Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Have you ever been locked out of your hotel room? We have and we're doing something about it

LEAPIN Digital Keys was born out of frustrations - the frustrations of keycards failing and queuing to check in at hotels when the co-founders were travelling around Europe and Asia. 

The co-founders got sick and tired of being locked out of their hotel room when the magnetic-stripe keycard stopped working on their doors, and then having to go back to the reception desk and wait in line to get their card re-magnetized. It’s common for a magnetic stripe keycard to become demagnetized when held against a mobile phone.

Co-founder Steve Dunn had worked in Asset Management in Local Government in Australia and he was also sick of managing metal keys for dozens of Council’s assets including community centres, youth centres, art galleries, sporting facilities, and function centres. 

Hundreds of staff, contractors, volunteers, and community members needed to access the Council owned assets on a daily basis, some for once off periods or for a couple of hours or days at a time. There were always ongoing problems with security and managing/controlling the distribution and return of metal keys. For example anyone can copy a metal key in a couple of minutes for a few dollars at the local hardware store and give themselves unauthorized access to any of the council building’s at any time.

When the global recession hit in 2008, Co-Founder Steve Dunn lost his job at his local council and with time on his hands he began working on his digital keys solution. One of his mates from the Council IT department had also lost his job, and so they worked together and completed a first prototype in December 2008. But due to the global recession, and the downturn in tourism in Australia at the time, hotels could not afford buy to their product.

Unable to find a job and unable to find customers, Steve returned to University full-time and completed his MBA (he had started it 7 years earlier but deferred when he took full-time employment). During his last semester of studies in 2010, Steve’s University advertised a Business Plan competition, and Steve submitted his digital keys concept. He won first prize – $15,000. 

Steve used the $15,000 to implement a beta trial project in a resort on Australia’s Gold Coast. Steve was then invited by his University to compete in a National University Business plan competition for MBA graduates and PHD students. He assembled a team of students including IT student Sam Faulkner, marketing student Ben Luks, and finance PHD student Richard Busulwa to compete together. The team were awarded the runner-up prize which included vouchers for legal advice from patent attorneys. 

With the IP attorney support the LEAPIN team submitted a provisional patent application, and then entered the application in the Licencing Executives Society International Best New patent/Business plan competition for MBA graduates and PHD students. The LEAPIN team were selected as finalists to compete in London, beating over 80 University teams from across the globe, including teams from Harvard, Stanford, Yale and MIT. They finished runner-up in the London competition, and their prize included more IP attorney vouchers. They used the IP vouchers to progress their international patent application to countries including USA, Europe and China. The LEAPIN team were delighted to receive strong international search reports for their patent with all claims considered novel, industrially applicable and inventive. They've since submitted two more patent applications and a number of trademark applications.

The LEAPIN team in London competing in the Licencing Executives Society competition

Over the next couple of years, the LEAPIN team bootstrapped the development of a number of prototypes, and they all graduated from their studies. They built a and trialed a web check-in system in a Sydney hotel that interfaces with Hotel Property Management Systems, and Channel Management systems (Channel Managers have connections to Online Travel Agencies such as Expedia and Guests were able to self- check-in to their accommodation and go straight to their room by making a booking in the normal way at the Online Travel Agencies, and no onsite reception desk/staff management was required. In 2013 they began selling their web check-in system to accommodation facilities in Australia.

Anthony Slot, owner of the Marysville Garden Cottages Bed and Breakfast accommodation who is one of LEAPIN’s customers says, “I live on a farm approximately 9 kilometres from our new accommodation business, Marysville Garden Cottages; I am also a Registered Builder and wish to keep working as a builder. LEAPIN Digital Keys allows me to take bookings from anywhere that has mobile reception. If a potential guest arrives unannounced at our unmanned cottages, they could either check themselves in through our website and receive a receipt and a door code within 15 minutes after their credit card payment has been approved, or they may wish to phone us, where we collect their details, enter them in to our tablet or PC which automatically generates a receipt as an email and a door code as an SMS to them.”

More recently LEAPIN Digital Keys team have established relationships and completed paid feasibility projects with large lock manufacturers including a leading lock manufacturer in Europe and a publicly listed Australian lock manufacturing company. In the feasibility projects LEAPIN replaced the Printed Circuit Boards(PCB) of the manufacturers existing electronic keycard (RFID) locks with its own PCB (featuring the LEAPIN propriety algorithms, embedded software, NFC chips, and One – Time Password technology to enable time-sensitive smartphone access control. LEAPIN has also developed an ‘instruction manual’ (SDK’s, API’s) so any existing electronic lock can be converted to a time-sensitive smartphone enabled access control system. LEAPIN’s business model is enter into licencing agreements to provide the instructions to any company to develop a smartlock. Smartlocks are able to grant or deny access for limited time periods with smartphone apps. Apple recently announced their developing smartlocks as part of their Homekit.

The LEAPIN IT team have a knack for combining their skills and passions in both hardware and software. They love combining Printed Circuit Board design and embedded software, with cloud based software and smartphone apps. The LEAPIN team were all born and raised in South Australia, and they have a passion for innovation. And it comes as no surprise that the LEAPIN team also has a passion for travel too! When they’re not travelling or coding or writing patents, or negotiating with international companies, the LEAPIN team spend their time mostly travelling, coding, and negotiating with international companies.....and slipping in games of table tennis whenever they can too!

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