Q+A: Bernhard Mehl, Kisi

Picture this: you are running late for your train and run around your apartment like a headless chicken trying to grab everything you need. You get to work only to realize that you have forgotten your key card and now you reluctantly have to ask security for help. Not exactly the best experience. Fortunately, Kisi is providing a solution to this everyday problem.

Kisi is an access control and security company that provides a keyless solution to offices and facilities. With this solution, employees can access doors and areas through an easy-to-use app–meaning companies can eliminate the use of keys and key cards.

To understand more about Kisi and what they do, we sat down with Co-Founder and CEO Bernhard Mehl to talk about the idea behind Kisi, exciting projects Kisi is working on and his favorite spots in Dumbo.

Bernhard Mehl, CEO & Co-Founder, Kisi
Bernhard Mehl, CEO & Co-Founder, Kisi

What is the story behind Kisi? Did the development or concept of Kisi stem from a particular experience? 

Yes! At the time, we were working at another technology company and found that we didn’t have easy access to our office or space. We tried searching online for any app or software that we could put on our mobile phones for door access–almost like Apple Pay. However, we realized that there wasn’t anything available. We thought if we were finding door access a relatively big problem as a small company, would individuals from larger companies also be experiencing the same problem? After calling some friends at bigger companies, we found out that they also experienced the same problem, but worse. For example, they would have access to their building but wouldn’t have access to particular rooms or doors. From experiencing this issue, we had the idea and vision to build a product that allowed companies to provide better access control for their offices.

Kisi Door Reader
Kisi Door Reader

To have a major city, university and venture capitalist firm interested in our concept and idea was a great motivator.

In 2013 you pitched at the NYC Next Idea Competition. What was that experience like?

That experience was amazing! Originally, we were based in Germany, and when we applied it was purely just for fun. Soon after we found out that we were shortlisted, which meant that we were required to fly to the US. The flights were paid and we found that pretty cool, as a small start-up. What was also really interesting was all this interest from the City of New York in start-ups. At the time, it wasn’t normal to receive that type of attention or interest from a major city. So for us, to have a major city, a university and a venture capitalist firm interested in our concept and idea was a great motivator.

It is great that by incorporating Kisi into day-to-day operations, businesses can improve workplace culture. What has the feedback been like from businesses since implementing Kisi?

We have found that a lot of companies have the vision to become a dynamic and flexible workplace. By implementing Kisi into an office or facility, companies can offer a more flexible workspace and provide access to various areas for employees to use and work from as opposed to the traditional cubicle approach. In terms of feedback, employees are really happy to have Kisi on their phone, because they sometimes worry that they will lose their key card, which is often the case. I think a lot of people feel more comfortable having everything on their mobile and enjoy the control that comes with having everything in one place.

We have a lot of international clients as well, so Kisi enables businesses to make it easier to bring people together across countries. Often businesses will send teams to different international office locations. In most cases, when the team arrives, they get stuck in the lobby and everyone has to show their ID, which can be a hassle and doesn’t make for the best experience. Kisi makes it easy for global companies and their employees to access international office locations.

Kisi Hardware
Kisi Hardware

Can you think of any memorable moments or highlights since launching Kisi in 2012?

A key highlight was our first customer. We exhibited at tech crunch in New York a couple of years ago. Our first customer was a co-working space; at the time New York only had about five co-working spaces. At first, we didn't think a business like that would be interested in our product, but we thought if they want to use Kisi we should install it for them anyways. It worked! We happened to start around the time that the co-working wave got super big, and that worked out well for us. A lot of our clients are co-working spaces and about 20% of co-working spaces in the US now use Kisi. For us, our first client will always be a highlight.

Are there any projects you can share that you are excited to be working on in 2020?

Yes! We produce our hardware, and have recently designed a new door reader. It seems a little bit nerdy, I know, but we are excited about it and so are other companies. Our vision for the door reader is to have it look like an iPhone on your door–slim and a little bit fancy. Often, many companies will spend a lot of money on the fit-out of their office, but their door reader will usually look weird and chunky. With this new design, we are excited about offering a door reader that fits and blends in with the design of many office spaces. What is also exciting is that companies are starting to look at modern access control for their offices.

On a side note, we have also found that all the companies interested in Kisi all want to come and visit Brooklyn! They would rather visit us here, as opposed to us flying out to meet them.

We stayed in Dumbo because the neighborhood grew with us.

What brought you to Dumbo?

That is a very good question! When we were in Germany, we participated in a lot of start-up pitches and luckily won a lot of them. One of the prizes was a free month of rent at the co-working space at the NYU Incubator here in the neighborhood. We stayed in Dumbo because the neighborhood grew with us. Dumbo is a lot fancier now and everyone wants to be here, so that that is why we stayed. Plus, the majority of our team lives in Brooklyn.

Kisi Office
Kisi Office

The theme of this year's Annual Meeting is Futurists! How is Kisi changing the game in the access control industry? What are you excited about in this space in the next decade?

What is exciting is that there is a lot of talk about surveillance and privacy. This is a huge but also challenging topic–especially privacy at work, and how employers deal with privacy and transparency. For us, this discussion is really exciting because we always aim to show the end-user and employee the data that their supervisor would see.

Do you have a favorite spot here in the neighborhood?

A couple! The spots that I like are the ones that tourists can't find. Places like Burrow Bakery or the Japanese coffee shop Usagi, which is camouflaged as an art gallery and bookstore and that is why most tourists walk past it. It’s cool that Dumbo has places like that for us locals to enjoy.