Khaliah Guillory doesn’t just have a self-care business; she’s starting a wellness movement. And that movement began with a simple concept that harkens back to kindergarten: nap time.
A few years ago, the founder and CEO of Nap Bar was a C-level executive at a Fortune 500 company who was, quite frankly, exhausted.
She was among the 1/3 of Americans who report being chronically sleep deprived — getting less than seven hours of sleep each night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And she tried to make up for it any way she could.
“I slept anywhere I could find,” Guillory says. “An unused conference room, my car, literally anywhere I could catch a snooze, I was there.”
But she wanted a safe haven to sleep and not have any interruptions — a place that wasn’t her car. “I wanted to actually sleep in peace and comfort,” Guillory says.
She built that safe haven with Nap Bar in Houston. It’s a place where everyone from travelers to health-conscious entrepreneurs and stay-at-home parents can take a nap for anywhere from 26 minutes up to four hours — but with an extra wellness twist.
Alice spoke to Guillory about the importance of beta testing, being a queer woman of color in the business world, and, of course, sleep.
How did you come up with the idea for Nap Bar?
I was an executive at a Fortune 500 company, and I had a side hustle as a speaker. My wife and I live in the Richmond/Sugar Land area, and she also works in corporate and she also has a side business. When we can we commute into the city together.
I looked at her one time and said, ‘Oh man we have about an hour and a half to kill between our next meeting, and this is about my nap time. But we’re in a car.’
She said, ‘Just Google naps in Houston.’ A minute later I was like, ‘Nothing. Can you believe we're the fourth, about to be the third largest city in the country and there's not a place to nap for adults?’
And she said, ‘Well you should just create it.’
I was like, ‘Wait, a nap bar, a place where you can just take a nap? People wouldn't do that. I think I'm the only adult that naps.’ She was like, ‘I beg to differ.’
She's a nurse, so she knows that folks in the Medical Center are sneaking off into the supply room and taking little 10-minute power naps.
The next day I started poking around on the internet and I thought, huh, I'm not the only person who's sneaking off and taking naps at work.
I found an interesting statistic that said that 52% of Americans are sneaking off and taking naps at work, at their desks, under their desks, in the construction floor in the building, in our cars. We are just desperate to recharge.
I uncovered a bunch of research when I started to pick around and figure out if this was a worthy business model.
I found out that NASA conducted a study on sleepy military pilots and astronauts, and found that a 26-minute nap improved their productivity by 34% and alertness by 54%. I said, I want some of that.
What were your next steps?
I started to pitch my idea on social media — saying, ‘Hey, if there was this health and wellness place that accepted your HSA, would you go and take a nap during the day?’
There was an alarming amount of ‘Yes, yes! Where is this place?’ And I was like, ‘Well it's not a thing yet, it's just a concept.'
I collected this survey and I said, I know you guys are taking naps, but tell me what you want there.
The number one thing they wanted was a juice and coffee bar and massages. They wanted these additional amenities and services that will complement health and wellness.
I got busy learning everything I could about sleep. People don't realize that sleep impacts our cholesterol, our blood pressure — it impacts and affects our total being, our psyche, our spiritual being, our physical, our mental being.
I wanted to get all this information and all this data together so I could go out and structure a business model, not just for B2B or B2C or B2G, but for all three. The goal is to be in the airport, to be in colleges and universities, to franchise.
I also had to identify my competition and what's going to be my differentiator. There are some places to nap in New York, one in Chicago, a couple that have converted from spas to naps.
How is Nap Bar different from the other nap services you found?
We offer clean sleep. And when I mean clean, I mean we have partnered with Bungaloom, which is a 100 percent organic mattress manufactured here in Houston.
When people come into Nap Bar, they're not just taking a nap. It's a curated space with mood lighting, we have neck pillows, we have brain wave sounds — they are these curated custom brain waves with a certain number of beats per minute that increase your melatonin in your body, up to 97%.
We have a comfort concierge. We don't just say, 'Hey you're in pod number one or a suite over here, have a great nap,' we have someone who literally is catering to your every need to ensure that you maximize and have the optimum napping experience. We also have pajamas, we have juice shots — we give you a post-nap shot. All our materials are recyclable. Even our floors are recycled corkscrew boards, because we didn't want any kind of chemicals or toxins inside.
What did you learn from beta testing?
We had 20 beta testers come in. We had one prototype that had this custom pod design that was in my head, we etched it out, and I was like, 'Hey carpenter guy, go and build it.'
But that first prototype was garbage. It wasn’t the most comfortable. People said that the mattress was comfortable, but the pod was too short.
And instead of the main entrance being in the front, we created these sliding doors on the side. We also made sure we installed soundproof curtains.
In the second prototype we learned that light was coming in because of the sliding door. So now we have a regular open door.
What have you learned so far that you would've done differently?
Not being attached to outcomes is probably the biggest lesson learned at this point. As an entrepreneur, I can only control what I control. It's not going to happen the way you want it to happen.
You're not going to get a zillion people to sign up because you thought this campaign is going to be the best thing since sliced bread. Oh, you want a million users after being open for two weeks? (Laughs) OK.
How has been a queer woman of color impacted your business, for better or for worse?
Some say it's a disadvantage, some say it's an advantage. I think I'm somewhere in the middle. At one point in the corporate world I had a manager that promoted me who said, ‘I'm so excited for you to be on my team.’ He didn't mention anything about my performance or my productivity, never mind I was the number one district manager for his region. What he talked about was, ‘I get to check off the fact that I met all of my diversity qualifiers.’
I know his intent wasn't malice, but it was a bit like, Gosh, I don't want to be known as that. I want to be known for my core competencies: I drive results, I build organic relationships, I have integrity. I want to be known for that.
On the flip side of it, we need to do these diverse supplier workshops, and we need someone who has experience in corporate who can talk about what it's like being a Black woman who happens to be gay working in these environments.
I really encourage folks to talk about it. This isn't who you are, this is a manufactured label that society has placed on you.
Who you are at your core is a really dope human being and that unfortunately people have told you that in order for you to be dope you can't be this or that.
But if we remove the mask and remove the layers and just simply be who we are and show up in these spaces — not just at work, not just at home, not just at the grocery store, not just at the gym — really truly embrace who we are everywhere, that's where the secret sauce happens. That's the sweet spot.