Frequent Traveler Creates Siesta Pillow Startup In Los Angeles INTERVIEW

California based serial entrepreneur and frequent traveller Mark Hill is looking to re-invent the travel pillow. As we all know, most travel pillows are shaped like a U and designed to go around the neck. They are ugly, awkward and have no reasonable place to store them. When you travel with a travel pillow you’re locked into it’s clutches. For many it’s more discomforting that sleeping on a plane or train with no pillow at all, or worse, the “free pillow”.

So on a return flight from Hawaii one day Hill decided he was going to do something about it and did it.  Hill knows his market is ripe with over 730 million passengers who boarded domestic flights.

Hill’s pillow is different. He’s found, and many agree, that the most comfortable position to sleep on in a plane is leaning forward. This also goes for buses and trains as well. You pretty much rest your head in your hands or on the seat in front of you. This process can get complicated and uncomfortable for many reasons.

First off the person in front of you controls where their seat is positioned. They could, in mid flight, train ride or bus ride, decide to recline the seat or put it back to it’s upright position, which would discomfort you a great deal. Next, on a plane and some trains there is a tray table in front of you which means your forehead or the top of your head is vibrating against a large plastic or metal object, again not worth the pain that’s going to come from riding that way.

Hill’s pillow is designed to make that position comfortable and insures great rest while traveling. Hill is a serial entrepreneur who’s tried his hand at technology startups and hard goods including water bottles with removable bottoms. This latest invention/startup, Hill is confident will be a big winner.

Check out our interview with Hill below:

What is Siesta Pillow?
The Siesta Travel Pillow (@SiestaPillow) is a new design approach that focuses on solving the extreme challenge of sleeping comfort and convenience while traveling. There is certainly no shortage of travel pillows available today. However, this market is flooded with mostly U shaped “neck pillows” that come in many forms, but these pillows provide more pain than comfort. Be honest, we’ve all tried them… am I right?
It’s no secret that this is a pretty big market. In 2011, over 730 million passengers boarded flights within the US, destined for Domestic and/or International locations. (source: goal is to change the travel pillow game, provide a convenient pillow that provides real comfort while traveling. Personally, I’ve tried everything to be comfortable on airplanes. One of the most common and comfortable positions is to try and lean forward on the seat or tray table in front of you . The only thing missing is a pillow that accommodates this approach. Leaning back against the seat, trying to keep your head still and preventing it from bobbing up and down is not the answer.

Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds?
I am the sole Founder and CEO of the Siesta Pillow Company (introducing the Siesta Travel Pillow). By day, I am a Sales Engineer for an industry leading Network Management company. Within my current role in Sales (5+ years), I’ve had the luxury of traveling almost weekly up and down the coast of California and many times a year to further destinations such as Boston, Hawaii, and Portland/Seattle.

However, I am a serial entrepreneur at heart. Over the years, I’ve attempted to launch numerous business ideas, some large in idea/size (rentable Technology Suites) and others very small (water bottles with storage caps and removable bottoms) and so many others that are just too ridiculous to mention (i.e. plastic LED Helicopters).

Like so many, in my earlier years, I talked a lot about my ideas but never did anything about them. I was “that guy”, always talking about my next great idea, but never acting on it. I would research for 5 minutes on Google, I would see that it already kind of exists and then give up. It took reading numerous books and having supportive people in my life to inspire me to finally TAKE ACTION. I stopped listening to friends and others who never believe (the naysayers) and always talked me out of trying. You know who I’m talking about, the ones who always have an answer as to why something is not a good idea or won’t work!

Where are you based?

I am based at home in Brentwood, CA (Los Angeles). I’m very fortunate to have a job that provides me the benefits of working from home, when not traveling. However, this certainly has it’s challenges, as anyone who works from home knows that the job never ends for the day. You are usually up at 6AM and regularly find yourself doing work at all hours in the evening, you don’t really have a scheduled work day.

What’s the startup scene/culture like where you’re based?

Well, very similar to most startups I would assume. I wake up, make some coffee, sit down at my desk and start working on the day’s projects and maintaining my personal social media presence (@_Mark_HIll_). Also, it’s very hard at times, but I try to make an effort throughout the day to spend quality time with my girlfriend (a teacher who’s home for the summer) and our puppy (Penny). It’s extremely important to make time for your family, as it’s very easy to let the day’s and weeks get away from you, constantly focusing on work and forgetting about what’s really important in life (your relationships).

How did you come up with the idea for Siesta Pillow?

When I first started traveling for work on a regular basis, I could never sleep on a plane. It didn’t matter if I took a Red-Eye from LA to Boston, I would be exhausted, but I couldn’t find a way to sleep. Over the years, I’ve become more of a “professional” at sleeping on planes, at least in 15 minute increments, something about the sound of an airplane puts me right to sleep. However, I am never truly comfortable, often experiencing neck, back, and arm pain. For years, I’ve been enamored with thinking about and creating a unique travel pillow, solving this obvious problem, but I could never find the right approach.

It wasn’t until I was flying back to LA from a business trip in Hawaii that the idea came to me. I was on an early morning flight (7am) and I was exhausted. I didn’t realize until I got on the plane that I was stuck in the back row, against the airplane bathroom or lavatory as they are often referenced. Why is this a big deal? Well, just like the exit row, these seat’s do not recline! I spent the entire flight miserable trying to find a comfortable position to sleep, even for just a few minutes. It was during that flight that I spent a lot of time thinking about how to solve this problem.

I am sure everyone is familiar with the SkyMall magazine. Now, I am not sure how successful these products are? However, for as long as I can remember, this one product has been available and has fascinated me, the SkyRest Travel Pillow. You know the one that looks like its from the 1970’s, with an older gentlemen holding a pillow, resting, leaning forward ( I’ve always wondered how this product can last so long in the SkyMall magazine, afforded the advertising cost, yet I’ve never seen anyone using the product?

During my flight home from Hawaii, it came to me. This pillow looks uncomfortable, made of rubber and manually inflated. Personally, I don’t want to lay my head on a rubber pillow, nor do I want to be embarrassed by almost passing out trying to blow it up manually. That’s when I decided that I needed to create a lay forward travel pillow, that is comfortable, convenient, and auto-inflatable (via a small battery powered pump).

Ever since that day, I’ve been on a mission to create this product and make it available to the general public.

How did you come up with the name?

Surprisingly, the names Siesta Pillow, Siesta Pillow Company, and Siesta Travel Pillow came to me instantly. When sleeping on a plane, we are really taking a nap, also often referred as taking a “Siesta”. To be honest, I was actually very surprised that the domains were available for purchase. I’ve heard stories and personally spent many hours myself on trying to find the perfect available domain for my business idea, only to be disappointed that anything and everything is already owned.


What problem does Siesta Pillow solve?

Simply put, the Siesta Travel Pillow is solving the convenience and/or embarrassing challenges of sleeping while traveling. By providing a pillow that is comfortable (lay-forward/pillow top comfort), convenient (compact & easily stored in carry-on), and auto-inflatable (battery operated pump), we will be refreshing this unchanged market.

What’s your secret sauce?

I wouldn’t call it secret sauce anymore, as it’s pretty obvious at this point. However, I would re-state that the design changes, in providing a lay-forward and auto-inflatable travel pillow will be something that changes the travel comfort industry.This is something I truly believe…. Otherwise, why continue creating and investing in this product idea?

One thing is for sure; I am not afraid of failure.

What’s one dilemma you’ve encountered in the startup process?

Probably the biggest dilemma thus far during the startup process has been in working on the design for the pump. It’s my belief that this should be a small/compact design that inflates the pillow fairly quickly. However, technology in this form is not really available today, as the majority of pumps would take way too long to inflate this pillow.

So, we are having to design this pump from scratch to accommodate this vision. As of today, this is our primary focus, as we are still in the development stages.

What’s one challenge you’ve overcome in the startup process?

The biggest challenge I am overcoming at this point is how to generate interest in this product idea. How can I generate traffic and engage with potential customers? This is still a work in progress for me. However, I am currently experimenting with YouTube / Facebook Ad campaigns to drive traffic to I am optimistic that these efforts will improve conversion rates for email submissions over time, prior to launch day.

Secondarily, I need to work on creating and sharing content with my email subscribers, providing early sketch drawing’s and or images of this product during the design phase, to collect their feedback. This is also something I am currently working on. So, sign up on our website and stay tuned, I will be providing early images via email in a few weeks.

Who are some of your mentors and business role models?

Over the years, in my day job (11+ years), I’ve had a few people (managers and executives) who have taken interest in my career, supported me, and allowed me to achieve success in whatever area of the company I choose to pursue, for which I am very grateful. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without their support.

However, more recently, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Robert Caruso (@fondalo) CEO of BundlePost (@BundlePost). Robert has taken time to offer me plenty of advice on Social Media as well as personal and product branding strategies. An interesting story on how we met; Like so many people on Social Media, I didn’t know Robert at all. I only followed him on Twitter and attempted to spam him one day with a “<please share my post, I think your followers will love it tweet>”, to which Robert quickly replied “Nope. Sorry. They don’t like direct marketers'”. Yikes!  This type of response usually results in the feelings of either: “Embarrassment” or “Whatever Dude”. Lucky for me, I felt neither that day, instead I immediately asked Robert for help, responding with “OK. My apologies. What am I doing wrong?”. This one question turned into an immediate Skype call with Robert, where he spent over 30 minutes talking with me about Twitter, Social Media, Relationships, etc. I am not kidding when I say those 30 minutes completely changed my perspective on the value of Social Media in business. Since that day, Robert has continued to offer me advice either via Skype or Twitter, for which I am extremely grateful. He certainly has a free lunch and/or coffee on me, next time I am in his neck of the woods.

If I could offer any advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, it’s simply: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You will be surprised how many would be happy to assist those with a positive attitude and willingness to learn.

What’s next for Siesta Pillow?

It’s a little early to think about what is next for Siesta Pillow. However, I do have a few other pillow related product ideas that I will begin to work on, should this first product be successful. For now, I will keep these ideas a bit of a secret.
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