Aamir Virani, ’01, who grew up in Clear Lake, is the founder of Dropcam, a video camera that connects to a user’s WiFi network. Users may watch the stream from anywhere in the world on a smart phone or computer.
“People use it as a home monitor, a baby monitor or a pet monitor,” said Virani, who earned a B.S. in electrical engineering from Rice. “Dropcam is a way to keep an eye on what you love when you’re away.”
The device is user-friendly and tracks things like movements and loud noises. Using servers and cloud computing, Dropcam can do object recognition and will send users real-time notification of things that might require looking into.
The company began after a 2009 conversation with Virani’s business partner, Greg Duffy. Duffy’s father was looking for a way to catch his neighbor’s dog in his yard, but was having trouble. He’d called on Greg for help after he couldn’t get a camera he’d purchased from Best Buy to work properly. The dilemma gave Virani and Duffy the idea to configure a way for people to access video from anywhere.
Virani is no stranger to building a business, having watched his father run his own. The elder Virani owned gas stations in Houston, and instilled in his son the need to not only find good people, but to encourage them to take the skills they learned and go on to other things.
After graduating from Rice, he worked for National Instruments in Austin. He earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Stanford in 2006 and worked at a few startup companies before co-founding Dropcam.
Since its inception, Dropcam has become a part of Nest, the company that devised a thermostat that can be controlled remotely. During that alignment, Nest was was acquired by Google. “We saw good alignment with Nest to build out the vision of a connected home,” he said. With Dropcam a part of Nest, he said, there’s a greater platform to make home technology smarter, so it will naturally respond to users.
“It's been an amazing ride, building a company that’s affected so many folks and brought them closer to home.”
Virani said that while at Rice, one of the experiences that had an impact on him was a program called Ideas in Action led by Ahmad Durrani, professor emeritus of engineering. Ideas was the precursor to OwlSpark and the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership.
“I appreciated that idea of an entrepreneurial organization on campus that actively tried to get students to think of ideas and build companies,” he said.
He encourages students to look for things they’re passionate about as they transition from school to career.
“Don’t be afraid to take risks and find something interesting now,” he said. I think the mentality [when looking for a job] is, ‘This company likes me, I should choose them,’ when in reality, there are tons of things out there that might make you happier, if you just take time to search.”