Dying to connect?
Jonathan Frankel wants to help.
Frankel, 31, is the Lower Merion-based CEO of hardware startup Nucleus, where his team is building what he calls a voice-activated, “frictionless” version of Skype. It takes a fraction of a second to connect with another user of the Nucleus device, he said. It’s essentially an instant connection. The technology was developed by cofounder Isaac Levy, who helped build the technology behind Google Hangouts. Nucleus also has a whole slew of big-name backers, including Taiwanese electronics manufacturing giant Foxconn.
Frankel, a father of three, originally set out to build a better home intercom, after realizing how expensive and outdated intercoms were. But if Nucleus works the way that Frankel hopes, it’s hard not to daydream about using it with, say, grandparents who live across the world and have a hard time with Skype or your long-distance best friend whose Google Hangout connection is always dropping. (That is, if you have some coin to drop.)
Nucleus is now available for pre-order ($209). Market price will be $249. (It was previously available for pre-order but Frankel decided to redesign the product before going to market.)
Foxconn, which makes Apple products like the iPhone and iPad and gaming devices like PlayStation and Wii, is making a serious bet on Nucleus: it invested $1.5 million in the company. Foxconn will also manufacture Nucleus, which is set to ship in the spring of 2016.
Nucleus has raised a total of $3.63 million, most recently from a $1.75 million round led by Foxconn with participation from San Francisco’s FF Angels. Earlier this year, it closed a $1.875 million round, led by Anthiem Ventures, a family fund in New York. The city’s StartUp PHL angel fund, run by First Round Capital’s Josh Kopelman, also invested $100,000. Other investors include Jerry Kestenbaum, the New York-based founder and CEO of BuildingLink.com, and friends and family, who invested $250,000. The investments were all equity, except for the friends and family ones, which were convertible debt.
Frankel, a Harvard Law grad and an ordained rabbi, moved to the Philly region because his wife’s family is in the area. Though he spends a lot of time in New York City and Silicon Valley, he said he’s grateful to be outside of those tech bubbles where “every single person you meet is working on a startup.” Here, he’s actually able to interact with families whom he hopes will be his core users one day — families who aren’t early tech adopters.
He says it’s been invaluable to speak with other parents when he picks his kids up from school.
“They’ve never heard of Nest,” he said. “They don’t know what it is. So I can’t say it’s ‘Nest for intercom.’ I have to explain it. I have to understand where they’re coming from.”
He said he added the “privacy shutter” feature on Nucleus because of feedback he got from other parents.
His team 11-person team is distributed throughout the Northeast (two in Philadelphia, including a Venture for America fellow who works out of the First Round Capital headquarters, and three in New York) and Israel. They communicate via Nucleus — “We’re selling instant communication so we try to eat our dog food,” Frankel said.