Last month, Recode reported that the mattress startup Casper had financed the takeover of one of the most popular mattress review sites on the web, Sleepopolis.
The acquisition came after a lengthy legal battle in which Casper had sued Sleepopolis and two other sites, claiming that they did not properly disclose commission arrangements they had with other mattress brands.
The ensuing sale of Sleepopolis to another mattress reviews site operator, JAKK Media, was a shock to many in the industry. Sleepopolis’ previous owner, Derek Hales, had been telling people he was fighting Casper’s lawsuit right up until the surprise sale ended the dispute.
It was a big deal: Sleepopolis reviews often rank as the top Google search results — outside of ads — for a new generation of mattress brands like Casper and Leesa that don’t have many of their own stores and so rely heavily on online reviews for new customers.
To make things messier, the same parent company that acquired Sleepopolis with a loan from Casper also owns another reviews site, called Mattress Clarity. Mattress Clarity often shows up No. 2 after Sleepopolis, on the first page of Google search results. That means Casper now has ties to two of the most powerful industry reviews sites on the web. Both have disclosures on their sites.
Casper CEO Philip Krim says his company has no role in operating these sites or the reviews they write. So what, then, is the upside to getting involved and creating the perception of impropriety by giving a loan to JAKK Media to buy Sleepopolis?
“We believed they were a good operator in the space and someone who has been in it awhile,” Krim said, “and we wanted to have more [quality] content out there around reviews. That led us to offering to finance a portion” of the Sleepopolis takeover.
Krim declined to disclose what, if any, other financing options JAKK Media may have been considering. And JAKK Media Managing Partner Joe Auer declined to comment on why his company chose the Casper financing option, given the perception of a conflict of interest that it had created.
But since the takeover one thing has been clear: The review of the Casper mattress on Sleepopolis has shifted from a mediocre one, written by the site’s previous owner, to a positive one written under the site’s new leadership.
Krim said he couldn’t be 100 percent sure why this was, but speculated it’s probably a result of Casper mattress improvements made over the last few years. Krim also pointed out that Casper had the No. 1 rated foam mattress on Consumer Reports’ list last year.
“In general, we try to be a very thoughtful group and we certainly tried to discuss all options,” he said about the decision to finance the takeover. “Hopefully, we were thoughtful about the implications around different courses of action.”
Hales, the previous owner of Sleepopolis, did not respond to an email. Industry sources say he’s barred from talking about the lawsuit or the sale of his company.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.