Ben Nader, founder and CEO of Butterfleye. Photo by Sara Tashakorinia.
“Something positive always comes from putting yourself in an uncomfortable position,” said Ben Nader, Oregon State alumnus (’07) of electrical and computer engineering.
He truly knows the meaning of the word “uncomfortable” having recently left a successful career in Silicon Valley to start a business where no salary is guaranteed.
The positive side? Although Nader has yet to ship his product, he has already been featured in USA Today’s “Change Agent” series, and his product, Butterfleye, was profiled by tech publications such as Cnet and Gizmodo.
Nader got a strong dose of the “uncomfortable” early on in life when as a teenager he moved with his mother and younger brother from Tehran, Iran to Portland, Oregon after his father passed away. In addition to all the typical travails of high school life, he was trying to adapt to a new culture and learn English. “I remember thinking, ‘Why do people have to speak so fast?’” he said.
But he soon caught up, and now sees value in that life experience. “Moving to the U.S. and starting from ground zero is like being an entrepreneur of life,” he said. Becoming an entrepreneur in business required similar skills — curiosity, drive, hard work — and an idea for a product that would solve a problem for people.
Nader’s natural curiosity was evident early on when he would take apart his toys to figure out how the electronics drove the mechanics. He has great memories of working on his first electrical kit with this father to create a blinking LED light. “I thought it was so cool you could create something from just components,” he said.
His interest in electrical engineering continued through high school, so he knew exactly what he wanted to study in college. And after visiting Corvallis and learning about Oregon State’s internship program, he knew exactly which university he wanted to attend. Looking back, Nader said it was his internship experience that really shaped his career. Not only did it give him practical experience in the business aspects of electrical engineering, but he learned that he enjoyed working at smaller companies where he could have a bigger impact.
Starting his own company was a matter of finding the right problem to solve. In this case, the problem was that his bikes were repeatedly stolen from his home in San Francisco. After trying various home monitoring cameras, he realized that none of them solved the problem and there was a better solution that he could engineer.
Butterfleye was his solution — a wireless smart camera that can be placed anywhere and sends the captured video to the cloud where users can easily access it with their smartphone. More than a simple streaming camera, Butterflye will be able to distinguish family members and pets from strangers. Thus, the system can notify users of a potential intruder or let them know when the dog walker has arrived via phone alerts.
Just over a year and a half old, the seven-employee company has raised $1.3 million, and plans to start shipping the product in August. Nader attributes his early success to his strategy of being as loud as possible. “I told everyone about it,” he said. “When I first had the idea, I pitched the company to my taxi driver.”
Although many companies keep their innovations secret during the development period, he used that time to get as much feedback as possible to fine tune his product. While testing the prototype, Nader found out from users about other applications that he hadn’t thought of, such as using the camera to capture candid moments like a baby’s first steps, or monitor elderly parents.
Nader’s success was not achieved alone, and he recognizes the valuable support of his family. His brother Brandon Nader, an Oregon State graduate in business, moved from Portland and joined the Butterfleye team to help with business development. His mother was one of the first to pre-order his product, but he credits her with more than that.
“Graduating from Oregon State and building Butterfleye — none of that would have happened if we didn’t get that start from our mom by bringing us to the U.S and working hard as a tailor to support us. My drive to work hard and make progress in life comes from her,” Nader said.