The spring of 2020 was an unsure time for all the world, however founder Vaibhav Agarwala (MBA 2020) was sure of 1 factor—the world was spending extra time in entrance of screens than ever. Not sure of his plans after commencement, he pivoted from his work in consulting and personal fairness and used sources from the Arthur Rock Middle For Entrepreneurship to launch Sunnies, a model of self-heating eye masks. We chatted with Vaibhav about beginning an organization in the course of the pandemic, entrepreneurship at HBS, and recommendation for aspiring founders.
What impressed you to create Sunnies?
At first of the pandemic, I began turning into extraordinarily conscious of how a lot time I used to be spending on screens. Not only for digital class at HBS, however I used to be more and more spending senseless time on my cellphone and on social media. Sunnies was a manner to assist folks deal with themselves—as a substitute of spending the 15-20 minutes earlier than mattress scrolling on their cellphone, they will spend that point resting your eyes, stress-free, and letting your thoughts wander a bit.
The place did you get the concept for Sunnies?
I found the same product whereas touring purchasing malls in Shanghai for Discipline International Immersion (FGI) in 2019. I picked up a field on considered one of our analysis excursions and was blown away by how easy and efficient it was.
Proper after FGI, I participated within the annual HBS Japan Trek and was shocked to see that the identical merchandise have been ubiquitous throughout the entire 7-Eleven shops in Japan. I began researching and realized it was a reasonably large market in Asia however comparatively extraordinary within the US. I filed it away in my mind as a possible entrepreneurship concept.
How has COVID-19 influenced you in beginning an organization?
In a little bit of a silver lining, COVID-19 led me right here. Candidly, round February of this 12 months I wasn’t positive what I needed to do. Out of the blue, COVID hit and I used to be again in my childhood house in Plano, Texas. The job market wasn’t nice, and I didn’t need to compromise on a brand new position. When the Rock Middle introduced they’d fund first 12 months college students (ECs), I took it as a chance to lastly decide to the concept of engaged on Sunnies.
On a extra private be aware, COVID-19 marked the top of 4 years of a long-distance romance with my fiancée. Being in the identical place lastly allowed us to work on enjoyable issues like this collectively. She designed the branding and was my first mannequin!
What does beginning an organization throughout COVID-19 appear to be?
I believe moments of disruption and uncertainty are concurrently the worst and greatest occasions for startups. For Sunnies, the pandemic was the proper time to launch. Points about display time, know-how use, and anxiousness have grow to be mainstream and generally accepted. On the similar time, e-commerce is seeing an unprecedented acceleration in adoption, making shoppers extra prepared to try to purchase merchandise on-line.
How did HBS assist put together you in your entrepreneurial journey?
Like many individuals, I got here into HBS wanting to begin one thing by myself however was probably not positive what that meant. I joined the Entrepreneurship Membership, I labored at a startup over the summer time, and I took loads of entrepreneurship courses throughout EC 12 months.
Coming from locations like consulting and personal fairness, it may be onerous to persuade your self to go the entrepreneurial route. The “risk-adjusted returns” don’t all the time make sense in comparison with your options. However I discovered that spending two years surrounded by entrepreneurial friends, studying about wonderful case protagonists, and being on this surroundings actually helped me bridge that hole.
The Rock Summer time Fellowship was extremely useful in giving me the momentum to get began and for serving to me fund my preliminary stock. I used Baker Library sources for analysis, a Japanese classmate helped me translate Japanese market stories, and I even used HBS’s pupil plan of Adobe Artistic Cloud to design the product!
How did the Rock Summer time Fellows program make it easier to to begin Sunnies?
Apart from monetary backing, it offered loads of motivation and assist. As soon as I utilized and had the funding, there have been no excuses to not push ahead. It was nice speaking with different classmates who have been engaged on their very own concepts, evaluating notes, and motivating one another. It was good to remain linked, particularly after our time collectively was reduce quick by COVID.
What motivated you to go the e-commerce route in your firm?
Strategically I believe it makes essentially the most sense. Promoting on-line lets you fully personal the model story and describe the product the way in which you need. The truth that they’re light-weight and single-use mitigates delivery and return bills, and the repeat-purchase conduct lets you amortize your buyer acquisition prices over the anticipated lifetime worth of a client.
Past that, e-commerce is booming below COVID-19, which permits me to mitigate dangers—I could be disciplined with stock and am fulfilling product myself out of my in-laws’ storage!
If you happen to might give one piece of recommendation to an aspiring entrepreneur, what wouldn’t it be?
All through HBS I lived with two roommates in Troopers Discipline Park. We had one wall in our hallway that was lined in sticky notes with enterprise concepts. In the future in mid-March as we have been all abruptly shifting out, I lastly took down all these sticky notes. I made a decision then that I might remorse it if, in spite of everything these months of sharing concepts with buddies, I didn’t a minimum of attempt to do one thing.
My recommendation is to only do it. There isn’t a higher playground for entrepreneurship than HBS. There are such a lot of sources and like-minded folks—you’re certain to study one thing extraordinarily beneficial, even in the event you fail.