‘Nick is still with me’: A year after loss of friend and co-founder, Pebblebee CEO pushes ahead at startup

Pebblebee co-founders Nick Pearson-Franks (left) and Daniel Daoura spent eight years building the company together. Pearson-Franks died in an accident in June 2020. (Pebblebee Photo)

Startup founders face many challenges when it comes to building a company and being successful. For more than a year, Daniel Daoura has been working on overcoming the most difficult hurdle – the loss of his close friend and co-founder.

Daoura co-founded Pebblebee with Nick Pearson-Franks about eight years ago, a Seattle-based startup that develops wireless devices for tracking keys, pets, and more. He called the engineer colleague his “brother in crime”. The two had worked side by side to develop and launch new products and to win new partnerships. Together they had big dreams for their small company.

Pearson-Franks died in an off-road vehicle accident on June 24, 2020 at the age of 40. The death of the father of two young boys left a gaping void in his family and in the startup where he served as chief technical officer.

While Daoura has tried to cope with the pain, he has progressed at work feeling that the partnership and shared goals of the two friends live on.

“I’m not alone. Nick is still with me,” said Daoura.

It was not easy.

Daoura called the loss “the worst that could ever happen” and something he would not wish for his worst enemies. He was looking for therapy to cope with the mental challenges. And he’s worked – non-stop – to make Pebblebee better.

“People invested in me emotionally, invested in me financially, people trusted me,” said Daoura. “And if there’s one thing about me that’s right, it’s that I just won’t stop. And that may be a disadvantage in some cases, but I just don’t give up. “

Daoura said he didn’t rest for a moment and instead invested his energy in what was important to him at work.

“When you lose someone who is so close to you, they work with you every day and you start to look at things a little differently,” he said. “It’s not a business anymore, it’s about people. It’s about our community, it’s about our employees, the Pebblebee family. I’ve started to treat people differently. “

Pebblebee AlexaNick Pearson-Franks, left, with Daniel Daoura showing off one of their Pebblebee trackers working with Amazon’s Alexa on a 2017 GeekWire story. (GeekWire photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Pebblebee has grown by about 50% to 15 employees over the past year. The death of Pearson-Franks and the challenges of the pandemic resulted in a restructuring that has resulted in a fully distributed model. The startup has employees in Poland, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and the Philippines.

Daoura values ​​the flexibility and diversity that comes with hiring from a distance and how it allows him to compete for talent outside of the Seattle area.

“We’re not a VC-backed company so we can’t afford much,” he said. “You have Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, Expedia – you have to deal with these big companies that are snapping up these really good people. Now you don’t have to deal with it anymore when you have the world to work with. “

In their eight-year collaboration, Daoura said he and Pearson-Franks grew closer every year and every day. Although Daoura, an electrical engineer, and Pearson-Franks, a software engineer, both worked on the technical requirements of Pebblebee, Daoura relied heavily on its co-founder. And now he needed help.

“I have more responsibility. I have more work. I have more challenges, ”Daoura said of life without the Pearson Franks. “When we expand the team, he’s always with us, but of course I can’t do it alone.”

Pebblebee has worked hard to improve its iOS app and says an Android version is coming. (Pebblebee photo)

There were seizures and attempts along the way to replace the expertise of Pearson-Franks. People cycled in and out to help; a third party company in Oregon was hired, but it didn’t work out in the end. It took almost a year for Daoura to find the person Daoura was looking for in Pawel Kazimierowicz, Poland, who has been technical director since May.

The remote hiring also paid off when the arrival of Jan Thomas Rantaniitty, Pebblebee’s new Chief Marketing Officer, called GeekWire last week from his wife’s cabin on a fjord “in the Norwegian hinterland”.

Rantaniitty is ready to help the startup continue its growth.

“Pebblebee has reached a level of maturity where it really needs to scale,” he said. “It’s finished on a global scale and we’re preparing all the parts to get there. There are many exciting things in the pipeline. “

Daoura said he was even open to leadership help, which could mean bringing a CEO with experience scaling a company into a much larger operation.

The Pebblebee Found LTE tracker as seen on a dog collar. (Pebblebee photo)

But Daoura has not only focused on getting more people in place, but also on improving the product.

“We were scattered all over the place,” he said, noting that they have paid special attention to improving the ratings and reviews on the Pebblebee App Store and have had good results over the past few months.

Competing with Tile and others in the personal device tracking space, Pebblebee has launched devices such as the Finder and BlackCard over the years. Recently, it has been pushing its Found LTE pet tracker. Last month, the company announced the device and a collaboration with Polte, a Dallas-based company specializing in cellular location technology.

Every iteration of the product, every new partnership still brings Daoura back to where things began and back to its friend and co-founder.

“I don’t think any of what we’ve done last year was me or anything. It was really Nick, ”said Daoura. “Pretty much everything we did today was already established.

“Because of him, because I believed in him so much, the legacy continues.”

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