As many of you know, the majority of D.C. entrepreneurs that snag the ‘spotlight of success’ are often those who have a sexy consumer product, work in a market that has high-visibility in the public eye, or simply rock at hyping the hell out of their company.
Something you don’t often see celebrated in this region are the small business owners who have been able to take an innovative idea and disrupt an industry that’s relatively small and obscure, or at the very least not as attractive as daily deals or online dating. Personally, when I do come across an entrepreneur that deserves to be celebrated for their accomplishments, I think they should be given a shout out no matter how big or small their respective market maybe.
With that said, let me tell you the story of Frank Taylor, Barry Womack, and Restin.
The Beginning of Restin
Frank was actually a student at William and Mary before he was a successful entrepreneur. While studying at the school, he started to notice a growing trend at malls he shopped at of stressed-out moms and tired shoppers using bill-operated massage chairs to wind down. Picking up on that pattern, Frank also noticed the wild popularity of the vending machines that happened to be adjacent to his dorm room in which students would use a pre-loaded student card to swipe at the machine to get snacks.
Like the many successful entrepreneurs in the world, Frank experienced his own ‘A-HA!’ moment, and then he came up with the idea of connecting the two: you could place massage chairs around campus for stressed-out students and then charge them using the same swipe system they have grown so accustom to using for vending machines. This kicked off the initial concept of letting college students pay to use these massage chairs.
Frank partnered up with his co-founder Barry Womack, did some research, called a few chair companies, and was able to negotiate a contract with William and Mary to do a pilot so by his senior year he was ready to launch his first massage chair program at the school. Barry and Frank were able to collaborate and build out four different chair prototypes, placing them in various places around grounds, specifically the library.
Kicking Off the Business
Unfortunately for Frank and Barry, the first few days of business for the chairs were in more or less words…lousy.
After further investigation, Frank noticed that William and Mary’s network (which supports the use of card-swipes around the campus) kept dropping the signal and failed to charge student’s accounts, so there was a 50/50 chance that the network would be offline every time the students used the chairs. This became a source of frustration for many students that were trying to use the chairs, who ended up simply not using them.
In an effort to make the concept work, Frank took a bold step during finals: he decided to run the chairs for free. Well to get technical, the student assembly which funds various initiatives that improve or service the student body actually sponsored it. For those unfamiliar with the already ‘wound-up’ students of William and Mary, exam time only makes the students even more stressed out and on-edge, so a service like this definitely falls into the umbrella of improving student wellness. After co-sponsoring the free chair use, the use of the chairs skyrocketed. The William and Mary student body went crazy using the service, racking up over 10,000 massages in only 10 days. Granted it was free, but they started realizing that their original intent of putting chairs on campuses as a vending application didn’t nearly have as high number of uses as they did when they were sponsored as a free event by an organization.
Using the William and Mary situation as a case study, Frank and Barry realized that there was more money to be made from organizations and companies that wanted to offer the chairs as a general service for a group of users (whether it be to employees, customers, etc.)
The team pivoted and adjusted their business model to now focus on marketing to large engagements and trade conferences where services like live-masseuse massages are offered. They instantly got the edge on their competition since they can ship their chairs anywhere (unlike masseuses), and in terms of installation, you can take the chairs out of a box and have them instantly working once you plug them in.
Simply put, they have none.
The service they offer is better than the live masseuses currently offered at shows or corporate wellness events, and the chairs they have provide a more permanent fix to occupational stress that only requires minimal floor space and an outlet to plug into. Frank and Barry were able to dominate a market that was wide open for disruption, and did so in the span of a few months.
Where They Are Now
People continue to be stressed out, and Restin is capitalizing on it heavily. The company now has a staff that includes Frank as the CEO, Barry as the VP of Biz Dev, Lewis Taylor as the VP of Operations, and Sanjay Kamani as the acting CTO. They also now own, operate, and distribute over 100 chairs for rental to various conferences/shows, and have been able to keep their work incredibly lean by outsourcing the majority of their technical and administrative support staff as contracted 1099 employees (contractors) which reduces most of their operational overhead.
They’re already gearing up to launch a new chair model called the Restin X-1 at a Las Vegas trade show which provides touchscreen ads, another major potential source of revenue. To say the least, the company is killing it and I bet most of the entrepreneurs around this area have probably never heard of them.
So in the spirit of celebrating our unsung entrepreneurial heroes of the region, congratulations to Frank, Barry, and the Restin team for proving no matter how big or small, D.C. can still pump out winners.