Entrepreneur Shuchi Vyas offers her experiences in the co-founding of GuestBox, and the role that StartUp Weekend Gainesville played in its development.
New York City, 2016: I was trying desperately to get something of my own off the ground. After I had spent all of 2015 traveling the world and working with local nonprofits, I came back to New York City inspired to create something meaningful in the travel space, yet in somewhat of a daze as I readjusted to the pace of life and work. Where would I even begin?
No ideal community existed at the time, and I would visit friends at various co-working spaces and feel completely lost. I had no real mentors that had done a travel startup, and most importantly, where would I find a partner with whom I could strategize, build and just bounce ideas with?
In hindsight, I don’t even think I knew what I needed to get an idea off the ground. So I spent most of 2016 in ‘research’ mode, all the while still consulting in the nonprofit space, as my background in the field made it comfortable for me to do so. I didn’t get very far. If you’re familiar with startups, many get caught in the research phase for what seems like an eternity. It’s very comfortable to have steady income coming in and keep ‘working on your startup’ without going very far. I am now a firm believer of going all in and figuring out how to do that.
Now, my friends in Gainesville own a startup incubator and co-working space (StarterSpace). Every time I would visit my sister in Florida, I would go up to see them, and experienced all the amazing startup work going on and the thriving community they had built over the last few years.
During one of those visits, my friends told me about Startup Weekend. What weekend, I asked? They shared the general concept with me about how I might either show up to this event with an idea of my own or just jump onto someone else’s idea that piques my interest.
Startup Weekend is a Friday evening to Sunday night event that takes place in multiple cities across the world on the same dates, when bright and inspired minds come together to pitch ideas, create teams, build out their product, pitch to judges and potentially win prizes and recognition. It sounded like just what I needed, and I was sold! What a cool concept! I loved living in Gainesville already!
I showed up at the February 2017 Startup Weekend, Gainesville with an idea that I was not actively working on but had in my back pocket, just to see if anyone would be interested in working on it with me.
My idea was a subscription box for Airbnb hosts to welcome their guests. This concept stemmed from a problem that I faced when I hosted my NYC apartment on Airbnb – the challenge of always providing the full ‘at home’ guest experience while also considering my full-time job and travel plans. And at the same time, if I ever stayed at an Airbnb that did not have basics and some extras, it did feel like the host didn’t care all that much. Why not create something that can bridge that gap?
To my surprise, a few minutes after pitching the idea of GuestBox, I had a team of five people join me. Amongst them was someone who would later become my first co-founder. Together we all started working nonstop on developing the product, creating a website, conducting market research, writing out presentation slides and generally trying not to pass out from the adrenalin- fuelled rollercoaster! We had very qualified and engaged mentors throughout the weekend that would come by our room, check on us to see that we were doing ok, answer any questions that would pop up and give us any advice they saw fit.
Simultaneously, we had educational workshops running that team members could sit in on and gain knowledge that would help not just with the idea we were working on for the weekend, but in any startup stage or context. On pitch day, we presented a prototype with actual research slides and market opportunities that we worked on over that weekend.
We nailed it – won second place and the only idea that actually became a company. What followed that weekend is definitely a longer story for another piece, but in a nutshell, GuestBox is real company with many customers. GuestBox is a subscription box service for Airbnb, vacation rental and hotel hosts to welcome and delight their guests. We feature brands created by female and minority entrepreneurs in our box, thereby providing an experiential platform for recipients to eventually support them directly.
As fate would have it, exactly a year (Sunday, Feb 12) after the GuestBox idea won second place at Startup Weekend, Gainesville, I sat on a panel at Startup Week in Tampa, the same day that Gary Vaynerchuk (a serial entrepreneur and the CEO and co-founder of VaynerMedia, a full-service digital agency servicing Fortune 500 clients across the company’s 4 locations) was addressing aspiring startups in Tampa Bay.
So, if you have an idea you want to test or you’re itching to find out what a startup really entails, jump in and give Startup Weekend a shot. It will be worth it!
GAIN is a 501(c)3 charitable organization supporting entrepreneurship in Gainesville and the State of Florida. The organization helps entrepreneurs form, fund, and grow their startups. To learn more about GAIN visit http://gainnet.org/.