Welcome back to the second installment of our interviews with the companies of the 2018 Corporate Accelerator class! This week, we sat down with T.J. Tavares, Chief Revenue Officer of Keybot.
Keybot is a rental access Robot which integrates hardware and software to automate access for rental properties. Keybot works with rental owners and property managers to enable self-showings, renter, and maintenance access like never before!
Tell us about how this journey with Keybot started and the problem you’re solving!
Two years ago our CEO, Divyesh Panchal, was on the hunt for a solution to the problem he encountered every day as a landlord with several apartment units around St. Louis.
Already a successful engineer coordinating global strategies in his full time job, Divyesh was spending a significant portion of his day in the car: Any time a tenant would turn over, he would hop back on the road to let people into an apartment for a showing.
Over the next year and a half, Divyesh began to to pursue a solution for spending so much of his valuable time in the car. He started by educating himself about the startup community in St. Louis, making a ton of connections and introductions. In the process, Divyesh shared his predicament with Adam Lorentzen, an incredibly talented and visionary young guy he had worked with at Monsanto building products. Adam was intrigued and set out to help Divyesh come up with a streamlined solution.
For the next year and a half, Adam and Divyesh collaborated to create and bootstrap what they first called “the Leasing Robot.” As they listened to potential customers, they discovered people didn’t like having the tenant touring process automated. Their customers worried about missing out on face-to-face connections and closing opportunities. And that’s when Adam and Divyesh reached out to me [T.J.].
At the time, I was running the Lean Circle in St. Louis, and I had worked with Adam at a previous startup. At the Lean Circle, early stage companies learn a lot about identifying pain points and finding solutions to the customer’s real needs. Adam and Divyesh were a model example of following the lean startup process, listening to your customers, and “failing fast, failing forward”. I first served as a sales and marketing advisor for Keybot. As the relationship grew over the next year or so, the opportunity to come on board full time with Keybot was a logical next step.
As the three of us have continued on this journey, we’ve discovered that there is a HUGE problem with managing access to doors: people are struggling with giving potential tenants access in situations where they’re out of town, unable to come in person, or without access to wifi.
Now that we’ve identified the problem, we’ve been able to develop a Keybot prototype, identify a great manufacturer in Taiwan, and are currently in three accelerators across the globe!
What are some of your team’s proudest accomplishments over the past few months?
In the past sixty days, we’ve raised 320K. That money will go far to help us get our product in production and help our team thrive in the three accelerators we’re in right now. We’ll wrap up the programs in May and work to raise a lot more money. We’re keeping our foot on the gas!
We’re also really proud of two pre-Accelerator milestones as a Keybot team: First, our Leasing Robot concept failed fast, and we pivoted immediately with a lot of discipline and rigor.
At the end of the day, I’m proud that we weren’t so stuck on our own vision that we couldn’t hear the feedback coming from the marketplace and respond accordingly. That takes courage and vision, and I’m proud of our team for being able to make that shift.
A second major pre-accelerator milestone has been our ability to bootstrap this thing for two whole years without any outside funding. This gave all three of us the chance to have some skin in the game. We’re a scrappy bunch, and it shows! We’ve produced three prototypes and kicked off a revolutionary hardware management system without taking on any seed funding. It’s been miraculous, and it’s taken a lot of hard work — but we know we couldn’t do it alone.
What has been your biggest takeaway or benefit from the program so far?
The first two weeks of the program have been like trying to drink from a firehose! Although I’ve personally experienced an accelerator (Capital Innovators in 2014), I’m not sure anything could have prepared our team for three accelerators at the same time, a world apart: Techstars (London), Appworks (Taipei), and Sprint (Kansas City). It’s been Hustle with a capital H!
The Sprint programming has been chock full of quality, including social media marketing, sales strategy, and user experience. The daily pitch practice has been really helpful in helping us convey our rather complex solution with a few simple sentences.
The highlight for me in the first two weeks on-site was the investor session “speed dating.” We made some awesome connections as we’re working to fill our current raise, and there are a few folks who are keeping a close eye on us for our seed round later this year. Even in those cases where an investment wasn’t aligned, the mentors were quick to offer up introductions.
The trip to the Sprint “executive briefing center” at the corporate office was also memorable. There may have been a lot of dead trees in that mahogany office…but if I ever need to close a deal that has more than 5 zeros, I know where to go! 🙂 The team at Sprint have been very accessible, and we are looking forward to extending the relationship over the coming months.
We’ve loved having the high-energy Keybot team in the Corporate Accelerator this year and can’t wait to see how much they’ll accomplish in the upcoming weeks. Don’t forget to RSVP to our community event to come meet Keybot on May 10th! Register here if you haven’t already!