On March 18, 2011, an international group of doctors declared sleep disorder as an epidemic. In a report published to mark 2011 World Sleep Day, the World Association of Sleep Medicine said sleep problems affect up to 45 per cent of the world’s population.
Sound sleep has been proven to be a vital component of health and quality sleep allows better cognitive health, physical health, and overall well-being. Over the years, a number of tech companies, startups, and health organisations have tried to help people sleep better. However, none seems as transformative as the sleep companion built by Somnox.
Somnox calls itself a sleep technology company and is on a mission to help 100 million people worldwide achieve better sleep by 2030. With a science-backed sleep companion, robotics, and awards like Red Dot Design and iF Design award, Somnox is full of promise.
But does it make people get better sleep? We find out from the people directly behind the technology.
Solving for a family member
It is rare to hear someone say that they wanted to become an inventor as a child. Julian Jagtenberg, the CEO and co-founder of Somnox, is no ordinary CEO but one who sees every moment of his life building him towards this mission of helping millions of people sleep better.
He speaks about being fascinated by LEGOs and Star Wars as a kid and always looking around to see what he could build next. Fascinated by Star Wars, he wondered how humans could create lifelike companions capable of helping us with daily challenges.
After participating in a curriculum called “technasium” that helped young kids to use their STEM skills to design products, Jagtenberg joined Delft University of Technology. During this time, a family member was suffering from the effects of sleeplessness. “I wanted to help her improve sleep in a natural way rather than using sleep medication,” he says.
Jagtenberg spent countless hours reading scientific literature and talking to sleep experts, and he understood that breathing is a powerful way of calming the thoughts or stressors that often keep people awake.
Time to build the prototype
With that knowledge, Jagtenberg started working on the first prototype of the Sleep Robot with a team at the Delft University of Technology. It didn’t help his family member: it was too big, heavy and noisy.
Jagtenberg says, “I translated [all of my] findings into multiple prototypes and tested them with insomniacs. After many iterations, we struck gold. A technology that helps users slow down their breath, calm them down, and guide them into a peaceful slumber, Somnox was born.”
“Quality sleep has a profound impact on overall health, road safety and even the economy. Our impact is to provide a better rested world with less stress/anxiety and great sleep,” he adds.
With a team originally from the robotics institute at TU Delft, Somnox has built a technology that enables natural ways of improving sleep by breathing. Their robot, also called a sleep companion, is sold directly to the consumer via the company’s webshop.
At the time of writing, Somnox 2 costs €549 and Jagtenberg says they offer a 30-night trial as well. It may seem expensive but the snuggle-able penguin-like appearance of the robot seems to be doing the trick. With sleep disorder being declared as an epidemic, you can’t put value to something that brings good sleep.
While Jagtenberg and his team have successfully built two versions of a sleep companion, the road to this moment hasn’t been one without challenge. “Building a company is hard. Very hard. High peaks but also deep dark lows. We have faced 99 problems, but a pitch ain’t one,” Jagtenberg says conclusively.
For him, the difficult moment has been one where they had limited runway and were forced to make hard decisions like letting people go, adjusting strategies, or cutting off projects. He says these challenges faced by startups and their founders can have a profound impact on one’s mental health.
“I have been to rock bottom, only to get back up, learn, earn and return! This can only be done with a great team, a massive purpose and knowing your why,” he adds.
Network is your net worth
One of the versatile qualities of student entrepreneurs is their ability to speak without any filters. Julian Jagtenberg is definitely one of those founders who doesn’t shy away from stating the facts.
He explains how being at the top can feel lonely and connecting with fellow founders of scaleups allows for new ways to gain insights and new perspectives. He says they joined the batch #8 of Techleap.nl’s Rise programme because of this very opportunity to connect with fellow founders building businesses in their own way.
Like most other scaleups from batch #8 of Rise programme and previous batches, Jagtenberg really appreciates the opportunity to connect with founders and entrepreneurs via Techleap.nl.
He says the Rise programme gave him and his team access to a network of top-tier founders and advisors in areas such as technology, talent, and go to market. For him, this network and access has been invaluable and he says, “your network is your net worth.”
Help 100 million people sleep better
Somnox is working with a mission to help 100 million people sleep better by 2030. In order to make this possible, Jagtenberg says they need to build a scalable and evidence-based technology that “helps people improve sleep in a natural, effective and intuitive way.”
For now, Somnox seems to have cracked the evidence-based technology part and needs to scale its product the way Fitbit scaled its wearables soon after its launch. However, the mission does not stop there since the founding team feels this sleep problem cannot be solved with technology alone.
“Next to offering technology, we want to educate people on the importance of sleep,” Jagtenberg explains.
In order to get there, Somnox will need to raise funds and also find great talent to support that mission. As a founding team composed mainly of engineers, Jagtenberg says their first important hire was a commercial director. He adds that sales and marketing is important to truly grow a company.
Jagtenberg says, “It’s very hard to find the right people who have the hard & soft skills to get the job done and fit your core values/culture at the same time.”
He says Somnox’s success will be measured relative to its goal of helping 100 million people sleep better. With a singular focus, Jagtenberg sees this goal as not only achievable but will also result in them building a great company in the process.
“We want to deeply understand the sleeping problems people experience, and then solve those problems,” he explains the motivation behind Somnox.