Shark Tank Security Startup (UniKey)

By: Brian Rhodes, Published on Aug 30, 2013

A startup featured on the US Shark Tank TV show, UniKey, is trying to disrupt residential access control. Now, they are partnering with one of the biggest incumbents in the space "Kevo" to bring it to market. Is the product ready to dominate the market, leaving competitor startups behind in the dust? We examine the details, pro and cons compared to traditional locks as well as smart locks such as Lockitron, Goji and the Yale Z-Wave Deadbolt.


UniKey gained notoriety more than 18 months ago, when the company founder appeared on the TV show 'Shark Tank', a series that matches individuals needing startup capital with a room of eccentric, showy investors. The premise: if an individual 'sells' his idea, an investor trades startup funding for a share of prospective business. While UniKey successfully sold the concept and several investors pledged support, a formal agreement never was signed.

However, the exposure paid off when UniKey secured venture capital from 'ff VC' who saw the show. With the subsequent funding, UniKey landed an agreement with residential security giant Kwikset, who is manufacturing and distributing the UniKey concept as part of its 'SmartKey' offerings.

Product Overview

Kevo is a deadbolt lock that needs no mechanical key to retract the latch, instead using an iPhone and touch feedback. The promo video below demos the product:

Unlike other 'phone based' access locks, Kevo is not networked via WiFi or Z-Wave. The deadbolt is completely offline, instead relying on the close proximity of Bluetooth 4.0 (BLE) to authenticate users. This essentially gives the deadbolt a maximum range of 150 feet, however physical contact with the lock itself is required to retract or throw the bolt.

The key is replaced by an iPhone, carrying an authentication token. Because of BLE's comparatively low 2 MHz frequency, it can travel through clothing or even through glass, and the company claims 'you do not even need to take your phone out of your pants' to make it work:

Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News
Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News

Kevo Details

Key details include:

  • Side Detection: The unit claims to detect which side of the lock you are standing, so a user will not inadvertently 'unlock' a door for someone standing outside.
  • iPhone Only: Android OS does not support Bluetooth 4.0 (LBE), so development in not on the roadmap.
  • Battery Powered: The unit is powered by a pack of 4 AA sized batteries, which the company claims provides about a year of use.
  • Scheduling/Alerts: From the app or web portal, a master user can assign keys to other iPhone users, set a schedule when they are valid, and receive notifications (by way of phone relay) when the door is opened.
  • Keying Options: For those lacking an iPhone, Kevo offers a standalone plastic fob and a set of mechanical door keys
  • Cost: Kwikset is selling Kevo for ~$220 per lock at 'big box' home improvement retailers, however the product is available for the same price from online retailers. Additional BLE Fobs cost ~$25 and mechanical backup keys cost <$2 from the same 'big box' retailers.


The list of strengths Kevo brings to the table are substantial, including:

  • Kwikset Partnership: If Kevo is a success, it will not be due to its technical attributes. Rather it will be because Kwikset has the manufacturing and distribution resources to bear where alternative offerings have trouble. In terms of product support, technical service, and brand recognition, Kevo does not need to reinvent entire portions of its business - it simply can leverage what Kwikset already has in place.
  • Key Management: Issuing 'eKeys' happens via Kevo's app, with access definable only during times you select. 
  • Alerts: Even with the lock offline, a phone's app is used as a 'relay' to notify when access is granted through the door, and by whom.
  • SmartKEY: Despite being an entirely new deadbolt, the Kevo can be changed by the user to match the customer's other locks, so existing keys for 'non-Kevo' doors can be used in the Kevo lock.


However, despite those advantages, Kevo has some troublespots:

  • Must have BLE & 'Location Services' On: In order to work, iPhones must have both of these options turned on, and both are notorious battery hogs, potentially draining hours of time from a device between charges.
  • No remote accessibility:Unlike similar 'smart locks', there is no way to remotely lock or unlock the door. The user must physically be within range and touch the lock to perform either step.
  • DIY Install: While not terribly complex for most, some potential end users could be caught off-guard by needing to replace their own lock, and if the door itself is out of alignment or warped, it may require skills beyond 'DIY' to install.

Comparing Smart Door Locks

Suddenly, the race is on to replace your door locks, and there are a number of competing options in varying stages of development:

  • Lockitron: While the device is remotely accessible and less expensive than Kevo at $179, the product has missed several development and production milestones, and is not yet shipping. While Kevo claims it will start shipping pre-orders next month, Lockitron recently pushed their date back to late fall/early winter of 2013.
  • Goji: Essentially, 'Goji' is the premium lock in this category, with an integrated camera and user LED display part of the lock, but it also costs the most, with pre-orders costing $250, and post-release prices rising higher. Goji also claims the same 'keyless' entry method as Kevo, but is online and will send picture snapshots with log notifications. However, like many of these new products, the shipping date has been pushed back several times. The most recent projected ship date for Goji is estimated at January 2014
  • Yale Z-Wave Deadbolt: Indeed, one of the only 'smart locks' actually shipping at current is Yale's ~$250 Z-Wave offering. Unlike the other 'smart lock' offering, a Z-Wave device requires additional networking equipment and hardware, usually a hub or enhanced alarm panel. While other products offer remote accessibility with a free app or web portal, access to Yale's offering is typically through a subscription based service like Total Connect 2.0

5 reports cite this report:

Ambitious Mobile Access Startup: Openpath on May 24, 2018
This team sold their last startup for hundreds of millions of dollars, now they have started Openpath to become a rare access control small...
Ring Pro Tested on May 26, 2016
This year, Ring received $61.2 million more of VC funding. For a video doorbell. The video doorbell market is evidently hot but how good are...
The Brooklyn Access Startup: Kisi on Apr 12, 2016
Straight from the hipster startup hotbed of Brooklyn comes a new IP access control system.  And if the tough streets of NYC do not offer enough...
Vacation Rental Access Control: The 'ResortLock' on Feb 20, 2015
Controlling access to your vacation home or rental property is the vision of ResortLock. Through an internet based management portal, users can...
Startup - Surveillance / Photocamera Combo: Butterfleye on Jul 01, 2014
This startup, Butterfleye, is offering a cross between a cloud security camera and a personal photo camera, billing it as the 'world's smartest...
Comments (12) : PRO Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

Directory of 68 Video Surveillance Startups on Sep 18, 2019
This directory provides a list of video surveillance startups to help you see and research what companies are new or not yet broadly known. 2019...
ASIS GSX 2019 Final Show Report on Sep 12, 2019
IPVM went to Chicago for ASIS GSX 2019, with many exhibitors disappointed about traffic and the exhibitor schedule changing next year. However,...
JCI Sues Wyze on Aug 21, 2019
The mega manufacturer / integrator JCI has sued the fast-growing $20 camera Seattle startup Wyze. Inside this note: Share the court...
Verkada People And Face Analytics Tested on Aug 16, 2019
This week, Verkada released "People Analytics", including face analytics that they describe is a "game-changing feature" that "pushes the...
Mobile Access Control Shootout - Farpointe, HID, Openpath, Nortek, Proxy on Jul 29, 2019
One of the biggest rising trends in access control is using phones as credentials but which offering is best? IPVM has tested five of the...
Giant Tyco Campaigns Against Startup Qumulex on Jul 25, 2019
One is a giant conglomerate that owns the world's largest security integrator. The other has no shipping products. But Tyco is campaigning...
How To Quickly Research An Unknown Company on Jul 23, 2019
There are hundreds of companies in the physical security markets, ranging from a flood of new startups to small companies that may or may not be...
Responsibility Split Selecting Locks - Statistics on Jul 22, 2019
A heated access debate surrounds who should pick and install the locks. While responsible for selecting the control systems, integrators often...
ZeroEyes Gun Detection Startup on Jul 16, 2019
A gun detection video analytics startup, ZeroEyes, is being led by a group of 6 former Navy SEALs, aiming to "save lives" by using AI to assist...
Calipsa - UK AI Startup Profile on Jul 10, 2019
Analytic startups are a major industry trend. One UK company, Calipsa is aiming to use AI to filter out false positive alarms for live video...

Most Recent Industry Reports

ONVIF Suspends Huawei on Sep 20, 2019
Huawei has been 'suspended', and effectively expelled, from ONVIF so long as US sanctions remain on the mega Chinese manufacturer. Inside this...
Open Access Controller Guide (Axis, HID, Isonas, Mercury) on Sep 19, 2019
In the access control market, there are many software platforms, but only a few companies that make non-proprietary door controllers. Recently,...
Axis Perimeter Defender Improves, Yet Worse Than Dahua and Wyze on Sep 19, 2019
While Axis Perimeter Defender analytics improved from our 2018 testing, the market has improved much faster, with much less expensive offerings...
Directory of 68 Video Surveillance Startups on Sep 18, 2019
This directory provides a list of video surveillance startups to help you see and research what companies are new or not yet broadly known. 2019...
Uniview Prime Series 4K Camera Tested on Sep 18, 2019
Is the new Uniview 'Prime' better than the more expensive existing Uniview 'Pro'? In August, IPVM tested Uniview 4K 'Pro' but members advocated...
US Army Base To Buy Banned Honeywell Surveillance on Sep 17, 2019
The U.S. Army's Fort Gordon, home to their Cyber Center of Excellence, has issued a solicitation to purchase Honeywell products that are US...
Vivotek "Neural Network-Powered Detection Engine" Analytics Tested on Sep 17, 2019
Vivotek has released "a neural network-powered detection engine", named Smart Motion Detection, claiming that "swaying vegetation, vehicles passing...
Schmode is Back, Aims To Turn Boulder AI Into Giant on Sep 16, 2019
One of the most influential and controversial executives in the past decade is back. Bryan Schmode ascended and drove the hypergrowth of Avigilon...
Manufacturers Unhappy With Weak ASIS GSX 2019 And 2020 Shift on Sep 16, 2019
Manufacturers were generally unhappy with ASIS GSX, both for weak 2019 booth traffic and a scheduling shift for the 2020 show, according to a new...