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Why Apple CEO Tim Cook Invested in a Shower Head

Mark Gurman

(Bloomberg) -- Tim Cook rarely invests his time and money in products without the Apple Inc. logo. But when he tried a prototype shower head at his local gym about five years ago, he made an exception. 

Philip Winter, who helped create the Nebia shower head, recalls moving to San Francisco in 2014 to get his idea off the ground. The shower head sprays in a way that uses less water, but still keeps people warm. Crafted from materials including aluminum, the system looks like something Apple might design, if it made bathroom hardware. 

To develop the product, Winter persuaded gyms in Silicon Valley to run pilot tests. After installing the shower head early in the morning, he’d wait outside locker rooms to get feedback. That’s when he met Cook, who happened to use an early version at the gym in Palo Alto, California, where the Apple chief executive officer worked out most mornings.

Cook was drawn to the environmental aspect, according to Winter, who asked the Apple boss if he’d be willing to make an investment.  Despite the first prototype being “crude,” the Apple CEO was excited about the product because there hadn’t been much recent innovation in the shower market. He also appreciated the design, Winter said. Cook backed Nebia Inc. about five years ago and contributed in later financing rounds, too. The startup has raised almost $8 million in total, according to Crunchbase. 

Winter wouldn’t disclose how much Cook invested, but said it was “significant.” The Nebia co-founder said Cook used his own money and stressed that the startup hasn’t received any formal help from Apple, which declined to comment. 

Still, Cook shared some of the knowledge he’s amassed leading the world’s largest technology company, advising Nebia on suppliers and pushing the startup to prioritize user experience, design and sustainability.

“His emails are very long, well crafted and detailed,” Winter said.

Cook also told Winter to look for other investors who believe in the product, rather than venture capitalists simply looking to make a quick return. Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, is also a Nebia backer, through the Schmidt Family Foundation. 

Nebia unveiled a new version of its shower system on Tuesday that is smaller and cheaper. It will cost $199, down from $499 for the current version. Winter asked Cook about four potential partnerships while developing the new model. Cook wasn’t keen about the first three, but supported a deal with faucet maker Moen because of its reputation, Winter said. 

To contact the author of this story: Mark Gurman in Los Angeles at mgurman1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Alistair Barr at abarr18@bloomberg.net

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