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We live in sleep deprived times. There’s just too much to do. We sleep less and less in order to do more and more but in the process, we’ve sacrificed sleep. Power napping sounds like a good remedy but here’s something to think about: The office is never a good place to catch a power nap. First of all, it’s hard to get into a comfortable position. But most importantly, you don’t want to destroy that cool and mysterious personality you’ve been working on to impress your co-worker by having her/him catch you dozing off on your chair with your head cocked way back and your mouth open like a fish gasping for oxygen. Enter Arshad Chowdhury and Metronaps.
Hello Mr. Chowdhury ! So what is Metronaps all about ?
MetroNaps is a fatigue-risk-management company. We offer educational services and facilities to help employees manage their fatigue. Our best-known product is the MetroNaps EnergyPod, a chair designed for napping in the workplace. We also provide educational seminars about sleep and, recently, online training courses on fatigue management for the workplace.
Can you tell me a bit about your background ?
My background is primarily in banking. I went to Wesleyan University and majored in Economics as an undergraduate, then went on to Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon for my MBA. In between, I worked at Bankers Trust and Deutsche Bank. It was while working in banks that I realized sleep deprivation cuts into productivity. In fact, my colleagues and I were desperate to take a nap during the day. Some of us would sneak naps in the bathroom.
Did you start your venture alone ?
I started the company with my good friend and business partner, Christopher Lindholst. Christopher and I went to college together and have been friends ever since. He worked as a health economist for Johnson and Johnson before joining me. While at J&J, Christopher helped hospitals assess the benefits of buying new equipment. He instantly saw the value in napping equipment for the workplace, so I didn’t have to work very hard to get him on board.
How did you go about looking for financing ?
Like most businesses, MetroNaps started off with bootstrapped funds from the founders and their friends and family. Four years after starting the company we received backing from a venture capital firm.
Metronaps’ EnergyPods look elegant and downright cool. How did you go from the idea to the actual fabrication of this contraption ?
I started off with the notion that no one really wants to be seen lying in the fetal position on a couch at work. I tested the concept of mid-day nap facilities while at Carnegie Mellon University. There, I tried to pinpoint the environment ideal for napping in the workplace by operating a test nap center in the University Center. The design for the EnergyPod came out of these findings. Importantly, I realized that in order for people to feel comfortable using it, the EnergyPod has to look inviting and stylish.
We then hired the designer Matthew Hoey to roll our design mandates into an actual product. After about a year of trial and error, the EnergyPod is what we settled on.
Your website promotes Fatigue Risk Management. Are we really living in a sleep-deprived world ?
There is a lot of hype around sleep deprivation, and in fact I’m skeptical about a lot of it. High-pitched news articles screaming about sleep deprivation can have the unintended consequence of creating anxiety about sleep, which in turn causes more sleep deprivation. So I think it’s unhealthy for society as a whole to freak out about sleep deprivation.
On the other hand, two factors are driving increased awareness of fatigue. First, the fastest growing jobs are service-sector jobs, and many of these require night-shift work. Night-shift workers have more health problems and on-the-job accidents related to fatigue than daytime workers. Second, researchers have started to measure the effect of fatigue on performance. Since 2000 we have seen an explosion of studies on tired doctors, drivers, and pilots. We’ve learned that fatigue can cost money, but also that there are simple ways to fight fatigue.
How successful has your business been since day one ?
While our revenues have grown from year to year, our business has had to evolve as we learned more about the market’s needs. We started out planning to open stores where people can take naps. We quickly learned that people don’t want to walk five or ten blocks to nap: they want to walk five or ten feet. We shifted our business away from stores and towards selling EnergyPods. More recently we realized that knowledge on handling fatigue is as important as the facilities for napping, so we have developed seminars and educational packages around this.
Big financial centers such as New York, Hong Kong, London, etc. are obvious targets for Metronaps. Is there a viable market for smaller cities such as Montreal ?
We have learned to go where the need is greatest. We realize that the safety-critical industries where people risk life and limb in 24/7 operations are places we need to be. In Australia we service several mining companies located far from the cities. We could certainly service hospitals, airports, and construction companies in Montreal.
How does pricing work for a nap in one of these pods ?
EnergyPod installations are customized for each customer, but customers can expect to pay about $795 per month for each EnergyPod.
What consequences to your personnal life has the move towards entrepreneurship brought about ?
Starting a company from scratch requires a lot of sacrifice in terms of time and pay, but achieving a work/life balance is largely driven by the individual. Since starting the business I have stayed healthy and happy, have found a wonderful person to marry, and I’ve remained close to my family. With the bedrock support I have from the people in my life, I don’t think I’ll ever do too badly.
What are the 3 toughest challenges your company has faced so far ?
- Managing cash flow.
- Changing our business when necessary.
- Educating the market about our product.