Everyone knows that air travel is a lot less fun than it used to be. Not only do we have to pay extra for things that used to be free, such as food and checked bags, but we're also forced to cram our essential toiletries like shampoos and moisturizers into 3.4-ounce containers or simply do without. One way around this dilemma is to hope that your hotel can provide what you were forced to leave behind, though you'll likely have to settle for something other than your preferred brand. Another option is to go shopping once you reach your destination, something that business travelers in particular likely won't have time for. What, then, is a busy traveler to do?
That's exactly the question Michael Lewis faced when he flew from New York City to California to attend an eBay developer conference in 2007. Lewis, who traveled extensively as a developer of videoconference technology for employers like HP and Citrix, reached a breaking point when, after arriving at his hotel, he found that a bottle of Scope he packed into a checked bag had exploded all over his clothes. "I was the mintiest-smelling attendee," he says.
His messy realization got him thinking about how he could tap a business model similar to that used by Netflix, which delivers movies through the mail, or Fresh Direct, where customers can go online to arrange for grocery deliveries, as a way for travelers to schedule a delivery of their favorite toiletries wherever they might be headed. "I thought it would be great to find a way to show up somewhere and have my stuff already there," he says.
He began researching the potential for his idea in his spare time, bouncing ideas off friends and colleagues to gauge their interest. The more he asked around, the more convinced he became that he was onto something big -- especially when he encountered a naysayer. "Everyone told me that even if they liked the idea, it was the worst possible time to start a business," Lewis says. "That just got me more excited, because it meant I would have to face less competition."
In November 2008, he contracted a Web development firm to build a prototype of what was soon to become SuiteArrival.com, which debuted on Feb. 1, 2010, and quickly attracted the attention of both the print and social media, not to mention advertising and branding partners. True to his vision, Lewis, who quit his job to run his new company in mid-2009, constructed an easy-to-use Web interface where travelers can shop from prepackaged and TSA-approved travel kits containing deodorant, conditioner and hairspray or load their shopping cart with their own customized choices, as SuiteArrival offers a growing variety of brands and products to choose from. Then, once their package is complete, customers need only select a time and drop-off destination where they can plan to rendezvous with their gear.
Looking back on his journey, where he swapped a six-figure salary for 24-hour workdays and a mattress on the floor at night, Lewis, 30, attributes the evolution of what started as a great idea into what he hopes will grow into a great business as "endless hustle." "We're doing something no one else is doing," he says. "But we need to keep working and changing, because sooner or later, we'll face competition, and we want to be ready for it."
The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 5/5/11.