From Mustangs to mattresses, Farmer School grad creates success online

September 2018

Jay Murdock

Let’s start with a riddle: How are cars and mattresses alike? Bryan Murphy knows the answer.

“To consumers, buying mattresses is similar to buying cars. It’s a high-priced item, it’s bought infrequently, and consumers don’t like and don’t trust the retail experience,” he explained. "We needed to solve that problem."

Murphy, a 1990 Farmer School graduate, is the founder and president of Tomorrow Sleep, a direct-to-consumer mattress company. But before that, he spent more than a decade deep in the online auto business, a concept he helped pioneer.

When Murphy went looking for work after graduation, he had a specific idea in mind. “I wanted to get a job in sales, because I knew that would be the place that I could learn how to do a lot of the things that I would need to be able to do to be successful in business.”

After stints at a financial services company and in auto manufacturing in Detroit, Murphy said he realized that the Internet was going to be the Next Big Thing. He went back to school, learned to code, and got down to business.

“I started a little company called AutoTech, and we started building websites for the ad agencies in Detroit. That got me to, which we built into a $2 billion-a-year online auto parts business,” Murphy recalled.

When eBay bought his company in 2012, Murphy joined eBay, and soon was running eBay Motors, selling cars and car parts through the auction site.

“When I took over the business, it was sort of flat. Within about a year, we had that business growing 20+ percent, largely because of that focus on people, trying to think, ‘What does the customer want?’ and then giving that to them, creating that experience for them,” he remarked.

After a few years of commuting between New York and California, Murphy and his family decided to stay in New York, and he started looking for a new job.

“I started talking with private equity firms about what sorts of problems that they were trying to solve, and ran into Serta Simmons, the largest mattress manufacturer in North America, and they needed to build a direct-to-consumer business,” Murphy said.

He found that the problems that Serta Simmons was trying to solve were much like the ones Murphy had learned to solve while selling cars and car parts online.

“For example, most consumers felt that they needed to test the product before they purchased it,” he pointed out. “We solved that by offering an extended trial and free returns. I was able to apply a lot of my learning from eBay Motors to this business. It’s all about solving problems for the customer and creating a great experience.”

“People spend a third of their life using our products, so we get a lot of satisfaction out of building the number one-rated mattress available online,” Murphy said.

He credits his time at Miami with helping him see what sort of skills would be important to his future. “Miami instilled in me a very strong sense of entrepreneurship and the power of teambuilding. I see this in Miami graduates -- they’re very, very strong team players, and I think that’s critical to success in today’s collaborative work environment,” Murphy noted.

As for advice for students, Murphy offers two pieces. “Number one, always make your numbers. If you don’t make your numbers, you’re not going to go anywhere in your career. Number two, don’t be afraid -- seek out risk, especially early on in your career. Look for those places where you can have an impact, where there’s a challenge to be solved.”

Bryan Murphy head shot