Featured Founder: Shuchi Vyas of GuestBox
Welcome to our Featured Founder series, where you’ll meet startup founders from Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Shuchi Vyas, Founder & CEO of GuestBox seamless, curated, branded boxes of high-end and eco-conscious products for the hospitality industry.
What were you doing previously and what inspired you to launch your company?
I've spent over a decade in journalism and nonprofit development. Both included a fair amount of travel. While with Habitat for Humanity International as a Major Gifts Officer, my work kept me away from my Manhattan apartment. I had collected my own art and even painted the bright red walls myself on a freezing winter day. Hosting on Airbnb had just started to take off in the city and my friends were doing it, so I thought: 'Why not share my space and give someone the great pleasure of staying right next door to Central Park'. I found myself struggling to wow my guests each time I hosted. So I felt there has to be a better way. Seeing the plethora of direct-to-consumer subscription boxes out there, I thought, why not take the convenience of this model and turn it into a service that helps hosts standardize a high-quality guest experience.
What pain point is your company solving? What gets you excited to go to work every day?
We see the hospitality industry going through a huge transformation, yet the guest welcome experience is still very fragmented. There is nothing that is serving as a go-to solution for the busy hotel manager who is juggling multiple priorities to be able to deliver a high-quality, standardized, and memorable experience in an easy and cost-effective manner. Hospitality companies are struggling to differentiate themselves and further their brand name. Also, today’s traveler is a more evolved and conscious consumer. If you’re handing them a bunch of sugary candy, they’re either going to decline or shrug their shoulders. No one thinks: 'wow, what an amazing gesture and I'm going to remember this forever'. So whatever money is being spent to deliver that experience isn’t really doing much for the hotel.
This challenge always reminds me of my own as an Airbnb host, but of course at a much larger scale. So if I found myself running around last minute to Trader Joes and other places in order to welcome one or two guests for one check-in every now and then when I traveled, imagine what a 300-room hotel goes through and then think about what the entire industry goes through. I would say that solving this problem is what gets me out of bed in the morning, but what really lights up my day are the brands that we feature in the boxes - so much thought and passion goes into creating products that are natural and amazing alternatives to the mainstream stuff that's mass produced. So if in my day, I get to speak with an entrepreneur or a team that's created a product because nothing like it existed or because they was tired of the 'same old', the prospect of including their brand in our boxes to eventually delight a tired traveler or one that seeks a novel experience, I feel like we are making a difference to everyone involved in that entire chain of events.
Name the biggest challenge you faced in the process of launching the company. How did you overcome it?
I think the biggest challenge for me was just getting started. I had the idea at least three years before I actually started working on it. On one hand I've had the fortune of working in different countries - as a business reporter for The Economic Times in Bombay to traveling the world working with different nonprofits. But then I also come from a very traditional career trajectory where you feel almost guilty for being away from 'work' and taking a year off to travel the world and engage with humanity just because your gut said to do that. And then you come right back to NYC and reality hits you about paying rent and not wanting to show such large gaps on your resume. Now it's almost funny that my mind once worked in such a linear fashion. I had the opportunity to be in Florida for a little bit and build my company. So I again listened to my gut and it was probably the best decision I made. If it weren't for the community that welcomed and encouraged me to do this, GuestBox would not be around.
Where do you see your company headed next?
We are expanding our team. And we are increasing our presence in the hospitality space. We just signed on a customer in New York that's coming on as a very strategic partner. They are providing GuestBox upon every check-in - for them every guest is a VIP! With their help we will be able to get to more customers quickly and in a meaningful way in which value is very clearly demonstrated. Beyond that, we are always going back to the drawing board to see what further value we could be delivering to existing and new customers.
Give us a tactical piece of advice that you'd share with another founder just starting out.
First, find your community. Without it, you're going to struggle a lot to get started and to 'fail fast'. And do not hesitate to ask for help at every stage. If you're the kind of person that doesn't like to or isn't used to asking for help, do what you need to do to get over this. You're not going to have all the skills or time required to do everything and you're going to learn so much from others around you. Also be open to change, because it will happen, sometimes a lot. If you have the luxury of time before you start, go do something really challenging and outside your comfort zone. The resilience that you're able to demonstrate there could get you through the lowest lows that startup life will present.