Mark Curling, Co-founder & COO at Klevio tells us about a new smart access venture and the impact of Covid-19.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Mark Curling: We are doing well; in fact, I’m extremely fortunate to have been minimally personally affected by the events of the last year. I have a young family (we welcomed a third child into our household during lockdown), and shifting to a flexible working environment has given me more time at home with my family.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Klevio.
Mark Curling: I studied as a physicist and started as a management consultant, where my exposure to different businesses revealed that I was most excited by building things of my own. This led me through various startups to onefinestay, where, alongside my role of building out the Data Analytics teams, I also became involved in a side project of inventing and patenting a remote door access controller. At the same time, we got to know a hardware business called CubeSensors, which was working on data-driven ambient room sensing. Fast forward to the exit of onefinestay, and we realized that combining the ideas from onefinestay with the skills and experience of CubeSensors gave us all the ingredients to start as a new smart access venture called Klevio.
At Klevio, we transform traditional access by replacing physical keys with cloud-based smart access. Our range of smart door controllers allows you to open any door remotely from our app, dashboard, or in an integrated manner using our API. Our devices connect to door intercoms, access control systems, and normal passive doors via retrofitted lock upgrades, so the solution works across all residential and commercial property. Users can open doors from a tap of an app, so they are no longer tied to keys and fobs. By removing physical key management, businesses benefit from significant cost savings and operational process improvements. Klevio is currently widely used across short-letting and serviced accommodation, block management, and build-to-rent and shared-used spaces such as co-working and studios.
How does Klevio innovate?
Mark Curling: As a business that provides hardware as a service, we have to find ways to innovate across multiple cycles – hardware innovation (long-term), software innovation (shorter), and regulation of the environment in which we operate (unpredictable). The solution often lies in highly speccing our hardware as a means of future-proofing, which gives us more agility to build the software products that meet the needs of our partners. We are a team of improvisers and doers, so we are rarely short of new ideas and hacked prototypes. However, we are also a security provider at heart, so the course of moving a prototype solution from my garden shed to securing a customer’s premises has to be very measured and can at times feel frustratingly slow. We have developed a culture of listening for product ideas from all teams. Our client managers speak directly with our customers, and our field operatives spend all day handling and installing our products. Our technology team has a deep understanding of our security infrastructure. One of the challenges we face through COVID is maintaining this transmission of feedback and ideas through remote working, where all too often watercooler anecdotes are missing their opportunities to get aired and overheard.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Mark Curling: Early on in the life of our business, we realized that delivering the smart access disruption we were trying to create would require building a lot of expertise and also hand-holding to help our partners implement painlessly. This led us to deliver a solution that is a service and a product in equal measure. While some industries that we serve, such as holiday short-lettings and shared workspaces, have been deeply affected by the pandemic, we are lucky that our users value our service highly, so our existing user base has been very resilient to the difficulties we’ve all had to go through. On the other hand, growing our business in the middle of a pandemic has been a challenge. New partners have been understandably postponing strategic technology investments until some semblance of future visibility has been restored. As a result, we’ve had to be very pragmatic about our application of resources to make sure we can stretch our runway into the post-COVID world.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Mark Curling: We recognized very early on that COVID had the potential to be catastrophic to our business. This helped us make many of the difficult decisions way in advance of having to actually apply them. We modeled out a range of different scenarios, with cost-cutting plans that ranged from “obvious and reasonably painless” through to “full business hibernation.” It was a challenging exercise but made much easier with time on our side and the knowledge that the steps might not be needed. Our team valued the transparency we were able to provide with the plan, and some of the early-stage steps (remote working improvements, voluntary working hour reductions) were perhaps even beneficial.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Mark Curling: The furlough schemes made available in the UK and in Slovenia (where our technology team is based) have been incredible tools for us. As a startup, our budgeting is focused on the runway rather than immediate cash flow. Pragmatic application of furlough is an excellent mechanism for us to weather unexpected changes in our commercial and operating environments, where we envision business returning in the future. This allows us to focus on important decisions such as how much we ought to further invest in R&D and product development while other parts of the business are quieter.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Mark Curling: COVID-19 has been one of those rare events that nearly the whole globe has experienced together, so we recognized the need to act with empathy to all parties we deal with, be it staff, customers, suppliers, office landlords, etc. We have inevitably witnessed some of our partners having financial difficulties and winding up, which has required a sensitive approach to managing contracts and debts. My feeling is that we gained a lot of maturity in relationship management through this crisis, which I really hope to be able to capture and retain in the business in the future.
We use many common tools such as Hubspot, Intercom, Jira, etc., though the obvious change has been the shift to remote-first communication, both between our staff and all the companies we work with. On the positive side, it has made the geographical divide between our two offices less noticeable. We have taken a bunch of initiatives to make remote working effective and, in some ways, better than being sat in an office. However, I would be lying if I said our business operates as efficiently as before, and this is an area of interest that we will keep working on even beyond the end of the pandemic.
Your final thoughts?
Mark Curling: Steering a small business through the pandemic has been a taxing experience, but fortunately, ultimately rewarding now that we can see some light at the end of the tunnel. We are currently feeling optimism returning to our industry day by day, and I like to think that we will emerge into a world where smart, hygienic, contact-free access is much more normalized. I hope that we can play a big part in this transformation.