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STRATEGY

Hot Market: Insomniacs

The problem with an always-on, 24-hour, caffeine-fueled culture: When you want to go to sleep, your humming brain won’t let you.

Roughly 40 million Americans suffer from chronic long-term sleep disorders, another 20 million experience sporadic sleeplessness, and sleeplessness is rising as the population ages, according to the National Institutes of Health. The market for over-the-counter sleep aids is expected to hit $759 million by 2013, according to ReportBuyer.com, a market research firm.

The Inspiration: As a student at Florida International University in 2005, Vincent Porpiglia had trouble sleeping. He tried over-the-counter medications as well as prescription drugs, but he was wary of growing dependent on such treatments. Porpiglia made the intuitive leap from buzz to zzzz. There are so many liquids that wake people up -- coffee, sodas, energy drinks. Why not a liquid that does the exact opposite?

The Business: Dream Water, based in Miami, makes an over-the-counter liquid sleep aid and packages it in 2.5-ounce shots, like popular energy drinks.

How It Got Started: After graduating, Porpiglia spent two years working with independent labs to devise a formula based on three natural ingredients associated with sleep and relaxation: melatonin, GABA, and 5-HTP. He brought on two co-founders: David Lekach and Adam Platzner. Lekach became CEO and zeroed in on the beverage and retailing industries. Because Dream Water trades on the widespread acceptance of energy shots (a $700 million market last year), Lekach chose to target shots' most ardent consumers: twenty- and thirtysomethings. In 2009, the product launched in New York City and quickly signed up drugstore chain Duane Reade. Retailers such as Walmart, Walgreens, GNC, and Kmart followed.

Those squat bottles have an advantage besides familiarity: They pass through airport security. "Part of the idea of designing it as a shot was to fill the need in the travel segment," says Lekach. "You have anxious travelers, exhausted travelers, travelers who need to get their sleep in order to function in different time zones. It's so logical." The company is negotiating with an operator of airport convenience stores nationwide.

The Result: The seven-employee company projects profitability next year.

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IMAGE: Brian Stauffer
Last updated: Nov 1, 2010

LEIGH BUCHANAN | Staff Writer | Editor-at-large, Inc. Magazine

Leigh Buchanan is an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture.




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