Hardware startups and large corporations lack in what the other excel in. Innovative hardware startups are in need of large corporations’ expertise of mass production, whereas large corporations matured in their experience in manufacturing face difficulties when it comes to conjuring up new ideas.
Realizing the potential the cooperation of these two types of companies hold, WiL and SONY partnered up to create the joint venture Qrio to create the Qrio Smart Lock.
The joint development project Qrio Smart Lock is an easy-to-install smart lock that instantaneously allows for a keyless door entry. Needing only your own smartphone to open your door is definitely convenient. It even automatically locks your door every time you close it. Plus, you can “share” your key by setting a specific time that your friends or familys’ smartphones can become keys to your lock as well.
We sat down with Qrio’s business development manager Ryo Takashi to ask him about the development of the Qrio Smart Lock, the obstacles they have had to overcome, and about the future challenges of Qrio.
An Idea Sprouted from Problems in the Real Estate Industry.
— Can you tell us the process of bringing the idea of Qrio Smart Lock to SONY?
Ryo: As a venture capitalist firm, WiL funds companies around the globe, such as those in Silicon Valley. However, we also have hold supporting innovation in large corporations as a mission of ours as well. So we thought of approaching one of these large corporations that was finding being innovative difficult with an idea for a partnership to work on a new and creative project.
The idea behind Qrio Smart Lock actually comes from WiL’s co-founder Shinichi Saijo’s experience in the real estate industry. Shinichi owned several real estate properties, and he felt the process of handing over the key for every property viewing was inefficient. That’s when he set his eyes on smart locks. Back then, nobody in Japan knew about such devices, but in the United States, they were already being sold everywhere, like at Apple Stores and at other electronics and home appliance stores. The combination of Japan’s lack of awareness of smart locks and the international demand for them made smart locks the perfect product for our first project and so we brought the idea to SONY.
— I saw your crowdfunding campaign on Makuake received￥25,450,000 – 17 times your intended goal! Who were your initial target customers before starting this campaign?
Ryo: The main objective behind our campaign on Makuake was to listen the voices of the customers. We originally thought our target customers would be the younger generation: the gadget-geeks and those who love trying out new things. However, what we found from the campaign was that the majority of our customers were men in their early 40s; a much older age group than what we had predicted. This is just a theory, but as the generation who toyed around with gadgets in the 1990s and the early days of the PC, they take interest in new hardware products like the smartlock.
As for the corporate market, in addition to regular office buildings, we hope to reach out to the real estate industry. The Qrio Smart Lock will allow potential buyers to use their smartphones to access the property, making property viewings much more efficient. No more wasting time waiting for real estate agents to bring the keys! Plus, agencies wouldn’t have to worry about losing keys anymore either.
Everything went according to plan, except…
— Many hardware startups struggle when it finally comes down to mass production due to their lack of knowledge and experience. As a joint venture with SONY, was Qrio able to avoid having to face these problems?
Ryo: Yes. During mass production, we were able to avoid any problems with design failures, all thanks to SONY’s support.
However, we did come across some difficulties manufacturing according to schedule. We were running on a really tight schedule. Even for preexisting products, the manufacturing process usually takes about one and a half years or two to complete. In Qrio’s case, we finished manufacturing a brand new product in just eight months! But despite our efforts, we were three months behind schedule and products that were supposed to deliver in May were actually finished in September.
— I see. Mass production requires not only the equipment and the expertise, but also proper scheduling. Are you facing any challenges now other than those of mass production?
Ryo: Yes. There are two main challenges that we are tackling right now.
The first is sales expansion. We know people aren’t willing to buy smart locks if they cost over ¥20,000. To keep costs down, we need to increase manufacturing, and consequently increase our customer base. This is also the reason why we plan on expanding our market to the real estate industry.
The second is improving customer satisfaction. Before the launch, we conducted multiple product testing. However, once actual customers started using the Qrio Smart Lock, they came across problems that we had not anticipated. Some doors that were too wide or did not have enough space between it and floor, which didn’t allow for the electromagnetic waves to pass through. This problem was solved in our November update, where we improved the strength of the electromagnetic waves, along with other issues. Thanks to the update, our online customer reviews has increased dramatically. Nonetheless, we know there are still much to be improved, the software for example, and we plan on continuing to make Qrio a much better product.
Building a Safe and Secure Home
— Can you tell us a little about the future of Qrio? How do you think Qrio Smart Lock can help improve people’s daily lives?
Ryo: Creating a smart lock is not the sole purpose of our company. With the implementation of the Internet in our homes, we can make our lives more convenient than ever before. That is our vision. So the Qrio Smart Lock is only the beginning, or “the entrance”. We plan to continue creating smart house appliances to combine with the Qrio Smart Lock in order build the ultimate smart home.
Don’t forget to check out our new product that we’re announcing this coming fall as well!
—Do you have a message for other hardware startups?
Ryo: Hardware is definitely still a tough field to tackle. I am always so impressed when I see hardware startups challenging themselves and actualizing their ideas into businesses. We want to continue being motivated by the efforts of other hardware startups, and to stimulate the world of hardware together.
Ryo’s repetitive use of the word “improvement” and his passion for the company’s future goals left a deep impression on me. Even as a joint venture partnered with a large corporation like SONY, their constant desire for further progress makes them no different than any other ambitious startup.
On the other hand, there’s no denying that Qrio has many advantages over other startups with its partnership with SONY. As Japan’s manufacturing industry faces stagnation, we believe in the role that large corporations can play in provision of funding, facilities, and technology for startups like Qrio.
Brain Portal strives to continue supporting these ambitious hardware startups as well!