Interview with Mikhail Krymov from Sleepbox
Read this interview and others in ARCHHIVE’s upcoming book, "What is Small-Scale Architecture?"
Mikhail Krymov began work in Moscow as an architect, where he co-founded the studio ‘Arch-group’ in 2008. Over eight years, he and business partner Alexey Goriainov received commissions for commercial offices, airports, and hotels. They focused on incorporating elements of technology into their projects. “We saw ourselves as trendsetters,” said Krymov, who simultaneously edited a design magazine that he credits as a means to keep up with innovative ideas from around the world.
While working together, Krymov and Goriainov came up with the idea of a prefabricated room fitted with a bed and rented temporarily as a place for travelers to rest. This became a self-driven creative project for their company and, in 2011 they produced and installed a prototype unit at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport.
The idea stuck, and today Krymov is co-founder and CEO of the US-based startup Sleepbox, a tech company with which he has reprogrammed the initial concept for prefabricated sleeping units into a new brand of micro-hotel. “What we can now do with Sleepbox is launch urban hotels in the best locations of any city as a private room, a cool room, for a third of the price of any hotel in the area,” he said.
Photo by Natalie Kaufler
Sleepbox offers a new type of urban hotel, by leasing commercial spaces to install soundproof, plug-in sleeping units. The 45ft² units can be rented via an app for as short as one hour, with extensions in 15-minute increments. Prices are generally targeted at one-third the rate of a regional hotel.
Krymov moved from Moscow to Boston in 2015, where he completed a research fellowship with the Massachussett’s Intisitute of Technology’s Special Program for Urban and Regional Studies (SPURS) - a one-year, open-door leadership program that allows fellows access to the university to customize their own academic curriculum. “That is the best type of education you can get,” said Krymov. While he began his fellowship at MIT’s school architecture and planning, Krymov transitioned to the Sloan School of Business to pursue entrepreneurship. “I felt these were the angles, the perspectives, the mindsets that now interested me,” he said. At MIT Krymov started to test different business opportunities for the Sleepbox concept. Here he also met Peter Chambers, with whom he co-founded Sleepbox after the program ended.
“There is, I believe, a great strength of being an architect in business, and that is the mindset of making ideas something real, of identifying that idea, creating that project, then building it, connecting the real world with the world of ideas,” said Krymov. The Sleepbox evolved from a product to a hotel brand and a scalable hotel technology. It was transformed from a unit of hardware to a flexible hotel business model powered by software.
Photo by Natalie Kaufler
The Sleepbox is fitted with a built-in bed and a flip-down desk, carpets made from recycled nylon, and features including LED mood lighting, wireless controls for temperature, tinted privacy windows, and Bluetooth speakers.
The Sleepbox product is a soundproof unit with a footprint of 45 square feet. It is powered by a wall outlet, and factory-fabricated with a base structure in plywood clad in timber, white, and gray veneers. The interior is fitted with a built-in bed and a flip-down desk, carpets made from recycled nylon, and features including LED mood lighting, wireless controls for temperature, tinted privacy windows, and Bluetooth speakers. The Sleepbox, if successful, will turn the hotel industry on its head. To make this work, Krymov noted, clients will need to expect a positive and consistent stay wherever a Sleepbox unit is located. “I believe that this will really help travelers to explore the world without compromising their experiences,” said Krymov. Units can be booked, unlocked, and controlled via the Sleepbox app, similar to the way a Zipcar is rented and managed, but without the need for pre-approvals or memberships. Rentals can be as short as one hour with extensions in 15-minute increments. A full-time staff cleans and maintains the units. Prices are generally targeted at one-third that of a regional hotel, typically putting Sleepbox rates in the range of $24 per hour or $120 for an overnight stay.
Photo by Natalie Kaufler
Sleepboxes are powered by a wall outlet, and factory-fabricated with a base structure in plywood clad in timber, white, and gray veneers. A full-time staff cleans and maintains the units.
The units are fabricated in the US. “We want to be close to our manufacturing, and we want them to be close to us,” said Krymov. The Sleepbox is part furniture, part technology, its complexity falling somewhere between that of a sofa and that of a car. Krymov noted that it was a challenge to find the right contractor to fabricate such a product. “Manufacturing is hard, and this is a pretty sophisticated project,” said Krymov. “Most of the contractors who work with, let’s say, wood or plywood, they are more used to a kitchen-type contract.”
He sought out enterprises that were ready to invest time in understanding how to manufacture the Sleepbox with the highest quality. “Because this is a small space, when you are inside, you can feel all these details and nuances and quality of materials, so we invest in that a lot,” he said. “That is our priority - to make people feel good in the room.”
The Sleepbox is similar to a Yotel or a capsule hotel, yet more flexible and scalable as it does not require the infrastructure of a whole building. The company leases spaces to install units. Earlier this year Sleepbox opened a 1200-square-foot concession space in Washington Dulles International Airport. Here 16 units have been installed post-security in concourse A of the international terminal, placed in proximity to the airport’s bathrooms.
Photo by Natalie Kaufler
Earlier this year Sleepbox opened a 1200-square-foot concession space in Washington Dulles International Airport. 16 units have been installed post-security in concourse A of the international terminal, placed in proximity to the airport’s bathrooms.
“Sleepboxes in airports are incredible in that they solve the problem that all active travelers have, and provide that hourly service where needed,” said Krymov. “At the same time it is a great way for us to introduce the concept and the experience to active travelers, hoping that they will choose to stay in the Sleepbox city hotel in the future when we have that available.”
While the company is pursuing new airport projects, it also has corporate clients that buy Sleepbox units for their office spaces, as well as those that pay a retainer fee to Sleepbox to operate units within their spaces, thereby offering a place for clients to sleep on their property.
But Krymov noted that the vision for the company is ultimately to lease commercial office spaces in cities as a new form of urban hotel. He believes the inherent flexibility to mobile units is key to the success of Sleepbox. “Real estate is changing a lot because that vibrant energy, it moves across the city from year to year, and I think that also speaks to the strength of our concept that we can launch hotels quickly and move them to other locations pretty easily, reacting to that change of landscape.” He works with local real estate agents that advise on these trends.
Where a Sleepbox can be located, and how it is operated, depends in part on ensuring the product meets health and safety codes. Starting with airport projects was no simple feat. “If you are in the airport, which is one of the most secure buildings in the country, it makes it actually much easier to now enter other markets,” said Krymov. The Sleepbox was required to be tested for fire and safety to certify the unit as a piece of furniture with electronic components, usable in any environment. And now, Krymov said, “it’s like any vacuum cleaner that you can plug into an outlet.”
While Sleepbox manages concept and unit design, the drawings, engineering, and coordination with local authorities is completed in collaboration with a local architect. For the Dulles project Sleepbox collaborated with architecture studio //3877.
The next step is to certify the Sleepbox for use as a hotel in urban environments. “When we started presenting this solution to city authorities, of Boston, of NY, DC, they were confused because nowhere in the codes does it say anything about this kind of product.” But, Krymov said, the Dulles project in Washington set a great precedent for the company, making it easier to put the product in position to be marketed as a hotel.
“Now it is a different challenge. Now it is repeating the process, scaling it up, making sure that it works in different environments, and that we have a consistency of experience, of story,” said Krymov. “It's a small project but it has that amazing potential of scale, and that makes it a really big project.”
Mikhail Krymov is co-founder and CEO of Sleepbox. He previously co-founded the Moscow-based architecture company arch group, which focused on architectural innovation and public interiors projects. From 2015-2016 Mikhail completed a research fellowship with MIT’s Special Program for Urban and Regional Studies (SPURS).
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