Sleep is one of the most important, and often neglected, keys to a healthy life. When people—both babies and grown-ups—have a bad night’s sleep, they feel cranky and unproductive the next day. When people don’t sleep well for months at a time, as 94% of parents said in a recent survey conducted by Hatch, their mental and physical health can become compromised.
The Silicon Valley-based startup Hatch believes that natural, restorative sleep is possible when people follow a personal and consistent bedtime routine. This belief is based on scientific evidence from the National Institutes of Health, the Harvard Medical School, and others. Hatch, which is supported by the Amazon Alexa Fund, has been working on helping babies and grown-ups develop good sleeping habits since 2014.
In those early days, Ann Crady Weiss and her husband Dave Weiss were on a mission to create a hardware-focused company that would support parents—an idea they picked from their own experience with parenting and sleepless nights. While her husband struggled with insomnia, Weiss also struggled to fall asleep—and because she was regularly up early with her young kids, she never felt fully rested.
Weiss is an experienced female entrepreneur with a conviction that business ventures are more meaningful when they’re based on personal experiences. Weiss’ own experience with sleeplessness is what led her to want to find a technological solution to fix it, focusing on the family as a whole.
“One of the traits that you have to have to be a great entrepreneur is that you have to be willing to jump off a cliff and know that you're going to figure out how to build your parachute on the way down,” Weiss says.
And that’s what she did, twice. First she created Maya’s Mom, a social network for moms named after her child. In 2007, BabyCenter, a Johnson & Johnson Company, acquired the startup, and Weiss continued working there as Senior Vice President.
Then, she decided to jump off a cliff for a second time, when she left her comfortable job to create another startup, Hatch. Now, the company’s latest IoT device, Hatch Restore, is listed in Time magazine’s Best Inventions of 2020, and is fulfilling Weiss’ dream of building a successful woman-led company on a mission to promote and help customers adhere to healthy habits.
In addition to founding of two successful businesses, Weiss was also the first woman entrepreneur chosen as a venture partner for True Ventures. The company’s first successful product—Hatch Rest—is a nightlight, sound machine, and time-to-rise device made to help babies and kids get good sleep.
Believing in her product and her mission, Weiss made another leap of faith: In 2016, she decided to pitch her product on the TV series Shark Tank. “I always talk to my kids about the fact that it's important in life to push yourself to do things that are uncomfortable,” she explains. “Because sometimes, when you do, you create big opportunities.”
Despite that stressful and at-first-uncomfortable personal experience, as Weiss described it, over seven million potential customers learned about her product and her company, then called Hatch Baby. She secured an investment and mentorship from Chris Sacca.
Parents can use the Hatch Alexa skill to control timers, record feeds or diapers, and check on activity reports to make sure their baby is getting enough sleep and food. Parents can also remotely control and change the lights or the white noise. For example, they can lower the volume of rain drops or switch to their child’s favorite blue color light at night to keep the monsters away—all without disturbing their baby’s sleep. Since then, Hatch has continued to grow, expanding on its list of products for families by adding Rest+, a night light and sound machine controlled through Alexa and a mobile application.
Maintaining a routine for babies and helping toddlers and older kids understand sleep transitions helps develop healthy sleeping habits. According to Hatch, the Rest line of products has helped more than a million families sleep better. It’s a bestseller on Amazon and is listed in the Top 100 Baby Products.
Hatch approached Amazon for support in developing its Alexa skills and became part of the Alexa Fund portfolio in 2019. “We are integrating with things that are important to our customers, like Alexa,” Weiss says. This partnership is much more than an investment. “I compare my experience before being an Alexa Fund company to after, and it’s night and day,” Weiss says. “The Fund really supports our voice integration with technical and engineering expertise and so much more. The Alexa Fund really does a beautiful job of helping people like me to get what we need inside Amazon.”
Tapping into support from different Amazon teams, Hatch debuted a new sleep IoT device for adults at CES 2020. Called Restore, the new product helps users to create and adhere to sleep routines. It has a reading light and a sound library, offers personalized sleep content, and features a sunrise alarm.
“Sleep science is very similar for adults and for kids,” Weiss explains. “Ultimately, to get good sleep, it’s important to create routine. In order for people to follow through with the routine, it’s got to be easy, personalized, and capable of adjusting as needs change.”
Hatch Restore is based on the same technology as Rest, which helped Weiss build it a lot quicker. Still, her team faced a technical challenge, which stemmed from the different approaches of designing products for kids and for adults. Hatch Restore is for adults, and Weiss’ team had to design a UX that would provide them with personalized options.
As anyone suffering from insomnia can attest to, turning off the lights to fall asleep might work for babies, but not for adults. The Hatch team’s solution to the design challenge was to use easy-to-understand onboarding, including a five-question sleep quiz, to create an easy-to-use, personalized sleep routine.
“It actually helps you get good sleep by virtue of design,” Weiss says. “The personalized sleep routine is designed to help you fall asleep, stay asleep, get back to sleep (if you need), and then wake up feeling rested.”
Hatch is working on incorporating more voice functionality into all of the products. In the near future Restore users will be able to experience truly personalized sleep and wake routines by putting away their mobile devices to wind down at night and by controlling morning alarms using their voice, Weiss says.
“I think every product, every electronic, will have some sort of voice function,” Weiss says. “There's no question that it's a big part of our roadmap.”
Weiss added that the ability to design both great software and hardware solutions provides a long-term competitive advantage. “Our mission is to design elegant solutions that people are proud and happy to have in their bedrooms,” she says.
As voice technology advances, Weiss believes that Hatch, with the Alexa Fund at its side, is in a prime position to design innovative IoT devices for smart bedrooms.