Startup tackles password management

Chris Wentz, CEO, Everykey

Keeping track of passwords can be frustrating and time-consuming. Poor password management can also be expensive for an enterprise. According to Forrester, organizations allocate over $1 million annually for password-related support costs.

A startup in Cleveland may have the answer to the frustration and cost due to password management—right at your fingertips. We spoke to Chris Wentz, CEO of Cleveland-based Everykey about his company.

Tell us about your product.

Wentz: Everykey is a Bluetooth device that replaces all those passwords and keys. It logs you into all of your different website accounts and app accounts—anything from a social media account to an email or a bank account. That means anything with a username and password associated with it. The device then locks everything back down when you walk away. You charge it about every two weeks or so. We’re working to increase that battery life to a month or more with some software updates.

How did the company come about?

Wentz: We started the company as an idea in an entrepreneurship class at Case Western Reserve University. The professor asked us to come up with any kind of business idea we wanted. It could be a product or a service that can solve a problem and make money. We were talking about all of the passwords and keys we use. I was guilty of locking myself out of my dorm room just the day before that conversation.

How do you handle risk management?

Wentz: The devices have an app. If it’s lost or stolen, then you use the app to immediately lock it down. You can still use a master password as kind of a backup while you’re waiting for a new Everykey to arrive or until you find yours. We send a new Everykey overnight.

How did you secure funding for Everykey?

Wentz: We worked with Bob Sopko, who is the director of LaunchNET at Case Western. He introduced us to a lot of funding sources around Cleveland. Bob introduced us to the Glide Innovation Fund, which funded us for $100,000 in one tranche and $25,000 in another. Then he introduced us to the North Coast Opportunities Technologies Fund, where we got $95,000.

Bob also got us involved in all of these really cool pitch competitions in the area, and that went well for us. We were able to raise somewhere in the order of $100,000 to $250,000 early on in these different pitch competitions.

Then we launched a Kickstarter campaign. We wanted to crowdfund this and prove there’s actually a market of people willing to buy this. We were able to get funded over our goal.

So somewhere along the way, you guys hooked up with an interesting investor—John McAfee?

Wentz: We wanted to associate ourselves with a name in the tech industry that would lend credibility to both our product and our company. So we made a list of different people that could be potential brand ambassadors for us, if you will. John’s name was at the top of that list. Obviously, when you think about computer security, the name ‘McAfee’ really stands out. When we reached out to John over email, to my pleasant surprise, within a couple of hours, he responded back. He said, “This is the coolest ***ing thing I’ve ever seen. Can you come down to Nashville to meet me next week?”

We brought him on as a brand ambassador and a partner in the business.

Obviously your location didn’t hinder forging an important relationship in the industry. Why do you prefer to stay in Cleveland?

Wentz: We wanted this to be a Cleveland company. Why move to Silicon Valley or New York City when there’s great engineering talent here in the Cleveland area? Quite frankly, you can hire some brilliant, hardworking people here for a fraction of what you’d pay in California, where the cost of living is so much higher.

What are your plans going forward?

Wentz: We’re going to roll out a phone app wherein you can use your phone as an Everykey to unlock all of your different devices. We will also sell more to businesses and governments. The Air Force is one of our customers now. A lot of data hacks happen because of poor password management. Employees can no longer use the same passwords they’ve used their entire lives—like the name of their dog—on high-security corporate accounts that might hold the keys to the kingdom.