow and manufacture and causes a lot of pollution and environmental runoff.”
So Elle set off on a mission to find a fabric that was better for sleep and better for the environment. After a year of visiting textile plants around the world, she landed on her chosen fiber, eucalyptus, which inspired the name of her company: Eucalypso, a bedding company that makes sheets, duvet covers, pillows, and sleep masks from eucalyptus trees. Today, this brand has transformed from a side hustle to a successful business. Here are the lessons she learned along the way.
1. Stick to what you know.
When inventing or innovating something, it’s smart to stick to what you know. Elle knew that cotton sheets were not a good sleep experience for her, and it was a problem she encountered every night. The idea for Eucalypso grew out of her own personal need. When she couldn’t find a product to fit that need, she knew there was a gap in the market that her idea could solve—and that she was the perfect one to test it out.
She lived in New York at the time, near a textile center where she was able to begin her research by cold calling and emailing manufacturers. That research would soon take her to Mexico, then Portugal and then finally China in a globe-trotting expedition to find the best sleep she could.
Then she learned about eucalyptus fiber.
“It is kind of a cross between silk and cotton. It has a lot of silky properties, and feels gentle and pampering. But also at the same time, it's not as weak as silk. It still has the crispness of cotton,” she explains.
As soon as she touched it, she knew she had found her fabric.
2. Bring your product to life by showing, not telling.
Selling online comes with a lot of conveniences, but all ecommerce retailers face the challenge of communicating their product attributes via two-dimensional platforms. When it comes to bedding, customers are used to being able to feel the softness of it for themselves, so Elle had to find ways to get that across through product descriptions and photography.
“I try to use as many of those tactile words as possible. Words like silky, soft, and cooling so that people can really understand,” says Elle. “Then to complement that, we leverage photos and videos. We do a lot of closeup shots, so you can actually see the ripples of the fabric as it moves.”
Despite being the founder, Elle is still hands-on with product shoots. Every photo shoot Eucalypso has done is with someone she personally knew or reached out to because she loved their work. She then works closely with them to create a mood board and a shot list that works for the web and social. She learned the platforms demand different approaches.
“A lot of website images are horizontal whereas, in social media, a lot are vertical. So during shoots, I invite my incredible social media manager, who does a lot of shots just with her iPhone. Photos that are more organic and raw tend to actually perform well.”
3. Surround yourself with a positive community that supports and encourages you.
In many ways, Elle had already achieved the American dream. Coming from an immigrant family, she had gotten into Princeton and upon graduating, held successful roles at American Express, Mastercard and SoulCycle. Elle was working in the small merchant division at American Express when she decided to start Eucalypso, and each day was inspired by the stories of people who made the leap to start a business. It made her decision that much easier.
“My coworkers and friends really identified with and understood what I was doing. And I was met with support from a lot of my really closest friends and even my family as well, ” she says.
While Elle had been nervous about sharing her small business aspirations with her parents, they rallied behind her:
“I was genuinely very surprised that my parents were so supportive. I was scared to tell them, but my parents moved here from China so I think they're both very adventurous in that sense,” she says. “They were very supportive of me taking on something new and doing something that I had wanted to pursue.”
She would leverage that network of support to make her first sales.
As great as support can feel, Elle stresses that the most important person who will believe in you is yourself. You can’t always rely solely on the encouragement of others.
“Not everyone is going to immediately support you. Not everyone's going to come and buy your products. And you shouldn't expect that from people. That's kind of what's pushed me past any negativity I faced.”
4. Put your marketing on auto-pilot.
Elle bootstrapped her business, so every dollar that she spent had to count—especially after buying thousands and thousands of sheet sets. She did this by scaling her paid search and paid ads very early on, something she credits with getting her to 7-figures in sales.
“Something I took with me from my tech career is what I call ‘surround sound’ marketing. The idea is that whether you are on Facebook or you are listening to a podcast or you are Googling something, we're able to reach you. And I think that you can even do that even if you have a very small budget,” she says.
She would also spend spare time during the weekends scheduling marketing campaigns that would run on auto-pilot during the week. (Products like Shopify Flow can turn repetitive tasks into automated workflows.)
“One of the really great things about marketing these days is there's so much automation. You don't necessarily need to be going in there and updating things constantly. That helps streamline the work significantly.”
As Elle grows Eucalypso’s sales beyond 7-figures as a full-time business owner, she’s excited about having products in over 80 boutiques across the United States. She’ll continue to face the challenges that come with owning a business, but each day she’s fueled by the mission of getting all of us a better night’s sleep.