While attending Inside Self Storage World Expo 2019, Janus sat down for an interview with David Gengler, the CEO and Co-Founder of Nokē. Here he shares some exciting insights about the future of self-storage and improving the customer experience as part of Nokē’s partnership with Janus.
Listen now or read the transcript below:
Rachael Dempsey: Welcome to the Janus Connected Podcast. I’m your host, Rachael Dempsey, and this is the place where you’ll find conversations with folks that are making an impact in the commercial door industry. You’ll hear about the latest products on the market, get some insight from industry leaders, and a whole lot more. Enjoy!
Today we’re very excited to be here at ISS Expo 2019 and we have yet another fully packed day. We’re very excited to be able to sneak away with David Gengler of Nokē. David has just a wealth of knowledge on so many great things in the technology space, especially in self storage and access control, so David, thank you so much for talking with us today!
David Gengler: My pleasure Rachael, thanks for having me!
RD: So, can you just give our listeners a quick background on yourself and Nokē and how you came to be associated with Janus?
DG: So my background is a little bit diverse. I originally started out in Finance, and realized that was really boring. I found myself in a situation where I had an opportunity to try something different. The iPad came out; I figured that thing would be a lot cooler if it had a keyboard. At the time, nobody had thought of that. It seems fairly obvious today, but I thought I’m going to give this a shot.
I created, as luck would have it, the first keyboard for the iPad. I patented it and found a company that could help me sell it and distribute it, and to date they’ve sold over a billion dollars’ worth of that product. When that’s your first entry to product development, that’s really cool and I wanted to do it again. A couple years passed and I left that organization and started my own company called Nokē. Our goal was to create smart access control, particularly mobile access control. These are items using batteries talking to your mobile phone, not requiring any kind of hardwiring built in systems. It’s all completely cloud based, and as we created this company and this product, we started getting calls from Apple, Samsung, all the big lock makers saying “This is going to change our industry.”
As we went down that path, we bumped into Janus about two years ago. It became very clear to us that self storage business was an area where controlling access, knowing who is on the site, where they are on the site, for how long, making sure that as they’re payments are late that they’re being automatically overlocked – all of that stuff that we could do that’s control over a large system became exceptionally valuable.
With the partnership of Janus introducing us to the right people who could then tell us what the system needed to be able to do, we got really excited about the opportunity. Since then it’s just exploded and it’s been a great run for us. We’re excited to be part of the Janus team now.
RD: We’re so excited to have you guys on board. It’s been so exciting to work with you all, especially on the Marketing side of it all being able to tell people more about what you guys do and all of your solutions.
Technology in the self storage space isn’t a completely new idea at this point. It’s in the early/intermediate stages. Just from a personal level, what would you want people to know, like new owners/operators or maybe folks that are independent operators that have been in the space a long time? What are the top three or four benefits of making that jump, and really bringing access control and technology features into your self storage space?
DG: I look at it from a lot of different points of view and I love that I’m able to do it from an outsider’s point of view. As I look at the space and what we’re doing right now, I believe in 5 years is going to be so obvious, like a keyboard for a tablet – duh. You walk into a public bathroom and the notion of touching a handle hanging off of a toilet is so foreign, and it’s really only been a handful of years. I believe quite strongly that 5 years from now people will go to self storage sites and if the company hasn’t adopted new technology, their customers are going to say “What’s going on here?”
So that’s the future that I envision. We’re already starting to see that on a consumer level in homes and office buildings. When is the last time you pulled out a key to open a door to a class A office building? It’s not so much again that we’ve come up with the exceptionally unobvious idea. What we’ve been able to do is package it in a way that it’s affordable, it’s easy to operate, and it just works.
So in terms of what it does for a site besides providing the service that the customer expects, the service that a millennial is going to demand in a couple of years, is it eliminates some of the obvious pain points. Right now, overlocking a door is a big pain. You’ve got to look at your property management system and see how many tenants need to be overlocked today, somebody’s got to walk away from the office and put those locks on there. Somewhere down the road the customer’s going to come in and find out they’re overlocked. He’ll have to go back to the office, away from his unit, to the front desk and then the manager is stepping away from the office again. They aren’t able to be productive and being reactionary to this issue, wasting time, removing the overlock, taking the payment manually, and wasting a lot of time for facilities. And it’s happening over and over again. Not to mention, unattended facilities, but these are traditional facilities that are wasting a lot of time dealing with this. The overlocking process being automated is huge.
Another problem we see is constantly on a traditional system is customers getting to the gate, forgetting they’re access code, and having to go inside and get that information from the manager, if it’s after hours the manager isn’t there, or if the manager is out on the site doing something, this customer is stuck there waiting. His next opportunity is to call the call center which is generating a fee for the operator, which is really inefficient. The customer is unhappy, the operator is unhappy, and the experience is really poor. We’re obviously eliminating that pain point. If you get to the gate, as long as you have your phone, you open the app, press a button, the gate opens, and it’s a seamless experience. It’s the same as opening your garage door at home. It’s just automatic. Imagine having to get out of your car to open your garage door; it’s just insane.
As we look at this, it feels somewhat new, but we’re going to look back and feel strange that it took so long to get there. But we’re just happy to be on the forefront of it with Janus. Those are a couple of things. The really big one is, the larger your company gets, the more this big data becomes more valuable. Who is on the property, how long, have they shared, maybe I adjust my rates due to this data, maybe I adjust my marketing because of it. Perhaps it’s clear through the times this person has come to the site, you adopt an AI model that says “Based on the pattern we’re seeing, this guy is about to move out. Let’s let the site know this; they can send a marketing piece trying to keep them to stay. That big data piece is critical.
Moving one step further, we’ve got a variety of customers who are using this system on an unattended basis. I really feel like that’s the future as well. I’m not suggesting that you need to have that as your goal to adopt our systems. We still have most of our operators more traditional, still have managers, and want those touch points. But as you look at gas stations and paying at the pump and not talking to the people, we’re going to see more and more unattended facilities. What our system allows is letting someone go online, fills out the paperwork, or goes to a kiosk, and boom they’re ready to go. They have instant access to the gate, unit, and all of this is happening automatically behind the scenes. From a customer perspective, it’s clean, it’s simple, and it works. Meanwhile, your entire process is automated from overlocking all the way to auctions.
That was a lot all at once but I could go on for hours about the things we’ve learned from our customers and tenants in terms of how game changing this system is for them.
RD: I wanted to get your take on the different age groups, generation wise; whenever technology gets brought into the conversation, a lot of people just assume its 18-25 year olds. Those are the only people who care about it or interact with their phones. From my perspective, that’s not really how it is. That age group has really broadened up into the 50’s, older range. Have you seen that? Is it older tenants as well that can interact with this in an easy way?
DG: Absolutely. That was a bit of a surprise to us – the speed at which people are adopting this new technology. I think Facebook is really a good example of it. It was just for colleges when it first came out. It was THE Facebook and you had to be a college kid, and what sort of adult would want to put their life on display, and now so many adults up into their 50’s and 60’s are doing it; now some of the kids are wanting to find something else. As we developed our technology early on, it was consumer based and early adopter based, so we had the obvious people coming to us directly.
Once we partnered with Janus and started installing these systems across the country, what really surprised us in a good way was how excited people were about it, at any age. Specifically, since we’ve gotten into a few retirement areas in Florida, it’s critical that it’s explained. That’s an important part and that’s where I think it’s good to have managers, a good app, or a good XUI will walk people through this. You need to explain it to some people where it is a little less obvious what’s going on. For some of these people, it’s the very first time they’re seeing this type of technology. You need to explain to them, “Here’s the app, here’s how you interact with it.” The moment they press that button and the door opens, it blows their mind. They’re just thrilled.
With a younger audience, it’s more of a duh moment. They’re more shocked that this doesn’t exist everywhere already and hasn’t been around for years. The older demographic is blown away; they absolutely love it. It’s simple. It’s a simple system to use because we built it around a consumer mindset, we’ve built it to be easy to used by anybody, even going as far as adding a fob to the mix.
We do have our key fob. That is for someone who is allergic to smart phones, or who wants a backup. It’s shaped the size of a couple of quarters stacked on top of each other; you can put it on your key chain and as you walk up to the gate or unit, you squeeze the fob and you’ll have access that way. We do understand that there are some people who are resistant so we’ve built the system to accommodate those people as well.
RD: So looking forward to the next steps, how do you think all of this is going to progress in the next 5 years? What do you think the self storage landscape in relation to technology is going to look like? Are there certain things you’re excited to see develop?
DG: It does seem like traditionally consumer drives commercial in terms of new ideas, and so the road map is already there. I think the Alexa model is one of those that came out of nowhere and is becoming what the world expects. For instance, if you go back before Alexa, before ‘if this, then that’ technology, if I was Weemo, these guys that make light switches, and I wanted to have my light switch interact with a camera made by Nest or I want to have it interact with a light made by Phillips, I would have to get my tech guys on the phone with their tech guys. We would have to sign NDA’s, spend weeks just getting the conversation started, then months creating this custom integration. That was what the world dealt with up until a few years ago.
Companies would start building API’s that would allow for a little bit more granular integration with other companies, but there was still some sort of direct communication required to make these things work well. That process has matured, and companies like Amazon have put things into the mix like Alexa; Alexa can’t really do anything on its own. It’s a microphone and a communication device that can just touch and take information and pass it along. That kind of automation and automatic connection of two different systems, such that to the user it seems like it was designed for it, I expect that now, almost ignoring what’s actually happening.
I say, “Alexa, turn on my light.” It talks to my light switch, which turns on my light, and it happens in a second. The future of self storage is going to be exactly the same. You’ve got cameras. I don’t believe that we’ve got any interest in making cameras any time soon, but we better be able to let them know, “We saw some sort of a motion event, so drop some marker inside the footage so we know where to look.” Or send a push notification to trigger the cameras to start recording. Same with lights. There’s no reason our system can’t be the conduit to turning on the lights. Or maybe, I know the customer is in the back of the facility, so let’s make sure the lights between the customer and the gate turn on, but not the others.
These are things that customers are going to expect. We are building our system around that capability, and looking for partners who are thinking the same way. If I’m building a site, I would be looking for a camera company who are building their systems around basic cloud technology and a robust API. If they’ve got a robust API and are cloud based, our system can interact with it. We can talk to them, they can talk to us, and the final frontier is what is the interface going to look like? Alexa changed that interface. I’m not entirely sure who it’s going to be; I know what it’s ultimately going to look like. But there is going to be an application that is very self-contained. Imagine one rapper that has all the information. The future is going to look like that. Right now, there is a lot of opportunity there. We are trying to figure out how we can be a part of that.