"Access granted remotely to the client's smartphone.." Belarusians develop a smart lock system for coworkings, AirBnB hosts and modern offices
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Artem Valmus has flown around half of Europe to test the idea for a startup: a remote control system for smart locks that open with the touch of a smartphone. The service is aimed to solve the problem of access to the premises, says Artem.

The co-founders of the startup, VSGate, are CEO Artem Valmus, CMO Andrei Shaurko and CTO Vlad Kalman. Here, they talk about their idea.

"Office owners don't know how to give shared access to workplaces"

The project idea arose six months ago when developers Artem Valmus and Vlad Kalman discussed how difficult it is to rent an office for a small team.

- On the other hand, we heard that some companies, have extra space that they could rent out. But office owners don't know how to organize the access of potential tenants to shared workspaces.

They decided to develop an easy access system that would allow the office space owners to manage an unlimited number of "smart" locks. Access would be granted remotely for specific dates and times directly to the client's smartphone.

Before starting the project, the developers conducted a desk study of the market.

- It turned out that in America and in Europe such solutions already exist, which shows there is a need. Then we had to talk to users to find out which product they need, - Artem says.

- Having studied where smart locks are used, we identified two main niches: coworking spaces and short-term rental services. The next step was investigating the live market intelligence. We started from Western Europe, as their coworking market is second only to the American one, - Andrei Shaurko continues.

According to some reports, in the world there are 20 thousand coworking spaces. Europe accounts for a quarter of this amount. Residents of coworkings are not only freelancers and novice entrepreneurs - global brands like Microsoft and Deutsche Bank move to such premises as well so that their employees do not burn out in the same team. The warmest clientele of coworking spaces are "digital nomads" - people who travel and work at the same time.

Seven countries and 18 coworking spaces

Artem set off on a journey alone, without the rest of team. He visited seven countries - in three weeks the developer managed to work in 18 different coworking spaces: "from small designer meeting points to large coworking chains", such as WeWork, WorkRepublic, Multiburo and Tribes.

- I started from Vienna, then went to coworkings in Brussels, Berlin, Prague, Rome, Paris and Warsaw.
The Euro coworking tour showed evidence that "the niche of coworking spaces in Europe is now at the stage of active development." Caring for the customer's convenience, coworking companies are starting to implement various technological solutions: access via ID cards, electric locks with the remote granting of digital keys, height-adjustable tables memorizing the position most convenient for the guest, smart coffee machines with coffee cup credits on smartphone, and much more.

- To notice that, I spent at least seven hours in each coworking space. And I came to the conclusion that now is the best time to implement our solution. In addition, the same trend has also been outlined in the CIS, and in Belarus in particular. About twenty small (by world standards) coworking spaces have been opened in Minsk, and large, technological ones will soon appear. We are in talks with one of them, planning to launch a pilot project.

Besides coworking spaces the guys were interested in checking the relevance of "smart" locking devices for rental housing. And they realized that the owners of apartments renting on AirBnB face similar issues.

"They have to get up at night, rush through the whole city to give keys to the guest." Sometimes the key is simply left "under the rug" - which is unsafe, - Andrei notes.

- There is one more peculiarity: Europeans speak English well, but in Belarus there is a problem of communication with foreign guests. An automated system would make life easier for both guests and the host, - Artem adds.

"We saved time in case the hypothesis was not confirmed, we found out which product is needed"

Field research cost the entrepreneurs about 5 thousand dollars. They consider the cost justified: that they "saved time in case the hypothesis hadn't been confirmed, and found out what specific product the client needs."

Based on the results of the trip, the VSGate team realized that in besides coworkings and AirBnB hosts, their solution might be suitable for:

  • pick-up points for online orders and post offices - boxes that can be opened using the phone. Such boxes are usually located at places with high traffic, in the subway or on the streets.

  • self-service stores - an automated access solution could become part of a large smart store system.

  • at smart home: the courier would be able to open the "smart lock" himself in case there is no one at home.

On June 12-13 the guys traveled to London to participate at the TechXLR8 hackathon and conference. One of the topics was the Internet of Things. The team showed a working prototype and won a prize at the hackathon, with plenty of bonuses from the organizers.

- Our startup was included in the Startup Elevate program, which connects founders with more than 400 investors and industry representatives from the USA, Great Britain and Singapore. It promises not only investment opportunities, but also access to fast-growing markets. We received valuable contacts for further development, Artem says.

"We saw shocking amounts for access automation by competitors: 50 to 70 thousand for a 20-door solution!"

The development itself has been underway for a little over three months. The application is a hybrid written in React Native.

"We also have low-level components: microcontrollers that we ordered in China and programmed ourselves using C language.

The tasks connected with search and purchasing of components, as well as working with partners and potential customers was undertaken by Andrei - he had experience working with hardware startups RocketBody and Rozum Robotics.
The development itself has been underway for a little over three months. The application is a hybrid written in React Native.

"We also have low-level components: microcontrollers that we ordered in China and programmed ourselves using C language.

The tasks connected with search and purchasing of components, as well as working with partners and potential customers was undertaken by Andrei - he had experience working with hardware startups RocketBody and Rozum Robotics.

Speaking about the technical solution, СTO startup Vlad Kalman notes that the VSGate access concept is "not so complicated": "all we need is to provide the client with the opportunity to open the door and close it, and associate a specific user with a specific door. Roughly speaking, to perform only 3 operations. "

The main problem, according to the developer, was to provide the ability to connect an unlimited number of doors - not just tens, but hundreds. The startups solved this:

- With our solution, each reader is completely autonomous, and communicates directly with the cloud. The smartphone, in turn, communicates with the reader via BLE.

However, there was another problem - how to provide a cloud update of the hardware itself, so that no matter which guest CRM system the coworking uses, the locks are being automatically updated "and they know who to let pass". Now the team has already found a solution – to use the API of currently existing coworking management systems.

Vlad notes that there are few competing services on the market - up to 10. Their main problem is "technical": they limit the client by the number of doors that can be connected.

- We saw shocking amounts for access automation by competitors like the American Kisi: 50 to 70 thousand for a 20-door solution! Even a very large coworking may not be able to afford it.

"Administrators ignore the ability to give access remotely and open the door "manually"

One of the main non-technical difficulties that startups have to overcome are customers "unprepared for the product, primarily due to lack of trust".

- Potential users doubt the security of access via a mobile phone. We have seen that coworking administrators often ignore the ability to give access remotely and open the doors manually, wasting time for registration and payment. Visitors at this time have to stand in line.

What was the main conclusion by the developers: "the security lock should be as simple as possible to use, as well as integrated into coworking management and billing systems, so that after installing the solution, the administrator would forget about the routine and having only to smile at the guests and monitor the atmosphere," Artem says.

According to founders, the total cost of their development can be estimated at 15 thousand dollars, not including the cost of the European tour.
Talking about their plans, the team says that they think about funding and entering the European market, but they want to start from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.
HackXLR8 2019 Hackathon, London
We made it! Start up premium package prize at HackXLR8!

Amazing feeling speaking out at a hackathon of one of the biggest tech events in the heart of business and innovation - London. Especially receiving a premium prize.

We came there from Belarus, we lost one of the hardware components needed for the whole system in the airport, we didn't manage to find a real door to demonstrate our product, we had to introduce massive last minute changes into our pitch and I didn't manage to train it out, we really were not hoping even to finish and demonstrate our solution. But eventually we not only successfully pitched, we got among winners!

Thanks to the whole team.

That was a really great job of a group of people connected together by one idea and vision!
Security Expo 2019
On May 15-16, we took part in one of the largest exhibitions in the field of security and access control systems in the CIS - Security Center.
At the same site with such well-known brands as Hikvision, Axis, Sigur and Esmart, we presented our product - a cloud access control system that allows you to give access directly to the smartphone. All that a client or organization employee needs is to touch the reader with the smartphone. Access cards are getting outdated. We have replaced readers like cameras and fingerprint scanners with a smartphone. When two-factor authentication is activated, the client identifies itself with a fingerprint or Face ID. And in the next version we will completely get rid of the wires.

Thanks to all the partners who visited our booth! Thank you for your interest and valuable feedback -
we will make use of it in our product development.
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