Nick Schwab, BAS ‘11, came to Davenport University in 2007 after being awarded the Lettinga Charter full-tuition scholarship. He joined the bowling team in 2008 and ended up bowling over employers with his risk-taking abilities. Schwab said the full-scholarship was very helpful, but it was Davenport’s academic programs that sealed the deal.
“Davenport was one of the top schools during my search due to its reputation of having an excellent college of technology, a state-of-the-art academic center and modern dorm rooms,” said Schwab.
While his time on the bowling team lasted just a year, his time at Davenport gave him the opportunity to gain skills that would last a lifetime and satisfy what he now knows is his entrepreneurial spirit.
Schwab was given the chance to develop several public-facing projects while at Davenport. He said the projects were excellent learning opportunities and helped distinguish him from other applicants when he applied for future jobs.
Schwab has always had an entrepreneurial itch. That itch, combined with the willingness to take calculated risks, has paid off.
Right after graduation, he was recruited to be co-founder and lead developer of Ambassador, a Detroit-based startup company eventually bought by West Corporation. Schwab’s professional history also includes software engineering roles at other startups, which were eventually acquired by other companies. He also worked at Livio, which is a Ford Motor Company subsidiary.
After joining a Grand Rapids-based startup in early 2016, Schwab moved into an apartment with a noisy upstairs neighbor. While that experience was frustrating, it did give him an idea.
“Rather than buying a white noise machine limited to playing only a few sounds, I was inspired to relocate my Amazon Echo Dot to my nightstand and turn it into a sleep sound powerhouse,” said Schwab.
This is when he got the entrepreneurial itch again and started to create Sleep Jar.
At that time, creating voice applications on Amazon Alexa was a relatively new concept, but Schwab was eager to get started.
“Amazon had only recently added the ability for developers to play long-form audio from the device, like a one-hour recording of rain sounds,” said Schwab. “While the app itself wasn’t very complex in those early days, the technology was so new that there weren’t any resources beyond the official, and very limited, technical documentation.”
Schwab’s hard work eventually paid off, and he was the first developer of sleep sounds on Alexa, which means he got a first-mover advantage (special privileges).
Sleep Jar was a huge success, and in 2020, he decided to leave his job at Ford Motor Company to take the plunge and focus entirely on developing the app. His focus shifted from just a noise machine to improving people’s mental health through audio.
“We do this by helping people fall asleep, stay asleep, and block out abrupt noises with our catalog of more than 100 sleep sounds,” said Schwab. “For people who need help clearing their minds before bed, we offer a growing number of exclusive sleep stories and journeys. Then, after they have awakened from a good night’s rest, we offer a selection of guided meditations to start their day on the right foot or help them through life’s common challenges.”
Sleep Jar has a variety of different sounds that are not just nature-based. It has a variety of music, industrial, nature sounds and autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) sounds. Their most popular sounds are based on market research, but a majority of their library is inspired by customer feedback or sounds Schwab has heard while traveling. He says that he and his wife listen to airplane sounds at night while their two-year-old son listens to ocean sounds. None of them can sleep without it, and it helps their son sleep through the night.
One of the features of Sleep Jar that Schwab is most proud of is their daily meditations.
“Our team worked for months to write and record nearly 400 short meditations, which discusses common struggles we don’t talk about enough in society, including family dysfunction, developing your moral compass, being sensitive, and handling imposter syndrome, just to name a few,” said Schwab.
From the technical side of the app, he is always impressed with the cross-platform functionality. Customers can access their premium subscription benefits in Amazon Alexa and their app with just a few taps. The seamless process is easy for customers even though there is a lot of behind-the-scenes technology involved.
Schwab turned his entrepreneurial itch into an app with millions of users every month. The future of Sleep Jar is bright, and they are constantly working on new content and enhancements to reach more customers. They are rapidly growing and are actively recruiting software engineers in Michigan. Nick’s advice to students is that ‘great risks can have great rewards – and you’ll never have a better time to take that risk than today.’