Updated: Apr 2
“They’re here!” Ezra texted me as I walked out of my afternoon math class on a sunny October afternoon. I met him in our dorm room, where a special package from Fuzhou, China had finally landed. Carefully watching it travel across China, over the Pacific Ocean, and through the heart of America to State College, PA, we had eagerly awaited its arrival for weeks. The package contained samples of the Keyper, the brainchild and namesake of our first entrepreneurial adventure. If the the Keyper prototype functioned as intended, it would attach a student's ID card and dorm key to the their phone. What more does a college student need? Excited to test our first prototype, we each grabbed a corner of the package, and opened it to the count of three. There they were: ten white, silicone Keypers branded with our navy logo. They looked clean, but would the key fit? Ezra hurriedly removed one of the Keypers from its plastic packaging, and tried his brass dorm key. “It fits!” we screamed. With that, we set off on our mission to eliminate a costly inconvenience almost all college students face at some point: the lost dorm key.
Three months earlier, on a steamy July day, I retreated from bustling camp activities to rest in my bunk bed at Emma Kaufmann Camp, on the shores of Cheat Lake, West Virginia. As I scrolled through my Snapchat feed, I stumbled upon a picture of Ezra, my old camp friend, talking on the phone. Interestingly, the photo was captioned, "Pitching his next Shark Tank idea.” As a Shark Tank enthusiast myself, I called him right away. “So last night, Kate and I were watching Shark Tank,” Ezra began, “and I was thinking about problems facing people our age.” As Ezra pondered, he recalled how so many of his freshman friends at Penn State lost their dorm key, and had to bear the inconvenience and $64 fee to obtain a replacement. In fact, University Park Housing reported that about two thousand of the 13,700 total on-campus residents lose their room key each year .
“There must be a better way,” Ezra asserted. Previously, students could only use either a clunky lanyard, a bulky wallet or an uncomfortable hair tie to hold their dorm key. “What if there was a cell phone wallet that not only held your ID and debit cards,” he pondered, “but also your dorm key?” Before Ezra could finish, I felt in my gut there was a real opportunity; the idea was simple, original and fulfilled a true need. “Let’s do it!” I exclaimed. Our partnership to create what would become the Keyper had been cemented before hanging up the phone.
Upon returning to our Penn State dorm room in August, we wasted no time officially filing our articles of incorporation, opening bank accounts, and brainstorming ideas. Within several weeks, Ezra and I transformed our sketches into a precise three-dimensional CAD model, and soon filed a provisional utility patent. Two weeks later, we signed a purchase agreement with Marion, our Chinese manufacturer, and upon returning to school from Thanksgiving break, we were poised to hit the market with a thousand Keypers on hand.
On the first Monday back from break, The Daily Collegian, a Penn State student-run newspaper, published an article detailing Keyper’s creation on its inner cover. As the day passed, Keyper order notifications buzzed on our phones almost continuously. We were in shock. Later that day that, Juan Maldonaldo, owner of P2P Computer Solutions, emailed us to inquire about carrying the Keyper in his store. Before heading home for winter break, three other prominent State College retailers, McClanahan’s, The Student Bookstore, and The Family Clothesline, had put Keypers on their shelves. We had hoped just to get into a single store by the end of February, nonetheless December! Simultaneously, the direct sales through our online store grew steadily. Despite repeatedly staying up into the early morning, there were more orders than we could fulfill alone, so we had to enlist the help of friends. Even as the creators of the product, Ezra and I were amazed by the demand for the Keyper. Moving into 2019, we hope to place Keypers in the hands of students beyond the realm of Happy Valley.
Looking into other universities across the United States, our market analysis revealed that twenty-eight out of the thirty largest universities use traditional dorm keys. These twenty-eight universities alone represent a student population of approximately 845,000 students. To estimate the proportion of this group that currently loses their keys, we conducted a survey, which was sent via social media and group chats to fellow college students. About 42% of respondents had lost their key at least one time just this year, and 26% had to buy a replacement. Thus, assuming the same proportion of students extends to other universities, we estimate 211,000 students lose their key each year in the top thirty largest universities alone. With an average replacement cost of $73, students at these universities spend an astounding $15.4 million each year to obtain new keys. With the Keyper, which costs just $5, students and universities alike can avoid the unnecessary hassle and costs of key replacement.
Since launching in late November, Keypers have already made their way to schools across the nation including Georgia Tech, the University of Florida, Harvard University, the University of Seattle, and the Arizona State University through direct online sales. However, to further expand across the country, we hope to create new strategic partnerships with distributors and major bookstore brands; Keyper has become more than one dorm room can handle. Joining forces with new partners, we look forward to saving students millions of dollars by making the lost dorm key extinct once and for all.
If you have any interest partnering with the Keyper team, feel free to contact us at TheKeyperSales@gmail.com. We look forward to hearing from you!