Jeff Wells is Chief Data Scientist at Tuft & Needle, a Phoenix-based mattress startup and the first disruptor of the mattress industry. As one of the first employees at Tuft & Needle, Jeff has had the opportunity to wear a lot of hats. He’s worked on all sides of the business: website and internal software building, scaling, hiring, and more. Jeff says “Tuft & Needle is like a collection of entrepreneurs all working together toward a common goal, which is an incredible opportunity.”
What was your very first entrepreneurial venture?
I was surprisingly not very entrepreneurial as a kid. I was more focused on science and didn’t think much about business. The summer before college I read my first business book and was hooked.
In college I helped found Arizona Microcredit Initiative, a nonprofit that gives small loans and consulting to low-income entrepreneurs. I learned a remarkable amount from the exposure of both starting and building the organization internally and consulting these entrepreneurs externally.
What is your favorite part about running a business?
The ability to create something out of nothing but hard work.
What was the biggest challenge in executing this idea?
The biggest challenge at Tuft & Needle has been learning on the fly. There have been a lot of areas where we didn’t have an expert and had to figure it out ourselves. For example, I knew nothing about supply chain when I started expanding our operations. I didn’t even know the vocabulary: I remember looking up acronyms in the middle of conversations with vendors. The bright side is this actually allows you to be more creative and effective when you’re not constrained to the “classic” or “proven” solutions.
How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
I knew I wanted to start a business and admired all of the tech startups I read about. I figured if I wanted to start a business, I’d need to learn how to code. So one summer in college, I sat in my room and taught myself to code by building a SaaS application.
What did you study in school?
I studied computer science at ASU. I was originally interested in software, since all of the startups I admired were software companies. I started teaching myself to code and switched my major to computer science to get a deeper understanding of tech.
What sparked an initial interest in entrepreneurship?
The summer after my freshman year of college I got a job working in a fulfillment center, picking orders. I realized right away this was not for me: I had little autonomy, the people I worked with had little desire to learn and grow, and there was little correlation between effort and reward. At the same time, I connected with the owner of the business and admired what he had been able to build. I quit and set out to do something more scalable.
How long have you lived or worked in Arizona?
I’ve been in Arizona for six years now. One thing I’ve noticed is coworking spaces like Mod, CO+HOOTS, Gangplank and Department opening up. Having a place to network with and bounce ideas off of other entrepreneurs is essential for the startup scene here in Phoenix.
If you could only describe your city with one word, which word would it be?
What’s your favorite thing about living in Arizona?
My favorite thing has to be the weather. I love being outside, and the Arizona climate lets me be outside most of the year. In the summer when the Valley is too hot, Flagstaff is just two hours away.
What’s your least favorite thing about living in Arizona?
Driving. Downtown everything is close, but the rest of the city is so spread out that it is easy to spend a lot of time driving.
In what area do you think Arizona still has a long way to go?
Arizona has room to grow in supporting local businesses. I come from Portland, where small business rules, but in Phoenix big-box retailers still dominate.
The foodie scene is growing bigger and bigger by the day here in Arizona. What is your favorite place to get breakfast in your city?
Desoto Tea & Toast—the avocado smash toast and coffee are great!
What’s your favorite place to grab lunch?
Phoenix Public Market. Fun environment with a big variety of great food.
Image by EatsAndSights.com.
What’s your favorite dinner spot?
Cibo: an authentic Italian pizza in an old bungalow house with a nice patio.
What’s your favorite place to work in your city aside from your office?
Mod. It’s a co-working space at Central and Thomas with exceptional service. They bring you water, food, coffee and drinks so you can work there all day without breaking focus.
Image by AZ Central.
Best place for a meeting over drinks?
Sip Coffee & Beer House. It’s got a great vibe, is comfortable for meeting or working, and sometimes has live music!
What is your favorite memory from Arizona?
I took a weeklong vacation in Flagstaff with my Dad. We skied, biked and enjoyed the outdoors. In the evenings we’d hit the numerous breweries there. It was truly relaxing and just the vacation I needed.
What is something about living in Arizona that only a local would know of?
I can speak to this because I’m from the Pacific Northwest and always thought Arizona was nothing but desert. I was really surprised the first time we drove up north and found a climate similar to that of Oregon. There’s skiing and boating all within a few hours.
Any tips for new Arizona residents?
Explore many of the different neighborhoods and suburbs in Phoenix. There are a ton of “hidden gems” that you won’t find if you just stick in one area.