Millennials + The New Mainstream Profile: KISI

Flamingo New York recently hosted an expert salon on Millennials and the New Mainstream as part of our Game Changers report with Wolff Olins, featuring panelists Spencer Baim, Chief Strategic Officer, VICE Media and Founder of Virtue, Frankie Colamarino, Founder/Chief Creative Officer, KNOWUSE, Jillian Curran, Senior Manager, Innovation Insights, MTV, Josh Madden, Men’s Content + Marketing Director, Nylon Magazine/DJ/Stylist, Marissa Vosper, Senior Strategist, Wolff Olins and Will Wheeler, Chief Strategy Officer, KNOWUSE. In addition, the salon featured a gallery of four companies born out of the Millennial maker mindset.


We’re continuing the conversation by profiling some of the game changing companies that we highlighted that night. The first of these interviews is with Max Schuetz, who created KISI with Bernhard Mehl and Carl Pfeiffer. KISI is an app that turns your smartphone into a key, and allows you to share access with anyone you like within moments. The success of KISI speaks to some of our key Game Changers themes, such as the democratization of makership, and the continued rise of the sharing economy.


Hey, first of all thanks so much for participating in the salon and sharing your ideas with us.  For anyone who wasn’t able to make it, can you just give a quick summary of what KISI does?

Sure, so what we do is smartphone access. You don’t need a key card anymore. You can just use our application on your smartphone to get into doors: office doors, apartment doors. You can share the keys with friends.


Awesome. That’s incredibly convenient. Can you tell me a bit about the inspiration behind the idea?

Well the idea was to get rid of the key. We came up with the idea when we were in Munich. Some friends had come to visit us at Oktoberfest. We were already in the tent, but they had just arrived, so we had to get out of the tent to let them put their luggage in our apartment, and when we came back we weren’t able to get into the tent anymore. So we were like, “it would be cool just to send a key.” That was the day the idea was born.


It seems like people are really taking to the idea. Are you getting that sense? The convenience of it seems like a huge selling point.

Yes, definitely. Right now we have around 20 clients in New York. We’ve gotten emails from people saying, “Hey your technology is a godsend.  It solves a real problem for me.” Many times it’s the office manager, who has to manage building access. We give the manager a control panel for his computer that allows him to grant and deny access in one click.


So you all saw an opportunity to solve a problem by making something yourselves. Have you always had the sense that that’s something you can do? Because that’s a theme that came up a lot at the Game Changers Salon, the sense that people are feeling empowered to make things.

Yeah, Bernhard’s focus was product design, so he’s always been into how things are made and designed. When I was younger I did some similar stuff with electronics, although I studied economics. So yeah, we started a company in Germany making electronic fitness machines, very high tech. That was the time that we got very in touch with electronics and software, and got the feeling that it’s not impossible to create a new product. That was a good experience.


Do you feel like New York is a good place to be for a startup? Does the number of startups make it feel super competitive, or is it more of a collaborative thing?

Very collaborative. And the government is actually supporting us very much. We are Brooklyn based, and they supply us with contacts to help us promote our technology. So New York is a great place for this.  We won a competition here at Columbia University, called the Next Idea Competition.  We won some prize money and they offered us some free work space for a couple of months. For us, the people in the US, in general, are more open to innovation and new technology. Germany is a bit slower in adapting to new technology. It’s a tough topic because it’s about security and access, so they’re skeptical sometimes.


Oh, ok that’s interesting. So working in this collaborative environment for New York startups, are there particular themes that you’ve seen that the really successful ones have in common?

Yeah, definitely. The way that social media is now across all platforms: on your phone, on your computer, that’s solved a lot of problems and been the starting point for a lot of good ideas. But people are also realizing that you can produce really helpful hardware as well.


How does KISI distinguish itself from other brands?

Well these electronic lock companies basically focus on producing locks. But we’re more of an entrance platform that can integrate any kind of lock into our system. So the infrastructure already exists and we hook up our device to it and enable smartphone access.


Are there any brands outside of your own space that you admire?  If so, why?

Definitely Dropbox and Square, because they’re cloud-based, cross-platform technologies. That’s what we’re trying to achieve: to connect the cloud to smart things.


Absolutely. So any final points about KISI that you want to make sure we get across?

It’s all about the sharing economy. In New York everybody is busy, and our technology solves problems, because you can share access in a convenient and safe way.