By Meghana Krishnakumar, senior at Pine View School and KidBacker intern, and Marie Griffin, Director Content Strategy, KidBacker
Have you ever misplaced your keys or forgotten the password to your smartphone, laptop, or a website? If not, you’re one of a very small minority of people who wouldn’t benefit from Everykey, a Bluetooth-enabled device that electronically identifies you to your phone, computer, app, or website and disables the security mechanism (usually a passcode) so that you can gain access.
The idea for the product was hatched at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, where Everykey co-founder and CEO Chris Wentz took an entrepreneurship class during his senior year. The company was formed in July 2013, shortly after Wentz graduated, and the first iteration of the product, then in the form of a wearable wristband, was launched through a KickStarter campaign in November 2014.
Since then, Everykey has evolved into a form similar to the key fob people use to open car doors. It now can be attached to a key chain or inserted into a wristband accessory sold by Everykey.
Everykey took another step forward late last year when the product gained the interest, investment, and endorsement of eccentric web security pioneer John McAfee, who holds the title of chief evangelist at Everykey and appears in a humorous demo video (below) and a digital ad.
In an exclusive interview, Chris shares the highlights of his entrepreneurial journey so far.
KidBacker: Can you tell me how you got started as an entrepreneur?
Chris Wentz: I have been part of the entrepreneurship world since middle school. My first experience was when I was about 14 and created a business around tournaments for video game developers. Everyone who wanted to play in the tournament would pay an entrance fee, and there would be payouts to the top teams. We kept a cut of the tournament entrance fees. I took care of all the administrative details, like matching teams against one another and managing payouts.
KB: We often hear that failure is a critical part of success. Do you have any stories to share about failures you experienced?
CW: Everyone has failures when being an entrepreneur. For me, I started a company called Speedy Tables when I was about 19, and it never took off. The concept was to charge people eating at busy restaurants a fee to book an online reservation. We would keep a portion of the fee that they paid and pay the rest to the restaurants. The company did get little interest, but it did not really pan out.
KB: What customer pain point inspired you to start Everykey?
CW: When we were sitting in our entrepreneurship class at Case Western, we would forget our passwords to our computers or realize we had forgotten the keys to our dorms. We made Everykey to solve this problem, so that college students and people in general would have a device that can remember every lock for you.
KB: How does Everykey work?
CW: Everykey sends an encrypted Bluetooth message to any devices nearby. If one of your devices picks that message up, it decrypts it to verify whether it is your Everykey. Once you are verified, EveryKey will disable the security mechanism, such as its passcode, so you can access it immediately. Most smartphones, laptops, and tablets have Bluetooth already in them, as well as many cars, so EveryKey works with all of them. For house doors and other traditional locks, EveryKey works as long as the lock is Bluetooth-enabled.
KB: What makes EveryKey unique from a technical perspective?
CW: Bluetooth typically only allows one device to pair to one other device. For example, you’re able to pair only one Bluetooth headset to your smartphone. Everykey’s technology allows it to communicate to an unlimited number of Bluetooth devices at once, which allows Everykey to truly be “your every key.” A product like ours wouldn’t be much use if it could only unlock one item.
KB: How did you fund your business?
CW: In 2011, I sold iPad 2’s internationally. Because Apple products are introduced to the United States first, it was easy to sell a product that was not available in other countries. I invested a good portion of those profits, about $100,000, into Everykey in 2013.
I later got grants from the state of Ohio from a business plan competition. Two GLIDE Innovation Fund A Grants totaled $125,000, and $95,000 came from a North Coast Opportunities Technologies Fund.
We also ran crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter (November 2014) and Indiegogo (December 2015). We sold approximately 3,000 products through our crowdfunding campaigns in 60 days total, and received over $250,000.
Finally, in the middle of last year, we raised $720,000 in a seed round of funding.
KB: How do you distribute EveryKey?
CW: Right now we’re selling exclusively online, but we plan to distribute through retail stores and sell to corporations by the end of this year.
KB: How do you manage your day personally and professionally?
CW: Most of my friends are co-workers for Everykey, so we just have a great time at work. And since I’m always having so much fun with what I’m doing for a living, I don’t consider it as “work.”
KB: As an employer, how important is an entrepreneurial mindset when growing your team and how would you specifically describe those skills?
CW: The way that big corporates are run is significantly different than how a startup is run. Corporate individuals usually have an expected way of running things, but we like to hire people who are more open to start a new culture for newer and untraditional ideas.
KB: What are your top 5 tips for young people interested in starting a business and/or building entrepreneurial skills?
CW: 1) Never give up. Failure happens many times, but things happen for a reason. Learn from those mistakes and you can make it to the finish line.
2) Do something in which you have an “unfair” advantage. The engineering software space is something I’m good at and I have good background in it, so I have better odds of success in this sort of industry.
3) Do something that you find really fun. Enjoy what you’re doing or else you’ll give up too quickly.
4) Be open to other people’s advice. When you first start, you don’t have too much experience, and you might have a cocky attitude. But you’ll find out sooner or later that in the real world there are people who have been doing what you’re doing for much longer. Sometimes you should take the advice of those people, even if it is sometimes hard to consider it.
5) Surround yourself with a great team or group of people. A company is nothing without its employees, and with a great team, you will be set up for success.
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Age of founder: 24
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