Nuki co-founder Martin Pansy speaks about the history of his company, which is currently growing out of its niche onto a broader market – from initial crowdfunding, the path to success, mistakes to avoid making twice, and annual doubling.
In 2013, you and your brother Jürgen came up with the idea of Nuki as we know it today. How would you have reacted if someone told you back then where Nuki would be now?
Martin Pansy: I would have been determined to borrow money in order to finance the whole thing as independently as possible.
Isn’t that what you did in the end – with your crowdfunding project?
Pansy: Yes. Back then, we strived to become the market leader in a product niche, in as many countries as possible. We were really surprised by it happening so fast. Looking at the credit side of things today, our situation is a lot more rose-coloured – but it was a rocky road, and it required great amounts of work and energy from the entire team.
When looking at it today, and hearing you talk like this, it all seems quite simple. Are you generally used to achieving your goals?
Pansy: I am right in the middle, between being a pessimist and an optimist – in other words, a realist. I started this project with the great advantage of having achieved good results with other projects in the past. So why wouldn’t we be able to pull it off again this time?
What did you do before Nuki?
Pansy: We developed sms.at, sold it, then bought and resold it again. Before starting Nuki, we also founded “Up to Eleven”, which acted as a holding company of sorts behind Nuki at the time. It goes without saying that the success of these projects makes you more confident. You have to tackle these things with motivation, commitment, and vigour. But not everything turns to gold (smiles).
How would you describe Nuki’s history up to now?
Pansy: When looking at the company history, there are two distinct periods: the time before the product launch and the time after. The time before the launch was marked by development. The fluctuations were much larger. Then, in 2015, we launched our Kickstarter and crowdfunding campaigns. With great success – people immediately recognised the potential. We at the same time completed our product development process by the end of summer 2016. We definitely experienced the greatest pressure in that year.
In what way?
Pansy: Because we promised our customers something, knowing that setbacks in development carry the risk of total failure.
When did you know that you’d make it?
Pansy: When we received positive feedback from the market and the customers, it was a very cool feeling – it felt like a snowball that started to pick up speed rolling down a hill. Shipping real, tangible products was one of the most important milestones for me. Up to that point, Nuki was little more than a garage venture. Of course, today we want to make sure that the snowball gets as big as it possibly can. There are still a lot of doors with mechanical keys that we can make smart.
When was the last time you locked your door with a normal key?
Pansy: That was in August 2019 when I moved from an apartment to my house. I didn’t have a Smart Lock on the door in the last week before the move, because I had already taken it along to my new place. Such a pain…
How would you describe yourself? Are there things that upset you?
Pansy: To the outside world, it seems like very little upsets me. Sometimes it looks a little bit different on the inside. What really upsets me is making the same mistake twice. We are pioneers in this field, and that means making mistakes – otherwise you’re playing it too safe. But that means it’s all the more important to learn from your mistakes and to develop in a dynamic manner.
How would you describe the Nuki product to someone who doesn’t know it?
Pansy: Nuki is like an invisible hand that sits on the door handle on the inside of the door and opens when you want it to.
And Nuki as a company?
Pansy: We are young, dynamic, and modern. Over the past three years, we’ve more than doubled our corporate key figures. We grew from 40 to 70 employees in 2019 with a 150 percent increase in revenue over 2018.
Even though it might not seem like it, has anything not gone according to plan recently?
Pansy: Of course, in the product development phases. They are always characterised by setbacks. We discarded a development project after three-quarters of a year, which resulted in a critical situation. It was not an existential threat, but it did put strain on our company. Today, our successes or failures are shifting closer to our customers and markets. Taking the UK as an example: We’ve learned that there is a wide variety in door locks, which means that compatibility is a bigger challenge than we initially thought it would be.
What are you particularly proud of?
Pansy: Personally, or regarding the company?
Pansy: When it comes to the company, being the European Smart Lock benchmark at the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas. The Smart Home market is growing – with significant growth in product innovations related to smart access for the first time as well. Many people are now working on a product that we already came up with five years ago. This is very cool for Nuki. By combining the Nuki Smart Lock and Opener products, one can control both the main entrance door and the apartment door and provide keyless entry from the street right up to the apartment. This unique position makes Nuki particularly interesting as an ecosystem. This combination of products and an integrative platform gives us a clear unique selling point in the industry. I personally enjoy how we operate as a company, offering a great working environment to more and more employees.
What is your vision?
Pansy: “We shape the way people access homes” – access is our thing. Without a physical key and as smoothly as possible. For us, security means peace of mind, with customers receiving a push message whenever the door is opened to put them at ease. Privacy and data protection are important for us, areas in which we don’t compromise on quality.
How would you describe your mission?
Pansy: Looking at the market today, at most one to two percent of doors in Europe have a smart or electronic door lock. This might grow to three or four percent next year. The situation will be different in twenty years, with locks being replaced during that period. If we manage to still be the industry market leader at that time, then we’ve made it. Because large volumes are still to come – it’s important to be prepared.
Speaking of volume, how do you approach the challenge of an ever-growing workforce?
Pansy: If you grow as fast as we do, office space is a constant issue. We have doubled in size since 2018; we will reach our limits again this year and are looking for a suitable office. Of course, the company will continue to be headquartered in Graz – the lives of almost all our team members are rooted here. Our staff’s know-how is the key to Nuki’s success – and the quality of our products first and foremost relies on the strength of our team.
Back to the product: How will you proceed from a strategic point of view?
Pansy: We are already the market leader in our niche in Europe. We still want to be the market leader in five or ten years, when the industry has outgrown its niche. Our portfolio should always be one step ahead of the market, we are constantly developing our products and strengthening the presence of the Nuki brand on our target markets, especially in Western Europe. Our company presence should be equally strong in all countries. There’s a lot to do, also in regard to brand awareness in the mass market.
You’ll be doing this from Austria?
Pansy: To some extent, yes. Of course, we have local sales partners. We also have to offer local support to all retailers in all of our target markets.
How would you like to expand your target audience?
Pansy: The strongest lever is relatively simple: personal recommendations. Nuki users talk about the products with friends and family, which is how it spreads. Our contribution is to deliver the best possible product. At the same time, of course, there are also external influences. The Smart Home is the next big thing in electronics – from Apple HomeKit to Amazon Alexa and Google Home. We can ride this trend, because door locks are increasingly integrated into the Smart Home.
What are your specific plans for 2020?
Pansy: To double in size again and to continue enjoying our work. On the product side, we introduced the Nuki Opener a few months ago, to control the main entrance door of apartment buildings using Nuki. We have also been working together with door manufacturers and motor lock partners, for direct Nuki door installations in the future – “Works with Nuki”. At the same time, we want to offer people better accessories to ensure even easier access to their homes.