Jacquis Tolsma launched OPEN, a company that specialises in access management, two years ago, after forgetting his keys at a friend’s house.
“The incident made me identify a gap in the market for technology that allowed people to open any door or gate from anywhere in the world,” Tolsma says.
Tolsma’s solution supplies people with access pin codes via a user-friendly app.
The pin codes may be valid for anything from a day to a year, depending on the requirement, and even automatically change every day with the user receiving an SMS 30 minutes before the access period.
As such, the technology allows guesthouses and Airbnb owners to forego the headache of lost keys and having to be present for key hand-overs.
It also allows armed response officers or the police to enter properties without having to wait for a store manager or property owner to arrive with the keys during attempted break-ins.
For commercial companies, the technology allows workers to enter offices outside of office hours without putting the company’s security at risk, as each employee has a unique pin code to identify when they enter the premises.
The risks with this system, according to Tolsma, is much lower than having to work with keys, which all have to be replaced when lost.
OPEN users can instantly generate a new pin code if they want to void a previous code and the company is able to reset codes remotely, if for instance a cellphone with the app is stolen and users are unable to do so themselves.
Tolsma self-funded the start-up with money he made while working as a landscape architect in Dubai.
“The first two years were tough, since I had to manage the development of the prototype and the business while holding a regular job and doing my MBA,” he says.
OPEN has since secured significant angel funding, which allows Tolsma to spend all his time building the company and further improving the technology.
Tolsma realised from the start the importance of investing in a stable, scalable technology instead of skimping on costs. Development of prototypes was therefore outsourced to a young developer and then refined and expanded by an experienced software engineer and electronic designers.
The first prototype was quite basic, opening a door via an app that triggered a phone call to a global system for mobile (GSM) device.
It included proximity checking, meaning the door or gate only opened if the user was within 200m of an entrance.
Early customer feedback led to OPEN developing its own hardware, named CONNECT, to provide customers with instant response and a keypad that allowed pin codes to be changed remotely.
Additional functions allow owners to see when doors are opened and closed, to monitor when people have entered or left a property.
The company is planning on launching the next-generation hardware that will be completely wireless in May this year and is also working on an alarm system to notify users “if a door is opened when it shouldn’t be”.
Prices for the hardware starts at R2 200 per CONNECT device which, along with a strike lock, magnetic lock, gate motor or garage motor, allows users to remotely monitor and grant access to their properties.
Keypads may be added at R1 000, but they aren’t necessarily required.
“When we learnt that you were not allowed to drill into the corridor walls of buildings in Dubai, we started using only the OPEN mobile apps for access into apartments,” Tolsma says.
Subscription fees start at R100 a month for basic membership, which allows one user to access one door, garage or gate with 15 guest entries per month, and goes up to R2 500 per month for enterprise membership, which allows 500 users to access up to 20 doors and unlimited guests.
“Subscription costs include support, reports, the SIM card and mobile data for a back-up internet connection if WiFi fails, as well as access to ongoing feature development,” he says.
While a small number of similar solutions exist in the South African market, Tolsma identifies their competitive edge as the fact that they offer a fully integrated system that can work on any type of door and with any type of gate motor.
The technology was initially aimed at home owners and Airbnbs in South Africa but proved expensive to use on single-door premises.
The focus then shifted to small and medium companies, retailers and hotels.
His angel investor bought into OPEN because he saw the potential the digital solution could have on his own businesses.
“Our first sale was made in October 2017, after which we managed to break into the rental market via Rawson Property in December 2017,” he says.
The company will have three full-time employees, including Tolsma, from April onwards, focusing on business development, both locally and in Dubai and America. “I think the fact that we have come up with a solution for a global problem will help to open doors for us.
It will be interesting to see the new challenges that the international market will throw at us,” Tolsma says.