Nucleus wants to be the patchwork Hal for your home

By Dan Raile , written on October 9, 2015

From The Disruption Desk







A Rabbi and a Canadian walk into the smart home.

This is not a joke. With the help of the video engineer that developed the software which Google acquired for Hangouts, a cybersecurity team helmed by a guy the Canadian calls “a former top guy in Israeli Security,” and a manufacturing deal with Foxconn, they’re coming to the market bearing a solution to the IoT blues.

The Canadian passes through San Francisco for a series of meetings. Through the agency of a PR associate, who sends out emails to some tech journalists, selected no doubt by algorithm, the Canadian winds up sitting in the PR firm’s glass-walled, street-level lobby in Soma. To his left is a coffee table, on which sits a tablet-looking thing with an oversized camera, a decanter of cold water, and two fat cylindrical beakers.

The camera is facing a tech journalist, who sits on the couch, taking notes.

The Canadian, a serial entrepreneur who’s relocated to New York City, tells the journalist about his rosy business prospects, about how he is “deep in active conversations” with a bunch of blue chip tech, cable and box retail companies. The tech journalist agrees not to name ________ and _________.

The Canadian, Morley Ivers, cofounder and president of Nucleus, explains why the unit at his knee is bound to revolutionize the home, and the family.

In the black-and-white, QVC pain-point reenactment in his mind, the tech journalist sees a beleaguered mother, phone pressed to her ear, yelling down the stairs to her rambunctious children while a pot boils over behind her. The kids are setting the couch cushions on fire and pay no attention. A man stands in his living room, punching ineptly at the screen of his smartphone as the blinds spastically open and close, the lamps strobe, and the Roomba accelerates repeatedly into the wall.

Then the Nucleus family communication device for home and on-the-go appears on the wall.

In full color, we see how things have improved. Mom’s face appears on the wall-mounted screen just as the naughty children are about to smear the walls with nail polish, staying their hand. Mom and Dad are at a restaurant with white tablecloths, when dad anxiously pulls out his phone, looks at it, and projects his relief. He shows Mom the screen: a live, infrared feed of their peacefully sleeping children in their bunks.

The family gathers around to talk to Grandma and Tommy shows her his volcano science project. Everyone is laughing. Close up on Grandma’s delighted face on the screen. We see a sleeping toddler with a big cherubic smile, hear Dad incant the words, “and they all lived happily ever after,” and see Dad on a screen on the opposite wall, holding open a picture book. Cut to Dad, he’s on a hotel balcony overlooking some foreign metropolis. He closes the book, and contemplates the beatific face of his sleeping child on his smartphone screen. “Lights off,” he says. The bedroom lights fade to black

Here at the outset of the venture Ivers says he intends to market the device as a sort of smart intercom. The 18-month-old company “launches” next week; it plans to ship its first product line next spring. Curiously, this all seems to have happened before. This time around, with refined hardware and software, and that Foxconn deal, Nucleus hopes to become a sort of patchwork Hal for the home.

“It’s a little bit of a Trojan horse,” he says. “Mainstream America is not looking for smarthub yet. But we can expose them to the potential of the home Internet of things.”

The journalist searches the inscrutable eye of the camera for telltale signs of deceptive Greeks.

“The first step is making sure we capture the entire intercom market, with frictionless family communication,” Ivers says. He doesn’t explain how Nucleus will resolve the bristling friction of teenager-parent relations. The journalist just nods.

Ivers has an off-beat vision for targeting early-adopters.

“Grandparents are the nucleuses of families, and would drive virality,” he says. If he can secure the participation of the elderly, he believes Nucleus could see powerful network effects.

The company is currently lining up business partners in the Internet of things and app companies, then will seek its first funding to bring its manufacturing to scale.

“I met Jonathan’s father on a plane actually. He told me about Jonathan’s idea and I said I would get in contact, and when we met and I learned more about it I fell in love.”

Jonathan Frankel is Iver’s cofounder and the CEO of Nucleus. He is also 30-year-old Orthodox rabbi and father of three living in Philadelphia. A few years back he looked into installing an intercom system in his house, and found that it would cost several thousand dollars and require tearing up the walls for wiring. He imagined something better.

Through an accident of fate – miqreh in Hebrew –his father met a Canadian serial entrepreneur on a plane.

“He has so much energy!” Ivers says of his cofounder. “He’s up in the morning doing his Talmudic studies so he can be online with the team at 7:30am.”

“He’s guided by definite moral and ethical principles, and we don’t do work from Friday through Sunday. It forces some values, gives us a chance to breathe. It’s one of the best things that has ever happened to me,” Ivers says.

Weekend observances notwithstanding, the Canadian and the Rabbi are hustling along toward a punchline that could unite mainstream American families with laughter.