Who Will Win the Smart Lock Race, August or Lockitron?

Marc Barros
May 31, 2013

If you missed it, the race is now on to be the “smart lock” of choice. Originally pioneered by Lockitron and their amazing story of crowd funding over $2 million dollars, Yves Behar is raising the bar with the introduction of August.

What I find most interesting about this story, isn’t August’s beautiful design or slightly different solution to the same keyless entry problem. But rather the momentum August has gained in a matter of hours. Despite having a six month head start, Lockitron has only pre-sold 14,704 units, while Yves and his marketing machine are over 10,000 email subscriptions in 24 hours. Holly S@%#.

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 3.52.16 PM

Now, to give Lockitron some credit, the $2.2 million and 14,704 units sold on their website required a credit card (not just an email address) and their numbers only reflect the month of October when they ran their initial campaign. Even more impressive, is if Lockitron had been accepted by Kicstarter, it would have ranked inside the top5 for any hardware project ever run. That’s no small feat!

So how did this happen?

It’s Not the Features
If you look at the features you realized that both products accomplish the same goal, make it easy to open your door without keys. They were even started over the same frustrations of having to carry your keys, getting locked out, and letting people into your house remotely.

Go one step further and the competitive chart looks nearly identical. With either product you can lock/unlock your door from anywhere, send out invites that enable friends or strangers temporary access, get notified on your phone about any actions, and not have to take your keys out of your pocket because the lock will senses when you arrive. Both are vague about this, but require some unscrewing of your existing lock before they can be installed.

The feature differences I can find, without using the products, is that August comes in four more colors, has a guestbook feature, and costs $20 more. While Lockitron has wi-fi, which means you can unlock it from anywhere, using any phone.

Yes there are some differences here, but I doubt 10,000 people subscribed to August instead of Lockitron for the differences.

It’s Not the Technology
Hackers get excited about the technology, but regular people don’t. Most don’t really understand the difference and all they care about is how it works for them. Does it work with my phone, does it work on my door, is it easy to install, and is it safe?

Lockitron’s use of wi-fi and Bluetooth would have you believe their technology must be more advanced, compared to just Bluetooth for August. The one year batter life in the Lockitron appears to be longer than August, especially since they don’t even discuss how long the battery lasts. While both companies vaguely discuss how their products use the latest banking encryption technologies to prevent the product from being hacked.

It’s not the Money
Both companies have raised about $2M dollars. Lockitron raised it from its customers, while August raised it from angels. The financial war chest on both sides is nearly equal.

And since neither company is running advertising, we can assume they aren’t spending it to drive an advantage in awareness.

It’s Design + Marketing
Surprise, it’s not the functions, the technology, or the money. It’s all about the design and the marketing behind it.

Having the better designed action video camera at Contour, I learned a painful lesson that marketing trumps great product. Unfortunately it’s not always the best product that wins in the end, but the one everyone knows about. It doesn’t mean you can’t win with great design, it just means you can’t win with only design and limited marketing. Like Apple, you need to be strong at both.

The visual differences between the two products is obvious. Yves has a distinct advantage here and his Fuseproject Studio just happens to be one of the best design firms in the world. The use of textures, shape, lights, and color makes August a stunning product to look at. Regardless of it’s quality, it captures people’s imagination. Especially online, with curated photos, this advantage wins.

Although more visually appealing, I’m not sold the August shape will win over time. People recognize the shape of a locktrion, it looks like a lock. It’s simple design will resonate with a lot of people and Claire Gottschalk, a well known designer, is no push over. Mainstream consumers have an easier time understanding a shape they recognize.GoPro looks like a picture camera, people got it without an explanation. Contour on the other hand is a beautiful shape you have to explain.

Despite the visual differences the initial PR marketing is what separates the momentum behind the two brands. If you look at the volume of press interest, Yves’ personal brand is able to garner interest from every major publication in the world. Not just junior editors either, August’s coverage was by some of the best in the industry. To add fuel to the fire, he debuted his product at D11, a conference for the who’s who in the tech world.

If you look at Lockitron’s marketing they have done a great job, with no money, building loyalty with their initial customers. Their slow burn approach has garnered over 3.2M Youtube views and shipping in July means people will have a Lockitron in their hands before an August.

Going one layer deeper, the August messaging is more emotional. Lockitron screams, from the top of its website, what it does, “Keyless entry using your phone.” Even it’s name says what it does, lock stuff. Contrast that to August, which is a name not tied to its functions, and instead debuted with “You’re Invited.” This messaging seems silly, but it works and the team behind August weaves it throughout their website, press release, and press stories. They are not just telling you about the product but the story behind it, why it was created, and how it will change the world. It’s no longer just a keyless lock.

It’s true that Yves has an advantage and it’s also true that the press wave will die down, pitting both companies against one another to own customer mind share. But what won’t change is the need to connect with customers, convincing them why your product is the product of choice

Moral of The Story
If you are thinking about launching your hacker project on kickstarter, study this story. You are probably introducing a product, like Lockitron, that is months in front of the rest of the world, which in a vacuum is an amazing feat. Seeing a need and solving it first, means you have vision. Solving it first and then being swallowed up by a competitor months behind you, means your voice wasn’t loud enough.

If you have no branding or marketing experience, find someone that does. Nailing the emotional connection with your customers is as important as delivering a great product.

*Update: Paul from Lockitron was nice enough to reach out and help correct the story. Although he wouldn’t share his latest numbers, he assured me they are doing really well and are past the 14,704 pre-orders listed on their website.

Ready for more?

Check out other posts from this blog.

View all »