I met James in early 2019. He strolled into our office with what looked like a science project - a plank of wood hoisting a door knob with an access reader appended. He came in swagged out in his company logo adorned shirt and a face full of excitement. His presentation was clever, witty, well paced and engaging. It was a pitch I’d never seen before. He had me laughing at his jokes and fully leaning in to the hop scotching story of the huge problem his company had set out to solve. So many founders who had pitched me before just launched right into why the world was broken and how they were the hero to fix it. Most had grandiose visions of changing the world of real estate by introducing new behaviors and radically upending the status quo. Beautiful in theory but often impractical - and left them revving their engines but unable to get out of the gate. This was something entirely different. James had me thinking deeply about something I never gave any thought to - access control.
You know you’re doing something right as a startup when you get a stronghold of well entrenched industry participants to talk about a seemingly boring topic - the death of key fobs and access cards. I hadn’t really questioned why we have to walk around with thick key cards in our pockets to access the doors that we frequent every day. I hadn’t given much thought to why you would want to deploy your security to a cloud-based server rather than onsite. I hadn’t really thought deeply about how challenging the existing models of permissioning and unpermissioning access to guests, tenants and new employees really was. I sort of took it for granted and figured there were much bigger problems to solve. What I came to realize was that through improving all these minor interactions with your building, you were solving to a much bigger equation.
“We only get to the future state by making small changes that when bundled over time create a massively meaningful differential from our past.” -some philosopher…or I made it up but it sounds good.
By bringing forth the ideas that our human identity lives on our phone, that technology has provided us newer protocols to interact with physical things, and that our buildings can become data consumption monsters (in a good way), Openpath had brought us one step closer to the future state. Furthermore, in order for us to care about something as seemingly detailed as access control, we have to believe that every minor interaction you have with your building adds up to the difference between a safe and happy customer who has a brag worthy experience and a disheartened, jaded and potentially at risk one. While its nearly impossible to say that a better access and safety experience is what leads to a tenant renewal, simply put, a better experience for a tenant only helps your chances. That’s why LPC Ventures, the venture capital arm of Lincoln Property Company that I oversee, ended up striking a deal to invest in the business and put our weight behind the mission of reducing friction at all points of interaction.
When the pandemic hit, the power of the mission became even more inescapably important. When we were all afraid to touch surfaces, Openpath was there like a catchers mitt to placate nerves and get people comfortable around mobile access and prepare them to get back into their buildings safely. The notion that you didn’t need to touch a dirty keycard to a public facing card reader and then put it back in your pocket was insatiably reassuring. The idea that you could do destination dispatch on an elevator directly from your phone became an enticing amenity. We played that up because it was true; but it was also highly advantageous and for nothing else, it was a catalyst moment that we couldn’t let slip away. If change was coming, it was going to be brewed and bottled right then and there. Nonetheless, to be able to tell a story, but do it in a nuanced way that doesn’t come off as overly promotive, is a fine art - one that I witnessed play out well over the course of 2020 by the Openpath team.
As we glide toward mid summer here in 2021, we got official word yesterday that one of the largest technology companies in the world, Motorola Solutions, had taken notice of the mastery of Openpath. As a business built out of Japanese hardware innovation, they knew to look no further than the innovation coming out of Culver City by the Openpath team to find the pioneering access and security technology. So after three years of existence, the Openpath team joined the Motorola family to continue on a ride of a lifetime, resource a movement and build the next generation of access control solutions. Therein lies the path ahead for this industry but let this be merely a lesson in a broader story.
While it starts with access control and the ruthless execution of Openpath, it continues with the next batch of entrepreneurs finding the critical chokepoints of our world that are serviced by a middling, unchallenged, unspeakably mundane set of solutions and attack it with modernity and fervor. The open path ahead is having the courage and the commitment to want to build it new and build it better. There will always be daring founders who want go after the biggest markets and the most visibly attractive problems but we need the strong business leaders to rethink the basics. I’m looking for more of the daring souls that want to take on the old guard in areas like plumbing innovations, roofing materials, battery backup solutions, electric motors, repaving solutions, flooring, telecom and so many more that stand as the components of the overall picture. We must remember, the future is the incremental modernization in the sum of the parts - so let’s continue to improve on each one of them in the open path ahead.