It's like a luxe airplane seat encased in a human locker, rentable by the hour, and deliverable to airports, malls, schools, or your office. On its face a mish-mash of concepts, and on second thought, perhaps a dream product.

Who hasn't occasionally fantasized of spontaneously erecting a personal fortress in the middle of the day? Pop up walls to shut out a yammering colleague, the sudden appearance of a little isolation pod when your toddler is in full fit mode, your own personal first class cabin moved from the plane to the cramped airport terminal where you're stuck on layover

From time to time, we all yearn for a little reprieve, and LA startup NAPIN is answering that plea--offering its human pods as the hospitality industry is shifting and just about everything is deliverable and on-demand.

With the Napin Pod in its fifth iteration and first wide release to U.S. markets, the startup's journey provides lessons in tapping a nascent market. 

1. An indirect path to your target market could be a good thing

Side tracks could be lined with customers. Napin sees itself as a travel product, but is currently targeting shopping malls, which aren't really dead, just evolving. It's a strategy aimed at the long-term: Modern mall operator Westfield also manages amenities at some of Napin's target airports (including Los Angeles' LAX, where nearly 81 million privacy-deprived passengers passed through last year). In the short term, the company hopes to develop recognition and capture a range of demographic groups that have been keen on the concept in trials.

It's potential symbiosis, as malls need to offer something unique to keep shoppers coming. 

Napin's first mall operator relationship, with Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, gained the pod entry into the 144-acre Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, just southwest of Los Angeles. Since installing four Napin Pods at the beginning of the month, pricing has been set at $20 per hour. Advertising to a captive audience inside the pods may eventually offset pricing or subsidize stays altogether; for now pricing will vary by market. 

While the word spreads through malls, Napin can ramp up its production capacity, currently one unit a week. 

A second extra market is exhausted students. Napin is in talks with six California schools.

2. Watch foreign competition, but remember U.S. consumers are unique 

Napin must rise above domestic competition from Boston-based Sleepbox, and foreign competition from Germany's Napcabs and Finland's GoSleep.

Japan's 9h hotels, with their elongated human-cubbies-in-a-wall, have somewhat popularized the core concept, but Napin CEO and Co-Founder Alec Salemon isn't sweating that one. He's going to win in this market by designing roomy interiors for the average U.S. consumer. "No American in their right mind is going to crawl into a cubby hole," Salemon said with an anodyne reference to size.

Put more bluntly, he'll accommodate the girthiest people in the world, without making anyone wiggle or worm into anything, while maintaining each individual pod's footprint at 54 by 84 inches. Extra room inside the pods will also contain all the stuff we Americans buy at the mall and the airport, and can function as individualized luggage storage in a jammed terminal. And because we're not always DIY, an attendant will be staffed to keep it clean and help with check-in and -out, providing the customer service we love so much.

3. And within the U.S. consumer market, early adopters aren't necessarily tech-obsessed Gen Zs and millennials

In early tests to help prognosticate the value of mall installations, Napin found fans in nursing moms, shopping-weary husbands enjoying a temporary man cave, and the older relatives of shoppers who can't trek all the stores and need somewhere to rest peacefully after lunch or a movie.

4. The travel business is shifting to à la carte features enabled by technology

Salemon cites Hyatt's offering of day use rooms as evidence that even the big dogs know they must stay nimble in an on-demand world. Accordingly, a smartphone app is next for Napin, for advanced reservations and easy check-in.

Within its own very micro hotel room, Napin sees potential to install entertainment options, and even experiment with virtual reality stations for an even bigger escape from our harried daily lives.

5. Capitalize on a post-cubicle world

While Napin believes it will ride the wave of short-term accommodations in a rapidly shifting hospitality sector, it sees its place in the office universe too. With open plan offices and coworking spaces proliferating, a significant shortage of personal space in the work place will continue to unlock new markets. 

Published on: Nov 16, 2017
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