is out to prove the Nugget to be the easiest, most versatile and “funnest” couch out there.
Or at least that’s what his Kickstarter campaign
is claiming. The Nugget went live yesterday on the crowdfunding platform, with a mission to raise $20,000 and deliver hundreds of $249 kid-friendly foam couches to people everywhere. In less than 24 hours, he’s already surpassed the goal.
But Kickstarter is part of a broader effort to spotlight the world’s first recyclable couch and launch Nugget Comfort Co.
as a leader in sustainable furniture innovation. Baron already has deals with Rooms To Go and Wayfair to begin selling couches in 2015, and future plans could include additional foam furniture and home décor products.
Baron’s early success was born from dedication and determination, which partner and mentor Mike Noel
says inspired the support and investment of his family’s foam manufacturing business, Nomaco
. The Zebulon company helped Baron with the initial prototype of the product, and after he proved the concept by making 150 sales, Nomaco team members worked with Baron to design the final product. Nomaco has since purchased the $25,000 machine now used to manufacture the Nugget.
It’s an unconventional relationship for the company, says Noel, a local angel investor
and entrepreneur who also serves as Nomaco’s vice president of business development. Nomaco is typically contracted to manufacture products on behalf of its clients. But the Nugget gave the company insight into an entirely new use for its patented foam technology (also used in pool noodles, mattresses and wine corks), and a new market.
“By no means when I decided to make a couch did I think one or a million couches would make the world a better place. I believe that things don’t make people happy,” says Baron. “But these couches come pretty damn close. You can sit on it with friends and relax in ways you couldn’t before.”
Learning social ventures at UNC
Baron set on his mission to impact society and launch a business while on a full-ride scholarship to UNC. A biology and environmental science major from Atlanta, he thought he’d end up at a nonprofit. But he learned that business could make social impact while attending events and workshops at UNC’s social justice center, the Campus Y. Before his 2012 graduation, he joined the newly-created Cube,
a social venture incubator, and started a business called SEA designing and selling ball caps and donating a portion of sales to charity.
Baron wanted to do more than sell clothing, but the business taught him a lot about supply chains (the caps were made in China). His big goal was to make a truly revolutionary product that was 100 percent recyclable and made in the United States.
He settled on a couch as he reflected on a pet peeve during college: futons. He found them uncomfortable and bulky, and lamented that many ended up in dumpsters at the end of the school year.
One day, he began to draw a couch that could be easily disassembled for disposal at the end of its life.
It wasn’t long after that Baron met Noel and learned about the low-density polyethylene manufactured just down the road. Noel got excited about the project, and introduced Baron to designers at the company.
Baron then fronted nearly $20,000 to make 150 prototype couches made up of a base cushion and triangular pillows that would sit on a bamboo frame. The entire piece weighed about 74 pounds and came in 11 pieces. It was tough to take it to market, he says. His goal was to create a 100 percent foam couch that could be easily transported between rooms or apartments.
But Baron saw it as the ultimate test. If he could sell 150 imperfect couches in two months, he'd prove to himself and the team at Nomaco a market for the Nugget. And it worked.
"They loved it," he says. "And they still love it."
Nugget, today and tomorrow
Today, the Nugget weighs 19 pounds and comes in four pieces that can be assembled within 7 seconds. Its mostly made of recyclable polyethylene, but with a base layer of polyurethane and a microsuede cover made in China but distributed by a High Point company. Baron leases space from Nomaco and contracts with its workers to manufacture the cushions, assemble, package and ship the couches directly from the company's dock and perform future R&D. He also has a creative director in Ryan Cocca (pictured left above). They have an office at American Underground @Main.
The decision to target kids and tweens, versus college students, came from research. The college market was too limiting—most sales happen in a single month of the year. Yet Nuggets were light enough for kids or teens to carry around their homes. They were safe for jumping on or building forts, and easily maneuvered for playing video games or reading.
Baron calls it "furniture for explorers" and "the perfect middle ground between beanbag chairs, futons and couches." Rooms To Go hadn't a single furniture option for the tween market, and viewed the Nugget as tapping into it for the first time. The company will begin carrying the Nugget in its showrooms and selling it online for around $299 in 2015.
Baron expects word of mouth to be important in marketing—the couch is angular and unconventional so it may not look cozy before sitting.
Baron's other big challenge will be to manage his costs. Nugget can't secure the competitive shipping rates of larger companies, so margins will be thin.
"I'm going to have to run a really tight operation that is focused and efficient," he says. Direct-to-consumer sales and shipping will help.
Baron hasn't raised any money so far. He'll use the Kickstarter funds to acquire safety certifications and liability insurance. He expects sales to fund future production costs. Though he may eventually consider outside investment, slow and steady growth is his plan.
"I would rather delight 1,000 customers at a time than get in front of a million," Baron says. "I'm focused on creating something people love."
And when they're done loving it, they can recycle it.