Upon moving to Gramercy Park in 2014, Tony Liebel got to know New York’s many charms, from the picturesque brownstones to the seemingly endless varieties of breakfast sandwiches. Yet as a new inductee into the cult of New Yorkers, Liebel, who lived in an old walkup building, also experienced some of the city’s less glamorous quirks, namely the number of packages he missed each week.
At the time, Liebel’s job required that he travel regularly, which meant that he, like many New Yorkers, often left his front door and mailbox unattended.
“Every week I would come home to missed package slips. I was also an Airbnb host so I couldn’t get my friend or my guests into the building if I wasn’t there to assist them. It was obviously incredibly painful,” Liebel said.
Many New Yorkers are well-acquainted with glaring pink package slips, as is evidenced by Liebel’s estimation that in New York City, 1 in 3 UPS packages goes undelivered, either because residents aren’t there to sign for it or there is an issue getting into the building. Yet the city is also facing a more disturbing issue: package theft. According to the New York Times, approximately 90,000 packages are stolen in New York city every single day.
Despite his frustration, Liebel used his experience as entrepreneurial inspiration while getting his MBA at Cornell Tech, a Cornell University campus that focuses in part on technological innovation. After meeting Jeremy Walker, who was getting his Master of Electrical and Computer Engineering, in a class about smart home devices, the two students partnered up. Using Liebel’s prior experiences with package theft as their springboard, they began working on Buzr Pro, a smart intercom device.
Buzr is a New York City-based consumer electronics startup — Liebel connected with the startup during his prior job as a consultant — and Buzr Pro is a home device that connects directly to buildings’ intercom systems and users’ phones. The device integrates into and replaces outdated intercom systems, allowing users to control their front doors through their phones.
With the Buzr Pro device itself costing $229, users also have the option to upgrade to a premium app that costs $7 per month, but the free app has a high level of functionality on its own. Liebel and Walker are striving to make the device as accessible to as many people as possible, especially given the socioeconomic diversity in urban areas.
“The device being connected to the internet is always free,” Liebel explained. “Those functions that you already had in the building — talk, listen, buzz, and the ring notification for when your doorbell is rung — are free in the app, they will always be free in the app. When we add additional services, like virtual keys for your guests and dog walker or direct integrations with package-delivery companies, is when we charge extra.”
Though there are plenty of intercom products targeted toward new buildings, Buzr Pro is the only device that lets residents upgrade their intercom system without updating the entire building’s system. Given that the retro-fit of older buildings’ intercom systems is a relatively untapped market, Liebel and Walker have already gained recognition for their product — Buzr Pro won the Cornell Tech’s Startup Award — which is not yet on the market but is available for pre-order and will begin shipping in 6-8 months.
Building residents are not the sole targeted audience, as Liebel and Walker have already begun discussing the product with owners and managers of buildings, many of whom express interest because of the product’s price and ease of installment. Buzr Pro is also marketed toward companies who either have consistent operational problems with deliveries or whose product is closely tied to the delivery experience, such as Airbnb, FreshDirect, and Wag. Such versatility makes Buzr Pro viable in cities other than New York. Liebel and Walker hope to soon sell the product globally.
“The older the building, the older the intercoms, and those cities really aren’t in the U.S. because the country is not that old,” Liebel explained. “We hope to move quickly to service Europe and Latin America.”
Despite the global vision, the team — between full-time employees, part-time employees, and interns, Buzr Pro employs around 35 people — is New York-based, as Walker and Liebel specifically hired those who know the problem of package theft well.
“We are very proud to be New Yorkers,” Liebel said with a knowing smile. “The idea came from New York, we see the problem here in New York—every day.”