After their hack went viral, these Penn freshmen got recruited by Nest - Philly


Jul. 10, 2014 10:39 am

After their hack went viral, these Penn freshmen got recruited by Nest

The four Penn students are now working for Nest in California. But they'll be back in the fall to start their sophomore year.

The hack, called Googolplex, unlocks Apple's Siri, letting users control other programs and devices.

(Photo by Flickr user Kaptain Kobold, used under a Creative Commons license)

A crew of four Penn students went from PennApps to TechCrunch to Nest in just a few months.

Ben Hsu, Ajay Patel, Alex Sands and Gagan Gupta — all freshmen at the time — built a Siri hack at PennApps Spring 2014 and won second place. Their tool, GoogolPlex, lets users use the iPhone voice-command tool to do things like open Spotify and control a Nest thermostat.

Two months later, GoogolPlex got picked up by national tech news sites like Engadget and TechCrunch. The tool now has about 12,000 users, Hsu said, adding that traffic died down after the media hits.

The team isn’t working on GoogolPlex anymore. They saw it more as a hack, rather than viable business idea, Hsu said. But something else came out of all the buzz: Nest, the Silicon Valley-based home automation company, recruited all four of the them. They’re working there now.

They’ll be back in the fall to start their sophomore year as part of Penn’s Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology.

The team also used to run a startup called LoudCrowd, an app for professors to gauge student comprehension. They completed the eight-week PennApps Accelerator with their startup last spring but have since shut the startup down because they “thought the market wasn’t ready,” Hsu said.


You might recognize Sands’ name from somewhere else, too: he cofounded the national network of high school hackathons called Pilot.

Juliana Reyes

Juliana Reyes became's editorial product lead after reporting on the Philadelphia tech scene for four years. She's co-president of the Asian American Journalists Association Philadelphia chapter and a two-time Philadelphia News Award winner for "Community Reporting of the Year." The Bryn Mawr College grad lives in West Philly, likes her food spicy and wears jumpsuits often.


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