Wish You Could Sleep at the Office? This Startup Has a Solution

Hi! Who are you, and what are you currently working on?

I am Supa, the COO of Rest Space, we create spaces for employees to rest in their working environments. Our vision is to improve people’s health and wellbeing through rest.

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The biggest challenge many people face is they do not have a suitable place to rest in their work environment, preventing them from tapping into the benefits of napping and meditation.

For many employers they are missing out on the productivity and creativity boost this provides their employees and in some circumstances exposing themselves to unnecessary risk due to fatigue.

In high risk environments such as healthcare and transportation, mistakes due to fatigue could be fatal and industries such as finance could be very costly.

One of our highlights has been working with a major transport provider to provide a practical solution to fatigue management for their drivers. It has been refreshing to see big companies taking the lead in helping their employees deal with fatigue.

Often all things to do with sleep were seen as out of the employers hand, when in fact a lot of the issues people face with sleep stem from working patterns and stress from work.

Keep an eye out in a few months time we will have a case study on the outcomes they have achieved.

A second more trivial highlight was a guerrilla campaign we launched for fun at a conference we attended.

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We stuck posters in all the toilet cubicles with the slogan ‘The toilet is the number 1 place to nap – now there is somewhere better’.

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People actually took the posters home! They tweeted us and we became the point of discussion for the closing talk.

It was warming to see just how many people resonated with the toilet nap and lack of places to rest.

What’s your background, and what inspired you to start your business venture?

Prior to starting Rest Space our CEO Kate Mulligan was working in finance as a UX Design and Agile Team Lead and COO Supa Chantschool was working as a Pharmaceutical Senior Analyst in infectious diseases.

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We were both working long hours and had active social lives; we found that we ended up taking lunch naps several times a week and had our secret napping spots in the office.

Initially we thought there was something wrong with us but after doing some research we came to understand the power of napping.

After having a little laugh about it over coffee we both started talking about our naps openly with our coworkers and realized we were not the only ones; people started sharing napping stories and best places to nap (which unfortunately was the toilet cubicles).

From there we realized there was a need, we thought the napping stigma could be challenged and we wanted to share this ‘lifehack’ with everyone.

Whether working a retail job or working as a mobile detailer, we all need time to recharge at work from time to time.

How did you get started? What did the early days look like?

Excitement and fear. Both of us know that we really wanted to make Rest Space happen but at the same time we were leaving our safe, stable and comfortable corporate jobs.

Shortly after both realizing we need to be working full time on this to move it forward we were fortunate enough to get into the Kings20 accelerator in September 2019.

It was a very competitive process and seeing the caliber of businesses that didn’t make it really gave us confidence in the business we had.

In the King’s College London accelerator, where we were fortunate to have seasoned entrepreneurs and experts in residence that helped us validate our business and develop it to what it is today.

We were challenged, grilled and flambéed by investors, VCs and the King’s Professor of Entrepreneurship. This experience really helped us double down on the validation and the direction we were taking.

As well as all the extra hands we managed to get to help move our first prototype which was non-flatpack and unexpectedly 600kg!

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Being part of this network also helped us stay focused when it all fell apart because of a pandemic.

Our original business direction of setting up our own locations of napping spots was no longer viable. The direction we had been working towards fell from under our feet.

A few months into the pandemic we slowed everything down and started to reflect on our core business direction and pivot our business.

During the lockdowns, inspiration was a bit harder as we weren’t so embedded in entrepreneurial circles day to day, and the ambiguity of the situation made it difficult to know the true impact of the work we were doing.

Going back to the fundamentals and ethos of our business we made sure we didn’t compensate and burn ourselves out. Putting in more down time to tap into the creativity and resilience that was needed to get the business through.

How have you grown your business venture?

We tried everything initially…email campaigns, social media marketing campaigns, LinkedIn sales navigator, guerrilla marketing at start-up events. Our intention at the very beginning was to spread the word.

We realized that there was very little research done on the benefits of napping so we conducted our own surveys on corporate workers, healthcare professionals and anyone and everyone who would give us 5 mins.

We used this data to pitch to companies, pitch to investors and held free sleep webinars over the lockdown year.

Many competitors were already out there selling their products and we wanted to carve out a piece of that for ourselves.

We saw our competitor’s products in hospitals, universities and offices and knew that soon having rest environments in every workplace will be the norm.

Our competitors are doing some great things and chipping away at the cultural change needed to have a healthier workforce and this kept us motivated to keep going.

As founders we spend a lot of time learning about sleep from what the medical and social science world has managed to uncover. We know that time is precious and want to create the best place to rest.

For the 10-20 minutes you spend in our product we want you to come out as refreshed as possible. Creating the best product for our customer seems to be paying off.

A lot of people who contact us do so because our product stands out for quality and purpose. Having this customer focus has been paying off.

We are part of creating a new market, creating a product where there are less than a dozen other competitors world wide operating in an industry that barely existed a decade ago, the B2B nap pod market.

That comes with a lot of challenges and opportunities. When it comes to the red tape, insurance, legal, finances etc it has been a challenge because a lot of the traditional systems don’t recognize us in their current categories and understanding of the world.

When it comes to sales there is also the challenge of having to spend a lot of time educating our potential customers on the benefits of rest for employees.

We feel the global understanding of sleep is very poor, probably equivalent to what we really should have learnt in preschool.

When comparing it to food, what we know about sleep is equivalent to knowing we should eat vegetables.

We know about the minerals and vitamins vegetables give us but for some reason we overlook the benefits sleep gives us.

It is exciting to be a part of the revolution in rest and sleep knowing that it has a real impact on people’s happiness and health, but it does mean sales and marketing is a lot harder than if we were to sell an already established product to a market that knows exactly why they want it.

What is 1 small but powerful tactic you implemented that helped you achieve success? How did it make a difference?

During the lockdowns in the UK, we realized it would be very difficult to make sales. People were not in the office and the phone numbers we could find would not divert to their homes.

So we went looking online and found multiple contract finder sites which had companies posting for potential solutions.

We crossed our fingers and applied for a lot of them as well as covid grants.

As expected with large companies, it took a while for them to get back to us, but we managed to build a relationship with them and lead us to sales and partnerships.

Open contracts and grants.

What is 1 of the biggest challenges you faced during your business journey, and how did you overcome it?

Entrepreneurship is a hurdle of challenges, as you get over one, two more pop up.

We had to pivot our business from a napping cafe to outright selling our Rest Space napping pods to businesses.

One main challenge was navigating an ever changing environment, we didn’t know which health and wellbeing trend would come out on top or even when people will be allowed to go back to work in the offices again.

We actually had to slow down and monitor the markets to speed up again.

We had to figure out what values our business delivers, we had to look back and see what our themes and values stand for which helped us decide how to move forward.

We had the opportunity to go digital but ultimately decided that we are a physical product business and that’s where we feel we can help out our users and customers the most.

There are a lot of digital products already in the market but still most people have nowhere to rest during the day.

What is 1 new or unusual trend showing up in your industry that you’re paying attention to?

After the lockdowns, there was a huge shift towards health and wellbeing, especially the sleep aspects. We saw an uptick of people buying sleep products, sleeping aids, upgrading their mattresses.

We saw IKEA’s banners and posters about pillows and duvets and articles about how the UK National Health Service brought in our competitor’s sleeping pods.

We have seen a lot of companies investing in health and wellbeing and starting to include wellness and rest spaces in their offices and CNN and MSNBC talking about rest and breaks to become more efficient at work.

We have received emails from market research agencies writing forecast reports on the ‘new; napping pod market. At this point we knew we were in the right field.

What is the biggest factor that separates successful people from people who fail or never get started?

Had to pick 2, drive and passion. You can be passionate about something and never get it off the ground or you can be driven and then you lose interest in the project.

Ultimately as an entrepreneur you are solving an issue for yourself which you believe could be beneficial to others as well.

I was ready to throw in the towel a few times in 2020 and reapply for roles back in the pharmaceutical industry but every time I reached the final stages of the interview I found that I unintentionally sabotaged myself because I wanted to keep working on Rest Space.

I had the drive and passion to keep it going despite the financial ambiguity the pandemic threw at us.

What advice would you give to someone just getting started?

Here are a couple of things whilst doing our retrospective that we could do better if we were to start over:

  • Keep all your documents, accounts and receipts in order
  • The good times are great but the bad times will make you want to quit, just remember why you started your venture
  • You don’t need seed funding or investment right away, we actually bootstrapped the whole company, you just need creativity and a frugal mindset
  • Make some entrepreneur friends (online and in person) and share your experiences, they will understand any challenges you might be facing better than someone who has never ran a business before
  • Listen to the haters and use that to drive your business sometimes they are the only ones actually being honest. They wouldn’t have done the research as much as you have so don’t fall into the trap that they know better than you. We had so many people against the idea in 2019 but would come back to us in 2021 saying that we were ahead of the game. We use their objections to understand what our potential customers might have objections about and make sure we address them head on rather than ignoring it.

How are things going today and what’s next?

We currently have an arrangement with a major transport provider and a top UK university to explore the effectiveness of our Rest Space with professional drivers and we are exploring partnerships with healthcare providers and the education sector.

We have released our Rest Space Everest product, where we have improved the infection control and added extra features.

Because of all the opportunities that have come in, we have hired 6 employees to help us with day to day business operations and product development.

We are in a fortunate situation where potentially our demands outweigh our supplies and are figuring out how to navigate this going into 2022.

What have been the most influential podcasts, books, or other resources?

“Sleep is the best form of physiologically injected venture capital you could ever wish for. When you’ve had insufficient sleep you can’t think as quickly and you’re not as creative,” Matthew Walker

I have always disliked the fact that building a career means you almost had to lose out on sleep. When I read Why We Sleep by Matthew, it was so clear that we as humans were doing things wrong.

We gave up our bi-phasic sleeping patterns and relied on caffeine and sugar to power through the day. Why we sleep was a very comprehensive introduction to the sleep world for us.

Internal Time by Till Roenneberg was eye opening in helping understand how our internal timing is in conflict with our social timing. It was a very well written account of the impact our circadian rhythm has on our social lives and vice versa.

It helped us really see the need to use Rest Space to raise awareness of the various ways we can live a more balanced life especially at work through understanding our bodies better.

From there we explored other sleep related books, scientific articles and podcasts and realized that sleep research was in its infancy.

The sleep junkies podcast is just so comprehensive when it comes to all topics about sleep.

We feel it is very important for the integrity of our company and the work we do to make sure we are solving the right issues and promoting healthy life changes.

These resources have been great ways to stay up to date with the latest developments in the field of sleep.

‘A consensus emerged that not only is napping beneficial for alertness, mental ability and overall health but our brains are actually programmed for it’ One very underrated book, Take a Nap!

Change Your Life by Sara Mednick has been great in bringing together so perfectly the power of what we are creating.

Helping us understand the real human impact and power of the business we are building and also a great guideline to ensure we are helping people rest in healthy ways and not promote unhealthy habits.

Richard Brandson’s Screw Business as Usual was a great book of case studies that was inspiring especially when creating a business that disrupts the status quo.

Not to forget Secret leaders podcast, this was a go to for my co-founder Kate especially when things got tough.

Just hearing how other entrepreneurs had built their businesses from nothing and the challenges they went through would give her a second wind. It was a great place to go to for inspiration and lessons.

What better way than to hear from people who have done it before.

Where can we go to learn more?

We have regular blogs (at least 2-3 a month) on our website around sleep, naps and resting and monthly newsletters about what we are up to for our subscribers.

You can contact us on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and through our website.

Give napping a go, especially if you’re still working from home. It’s not for everyone but even if you don’t fall asleep, the 30 mins of relaxing will do anyone some good!


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