When Firas Kittaneh was in college, he and his brother Moe used to skip class so they could run a kiosk selling “fuzzy slippers” at the local mall.
The Kittaneh brothers were originally born in Palestine, but moved to the United Arab Emirates when they were young. In 2001, they moved to Wichita, Kansas, to attend university and study biomedicine. It didn’t take long for the pair to get swept away in an “entrepreneurial dream,” however, Firas Kittaneh tells Business Insider.
When the Kittaneh brothers graduated school, they were “obsessed with creating jobs,” he says. They moved to a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, and decided to use their modest profits from the kiosk to start a business without any outside investors – purposely eschewing the Silicon Valley path of moving to California and raising venture capital.
Now, 11 years after graduation, the Kittanehs’ entrepreneurial dream has largely come true with the rise of Amerisleep – a company that sells high-end, scientifically-developed mattresses straight to customers. Amerisleep manufactures its mattresses here in the United States, it’s been profitable since it started, and it just opened its first physical store.
For Firas Kittaneh, this is very much the fulfillment of his American dream. More importantly, accomplishing this as a Muslim immigrant, in a time when Islam is such a point of controversy in global politics, is a tremendous source of pride.
“Being a Muslim American that has created a thriving business is a blessing,” says Kittaneh. “The American dream of having an idea, sharing that same idea with other Americans, creating jobs, aiding families, and ensuring rest and relaxation via sleep has been a dream come true, pun not intended.”
To sleep, perchance to dream
The roots of Amerisleep go back to a negative experience the brothers had with a mattress store in the same mall as their fuzzy slipper kiosk. They saw that customers were walking in, getting bamboozled by salespeople, and leaving unhappy and unconfident in their purchasing decisions.
“They left the store not knowing why they bought it,” says Kittaneh.
And so, Amerisleep’s focus is on the customer experience, Kittaneh says. Like Casper, a Target-backed startup, Amerisleep sells directly to consumers via a website, taking advantage of the renewed surge of interest in sleep-related technologies.
The Amerisleep team runs small, says Kittaneh, but the company has focused on automating order processing, manufacturing, and fulfillment in order to meet rising demand. Behind the scenes, Kittaneh says Amerisleep’s mattresses are the products of lots of scientific research into matching people’s different sleep styles.
A matter of pride
Unlike Casper and similar rivals, the Kittanehs never took outside funding for Amerisleep, from venture capitalists or anybody else: “We work hard for our money,” says Kittaneh.
Importantly, Kittaneh sees himself as a tech entrepreneur. Beyond just the science and tech that goes into the Amerisleep business, he and his brother are plotting a second company, called Oclu, that will make an action camera it promises will be better than GoPro.
“My mind is naturally inclined towards product design,” says Kittaneh.
Above all else, though, Kittaneh sees himself, and his success in business, as showing the world the contributions that Muslims can make towards American society. He says he strives to run Amerisleep in line with the values of Islam, with an emphasis on fairness, personal growth, and accountability.
“Being a Muslim who is an American, I have found there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the true meaning and values of Islam,” says Kittaneh. “As a Muslim founder, I’m doing my part to educate people through the demonstration of my religious beliefs both personally and professionally.”