Penn State alumni find startup success with mattress company Tuft & Needle

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — After graduating from Penn State, alumni John-Thomas Marino and Daehee Park eventually ended up at the same startup in Silicon Valley. But it only took about six months before the two realized they’d like to start up something of their own. 

“The catalyst for that was the frustration with … the high-tech industry, where it seems like most of the products and software are really solutions searching for a problem, and not the other way around,” explains Marino.

And then Marino got married. 

“One of the first pieces [of furniture] we bought was a mattress,” he says. “In some ways it was worse than shopping for a car. I ended up spending about $3,500 or so and when we finally got the mattress, we didn’t like it.” 

Marino and Park had found their problem. 

Tuft & Needle

The mattress company they created, Tuft & Needle, aims to provide a high-quality mattress at an affordable price by bringing mattress production in house. 

And the simplified buying process — direct from Tuft & Needle’s website — makes it easier for consumers to know exactly what they’re getting.

“What excites me the most about what we’re doing at Tuft & Needle is changing people’s preconceptions about what they should expect from buying a mattress,” says Park. 

And, even more than that, in building the company, the two have designed their dream jobs. 

Penn State beginnings

Park began his degree at Penn State Hazleton, then moved to University Park to finish his studies in the College of Information Sciences and Technology. It was there that he met Marino, who was studying mathematics and computer science. 

Both already interested in startups, they met through the entrepreneurship program at Penn State.

The camaraderie was one of the most memorable things about their time at the University, they say. Who they are today began with their years of executing class projects with peers, trading inspiring ideas, and finding passion in their work. 

And as aspiring entrepreneurs, the two benefited from the exposure to other, more established entrepreneurs during their time at the University. 

“Penn State has a really strong entrepreneurship network of alumni,” says Park. “It was really cool just to see people who have made it out there.” 

Giving back

In the end, Marino and Park wanted Tuft & Needle to be more than a mattress company — they wanted to make the world a better place. 

Soon after they started the company, a woman reached out to them with a story about her situation, and asked if they’d be willing to donate a mattress to her.

“Rather than just turning away and saying, ‘We’re not a nonprofit,’” says Marino, the two added a philanthropic component to Tuft and Needle. 

“We actually developed our return process to include donations,” he says. “When a mattress is returned, we donate those.”

He continues, “Another thing we do now is, just about quarterly, we have pallets of mattresses shipped here, put them in a box truck, and deliver them to various people in need.” 

Last Updated November 10, 2015