It was last November when Arshad Chowdhury first shared with me his dream: to see the whole world napping. Chowdhury envisioned napping outlets in major airports, sleeping dens tucked away in skyscrapers, franchises just around the corner from your neighborhood coffee shop . . . all stocked with his patented (well, patent-pending) $20,000 “Napods.” He was this close, he imagined, to launching “the next bottled water!”
Today, months later, he’s still this close.
Chowdhury’s conceit grew out of the sober logic of supply and demand. In 2003, while an MBA student at Carnegie Mellon, he began charging a buck for 40 minutes’ rest on a collection of lawn chairs. By day five, he was filling every seat.
And so, Chowdhury embarked on his outlandish mission. He persuaded a Danish angel investor to pony up not quite half a million dollars, and then brought on partner Christopher Lindholst. They coaxed a former Sony marketing exec to run branding, scored space in the Empire State Building, and began hatching ingenious marketing schemes like napping slogans printed on coffeehouse Java Jackets.
Which goes to show that, four years past the bust of the IPO market, there’s still money out there (in Denmark, but still) chasing not-quite-grounded ideas. Chowdhury’s saga also demonstrates that entrepreneurship is a messy affair in which reality rarely matches the plan (or, needless to say, the hype). It takes a certain hubris to chase dreams, to pitch and self-promote in a jaded business environment dominated by naysayers.
Even as Chowdhury confided that he was “in talks with partners” or “finalizing agreements” for sites in Chicago and Los Angeles, his team was still fumbling with a retail name. NapCentre was dumped for Blink PowerNaps, and that for Metronaps. Pricing models and membership projections wavered as the team grappled with a market that didn’t exist yet. Then there was the elusive opening date. Chowdhury and Lindholst originally imagined kicking off the napping revolution just after the new year. But the January deadline came and went. One week passed, two weeks, three. A month.
In late February, the “crack Formula-One prototype team in Indianapolis” finally delivered a gleaming steel-and-fiberglass pod to Metronaps’ Suite 2410, where it startled the cleaning lady. But then, Metronaps dumped its original manufacturer, contracting instead with several new vendors to build the nine remaining pods. Suite 2410, handsomely finished in soporific gray, was racking up an estimated $2,000 in monthly rent, with nary a customer in view.
Can Metronaps make it? Bills are mounting, and the market is suspect. But Chowdhury, having already weathered setbacks enough to demoralize a lesser entrepreneur, remains egregiously upbeat. In our last conversation, he revealed that Metronaps will now charge $65 a month for individual memberships, down from $99. And the opening date? Chowdhury didn’t skip a beat: “May.”
“Maybe late May.”
I hesitated, dubious.
“Honestly,” he said, “I can’t imagine what would set us back!”