As so many great entrepreneurial success stories do, the tale of Mike Lindell begins in a crack house. It was the fall of 2008, and the then 47-year-old divorced father of four from the Minneapolis suburbs had run out of crack, again. He had been up for either 14 or 19 days—he swears it was 19 but says 14 because “19 just sounds like I’ve embellished”—trying to save his struggling startup and making regular trips into the city to visit his dealer, Ty. This time, Lindell arrived at Ty’s apartment expecting the typical A-plus service and received a shock instead: The dealer refused his business. Ty wasn’t going to sell him any more crack until he ended his binge. He’d also called the two other dealers Lindell used and ordered them to do the same. “I don’t want any of your people selling him anything until he goes to bed,” Ty told the dealers. When Lindell protested, he cut him off: “Go to bed, Mike.”
When someone suggested he try a mall kiosk, Lindell borrowed $12,000 to rent one at Eden Prairie Center for six weeks, starting in the middle of November 2004. He sold his first pillow the first day and it was, he says, “the most amazing feeling.” But he’d priced the product too low. His cost was more than the retail price. Plus, his pillow was too big for standard pillowcases.
The kiosk failed. He borrowed more money against the house, and also from friends who weren’t sick of him yet. When desperate, he counted cards at the blackjack table to pay for materials. He was good at it. Eventually, all the casinos within a day’s drive banned him.
His focus on the pillow project was the one thing that could override his drug cravings, but only for short periods. And every time something went wrong, he lapsed.
Today, Lindell is a devout Christian and prays constantly. He wears a large silver cross around his neck, and his office is filled with Christian iconography, as well as Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band tour posters. Back then he was an opportunist, praying to God only when things were dire: “I said, ‘God, what do I do here?’ “ The day after he closed the kiosk, he got a call from one of the few customers, who declared, “This pillow changed my life!”
This enthusiastic buyer ran the Minneapolis Home Garden Show, one of the largest for home products in the country. He wanted Lindell to have a booth.
Lindell took 300 pillows (this time they were a standard size) and sold them all.
Lindell had another hunch: He knew the best way to sell his pillow was to present his story live, as he’d been doing at shows since 2005. He decided to make an infomercial. His friends thought he was nuts….