Unlocking the Service Economy with nello

Q&A with Chris and Daniel of nello

nello is a smartphone app (and soon a piece of accompanying retrofit hardware) that brings keyless access to apartment buildings. By upgrading your existing building intercom to make it a smart intercom, nello makes it a snap to share access to your front door with AirBnb guests, delivery services, and other sharing economy companies.

Chris and Daniel, two of the five founders of nello, are recent alums of URBAN-X cohort 01. We sat down with them to find out a bit more about what inspired their concept, how their solution fits in the service economy, and what they thought about their experience in NYC with URBAN-X.


Q: Hi Daniel and Chris, what inspired you to create nello?

We were inspired by our frustration with the status quo of service experiences. The process of ordering online seems like a more convenient way of living, ordering a housekeeper that comes straight to your door, subleasing your apartment on Airbnb in a few clicks, it all seems easy and practical, but using these services actually turns out to be not that convenient. Why? Because you always have to be at home to receive these packages, open your door for your housekeeper and to hand over keys for Airbnb guests. It doesn’t work unless you’re at home, and that can be very restrictive. We couldn’t help but think that allowing people to upgrade to a keyless solution, which they can install themselves, seemed like the best solution to these problems. We created nello because we were frustrated with the existing system and knew that solving that problem would help everybody regain some valuable time and freedom.


Q: How does nello help its users and service providers, as well as the environment and economy?

We think nello is great for everyone, not just the user!

Here are some user benefits: We believe that time is the most valuable asset in everyone’s life and we can help them to unlock that valuable time by making sure that all services get done, even when they are not at home. nello is sort of like a digital concierge / doorman for every urbanite, helping them to regain quality time to do the things in life that really matter.

Benefits for service providers and the environment: We help service providers and cities with nello by allowing service providers to reach their customers, irrespective of their availability. That leads to less congestion within the city, given that the deliveries can take place when the traffic is at its best and not its worst. This in turn increases quality of life and improves the CO2 impact on the city. We see it as a great way for delivery companies to become more efficient, because their current system of optimizing routes based on the location and availability of the customer is way more time consuming, expensive and less environmentally friendly than optimizing the route based on location only.

Lastly, the city benefits from less congestion through optimization of logistics for service providers, positive impact on environment and through people who become way more productive with their time.


Q: Tell us a little bit about your experience with URBAN-X?

URBAN-X was the accelerator that helped nello become a reality. We applied to URBAN-X because:

  • We heard a lot of good things about SOSV and especially their HAX program
  • SOSV is one of the most experienced hosts/investors of accelerators
  • They offer hardware development opportunities
  • They gave us access to investors and to production in Shenzhen
  • We felt that there could be some interesting opportunities stemming from the involvement of BMW and MINI
  • The program was in NYC and NYC is probably the best city in the world for a product like nello
  • The theme of the accelerator appealed to us because smart cities will be a very big thing that is at the core of what we do


Q: How did URBAN-X help you to develop nello specifically?

URBAN-X helped us immensely, we can break it down into the following categories:

Electrical engineering, branding and product design: The mentors helped us to develop a chip that is compatible with every intercom in the world, giving us the widest possible market. To do that we had to decode every system out there and make sure that we could communicate with every system. Norbert, the electrical engineering mentor-in-residence, helped us with a variety of issues at hand. Having someone to talk to is always helpful as it allows you to solve the problem in a quicker way. Norbert had dealt with similar questions in the past, so we could find an answer to our questions in a quicker manner. For example, how to minimize the size of the chip to make it as small as possible or which controller to chose.

Rebranding from monkey to nello: We knew right after our Kickstarter campaign that “monkey” wasn’t quite the right name for the nello brand. Johan (URBAN-X industrial designer mentor-in-residence) helped us to shape this new brand by going through the process that they employed at MINI to rebrand MINI shortly before that. With his help we created a brand background and guideline that allowed us to identify the right designers that we wanted to work with to create our new logo, CI, app and website. Given that we deal with a sensitive issue such as home security, controlling access to their door, we didn’t want people to associate ourselves with an animal like a clumsy monkey in the long run. This name did work very well in the Kickstarter video because it had the link to key (french ‘mon/my’ and then ‘key’), but it was time to update it. Furthermore, our brand had to resonate not only with our B2C customers but also has to appeal to service providers which use our platform to perform unattended services and access control companies such as smart locks and intercom manufacturers, who will integrate this platform into their offering.

Positioning nello in the long-term: We provide the platform that connects service providers with the smart access control units at their customers’ homes. At the beginning, that access control unit will be provided by ourselves (the upgrade chip), but in the long-term we want to integrate our platform into the products of the manufacturers of smart locks and intercom, so that their customers can also use our platform, irrespective of the hardware that is installed.

The new design for our chip: Johan helped us go through several iterations to come up with the great design that we have now. We had ideation sessions and then Johan would sit down to draw these ideas out for us and then finalise them.

Encouraging progression: We sat down with Doody and Nap (the guys in charge from the SOSV side) every Tuesday in our weekly “board meeting” to discuss the developments of the last week, talk about the next steps for the next week, and talk about issues where we required or needed an intro.

Networking links: The guys from SOSV and BMW hooked us up with every person in their network, we got access to everyone we wanted to speak to. For example, we got in touch with one of the largest US cable companies to prepare an integration of nello into their smart home service offering.


Q: How do you think startups are designing cities of the future? And why is URBAN-X important in that mission?

The future is defined by the companies that are being built today. As more and more people live in cities, the problems that people are trying to solve will logically also be more focussed on urban situations. Having an accelerator focussed on the future of cities therefore makes a lot of sense, it allows companies in the same space to learn from one another and also benefit from relationships with the ecosystem. Therefore we believe that URBAN-X will become an important stakeholder in the smart city space.


Q: What 3-5 trends do you see in terms of keyless entry and lifestyle?

  1. Keyless entry will become common in cities: Until now, smart locks for apartment doors have not been installed because people still needed a key for the main entrance door. With nello it is now possible to go completely keyless.
  2. Keyless entry will become integrated with the convenience economy: People can easily share access with their favorite service providers, leading to unattended services. (According to our survey of our Kickstarter backers: 80% of them wanted to use unattended deliveries so that all their deliveries arrive at their apartment doorstep).
  3. This will push the need and use of cameras and security systems at home: Which will also help to increase control and the safety over unattended services.


Q: Is nello your first creative convenience product?

Actually, no. Our first successful business was called the LOCUMI parcel bag that focused on unattended delivery of packages. In a similar way to nello, it focused on helping apartment dwellers receive their packages without having to be at home. It was sold to a company called Burg-Wächter in Germany and is now distributed under the parcellock brand.


Q: What can we expect from the nello team in the future?

Improving and working within the convenience economy has always been a personal interest of ours. We will continue to explore and develop products that act as a better solution to out-of-date methods. nello might be our latest solution, but we’re sure it’s not our last.

Here’s to a more convenient future!