The Digital Doorman That Never Sleeps

Bernhard Mehl is the author of today’s guest blog post. He is the co-founder of KISI, a New York / Munich-based smart access startup. In both locations the team has developed a virtual access network called KISI that makes all locked objects in the city d

Think about what you have in your pocket right now. Usually there are at least three things -- smartphone, wallet and keys. Of those three, keys are by far the most inflexible because they are not made for sharing. Invented 4,000 years ago, they come with the disadvantages of having to be physically handed over, followed by a total loss of control once given out to others.

The main driver behind integrating the key into the phone is the uprising of the $3.5 billion sharing economy that grows 25 percent year over year. Access to the home, specifically apartments, becomes the bottleneck when concierge services are booked online but the key always has to be picked up, dropped off or stored somewhere. Think about those instances when you go online to schedule same-day-delivery, care givers, craftsmen, babysitters or dog walkers. Having to arrange the handing over of keys creates a dent in an otherwise smooth user experience. It just makes no sense to book services for an apartment or an office online and then pick up a key somewhere to gain access. Service providers don´t want to think about how to get the key and being responsible for it. This hinders the usage of those services. In a cloud-based world, where everything is backed up online and nothing can be lost anymore, there is simply no need to risk losing a key. But today, when a key is lost, it´s gone. That is not acceptable anymore.

The reason why we still have keys is because there are billions of dollars invested in existing infrastructure - and additional dollars would have to be re-invested to grant smartphone-based access. Think about your intercom that is probably over 20 years old. Getting a new shiny digital panel that works together with your smartphone would require pulling a bunch of whole new cables through the entire house or apartment. 

KISI solves this dilemma by providing the first mobile based virtual access network that easily integrates with large city buildings -- without rewiring or changing hardware. One single device can be tapped into the network at any connection point to provide a secured access signal. This is how KISI allows users to remotely unlock the door for others, or send temporary time-based access beforehand -- right onto the smartphone. Since every transaction is documented and users can remove existing access rights, it provides a level of security that tenants and landlords never experienced before.

We came up with the idea of an access-sharing network when we were -- believe it or not -- at Oktoberfest in Munich. Each one of us had to leave the cozy crowded tents at one point to hand over keys to visitors, who came from other parts of the world and stood in front of our apartments with all their luggage -- waiting to be let in. Since the beer halls were so crowded that we couldn´t get back into the traditional fest, we were convinced there has to be a smarter way to open the door without having to leave the tent. This is how the idea for KISI was born.

The name "KISI" pays homage to the Turkish-named street nearby Oktoberfest where one of the founders lives. The Turkish word “kişi,” which means “people,” was the inspiration for the name and the vision of the company. Access should be centered on people -- not on keys. KISI wants to enable and enhance collaborative consumption among everyone.

In May 2013, KISI was presented at Tech Crunch Disrupt NYC after winning the Next Idea Award by Columbia University supported by NYC EDC, the Economic Development Corporation of New York City in April 2013. To learn more, please click here.