Coverage in the WSJ on the lauch of Erik’s new biz, July.ac

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Mark Rauterkus

Swim, SKWIM and water polo coach in Pittsburgh, PA, USA. Also the webmaster for the International Swim Coaches Association and a publisher at CLOH.org, 4Rs.org, SKWIM.us and a former small-press, Sports Support Syndicate. Former free-market candidate for public office on various occasions, generally as a Libertarian.

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  • WSJ.com
    A Sexy Air Conditioner? Summer’s Unlikeliest Status Symbol
    By: Lane Florsheim
    https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-sexy-air-conditioner-summers-unlikeliest-status-symbol-11591965408

    Clunky, view-obstructing window AC units are a thing of the past. The new wave of companies offering well-designed, quiet—dare we say—cool replacements

    From razors to mattresses, household items have been re-designed, rebranded and repackaged for smart homes and online shopping. But not the lowly AC. Until now.

    Last summer, Muhammad Saigol and Erik Rauterkus installed almost $50,000 worth of window-unit air conditioners into New York City apartments.

    It was a far cry from their last gig. The pair, who met as coworkers at Boston Consulting Group Digital Ventures, had hatched a plan to create and sell a new, better-looking AC unit—perhaps the last frontier in unattractive home appliances. But they wanted to hear from potential customers first. So they made a “really simple” website offering delivery and installation of generic AC units they purchased wholesale. When they showed up at buyers’ apartments, Saigol, 29, and Rauterkus, 25, asked them for their thoughts on the unit.

    “One person put it so well,” says Rauterkus. “They said, ‘When I bought this, it’s like I’m putting a washer-dryer into my window.’ It’s an appliance, and yet this product sits in such a prominent place in your home.”

    From razors and electric toothbrushes to mattresses and bath towels, household items have been re-designed, rebranded and repackaged for smart homes and online shopping. But not the lowly AC. Saigol and Rauterkus’s resulting idea, a startup called July, launched earlier this year and joins a recent wave of AC options equipped with smart capabilities and designed to blend into a well-curated space. July’s units are minimalist, available in two sizes and three interchangeable magnetic covers created with the San Francisco industrial design group Box Clever—known for its work on Away suitcases and Caraway cookware. Customers can opt for solid white, woven gray or ash wood.

    Other competitors are choosing to minimize size rather than old-school AC’s clunky-machinery affect. Kapsul offers a unit which, at seven inches tall, is about half the height of a traditional window unit.

    “Users hate having their view stolen,” says Chris Myers, co-founder and chief operating officer. “In cities, they don’t have that much window real estate in the first place.”

    Myers, 53, along with cofounders Kurt Swanson, 37, and Don Pancoe, 52, also developed a new airflow design to make a unit they say is much quieter than others on the market. The smart system they’ve designed enables multiple units in one home to “talk” to each other, making a streamlined cooling system.

    Sensibo, a compact wall device that makes manual AC units of all varieties (window, standalone, wall) into smart devices launched in 2015. The controller takes a minute or two to install, says CEO and co-founder Omer Enbar, and once it’s connected to the home’s WiFi, can interface with other smart-home devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home, as well as allow users to control it from anywhere. Like other smart-home technology, it can sense when the temperature inside changes and adjust the AC’s output accordingly.

    This summer, the company is debuting a new product called Sensibo Air, which is sold as a bundle that includes the controller as well as a room sensor. The sensor looks like a little robot and measures temperature and humidity, as well as when users enter and exit a room, adjusting the temperature to meet their needs. “Your indoor climate should be autonomous,” says Enbar, “so you don’t have to think about turning it on.”

    Aside from aesthetics, all three companies want to be better for the planet than what’s currently on the market. Air conditioners are notorious for their energy consumption; last year, the International Agency reported that the energy demand of cooling buildings more than tripled between 1990 and 2018. Enbar says that when customers use all of Sensibo’s features, they can save up to 40 percent of the energy usage they would normally consume without the added smart technology. Kapsul estimates that remote operation and scheduling abilities along with smart controls make its units 20 percent more energy efficient than traditional units. (They plan to do their own study to arrive at an official number.)

    For the medium-sized July unit, Saigol and Rauterkus say it uses 10 percent less energy and has two-thirds fewer emissions than most window ACs. (The small unit uses about the same amount of energy and has the same amount of emissions as other ACs of its size.) Through the CarbonFund.org’s reforestation program, July also offsets on average 510 kgs of carbon emissions for each unit sold (equivalent to about five years of customer use).

    Founders of both July and Kapsul also wanted to tackle the pain of installation, which tends to be a two-person job. There’s the fear of dropping the entire unit out the window. Both companies designed their own, patented window-frame adapters that the units click into, reducing time and mollifying safety concerns.

    July’s waitlist orders start shipping next month. (The company offers a discount, along with free delivery and free installation in New York, to those who sign up for it.) Kapsul’s first shipment, which will ship in the next week or so, sold out in 10 days and the company plans to reopen for pre-sale for the next round of orders later this month. Sensibo Air is set to ship by June 30.

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