One of the eight finalists in the Rise of the Rest competition is Tampa startup GuestBox. Founder Shuchi Vyas was being a gracious Airbnb host when the question of how to best welcome her guests came to mind. She began finding, buying, and assembling a handful of items that, presented as a welcome kit, would put a smile on the faces of her Airbnb guests. A frequent traveler herself, she had a good feel for what would make a traveler’s stay more delightful. This kit pleased everyone, generating rave reviews of her rentals. Vyas was even asked by her friends to help them duplicate it. However, providing this unique welcome became expensive and time-consuming.

In 2016, while surrounded by friends picnicking in Central Park, the concept of GuestBox was conceived.

GuestBox is a subscription box service for Airbnb, vacation rentals, and hotels to welcome guests. Brands featured in the box are high-quality, luxury essentials and extras created by female and minority entrepreneurs including Commodity fragrances, Daily Concept exfoliating body scrubber, Emmy’s organic cookies, and Munk Pack oatmeal fruit squeeze. Packed with more than 15 items, the box values at $200. A single box costs $50, but customers can subscribe to save or order in bulk for a discount.

“When we started out in July 2017, we were focused on multi-property Airbnbs,” said Vyas. “We have since added to our portfolio hotels, vacation rentals and other customers in concept and niche hospitality. We are growing our volume sales this year and have some great large contracts now.”

As many startups have trial and error periods, the first GuestBox was a little rough. “We had just launched the beta sign-ups at eMerge Americas in Miami June 2017. Our customer approached our booth and ordered his first box shortly afterward in July. By that time, we were still finalizing the boxes and design,” said Vyas.

“It was a hot mess sent out to a very understanding and compassionate customer in Miami. Later in July, we sent him a few complimentary boxes that really impressed him and helped us save the day,” she said.

Applying for a spot in the Rise of the Rest competition was a no-brainer. The possibility of being rewarded $100,000 is a huge opportunity for a startup.

“The application was very straightforward. I’ve also filled applications that require 10-page business plans, et cetera, that take days to complete, so this was a very welcome process,” Vyas said. “They seem to value quality over quantity. We really appreciated their team coming to Tampa and planning this out so well. We’re so honored to be a part of this.”

Since Vyas and her GuestBox team learned they were chosen to participate, it’s been a whirlwind. “In the days the followed is when the real thrill and excitement started to kick in with the great webinars, pitch practices that we had with the ROTR team.”

“And the multiple messages on my LinkedIn from people around the country reaching out to learn more about GuestBox,” she said. “I’m really excited to meet the team and judges and share our progress.”

Vyas admits the ROTR procedure for gaining an investor is like nothing she’s ever experienced before. “Pitching on stage is very different from pitching investors one on one,” Vyas explained. “I think ROTR has designed the process in a way that we get to have the best of both worlds. We get to spend time with the judges and investors, and we also make a succinct pitch to a savvy audience. And there will be many familiar faces in the audience, which means great energy.”

Rise of the Rest takes place Wednesday, May 1 at ConnectWise, 4805 Independence Parkway, Suite 101, Tampa. Doors open at 4 p.m. with networking with ROTR delegation and open bar. A 4:30-5:30 p.m. fireside chat, with AOL founder/ROTR CEO Steve Case and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, precedes the 5:30-7 p.m. pitch competition.

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