In an age where virtually anyone can develop a smart-phone app, two SMU alumni took a leap of faith and created one of their own. But this invention went beyond video games and “meet-cutes” for singles.
Shaun Moore and Nezare Chafni met as students in the Cox School of Business, but they went from classmates to business partners with the development of Chui, a “smart” doorbell.
“The more we looked into it, the more we realized the potential for it,” Moore said.
The duo officially launched the idea for Chui — named after the Swahili word for leopard, an animal known for its ability to adapt — in the summer of 2012, but a change in patent laws in March of 2013 meant they had to do more than put pen to paper. The law went from first to file to first to invent, so they got to work designing a prototype.
They knew they wanted to shy away from awkward yard signs and bulky boxes common of security companies today, but their finance backgrounds didn’t exactly spur creativity. Instead, the duo enlisted Swedish design agency People People to create a small, sleek device.
“We tried to make it look more like a piece of decoration,” Chafni said.
The result is an “intelligent doorbell” wrapped in a small white box. While most doorbells chime, Chui connects through Wi-Fi to an app in smartphones and encompasses facial-recognition software and audio capabilities to alert the homeowner when a friend — or an unwanted visitor — is at the door.
And while they didn’t invent the wheel when it comes to home-monitoring systems — both AT&T and Verizon offer their customers home-automation bundles — the duo honed in on a niche market to bring the software to customers cheaply, regardless of their cell carrier.
As Moore sees it, the basis of the technology is identifying who is at the door, and if they’re worth your time.
“You don’t have to be bothered if you don’t want to be,” he said.
Whether it’s unlocking the door for a friend, playing a recorded message for an expected visitor, or turning on lights after dark, Chui offers options for two-way communication and live streaming.
The first bundle of gadgets won’t ship until late fall, but The Common Desk, a co-working space in Deep Ellum, partnered with the entrepreneurs to pilot test the doorbell.
“We have a community of early adapters, innovators, and tech companies that love testing new technologies like Chui,” said owner Nick Clark.
Chafni and Moore’s firm, 214 Technologies, relies on the feedback to ensure that Chui functions successfully in both residential and commercial properties. The Common Desk uses the facial-recognition software to check in tenants.
“The functionality is spot-on,” Clark said.
As for the future of Chui, the duo admits it’s hard to predict what’s next for a start-up, but their plan is to live up to the origin of the product’s name, albeit ahead of the curve.
“If you’re reading about it today, it’s well in the past in our eyes,” Moore said.
(This story ran in the May issue of Park Cities People. Caitlin Adams is a special contributor and can be reached at [email protected].)