U.K. Startup Onefinestay — Aka The ‘Posh Airbnb’ — Patents Keyless Entry System To Hasten The Demise Of Front Door Keys

U.K. startup onefinestay — which has attracted backing to the tune of $15.9 million from Index Ventures, PROfounders Capital, Canaan Partners and David Magliano — has been using some of that cash to develop a keyless entry system to make it easier for homeowners to manage comings and goings.

onefinestay is best described as an upscale Airbnb — its business relies on convincing high-end homeowners in London and New York to rent out their city abodes when they’re away. But convincing well-heeled types to let strangers sleep in the four-poster sounds like an uphill task. The startup had signed up 1,000 homeowners as of December, doubling the number of homes on its books in July 2012 — a growth rate that’s best described as steady but slow.

It’s clearly hoping to remove a few more barriers to potential home hosts — not to mention offering them a bit of a carrot — in the form of some cutting edge digital convenience. That and reducing the number of physical keys it has to manage (noting on its website that “onefinestay manages what is known in polite society as ‘one heck of a lot of keys'”).

So enter stage left onefinestay’s keyless lock system Sherlock, which it is currently offering to install in hosts’ houses for free during a trial period. onefinestay CEO and co-founder Greg Marsh told TechCrunch the startup has been developing the patent pending technology for more than two years. “We’ve conducted extensive field tests across a range of homes of onefinestay members in London — including the CEO’s.”

“Some hosts are naturally concerned about making copies of their keys,” he added. “Clearly, one of the major advantages of Sherlock is that it significantly improves the security for homeowners when they work with onefinestay.”

The promo video for Sherlock (see below) talks up the benefits in terms of no more wasting precious time sitting in waiting for the plumber or the delivery man — by allowing users to lock and unlock their door via an app or by sending a text message. Of course the super rich aren’t going to be doing any of that hanging around anyway — they’ll have staff for such drudgery and/or live in a managed apartment with a concierge — but there’s doubtless a swathe of high end homeowners that onefinestay wants to woo who still have to push and pull their own door hinges.

onefinestay’s keyless entry system also allows users to distribute single or multiple use virtual keys to friends or trusted individuals — so they can gain entry without needing to be given a physical key.

But why is onefinestay getting into the entry system making business itself? There are already smart keyless entry systems on the market and in development — Lockitron‘s Kickstarter springs to mind — but Marsh said that after evaluating what was out there the company decided it needed to build its own offering that does not require users to change all their locks (hardly convenient) and which also addresses the problem of unlocking multiple doors, so that homeowners who live in so-called ‘walk-ups’ aren’t excluded from using it.

“We extensively researched other solutions before committing to develop our own, and remain open to working with other vendors to offer a complete solution. However nothing out there today solves the whole problem. Most existing systems — including unsurprisingly the ones being sold by major lock companies — require people to change their locks (and sometimes keys),” said Marsh.

“While that’s not a problem if you live in a townhouse, the large majority of city inhabitants live in apartment buildings and walk-ups, and don’t have a doorman. That means that they have two front doors — a building door and an apartment door. Have you ever tried persuading all your neighbours and/or your building management company to let you change your building door locks, or install a device into the common areas of your building? That’s a tough sell!”

onefinestay’s keyless entry system does not require new locks to be installed (or new keys used), or a device to be attached over existing locks — it uses a wall-mounted box installed inside the user’s home close to the door to connect to the apartment’s door entry system, and to onefinestay’s servers to authenticate the unlock/lock request. If there’s no door entry system in the building, Marsh says the system can still be installed — by swapping out the standard strike for a “conventional electric strike component”.

There are still a minority of doors that aren’t compatible though — but 95 per cent are, according to onefinestay’s calculations. “We’ve been testing Sherlock in a range of buildings with positive results, and are now starting to roll it out to onefinestay hosts in London,” Marsh added.

As part of its customer service offering the startup currently meets every onefinestay guest on arrival, but Marsh said he can envisage Sherlock helping it to be freed up from some of these face-to-face interactions in future — “possibly having trusted or repeat onefinestay guests use Sherlock to enter a home so that there is never a need to give guests physical keys”.

Beyond reducing key-based complexity, potentially cutting some customer face-time and paving the way to grow the number of home hosts on its book, the startup said it might end up selling Sherlock as a standalone product in future — hence the patent pending — “if all goes well”.