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Focus on Founders: Nick Weaver, founder of WiFi mesh network eero
May 18, 2017
Eero’s headquarters started out in the living room of Nick’s apartment in 2014. Fast-forward to today: eero has a partnership with Amazon, praise from top-tier media – and made $2.5 million in sales in its first two weeks of pre-sales. “When I get focused on something, I don't let go,” Nick says. 

This is the twenty-ninth in our 'Focus on Founders' series of articles about alumni entrepreneurs.

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It’s a ‘Netflix and chill’ sort of night. The popcorn’s made, and you’ve settled in to watch that movie you’ve been dying to see. It’s a pivotal point in the action. And then . . . the screen freezes, and the dreaded buffering begins. You wait it out. The action starts up again a minute later – only to freeze once more.

We’re all familiar with the small indignities that typical WiFi routers subject us to. Nick Weaver, (SVO 10-12), co-founder and CEO of eero, wants to ease the pain.

"At best, WiFi is like death by a thousand cuts,” says eero’s website. “At worst, it’s a complete failure.” It goes on to list the litany of issues we’re all accustomed to dealing with: “dead zones, painful setup, embarrassing passwords, equipment that you have to hide in the closet.”

These daily frustrations are what inspired Nick to create the eero home WiFi system. With some investment and entrepreneurship experience already under his belt, Nick started planning its launch in 2014, raising $90 million in three rounds of funding, then growing the company from a rough-and-tumble startup run out of his apartment to one with $2.5 million in sales in eero’s first two weeks of pre-sales in 2015.

Nick talked to us recently about why he spends time personally answering customer service calls, the most important business lessons he’s learned – and where that weird name came from.

Design: simplicity

Nick’s design philosophy is hard-wired into the name of his company. The name ‘eero’ comes from the 20th-century Finnish-American architect and industrial designer Eero Saarinen, famous for his neofuturistic style – he was the designer of St. Louis’s Gateway Arch, the TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport, and the Womb Chair. (He also designed the elementary school in the town outside of Chicago where Nick grew up.)

Taking Saarinen’s sleek aesthetic as his inspiration, Nick prioritized simplicity when designing the look, set-up, and use of his mesh network. “WiFi is the new electricity,” as Nick has said – nearly all of us consider it an essential service in our homes. Given that, Nick says he is baffled why so many systems are still so difficult to set up and to use. 

“We’ve put a computer on every desk and a phone in everyone's pocket, we've organized the world's information, and we have cars that drive themselves, yet it still takes four remotes to turn on your TV,” he chuckles. “Something's not working. So many products in the home are too confusing – they've been designed around checking the box on as many possible features as you can squeeze in. When you look at the wireless connectivity in our homes, you've got these gigantic boxes that look like alien spaceships. When we set out to start building the company and the product, we really wanted to put design and simplicity first.”

Nick says that customers should notice the difference right out of the box. Users download eero’s app, plug one eero ‘pod’ into an existing cable or DSL modem, and the app then takes over, walking the user through the rest of the set-up process. (Additional eeros – which connect to each other wirelessly, and need only to be plugged into a wall outlet – aim to get rid of WiFi dead zones in homes.)

In addition, eero can be integrated with the Amazon Echo, which can take some commands to control it. In its early days, eero was a part of Launchpad, a program through Amazon that offers products from startups – the connection has been a fortunate one, as Amazon is now one of its big distribution and technology partners.

Interacting with customers

As CEO of the company, Nick is constantly thinking about what to build next and what features to prioritize for software updates. And for that, he says, he and his staff need to engage with customers – by personally answering customer calls, helping with support tickets, and interacting with people on user forums, Reddit, and Twitter. 

“There's no substitute for that in building up empathy for the challenges that people have, because it might help you approach things a little bit differently,” he says. “Having that empathetic view about what your customers are going through helps you build better products. You can't just tell people, ‘Well, it's super simple and easy,’ and do that in isolation. You have to interact with your customers to understand what problems they're having. You've got to make sure you're collecting feedback along the way and continuing to improve the product as you go along.”

Are customers who have called a help line surprised to discover they’re talking to the CEO of the company? “Frequently,” Nick laughs. “But I think it's a really important thing to do.”

Business lessons: think like an investor and build the right team

Before Nick started eero, he was an investor at VC firm Menlo Ventures for two years. He says having that background was helpful as he built his own business.

“I really learned how investors – venture capitalists, at least – look at investment opportunity,” he explains. “One of the things that really resonated with me was you could have the best team, you could have the best product, you could have the best technology, and at the end of the day it doesn't matter, if the market isn't growing or if the market doesn't do a total step change as you're building the product. 

“Having a front-row seat to how those decisions are made, and how people vet investment opportunities, was important.”

Besides thinking like an investor, Nick says that the other most important business lesson he’s learned is that having the right team is essential. Eero has 150 employees, a big increase from the eleven that used to work out of Nick’s living room. 

“You can never do everything on your own, and ultimately your ability to make progress and really build the kind of company you want – not just the product – is all predicated on building the right team. I keep learning that. It’s something you definitely learn in the first year, and you keep learning different parts of that lesson almost every day.”

Nick adds that the culture fit is also important, and that he makes sure that new hires “check all the boxes” for eero’s five values – relationships, ambition, tenacity, ownership, and curiosity. 

Alumni connections and what’s ahead

‘Relationships’ is the first value that Nick lists, and it’s what he says he valued the most about his time at the Firm. “It's the people you meet,” he says. A fellow alum, Sean Harris (SVO 10-12), was a BA with Nick, and now runs eero’s marketing. Nick says, “I wouldn't have met him if we hadn’t both been at McKinsey, and eero certainly wouldn't be where it is today without Sean.”

What can we expect from Nick in years to come? One surmises that he’s not finished solving problems: “When I get focused on something, I don't let go. I'm not obsessive, but about as close to obsessive as you can get. When I see a problem that needs to get solved, I get incredibly focused on it. It can drive people crazy a little bit, but also it lets you power through things when you really need to.”

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