The Daily Illini

C-U locals create new way to "SNOOZ"

By Emily Scott

Eli Lazar and Matt Snyder are polar opposites in almost every way. 

Lazar is an engineer and Snyder works in online marketing. Lazar “dreams in equations,” and Snyder thinks more creatively. 

Despite their many differences, they shared a problem: They both couldn’t sleep at night without a fan at their bedside. So they decided to do something about it. 

“One day we were just talking about it, and we were like, this is totally ridiculous,” Lazar said.

Three years later, after countless hours of research and design and one successful Kickstarter campaign, they created SNOOZ, a white noise machine that can be controlled by a smartphone.

They ended up creating a compact machine that uses a fan to create real white noise without creating cold air. 

They believe their differing backgrounds is the secret to their success. Lazar has a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University and now works for Caterpillar’s branch in Research Park. Snyder works for Zappos and is a University of Nevada, Las Vegas graduate of marketing.

They believe these differing backgrounds gave them a unique product — a white noise machine with portability, tone adjustment capability, energy-efficiency and a smartphone app. 

The finished design for SNOOZ came from over 100 original prototypes, most of which were created in the 3D printing lab at the University’s Mechanical Engineering Laboratory. Of these prototypes, Lazar said 80 didn’t work at all. Then the last 20 began to steadily improve.

“I had some moments where I was ready to quit,” Lazar said. “Once, when I was so sick of working on it, I packed up everything I had, put it all in a box, taped it, put it in my trunk, and was driving up to Chicago.”

Along the way, he stopped to meet a friend who had previously been pessimistic about SNOOZ. But on this particular day, his friend offered him encouragement and motivation. 

“I drove back, kept working on it, and here we are today,” Lazar said. “It’s pretty amazing.”

Lazar and Snyder then decided to utilize incubator spaces at Research Park’s EnterpriseWorks to see if SNOOZ could be put to market. There, they networked with startups and eventually met Deana McDonagh, a University professor of industrial design and designer-in-residence for Enterprise Works.

McDonagh — who is also the director of research and insights for Herbst Produkt, a California-based design company — grew interested in SNOOZ after testing the product herself. She said she knew that Herbst Produkt would be the perfect place for Lazar and Snyder to go to finalize their design. 

“They definitely spoke the same language as us,” Snyder said of the designers at Herbst. “They are exactly the kind of partner that we’d want to work with.”

They also connected with Tim Hoerr, CEO and managing partner of Serra Ventures, which is a local team of advisors and investors who guide new companies. After meeting with Lazar and Snyder, Hoerr decided to personally invest in SNOOZ.

“I perceived them as very sharp individuals, and I liked the combination of engineering and marketing talent,” Hoerr said. “They’ve produced a very cool and novel product, very functional, but that also has sort of a cool and innovative element that can be controlled with a smartphone.” 

With Hoerr’s advice, both Lazar and Snyder said making a Kickstarter campaign was their next obvious move. 

Kickstarter is an online funding platform that allows developers to showcase their products in the hope that people will choose to support them financially. They set an initial fundraising goal of $100,000, an amount that Lazar said was critical to reach, and included a video that explained what SNOOZ was all about.  

Though they both had their doubts about the Kickstarter’s success, they were surprised to reach their goal of $100,000 in pledges in just seven days and 11 hours.

“I’d know, because I got like a million text messages right when we met the goal,” Lazar said. 

Snyder said he believes the Kickstarter was so successful because the product’s message was resonant with many people. 

“I think it’s a combination of having a relatable product and a video that isn’t just another ‘please make this dream a reality’ story,” Snyder said. “People are less interested in supporting you out of the goodness of their heart. It needs to look ready to go.”

As of Wednesday night, they have more than doubled their goal, reaching $303,967 in pledges with 3,782 total backers. 

“I still feel like the stock market could bomb out tomorrow and everyone could cancel their pledges,” Snyder said with a laugh. 

Moving forward, the SNOOZ team will meet with advisors such as Hoerr to evaluate how to move from prototype into a product they can manufacture affordably. Both McDonagh and Hoerr said they plan to be involved every step of the way from here on out.

“After this length of time we’ve developed a shared language,” McDonagh said. “There’s an understanding there, there’s a friendship that’s developed, and I think those are great foundations to move forward with their initiative.” 

Though Lazar and Snyder have big dreams for SNOOZ’s future — they say they have more ideas and envision becoming a company with a line of sleep-related products — they both emphasize the importance of moving forward one step at a time.

“It’s ironic that this product’s been keeping us up at night, but one of the key things that does is thinking if people are going to like it,” Snyder said. “We like it, we think we’ve been honest about it, everyone that we’ve shown this to has liked it, but we’ve got to build things that people love.”

For Lazar, seeing the product that transformed his real-life problem into a real product is exciting.

“You’re still in the phase where you get to dream about how big you can become. It’s like you don’t know your future yet,” Lazar said. “And that’s really a cool place to be … the story’s still being written.”

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