Falls Church resident Pete Davis and business partner Jon Staff walked down a long hallway, through a set of automatic doors, and into “The Tank.”
The Tank is not for the faint of heart, and the unprepared can be chewed up and spit out like unwitting minnows. But Davis and Staff were ready to confront the sharks.
The predators in question were not the sea’s most feared creatures, but rather five of the world’s most prolific businessmen and women, armed with sharp questions on valuation and biting financial critiques.
At stake? Hundreds of thousands of dollars and the direction of Davis’ and Staff’s nascent startup company.
On January 27, Davis and Staff appeared on ABC’s hit reality show “Shark Tank” to pitch the duo’s tiny house vacation company, Getaway, designed to help stressed-out city folks disconnect for a night in the great outdoors.
The show gives entrepreneurs the chance to pitch their startups to multi-millionaire and billionaire tycoons, and these “sharks” have the opportunity to invest their own money in the businesses.
Davis, a George Mason High School alum, and Staff launched Getaway in 2015 while the two were in graduate school at Harvard University.
The business the duo pitched to the sharks is simple: for $99 a night customers can rent a 160-200 square foot tiny house in the middle of the woods, just two hours outside the big city. The rural cabin comes with everything they need to unwind — a comfy bed, hot shower, firewood, marshmallow sticks and other basic staples.
The location of your tiny house is kept secret until a week before your stay to help you resist the temptation to do hours of research or planning. The goal is to decompress, not overthink. One week before your arrival, an email is sent with the location of the cabin and a personalized entry code to get in. Then it’s time to lock away the cellphone, stop checking email and breathe for a second.
“I think people are really resonating on work-life balance,” Davis says. “People are feeling overworked with the internet, bringing the office to every part of their life, that they want some way to get away.”
Even when people do finally get time off, Davis adds, the stress of planning a vacation often negates the very point of the trip.
“People are starting to notice that vacations are kind of broken,” he says. “A vacation is too expensive; it’s too infrequent; it’s too far away; it becomes a big ordeal. It might be something to look forward to, but it’s not stress-reducing.
“We said, ‘What about that old-style 1950s idea of not the huge vacation, not the cruise, not the Europe trip but going to Grandpa’s cabin by the lake?’ That’s the idea we were trying to revive and I think it really resonated with people.”
The duo debuted their first house, named Ovida, last summer, constructing the cabin with help from Staff’s father. They figured maybe they could rent the house half of the time and use it themselves the other half.
Much to the founders’ surprise, the public gobbled up every open date, filling the calendar for months.
Getaway now has 10 tiny houses outside Boston and New York with plans on expanding to Washington, D.C. — “so Falls Church residents can also get away!” Davis says — and beyond in the next year and a half.
After its profound initial success, “Shark Tank” noticed the quirky business and urged Davis and Staff to fill out an application to appear on the show.
Friends and family as well as former teachers and classmates all eagerly tuned in last month to watch the young entrepreneurs debut their business on a national stage.
The sharks, as is their nature, circled them, probing for weaknesses, inefficiencies and five-year plans.
Finally, Kevin O’Leary and Chris Sacca, two of the sharks, made offers. Davis and Staff conferred. Ultimately, they decided the offers were untenable and said no to the sharks.
Despite not inking a deal with a celebrity business tycoon, the Getaway founders were thrilled with their experience, not to mention the exposure and publicity that comes from an appearance on the show.
The houses are tiny, but Davis and Staff are dreaming big.
“I really think the reason we succeeded is because we tapped into something that aligns with a lot of things,” Davis says. “And it’s kind of like we hit a geiser and then the geiser exploded outwards and now we’re just riding the wave.”