In 2012, Bernhard Mehl, Max Schuetz and Carl Pfeiffer built the first prototype of what is now known as Kisi in their kitchen. Today, the keyless entry system is installed in hundreds of high traffic facilities across the globe. I sat down with the founders to talk vision, company culture, and lessons learned.
What led you guys to launch Kisi?
Bernhard: Everyone has keys and no one likes them. You lose them, you forget them and they are not very secure. I was personally frustrated and confused at the same time as to why no-one tackled that problem, since it’s such a basic need. It almost seemed like no one dares to do it.
Max: Back then Bernhard and I were working at a fast growing company that quickly scaled from a few people to 50 employees. At one point, groups of people were waiting outside of the office and everyone was super frustrated about the access issue. It was such a time and mood killer. We quickly found out there wasn’t really a solution for this – so we decided we were going to make one.
Carl: I was young and needed the money. On a more serious note, I returned back to Europe from a stay abroad and had to be in two locations at the same time to have my apartment keys returned. With Kisi, it would have been quite a bit easier.
What skills do each of you contribute to Kisi?
Max: Bernhard is definitely someone that likes to experiment with new approaches and tactics. He is always looking for new ways to place us at the top of the market. Carl is the type that if a door is locked, he will run through it. He doesn’t hold back and is very driven.
Bernhard: Carl is definitely skilled in populating the roadmap with the right R&D features to drive our business forward, while Max, as a numbers guy, makes sure our KPI’s are on track.
Carl: Perhaps we should think of it more as a symbiotic team. Unless you’re a wonder child, combining the skills and ideas of a strong core team is likely your recipe for success. As well as a bit of luck and timing.
What were some of the biggest lessons learned over the past 4 years?
Carl: How to focus. We evolved from being a very exploratory and experimental team early on into an execution focused startup. Undergoing this crucial metamorphosis has been both rewarding and draining at times, but it’s a very necessary step to take in order to reap the rewards.
Max: Yeah, for example in the beginning we would jump on every feature suggestion a customer would make. It’s not that we don’t value their input and take it into serious consideration, but we have definitely learned to focus and prioritize when it comes to product development.
Bernhard: Another lesson learned was that every day, week, month, quarter and year is different. Once you find something that works, it’s time to evolve it and get it to the next level. That’s how you build a powerful engine, which grows your business over time. One example of year-after-year change would be: While in the beginning we were obsessed with building the best access control product, today our focus is to build the best team to position Kisi as the #1 player in the physical security industry.
Can you guys share a little bit about your thoughts of where Kisi is headed in the short and long term?
Carl: We want access control to improve rather than obstruct people’s lives. There should be an equilibrium where the value of security to administrators is on par with the value to their users.
Bernhard: Kisi is focussing on opportunities where real estate needs to be on-demand. With changing workplaces today, this is almost every facility. The opportunity is tremendous! Up until now, we’ve mainly focused on commercial facilities, however our ultimate goal is to provide open access to the world of things.
You are currently growing the team – what is important to you when hiring new team members?
Bernhard: Team fit is the #1 criteria. At Kisi we build a high security product, so people we hire need to be motivated, personable, reliable, and quality driven. It’s hard to put into words, but in the end it’s about if I would trust that person to interact with clients and other team members. Something that I like asking when interviewing people: “If the candidate would start a business themselves – what would that be?”.
Max: I think good humor and resiliency are also really important in a startup environment. Things sometimes don’t work out – it’s essential to get up again and to stay positive when approaching the problem for a second or third time.
Carl: Where you want to be in a few months and years is one of the most important questions and at times it’s not too easy to know the answer beforehand. So I try to speak with a diverse group of people, who I feel have a professional attitude towards work.
Since Kisi is an international company with offices in NY and Stockholm, how do you guys keep communication flowing while also establishing a great company culture?
Bernhard: We not only sell technology for facilities – we also use it to enhance our own team culture. From live feeds showing the other offices, to weekly video check-ins and company outings where we fly people in, we are doing our best to be a modern workplace. We really focus on establishing a feedback company culture, so we can tweak things as we go and continue to get better.
Max: Technology definitely plays a huge part in our company culture and for our team communication. Kisi also helps us maintain an open and inclusive company culture. When our Swedish employees visit our New York HQ, we can make them feel right at home through immediate access to our office. But even though technology can solve a lot, there is nothing that can replace a personal meeting and hanging out together. That’s why we try to get the whole team together as often as we can.
Carl: Yeah, we’re pretty chatty.