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Lubn co-founders Autumn Li and YC Chung at their booth at 2018 CES Eureka Park showcase. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

We’ve come a long way from faux rocks with a hidden compartment for house keys, and Bellevue, Wash.-based startup Lubn is part of the drive toward a smarter lock-and-key solution.

The company has built a key lock box, the LubnBox, that connects to the cloud via the 4G network. Their app allows users to remotely control and monitor access to the box, which can be locked to a door handle or railing. Through the app, the user can schedule and track access to the keys in the box, which requires a three-step verification to open.

“We started from a simple idea,” said Yuan-Chou “YC” Chung, Lubn’s co-founder and CEO. “The idea that everyone deserves the time and freedom to focus on what is most important in their lives.”

Chung, 40, is a father who was juggling a career at Microsoft while also managing multiple rental properties scattered internationally. He wanted a simple solution for controlling and coordinating access to the properties to give him more time for family. He teamed up with fellow co-founders Autumn Li, who is the company’s CTO, and Charles Chang, adviser, to create Lubn.

The business launched in 2016 and has two full-time and seven part-time employees. The company name is derived from the Luban Lock — an interlocking wooden puzzle based on techniques developed by an ancient Chinese carpenter named Lu Ban.

Chung, co-founder and CEO of Lubn

“The Lu Ban lock will only open after a specific process is applied, thus solving what seems like a complicated puzzle but in a simple and sophisticated way,” Chung said. “The ingenuity from Lu Ban captured the essence of our solution.”

We caught up with Chung for our Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “With LubnBox, you’ll never have to leave keys hidden under a doormat, hoping that your guests find them — and not someone else. LubnBox is a smart key box that you can manage remotely using your smart phone. It’s essentially your doorman, but with security and notifications so you can control who ‘looks’ under your doormat and know exactly when someone retrieves or returns the keys.”

Inspiration hit us when: “Our inspiration came from a time, not so long ago, when people in small towns left their doors open and unlocked. There was a sense of trust within the community that enabled sharing among neighbors and friends. This feeling of freedom has faded, and at Lubn we would like to bring that back so people can have a sense of security over access to their properties while having the freedom to focus on things that matter most to them.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We are currently self- and angel-funded, but we’re evaluating VCs as we have been approached by several well-known investors thanks to our recent exposure at the CES 2018 Eureka Park showcase and other media. We were also one of 10 startups selected from a pool of 100 to pitch at an exclusive event this month sponsored by Taiwan Tech Star. We are looking for a VC partnership and funding to help us quickly scale our production, broaden our go-to-market plan, expand geographically and fast-track additional features. We are targeting the end of this month to start taking pre-orders.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “A platform that is easy, flexible, seamless and intelligent. Unlike other smart-door lock solutions, there’s no installation needed for LubnBox. You simply click on and it’s ready to use. For the ‘guests’ there’s no app installation required; they just dial our cloud-controlled phone number to access the property. LubnBox and Lubn App work together to allow users to schedule, manage, monitor and automate services.

For example, as a ‘host’ you can set up the system to automatically notify your cleaning service when your guest checks out. Lubn is connected to the cloud to provide data analysis on seasonal trends, to create new business initiatives and improve overall property performance. The Lubn platform is designed to get smarter over time, providing users with enhanced features.”

Members of the Lubn team, from left: Iris Chang, firmware adviser; Alias Li, electrical engineer adviser; YC Chung, co-founder and CEO; Bryson Chang, advisor; and Autumn Li, co-founder and CTO. (Lubn Photo)

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Creating a talented and well-rounded team that is anchored by key, common values. We have experts in design, hardware, software, marketing and channel/sales. We love to bounce around different ideas and challenge each other to think outside of our comfort zones.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Not necessarily a mistake, but one thing we learned was the importance of selecting and qualifying the manufacturer of choice early on. During the beginning of our manufacturing selection process, we spent a lot of time meeting with different suppliers and a few of them made empty promises (e.g. ‘sure, we can install an antenna lab to help you develop 4G-enabled products’).

A LubnBox

“We quickly learned that it is easier to focus on the manufacturers that have innovation as their core value; that manufacture for startup products as their core business; and have expertise in building similar products and technologies. We are really excited that we have chosen a globally recognized manufacturer that has even worked on NASA-based programs.”

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Likely Bezos. There’s a win-win opportunity by having Lubn as part of Amazon’s broad spectrum of services. We want to enable smart connection and access control between Amazon and its customers through Lubn technology. While some may see their recently launched Amazon Key as a competitor, we believe that the ‘secure access management’ category is a huge and quickly growing space, and our patented solution would provide an excellent option to those who are looking for a non-installed solution.”

Li, co-founder and CTO of Lubn

Our favorite team-building activity is: “We love to travel and explore the world. Currently this is difficult as we are deep in launch execution, but we eventually will incorporate this as part of our team building. For now, we build our team by sharing great food, drinks and instant noodles! One of our activities includes ordering instant noodles over chat and getting together to catch up on life.”

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “There’s no ‘biggest thing’ in our minds. We are looking for well-rounded, smart people who are team players and can problem solve. We like risk takers who are living on the cutting edge of their area of expertise. Most importantly, our hires are connected with our mission in some way — they might manage properties, travel through the sharing economy, or have related experiences in the real estate market.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Just do it! You have to start somewhere. If you have a great idea, go for it. Surround yourself with smart and passionate people who complement your skill set and knowledge. Once you start, you will learn, evolve and improve along the journey.”

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