John Martin had just driven with his entire family through a snowstorm to a vacation house at Lake Tahoe when he realized he forgot his keys.
After waiting 45 minutes for the locksmith, Martin, who had been an executive at Nokia and Apple, had an idea for a better lock, one that he could control with his phone. Martin called it a "founders' moment" in an interview with CNBC.
Three years and $71 million in funding later, that lock is now available to buy from Level Home, a 50-person company Martin founded along with Ken Goto, who had also worked at Apple.
Level Lock is a $250 deadbolt enabled with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. It's essentially a computerized lock that users can control through an associated app. For example, users can unlock their doors through Bluetooth with their phones, or send a text message with a pass to a guest if they need to get into their house.
Level Lock can send a pass to an entire group of people, a feature Martin calls "Party Pass," or provide reassuring text messages when a child or roommate arrives home late at night. It can also be used to monitor the flow inside a house, like when certain people leave or arrive.
The lock becomes more useful when it's associated with automation software like Apple's HomeKit, Martin said. With HomeKit, or eventually other smart hubs, users can create automation scripts, which would enable users to come and go from their houses without worrying if their house was locked, because it's been automated.
The idea is to make a high-quality smart lock that discards a lot of the conventional thinking about residential locks, or create a new product from first principles, similar to how Apple approaches the design of a new product by thinking about the experience first.
"The majority of the company is from Apple at some point of their careers," Martin said.
Level Lock has raised $71 million in two rounds, Martin said. The most recent round, closed in July 2019, was led by Walmart, the retailer, and Lennar Homes, a major homebuilder which has announced plans to sell homes fitted out with Amazon Alexa or Apple HomeKit-equipped smarthome fixtures. Martin declined to state Level Home's valuation after the most recent round.
Several technology companies have tried to crack the problem of a better smart lock. Latch, a New York company making smart locks for landlords, raised $126 million earlier this year, valuing the company at about $500 million. A consumer-focused company called Otto that sold a $700 smart lock went out of business in 2018, and its founder went to work at Apple.
Users can reserve a Level Lock now, but "availability to the general public" starts in Jan. 2020. The company plans to expand support to other platforms including Alexa, and is thinking about bigger features — such as providing trusted access to service providers, like package deliveries, which would bring it directly into competition with products like Amazon Key.