Nell Diamond, Hill House Home

The best businesses are often the no-brainers – you know, the ones you kick yourself for not coming up with first (hi, Uber!). Hill House Home is one of them. Founder Nell Diamond has always had a love affair with bedding – she grew up in three continents by the age of 8 and was exposed to some of the most beautiful beds in the world (her father is the former CEO of Barclays). But beyond that, she realised that there was a gaping hole in the homeware space when it came to brands that speak directly to millennials.

Hill House Home plays homage to the old school when it comes to quality – her manufacturer is one of the best in the business and has been producing bedding for centuries – but her approach is entirely new. Firstly, she sells direct to consumer so there’s none of the eye-watering prices that you expect from a luxury brand. Then there’s the fact that every piece feels fresh and modern and actually makes you excited about investing in bedding (who has ever said that?). But she’s also helping to continue the cultural conversation about the importance of the sleep. “As an undergrad and in my first job in banking, I used to hear people talk about their all-nighters and think, “Should I be doing this, too?” and even worse – “Is there something wrong with me that I need sleep?”, she says. “I really do believe that not sleep is the new smoking. In a few years, we’ll be shocked that anyone could walk around bragging about how little sleep they get.”

After being listed in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 after a year in business, it’s easy to assume that her success has come overnight but in fact, she’s been quietly working on the business for years. After a long time toying with the idea, she took the leap and quit her lucrative job in finance to study for an MBA at Yale, laser-focused on learning all of the components required to run a successful business.

So many of us started our businesses without prior business qualifications or experience so I wanted to find out whether her MBA was worth the investment and what her biggest takeaways were. The power of relationship building and collaboration is something that pops up a lot in our interviews so I also wanted to find out how she’s built and utilised relationships to grow Hill House Home, and of course, her top tips on how to make a bed like a boss.


Nell Diamond, Hill House Home


THE HILL HOUSE HOME STORY: I simply could not find high-quality, beautifully designed bedding at an affordable price point. And I was sick of all the confusing lingo like ‘high thread count’ that seemed to be everywhere. I don’t think it should be stressful, expensive or frustrating to shop for your home, and I was extremely eager to change that. There were a few brands who I felt were tackling the customer-service piece, and offering lower prices, but I didn’t want to sacrifice beauty, either. We’re laser focused on design. Bedding shouldn’t just be functional – it should also be beautiful, and bring you joy. I think people don’t realize quite how much fun they can have designing their dream bed. It’s my mission to help people revitalize their bedrooms – and in turn, their sleeping habits!

ON SPOTTING A BIG OPPORTUNITY IN HOMEWARE: There are such exciting things happening design-wise in fashion, beauty, food, tech – but the home space still hasn’t caught up! Millenials are incredibly transient – we move constantly, and aren’t buying homes in the same way as our parents – so I think the thought has been that we won’t spend on anything home-related. But I don’t think that’s accurate. I think the younger professional audience craves products for the home that mean something to them, that have real, lasting value, and can travel with them through their many different lives. I like to think that our sheets can be one of the few constants for a young professional moving between cities and jobs – one of the things they carry with them.


Nell Diamond, Hill House Home


LEAVING HER LIFE IN FINANCE: There was so much I loved about finance. I worked in Fixed Income on the rates desk, so we sold products like interest rate swaps, which are of incredibly responsive to macro-economic events. It sounds so odd to say, but I loved the story-telling nature of these events and the rate response they caused. We’d sit watching a speech by Angela Merkel or Ben Bernanke and literally track market moves based on tiny things like a specific word they chose. And then we’d take a view about where the market was going in the next few days or weeks or months based on this. In the end, though, I had this undeniable urge to create a product you could touch and feel, combined with an obsession with the home. I knew I needed to pursue this full-time, so business school was the clear next step.

THE ATTRACTION OF BUSINESS SCHOOL: Yale – and the School of Management in particular – has such an entrepreneurial spirit.  SOM also has an incredible core curriculum – every student, regardless of background and experience, is required to take the same set of classes (in addition to electives) by the time they graduate. This meant that I could be sitting in an economics class with someone who spent five years working for the Federal Reserve, or in a marketing class with a fellow student who had run a department at Coca Cola. It was invaluable to learn alongside students with such a wide breadth of experience.


Hill-House-Home-Nell-Diamond-5
Hill-House-Home-Nell-Diamond-3


SOME OF THE BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS: The core curriculum also allowed me to sit in different “seats” – in one core class called “Employee” I was learning from the perspective of an HR head, in “Investor,” I was a CFO, and in “Innovator,” I was head of creative. Seeing management from these varied perspectives has been incredibly helpful; in the first year as CEO of my own start-up, I’ve sat in absolutely every seat – responding to customer service emails, devising marketing campaigns, planning inventory buys, designing product, figuring out cash flow – and, of course, ironing sheets at least once a day! SOM gave me the confidence and the practical tools to do all of these jobs at once, and for that I’m forever indebted!

GETTING STARTED ON HILL HOUSE HOME DURING HER TIME AT YALE: When I was accepted to Yale SOM, I told myself that I would spend the first year completely focused on the core curriculum, and not pursuing anything entrepreneurial in earnest. Of course, this was much harder in practice! I was so passionate about this idea I had, but in order to get the most out of my MBA I knew I needed to fully commit myself to learning. In my second year, I was ready to launch, so I joined the Start-Up Founder Practicum, where I worked alongside other entrepreneurs pursuing MBAs for the whole year. We met 2-3 times weekly, and discussed everything from applying to trademark a brand name with the U.S. Government to coding your own website and filing taxes. In the beginning, starting your own venture can be full of abstractions and wild dreaming; “I’m going to just… create this product out of thin air?” For me, it was very centering to have this bi-weekly reminder that, OK, yes, I’m doing something crazy, but there are also real, practical steps I can take to get there! My fellow entrepreneurs in the program were pursuing a wide range of ventures – one group was looking for a safer, more efficient way to transport organs in collaboration with the Yale Medical School. Another had created a product that helps with heartburn. Despite the incredible range of our ventures, there’s a certain universality to what we were all going through, and I loved our bi-weekly check-ins!


Nell Diamond, Hill House Home
Hill-House-Home-Nell-Diamond-2


WHY BUSINESS SCHOOL IS WORTH CONSIDERING: For me, it was absolutely crucial – I was an English Literature Major as an undergraduate at Princeton, and also though I had some business experience from my time in banking, I had huge gaps in my knowledge, particularly when it came to running a business. I was hyper-aware of these gaps – particularly in fields like accounting and operations – and went to Business School laser-focused on gaining proficiency in very specific ways. I definitely don’t think it’s necessary for everyone – but business school gave me the confidence and support system I needed to at least try to launch my own venture. It was also incredible for me to be surrounded by peers who were so supportive, and acted as a sounding board for even my craziest ideas.

THE PROCESS FROM CONCEPTION TO COMPLETION: It involved a lot of unanswered emails! Finding a great manufacturing partner was key. The first step, though, was creating samples. That took a few months of cutting up pillowcases I liked and literally using scotch tape and safety pins to try and design new styles in my own bedroom. I asked everyone I knew and did endless googling to try to find a factory that could make us samples, and then once we had our samples I was able to send these to various manufacturers and begin pricing negotiations. It took a long time to find partners I was really happy with, but it was absolutely worth it. Now, we work with manufacturers who have been producing bedding for centuries, and they’re truly the best in the business. The raw materials are also incredibly important – we work with Supima cotton, which is a long-staple fiber (meaning less breakage, better quality) grown in the U.S. We field-test all of our designs with “wash-tests,” too – it’s important that, while beautiful, our products are still made for living. Designs should be so delicate that you have to constantly worry about ruining them!


Hill-House-Home-Nell-Diamond-1


ON HER PRICING STRATEGY: We’re able to price so competitively because we don’t wholesale at all – that’s it! The mark-ups for wholesale are truly insane. It’s 2017 – customers should not be paying up for anything but better quality and design. When I started looking into manufacturing, I was totally shocked by how high our quality could be while keeping prices accessible. I thought I would have to price much, much higher to get the kind of quality we have – but we don’t! I feel like I found out this crazy secret and it’s now it’s my mission to tell it to the world – you can have the most incredible sheets you’ve ever slept on and not spend thousands of dollars! We’ve been very lucky to get incredible, organic press and customer reviews, so we haven’t had to spend on customer acquisition yet. It’s certainly going to be a necessary spend as we continue to grow, but so worth it. Being direct-to-consumer allows us to pass on our wholesale savings to customers, and provide higher quality products at significantly reduced prices. I would not trade that for lower customer acquisition costs ever!

WHERE HER LOVE FOR BEDDING STEMS FROM: I moved a lot when I was younger, and I have two brothers, so my bedroom was my little sanctuary. You don’t even want to know some of the weird decorations I came up with. Let’s just say that my Spice Girls phase lasted a little too long and there was a lot of glitter and some purple feathers. Even when I was little, if I couldn’t find bedding that matched my décor-of-the-day, I would cut up a dress and sew it into a pillow instead. I was a very particular child!

HOW TO MAKE A BED LIKE A PRO: My number one tip: iron your pillowcases! Ironing everything else can be a pain, but your eyes first go to the pillowcases when you walk in a room, and it immediately makes the whole bed look SO polished! Also – I’m a huge fan of the top sheet. It’s controversial (some people hate having that extra layer) but top sheets can be the difference between a boring bed and a dreamy cloud!


Nell Diamond, Hill House HomeBEDTIME RITUALS: I am incredibly protective of my bedtime! It doesn’t matter how healthily I eat, or how much I exercise – if I am not getting enough sleep, my mental and physical health suffer. A few of my favourite tricks below:

Set a bedtime alarm: Sounds weird, but this keeps you accountable and prevents (or at least, shortens) the late-night-Instagram-Pinterest-hole.

Make a routine, and stick to it: Humans are creatures of habit, and our brains respond incredibly well to routines. Once your bedtime routine has been established, your body will begin responding to triggers and producing melatonin before you’ve even gotten into bed. Our bodies can be hugely efficient if we let them be!

Clean your nightstand: Such a small step. Think about it – your nightstand is one of the last things you see as you close your eyes. Why think about clutter as you drift off to sleep?

ON THE MOVEMENT AWAY FROM USING LACK OF  SLEEP AS A BADGE OF HONOUR: I really do believe that not sleep is the new smoking. In a few years, we’ll be shocked that anyone could walk around bragging about how little sleep they get. As an undergrad and in my first job in banking, I used to hear people talk about their all-nighters and think, “Should I be doing this, too?” and even worse – “Is there something wrong with me that I need sleep?”. Arianna Huffington has been the most important voice in sleep and wellness in the past few years, and seeing her use her influence for such an incredibly crucial conversation has been incredible.

HOW THE HILL HOUSE HOME THRIVE PILLOW CAME INTO BEING: Partnering with Arianna and Thrive was definitely a career highlight. I devoured her book, “The Sleep Revolution,” and of course have been following her with awe since the early days of The Huffington Post. One of my closest friends from college, Danny Shea, works at Thrive, and he was able to get our product in front of Arianna. She was a big fan of our materials and our story, and invited us to participate in their first commerce venture, a pop-up on Crosby Street in Soho.

ON THE POWER OF RELATIONSHIP BUILDING: I rely heavily on my network of incredibly talented, loyal and generous friends for any number of things. Entrepreneurship can be very lonely and isolating, so it’s crucial to have allies who are going through similar things and can offer support and advice! My advice for others when it comes to networking is to have no fear. It can be incredibly intimidating to just walk up to someone you admire, and often even more so to shoot off a cold email. I live by this Georgia O’Keefe quote whenever I’m feeling familiar fears and shyness crop up  (for me it’s often right before I send a cold email!):  “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life. And I’ve never left it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” What I love about this quote is how it puts fears in perspective. Rather than suggest you banish fear – which is totally untenable for me – it allows you to embrace fear as a necessary and often motivational catalyst for doing those very things you want to do.  I also love the idea of framing career and life goals as “things you want to do.” It’s a beautifully simple way of organizing your life, and I make a point to challenge myself with this question whenever I think about my goals. Is this something I want to do? It really cuts through the mess of distractions that can be keeping you from living the life you want to.

THE CHALLENGES: The biggest challenge for us so far has been inventory management. Unlike a traditional tech start-up, we have physical inventory we need to account for. And unlike traditional wholesale brands, we have no buyers telling us how much of each product we should order. The first year has been a lot of guesswork regarding which colors, sizes, and styles will sell the best, and that’s led to us selling out of certain styles frequently! Of course, it’s a great problem to have – some of our styles have been so popular that they’ve sold out in one day (the Savile Bedding Collection with Black Piping was gone in a few hours). At the same time, though, every time you sell out you’re turning down customers – and I absolutely hate that! The benefits of being direct-to-consumer far outweigh the challenges. Not only are we able to offer significantly lower prices than our wholesale competitors, but we have a direct channel to talk to our customers. For me, that’s the most incredible thing. I still do all of our customer service myself because I love talking to people about their bedrooms and hearing what they want. Because our supply chain isn’t reliant on big wholesale orders and has such great lead-times, I can literally speak to a customer on a Tuesday about what new color or practical change they’ve been dying for (for example, more buttons on their Duvet Cover), and by the next week we’ve implemented that change.


Nell Diamond, Hill House Home


ON THE POWER OF RELATIONSHIP BUILDING: I rely heavily on my network of incredibly talented, loyal and generous friends for any number of things. Entrepreneurship can be very lonely and isolating, so it’s crucial to have allies who are going through similar things and can offer support and advice! My advice for others when it comes to networking is to have no fear. It can be incredibly intimidating to just walk up to someone you admire, and often even more so to shoot off a cold email. I live by this Georgia O’Keefe quote whenever I’m feeling familiar fears and shyness crop up  (for me it’s often right before I send a cold email!):  “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life. And I’ve never left it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” What I love about this quote is how it puts fears in perspective. Rather than suggest you banish fear – which is totally untenable for me – it allows you to embrace fear as a necessary and often motivational catalyst for doing those very things you want to do.  I also love the idea of framing career and life goals as “things you want to do.” It’s a beautifully simple way of organizing your life, and I make a point to challenge myself with this question whenever I think about my goals. Is this something I want to do? It really cuts through the mess of distractions that can be keeping you from living the life you want to.

ON MAKING THIS YEAR’S FORBES 30 UNDER 30 LIST: It was very exciting! The first year of a new venture can be emotionally and physically exhausting. It felt like a nice way to recognize the hours I spent this year doing the not-so-glamorous things: endless hours on the phone with customs trying to track our shipments from France and Italy, lugging packages to and from the post office, ironing, packing boxes, dealing with any number of tiny annoyances! It was a huge honor, and felt really wonderful to be recognized alongside so many incredible people!

Join The Community

Join thousands of women who wake up with us every Tuesday and Thursday for inspiring stories, entrepreneurship wisdom & updates on our workshops, supper clubs and events.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit