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Want to Rule Home Electronics? Yeah, There’s an App for That

By Pamela A. Zinkosky October 2011

Entrepreneurs create iRule for handheld devices using existing Apple hardware.

All Itai Ben-Gal wanted was an affordable easy-to-use remote for his home-theater system. He got it, along with a successful business venture — iRule LLC.

Three years ago, Ben-Gal tapped longtime friend and fellow Israeli immigrant Victor Nemirovsky, a software developer, to solve a problem. He loved his new multi-component home-theater system, but he and his wife needed a better remote.

“What was available out there wasn’t affordable or flexible enough, so I asked Victor if he could turn my iPod into a remote,” Ben-Gal says.

Today, Ben-Gal’s 3-year-old touches a picture of Elmo on an iPod to turn on the last recorded Sesame Street episode, dim the lights and set the appropriate volume.

In fact, thousands of people in 30 different countries control their home electronics through their iPods, iPads and iPhones using iRule, the software Ben-Gal and Nemirovsky sell online through Apple and their company’s website.

“I just happened to have the perfect partner,” Ben-Gal says of Nemirovsky. “He was able to take my idea and make the magic happen.”

The magic involves a WiFi interface that lets users customize their remotes, the iRule software that’s installed on the device and a receiver that communicates with the electronics. The cost is about $150, with additional charges for multiple receivers and software upgrades.

When iRule hit the market in February 2010, Alex Milogradov had his wallet ready. “It’s such a visionary product,” the Dallas resident says. “I was one of the first customers.”

Milogradov purchased an iPad specifically for the iRule software and uses it to control an X-Box, Playstation, Blu-Ray DVD player and computer, plus home lighting. The iRule package ran him about $300 — with receivers in three rooms of his house — compared to the $1,000 he paid for a Harmony remote system, which was in addition to $130-an-hour for installation and upgrades.

An accountant, Milogradov was able to install iRule and customize unique interfaces for himself, his wife, and guests or babysitters, each with different icons and channels. “You don’t need to go through the guide or anything,” Milogradov explains. “You just [hit the button], and go.”

As interest in iRule grew, sales skyrocketed, Ben-Gal says. By 2010, both men quit their day jobs — Nemirovsky as an IT guru and Ben-Gal as an automotive engineer — to focus solely on iRule. Soon after, iRule moved from its Farmington Hills home-based office to the Compuware building in downtown Detroit.

“We really had no expectations,” Ben-Gal says of the business’ success. “It was a ‘let’s see what we can do’ kind of thing. I remember [Victor] asking me, ‘Do you think anyone would actually buy this?’ We were really happy we could recoup the costs so our wives wouldn’t kill us. It sort of spiraled out of control in a good way.”

Nemirovsky, who took a year developing iRule’s first version, says he designed the system for scalability. “I can expand this product without taking another year,” he says. “That was my strategy from the beginning. In our environment, that’s the way to go. The speed of development of everything is amazing.”

iRule version 2.0 came just seven months after the software’s initial release. It lets users put channel and program information on their remotes and enables two-way communication with the receiver. For example, users can receive information about what’s playing on their stereo systems. “My receiver can tell me exactly what the volume is,” Ben-Gal says. “It can tell me what song is playing, what the artist is.”

Milogradov says he uses the new functionality for security purposes. When he’s away from the house, like during a recent Hawaiian vacation, he can determine whether the lights are on or off and adjust them accordingly.

Originally a home-theater remote, iRule is now used to control a host of electronics, including lighting, security and temperature. The software is extremely flexible and customizable, Ben-Gal says. One iRule customer, he says, has a remote for his New York home and one for his home in the Hamptons.

“We give them all the tools to customize as much or as little as they want,” Ben-Gal says. That includes customizing the remote’s language for those outside the United States.

iRule has exceeded Ben-Gal’s expectations in terms of functionality and mass appeal, he says. The company now has five full-time employees plus contract Compuware programmers. Nemirovsky heads software development and currently is working on an application for Android devices, while Ben-Gal directs business development.

“It’s very humbling to bring something to the market that I wanted at a price point that’s affordable,” Ben-Gal says.

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