Nick Pearson-Franks, 1979-2020: Boeing engineer turned Pebblebee co-founder was a trusted friend

Nick Pearson-Franks, the co-founder and CTO of Seattle-area startup Pebblebee, passed away June 24 at age 40. (Photo courtesy of the Pearson-Franks family.)

Nick Pearson-Franks was working at Boeing around 2012 as a lead software engineer when his friend and colleague Daniel Daoura showed up late to work, explaining that he hadn’t been able to find his keys that morning.

“That’s awesome,” Pearson-Franks replied, as Daoura recalls. “What we need to do is come up with something that can help people find their keys.”

It was one of the defining moments of their lives, ultimately transforming their friendship into a business partnership. Pearson-Franks and Daoura went on to co-found Pebblebee, a Seattle-area startup that develops wireless devices for tracking keys and other items. The moment also exemplified Pearson-Franks’ personality — eager for technical challenges, open to entrepreneurial adventures, and always ready to defuse a stressful situation by poking fun at his friend.

His love of a good prank continued throughout their time as business partners, particularly when Daoura was out of town or on vacation. Pearson-Franks would send Daoura a picture of plastic poop on his desk, or call him on the phone and convince him that some calamity had occurred in his absence.

“I take things seriously,” Daoura said. “He always knew I would fall for it, and of course, after a few years, I stopped falling for it. But actually, he kept on doing it.”

Pearson-Franks’ lovable nature and the inseparable friendship of the Pebblebee co-founders is just part of what makes this news so difficult: Pearson-Franks died June 24 in an all-terrain vehicle accident, according to Dauora and his family. He was 40 years old. His surviving family includes his two sons, ages 5 and 8 years old, whom he loved to take on activities such as skiing, hiking and backpacking.

PebbleBee founders Daniel Daoura, left, and Nick Pearson-Franks, showing an early version of their wireless tracking technology in 2014. (Pebblebee Photo)

“I’ve never seen a father so devoted to his kids,” Daoura said. “That was his world.”

Family and friends are conducting a memorial fundraiser for his sons.

Daoura and the 10-person Pebblebee team have been grappling with the loss of Pearson-Franks while facing the practical realities of business and product development. Daoura has decided to forge ahead, knowing that his friend would have wanted them to keep pursuing the company’s mission.

“He’s helped us get through so many difficult times. On several occasions, my stress level was so high, it felt like it was too much to handle,” Daoura said. “But he quickly would convince me otherwise. He would typically do it with a joke or reminder of a great memory we had in the past. And then he would say something along the lines of, ‘We gotta keep going, this is our dream and our passion, let’s keep going.’ ”

Pebblebee, which competes against Tile and others in personal device tracking, has been expanding into sensors and tracking technologies for businesses in areas such as fleet and cold chain management, with multiple new products in the pipeline. Daoura is looking for people to fill some of the roles Pearson-Franks played in the company, knowing that there’s no replacing him.

“He’s probably the smartest guy I’ve ever met,” Daoura said. “And he’s also the kindest and most genuine and most humble person I’ve ever met. I trusted him. He trusted me. We would challenge each other.”

Pebblebee Alexa
Nick Pearson-Franks, left, with Daniel Daoura, demonstrating one of their Pebblebee trackers working with Amazon’s Alexa for a 2017 GeekWire story.  (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Nick Pearson-Franks was born in 1979 in Redmond, Wash.

He foreshadowed his engineering career by displaying an early interest in math, according to a biography compiled by Daoura and the Pearson-Franks family, published along with the memorial fundraiser this week: “From the age of 4, Nick showed an interest in math problems. In elementary school math time tests were one of his favorite activities. His 3rd grade teacher even set up a separate desk so Nick could do as many time tests as he wanted.”

His dad, Larry Franks, recalled a time when he and his dad, Nick’s grandfather, were bringing a sailboat back from Anacortes, Wash., after taking Nick on a sailing trip when he was about 9 years old.

“We had dinner at a pretty nice place, and Nick was being charming, as usual,” Franks wrote via email. “The other patrons, mostly older couples, were rather quiet, listening to Nick’s stories about the sailing trip.  When it came time to pay the bill, we had a discussion about paying an appropriate tip, and lamenting we did not have a calculator or whatever.

“Nick asked what the going rate was, and my dad responded 15%. Nick looked at the bill and said that all you had to do was double the sales tax, which was 7+% at the time. Dad and I just nodded sagely, being used to Nick’s jumping to new (and accurate) conclusions. The audience in the restaurant could hardly contain their mirth. Nick has been quite a character, right from the beginning.”

Pearson-Franks graduated from Issaquah High School and received a computer engineering degree from the University of Washington, working as a research engineer in the UW Physics Department before joining Boeing in 2004.

In addition to his sons, he is survived by his parents, Kristin Pearson-Franks and Larry Franks; his sister, Tressa Braam; a niece, three aunts and three cousins.

Daoura recalled Pearson-Franks coming into work in shorts and flip-flops, and managers at Boeing putting up with his unorthodox attire, because he was such a smart engineer. “He didn’t care what people thought about how he looked. He cared about the manifestations of his actions. That’s where he really shined.”

Nick Pearson-Franks, 1979-2020: Boeing engineer turned Pebblebee co-founder was a trusted friend Nick Pearson-Franks, 1979-2020: Boeing engineer turned Pebblebee co-founder was a trusted friend Reviewed by TechCO on 7/13/2020 Rating: 5

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