Phil Dumas, founder and president of smart lock technology company, UniKey threw away his key chain two years ago, instead embracing the world of smart technology to enter his home, gym, office, his parents’ and friends’ homes – even boasting the same tech in his car.

His dream is simple: to get rid of key chains for everyone and every lock, reportedly starting work on UniKey long before anyone else had even thought of a smart lock.

Away from the Silicon Valley limelight, for the past five years Phil has been quietly but steadily making strides in the smart lock world.

In fact, the company recently secured US$10M in an oversubscribed Series A round from renowned investors including: Asset Management Ventures, AXCIT, Broadway Angels, CBRE, ff Venture Capital, Samsung, Haas Portman, Oriza Ventures, amongst various other prominent global investors.

The investment will no doubt accelerate UniKey’s capital efficient smart access licensing strategy for new markets and international regions.

So what exactly is UniKey?

UniKey’s access control platform powers the ‘first keyless entry system that can be integrated into any lock’.

UniKey’s technology replaces keys, cards, codes and passwords by turning a smartphone into a convenient, universal electronic key.

This technology encourages secure and intelligent access by simply touching a door lock without ever needing to remove a phone from a user’s pocket or bag.

Serving the mass market by licensing its technology, UniKey works in partnership with a number of global companies worldwide, including Kwikset for the Kevo Bluetooth residential door application, MIWA for hospitality solutions, Microsoft for Azure global cloud solutions and Nest for smart building thermostat integrations.

The first partner was Kwikset for the Kevo Smart Lock, which effectively turns a smartphone into a key. It works with iPhone and select Android devices with Android 5.0 – with more rolling out compatibility daily.

Kevo eliminates the need for keys, PINs and passwords for hassle-free entry.

With the free Kevo App, key management and home security are made simple – for instance, the user can receive notifications when their children return home and send eKeys to friends and family.

CE Pro Europe caught up with Phil to find out all there is to know about UniKey.

“I had a vision for the future to create a more convenient way for people to access their home on a day-to-day basis, eliminating the nuisance of a traditional key,” he says.

“A veteran of the lock world, I brought my access control industry knowledge along with my experience in private equity to build a company that revolutionises a market that hasn’t evolved much in more than 1,000 years.” 

Phil created UniKey and developed a background mobile application that can control and manage the lock using Bluetooth technology, which is ubiquitous in most smartphones today. 

Like passive key technology now available in many cars, the system identifies the homeowner as they approach the door, allowing them to unlock the deadbolt with a simple touch of the lock, without ever removing the

“It’s not if, but rather when, smart locks will become the primary way everyone accesses their home”

smartphone from their pocket or bag.

In addition, a key fob can be used if a person does not have a compatible phone and a traditional key cylinder is incorporated for backup purposes.

Phil is very certain of how big the smart lock market for both residential and commercial could be, predicting that it could total to 12 billion smart locks.

Given his certainty, readers may be surprised to learn that he turned down a deal with Mark Cuban on popular US show, Shark Tank.

“I didn’t have a lot of VCs to choose from in central Florida, particularly in 2010 on the heels of the great financial recession that had swept the globe and muffled entrepreneurial risk-taking capital,” he admits candidly.

“This was the main reason I applied for Shark Tank. On the prime-time show, I was the first entrepreneur ever to get offers from all five sharks, including Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary.

“I did have to ultimately turn down the deal because the fine print didn’t make sense for my business. Though, I did get the validation that I needed that my idea was great and I had built a fantastic product that could pioneer a whole new market segment.”

Given that exposure, shortly thereafter Phil was approached by a VC and found a capital partner to scale the business through the next stages.

“I’ve seen people and start-ups make the mistake where you focus on the short-term gains instead of the long-term benefit,” he says.

“You have to get investor alignment for the long-term or else you’ll never get there. Major lesson learned here: As hard as it is, sometimes you have to walk away from money and opportunity if it’s not right for you and the company.”

So how exactly is UniKey planning to change the world of smart locks?

Essentially, Phil’s mission is to simplify homeowners’ lives and home security by evolving door lock and key management to make it more convenient than a traditional key, hence the partnership with Kevo.

“We’re seeing consumer interest in smart home products grow significantly but not everyone wants or needs to install a full home automation system – literally and financially, as apartment living, renting, low cash flow, expensive installation fees and advanced technical set-up can all be limitations,” Phil admits.

“We believe that stand-alone smart home devices, such as Kevo, are fundamental to enabling a smart home for the masses. With so many connected home products hitting the market, the key to the smart home market expanding is ensuring that the products and services we provide are intuitive and user-friendly while meeting and exceeding expectation where the user questions how they lived life without it.”

What UniKey is doing is developing additional partnerships to further leverage the unique value of its technology for other verticals, including commercial and smart enterprise.

“We see the proliferation of smart locks on nearly every home by 2020”

The possibilities stretch across industries such as: hospitals, houses of worship, commercial buildings and aircraft security.

“UniKey is focusing on all the largest drivers of the IoT market, capitalising on not just the smart home but also the smart commercial and smart enterprise/government markets to continue to create cutting edge technology paired with more secure access control for anything with a lock,” says Phil.

“Smart enterprise will be the largest IoT device market with 40% of the total IoT connected devices by 2019 according to Business Insider Intelligence. I see the smart lock market in enterprise, government and commercial skyrocketing to 12 billion units worldwide by 2020 and I’ve positioned UniKey to leverage this booming space and move beyond just the front door of your home. Keyless entry for other markets is in the future and UniKey is at the heart.”

Do people trust smart locks…?

Do People Trust Smart Locks?

Lots of homeowners may love the idea of the smart lock and think it is undoubtedly a cool idea, but do people trust them over a good old fashioned key, and can they be bothered to make the transition?

Phil sheds some light on the matter: “The smart lock market is growing significantly with more and more technology moving into the smartphone. But unlocking and locking your doors via the smartphone is the first to really take off.”

Phil states that it’s “not if, but rather when, smart locks will become the primary way everyone accesses their home. We believe smart locks will eventually be in every home and it is our mission to eliminate all keys and key chains. We see the proliferation of smart locks on nearly every home by 2020.

“We like to remind people that a mechanical key can easily be lost or copied and it is highly insecure on its own. However, the technology behind UniKey is much safer from a security standpoint than a mechanical key.”

So who’s buying into Kevo, and what do they say?

“We believe smart locks will eventually be in every home and it is our mission to eliminate all keys and key chains”

When you sign up for Kevo, people are able to optionally provide their age and gender.

“We do not require it, but some people do,” Phil adds quickly. “It is pretty amazing to see the adoption curve. There is no real spike across any age. It is pretty well distributed across the whole demographic of age and gender. I think that is a testament to, not only how simple the user experience is, but also that people want this.”

Phil reveals that so far the locks have been set up in over 65 different countries.

“So many people say to me: ‘I have been looking for this for years! I have been getting into my car with a fob that I do not have to remove from my pocket or purse for years and I have been waiting to get into my home like this for quite some time’. Therefore, it is a natural progression. It is just so intuitive and I think the market has really been waiting for this solution. That is really being shown in the data.”

UniKey and Nest

UniKey has now announced integration with Nest to bring heightened functionality, convenience and energy savings to the UniKey platform.

UniKey’s technology allows the Nest thermostat to recognise individual Kevo users and for the first time, set personalised temperature preferences.

“Integration partners for more connectivity throughout the home are a focus for UniKey in 2015,” Phil adds.

“Kwikset also just announced Kevo Plus with remote access technology. Current and future Kevo owners will have total control over their homes’ security, whether at home or away. These partnerships and upgrades are enabling more connectivity and can become a trigger to enable automated user experiences.

Where is UniKey available?

Currently Kevo is available in the US and Australia, but Phil reveals that the company is already in talks with smart lock partners in the UK and Asia.

“UniKey is a technology licenser,” he simplifies. “We have built the technology and the experience behind this. Think of us like Android. We work with market leaders in the respective areas like Android works with all of the market leaders and mobile phones.

“It is a natural progression. It is just so intuitive and I think the market has really been waiting for this solution”

“The door locks are different in North America verses Europe, for example. Therefore, we find a market leader in America or North America, which happens to be Kwikset who is our partner, and market leaders in Europe and Asia. We partner with them and we provide them with our technology. They already have electro-mechanical locks. They already have all the distribution relationships and the mass manufacturing capabilities. We really enable them to leapfrog, what would normally take them many, many years and many millions of dollars to come up with a solution that may not even be as good as what we have already put in place after they have gone through that.

“We are really a partner to them, just as much as they are a partner to us. They bring the mass manufacturing, the brand, the distribution and we bring the technology and the user experience. It is this great relationship that allows us to offer the most advanced technology and experience, as well as the reliability of the testing that these large companies have in place to build the best possible product.”

The future for UniKey

While Phil is excited about the burgeoning smart home and everything the company will continue to do with the locks in the home, he is also looking forward to growing this technology and bring his smart, intuitive platform to other markets around the globe.

“Imagine getting the same great convenient access that you get with Kevo in your office, during your hotel stay or in your rental car,” he enthuses.

“At our heart we will remain a software security company – channelling our energy and resources on the security implementation at the forefront, baked into our DNA, never as an afterthought. This begins with our product development and continues with our partnerships – the leading security hardware companies in every market around the world.”

Read on to see exactly what UniKey’s investors have to say…

Luis Arbulu, director at Samsung Global Innovation Center’s investment division: “UniKey is positioned for rapid growth with its smart lock technology that unleashes a connected and updated way for homeowners to secure their home via their smartphones. We are excited to participate in the company’s Series A round and support an enterprise-grade security technology that fits well within our home automation technology.”

Sonja Hoel Perkins, founder of Broadway Angels, managing director at Menlo and veteran security investor: “In security, hardcore security technology always trumps design. UniKey has both right. UniKey’s unique blend of leading edge smart lock security and ultra-convenient, keyless entry make all UniKey-powered locks best in class. Locking and unlocking doors will never be the same again.”

“UniKey’s technology allows the Nest thermostat to recognise individual Kevo users and for the first time, set personalised temperature preferences”

Grant Haas of Haas Portman: “Haas Portman invests in market disrupters that can provide unique technology upgrades to hotel and real estate properties across our entire portfolio and affiliates. Change is inevitable and you’re either leading the pack or you’re following the Alpha, and many upstarts are still trying to make up deficits through marketing, cosmetics and back-filling product and security holes. We’re invested in UniKey as the market pioneer and a true innovator that is positively affecting people’s lives in a way that respects their traditional tastes and modern sensibilities.”

Michael Wolf, NextMarket Insights founder and chief analyst: “At NextMarket Insights we believe the smart lock market will be a $3.6 billion market by 2019 worldwide. As consumers look for technologies that enable simpler, more convenient lifestyles, we believe smart locks will be one of the key smart home growth categories in coming years as consumers realize the simple appeal of turning their phone into digital keys. The ability to send digital keys to friends and family and track usage are clear benefits that consumers can instantly understand.”

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