From a university project to the global market, Antoine Sayah tells us about how his love for the beach entwined with his academia bringing about his startup: Beachill.
Two years ago, Antoine Sayah was an engineering student in a university in Lebanon. They had an assignment to put together a product to benefit people every day. As a compulsive beach-goer, Sayah couldn’t help but make his product beach-oriented. “I started identifying these problems;” he tells Startup Scene. “When we go to the beach, we spend the entire day, our phone batteries die, the water bottles we buy become very hot and undrinkable. Our bags and our personal belongings aren’t safe and are exposed to scorching sunlight, sand, and seawater,” he elaborates, adding that also, hygiene-wise, beach-goers have no choice but to lay down on a chaise longue that has been used by millions of people. With those issues listed down in Sayah’s notebook, he started thinking of a solution to all these problems with one product. And that’s how it started.
Sayah didn’t really have plans for the beach mattress after his presentation. So, he took his project back home and moved on with his life. As the days passed, he invited friends over for a barbeque party and the beach mattress caught their attention. "'Oh, it looks so nice, what is it?' they would say. Then they’d try it out and sleep on it, and tell me how they’ve never seen something like it before.” Sayah’s friends kept on encouraging him to scale up his project into a business until he finally set up a small Instagram account and called it “Beachill” (a play on the slang impression: be chill) to sell beach mattresses to his friends and acquaintances; but little did the engineer know that Beachill was going to scale up beyond his plans.
The science behind Beachill took a few stages to form. "First I investigated the positioning in which the body relaxes the most," Sayah says. "The most important thing for me was the comfort. During the sketching, some ideas started to pop up like integrating phone gadgets, and solar panels to generate electricity for the phones to charge along with other electronics the customer takes with to the beach. I also added a thermos-fridge to cool the water bottles and other beverages." The engineer placed all these functions in the part where the customer's head is settled, using the allegory that the head is where all the brain functions occur. So, the pillow contains everything, the solar panel, a zip-locked pocket, all made out of an acrylic cloth made in Germany. The material is waterproof, sun proof, and antibacterial. "That is perfect for the outer surface because the colour doesn’t change," he says. "Everything is locally made except for the cloth and the solar panels."
The engineer-turned-entrepreneur kickstarted this solo, but as his university project quickly evolved into a business, he realised he needed to build a team. Beachill now is composed of three team members other than Sayah; a CFO, Antoine Lam'a, Design and Development Manager Zeina Ammar, and finally PR and Marketing Manager Maria Saliba. In late 2017, Dubai’s Marriott launched a competition called TestBED for Middle East, Africa, and Asia. TestBED is a 10-week accelerator focused on transforming the future of travel and hospitality, getting startups and entrepreneurs involved to improve the tourist experience around the world. The competition was going on in Dubai, and around 200 applicants went through, six of which were qualified to the finals which included Beachill. “To our luck, Beachill’s product was the most viable in comparison with the other competitors,” says Sayah. “The beach mattresses were ready to be used by hotel visitors.”
Then in Abu Dhabi, Marriott gave them a month to venture in the field and study the likability and purchasability of this product worldwide. “Even though it wasn’t beach season, we were able to get 10 reviews,” Sayah says. “All the customers liked the features attached to the mattresses, and the hotel itself was very satisfied. It even acted like an activation for Marriott since many visitors came to try the eco-friendly mattress.”
Beachill has landed in Marriott hotels in Egypt, Jordan, and Qatar; Cairo Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino, Dead Sea Marriott Resort and Spa, and Doha Marriott. There are seven mattresses in each location to try out, and so far the startup has been receiving good feedback from the four hotels. "This, for us, is a great achievement especially at this stage," Sayah says. "We hold this partnership with Marriott dearly, with great pride, for it's more of a partnership than a client that buys products. We deal with them on a variety of spectrums; as a platform to test our product and as a mentor in the hospitality sector."
Right before he starts working on his business for TestBED, Sayah applied for a grant that offered $15,000 grants to business ideas that had potential from his university. He earned the grant and used the money to pay for Beachill's expenses during the 10-week programme. Other than this grant, Beachill received no investments until this moment. "A $100,000 investment would empower us locally, but wouldn’t help us overcome our main challenge which is reaching global customers,” Sayah continues.
The startup has had around 10,000 orders but - so far - they have only sold 800 beach mattresses locally and a few others internationally. Beachill customers mainly come from the U.S. A Beachill mattress is sold for $150; with shipping fees and added taxes the price ridiculously skyrockets and pushes customers away. For regional expansion, Beachill needs a roughly estimated investment of $250,000 to rent a warehouse, open an e-shop along with stores in various neighbouring countries. This will also require Beachill to expand its team to different departments such as auditing and legal units. With their main customers based in the U.S., Beachill dreams to also expand worldwide, however for that to be feasible, they'll need at least $1 million.
Main Image: Antoine Sayah and Zeina Ammar.
All images courtesy of Beachill.
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