Over two decades of working in hardware taught me this:
The best product ideas don’t come out of whiteboard sessions or R&D.
Instead, they start as ideas that hit you out of nowhere. I bet that many are even overlooked. I know that I almost let go of this one.
But experience taught me to pay attention.
A little about me:
- I was Product Manager in Silicon Valley in the late 90s working for a speech recognition company.
- I ran an electronics parts business in Austria throughout 2000s.
- And I started or helped several startups in between.
If anything, I learned to cling to ideas that are worthwhile.
A proven way to make Yubikeys useless
In 2015 I was working on a Password Management service called Keynto. My other company was a Yubikey distributor. I started hearing a common complaint from enterprise customers.
People were mishandling their Yubikeys. Leaving them in USB ports sometimes. This was much like leaving a password written on a sticky note taped to your monitor. Reminds me of this lady who managed to get her password in front of a live TV audience:
I sensed that there was an opportunity there but I wasn’t sure what it was. You had this great advancement in security tech. But it was worth nothing if people ignored policy.
Most take a “won’t happen to me” attitude towards security. Enforcement? Maybe… but it tends to make staff feel like they are in a work camp, not an office.
In retrospect, the solution sounds simple. If you can’t change people’s habits, change their environment.
My kids play GTA V. I used to play Lemmings—it taught me how to direct behavior by altering the environment
All we needed to do was to extend the use of Yubikeys into the physical environment. If you can’t get outside of the premises without your Yubikey you will never forget it. So we started developing an access control system that would integrate with existing electronic locks but be compatible with Yubikey.
This tweak ramped up our office security to the top
Since I ran an online store, procuring parts was easy. A prototype was quickly developed.
Here is the original functional prototype of the Keynto Unlocker that was used to access the offices of the company I ran back then:
We got some early traction. Few orders. And an endorsement from Yubico:
Quote from My Work Day Reflects Yubikey’s Flexibility, March 2015 on Yubico.com
I never took the project past that.
I almost let it slip by…
But the idea kept coming back.
Responding to upsurge in FIDO standard adoption
While I was working on other projects, companies like BitBucket, GitLab, Dropbox, even UK government services adopted U2F standards.
After the much publicized US Election scandals, cyber security awareness reached an all-time high.
All the while, the human factor remained the weakest link. I ran into tweets like these:
This led me to pick up the project again. Dashlane and LastPass took over the password management market so so I put Keynto on hold.
After all, hardware was my strong suit. In 2016 I joined forces with my former colleague Richard Lowe and his team of outstanding engineers to bring what’s now called Modis Lock to market.
Now, let me go back to lessons learned over a long career.
Get top level security in exchange for participation in our early access program
Modis is not a pack of young risk-it-all startup guys (not to say that that there’s anything wrong with those).
We’re not these guys… unless the show got to season 20 or so.
Modis is a bootstrapped team of experienced engineers and entrepreneurs. We understand that no amount of market research can predict success. One never knows enough to be able to average up the desires of the market.
We could do surveys, we could do focus groups. But we think those are hit-or-miss. And they end up costing more than their value.
Counterintuitively, the most affordable way of getting feedback is to get a limited number of small volume production units into the hands of our ideal target customers.
In return we expect those early adopters to make themselves available for offering detailed feedback that will inform further marketing and development.
We are pretty far in the development cycle. In a few weeks, we will have an initial batch of production-ready prototypes. Starting from today we are opening up our early access program to begin screening for suitable candidates.
Please fill out the form on our homepage if you are interested in receiving a Modis Lock access control system free of charge. If we select you, we will:
- Ship two pieces of hardware to your address (a host unit plus one reader)
- Give you access to the proprietary Modis access control software
- Walk you through the simple installation process (Modis is compatible with all standard electronic lock systems)
- Provide live technical support (by the development team)
Once you fill the form, we will follow up with additional questions.
We look forward to getting in touch.
In the meantime, we will be releasing more information about the lock itself on this page.