Proxy turns your phone into a personal beacon that enables new or improved interactions with your environment – be it access, identity, or personalization. We sat down with co-founders, Denis Mars and Simon Ratner, to talk about what they’re building.
What YC Likes About Proxy:
"It’s hard to imagine that we have several things to help identify us like company badges when everyone carries a phone."Qasar Younis, Partner & COO, Y Combinator
YC : What is Proxy?
Denis: Proxy is your digital representation that interacts with the physical world. More smart devices are created every year and we’re forced to download a new app for each. We wanted to remove that friction by turning your phone into a smart signal that allows these devices to sense and understand who you are. We’re starting with the most mundane interaction: unlocking office doors. Proxy replaces your fobs and key cards by allowing you to get into your office building using your phone, all without lifting a finger.
YC : That’s such a cool idea. Where did it come from?
Simon: We wanted to reconcile the problem of having a personalized experience without having to give up control over your virtual identity. The amount of information you’re creating is growing exponentially and you’re leaving a digital footprint everywhere and there’s not much control over that process. We wanted to create something that broadcasts over a limited range in a more controlled environment. That way you’re not sending your information out for everyone to see, and you retain control over your own identity.
YC : Why start with unlocking doors?
Denis: There are many applications to this technology which made it hard to decide where to start. We wanted to solve a real engineering problem before opening the tech up to other applications. Payments was the first thing we looked at. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just walk up to any cafe, the monitor senses you and knows exactly what you want, and you just push one button and wait for your coffee? We want the convenience but we also want to protect our privacy and security.
That’s when we realized the problem we’re solving is access control. Whether it’s accessing your credit card info to automatically pay for your coffee, or accessing your credentials to get into the office,, they’re all gateways. Of all the things we looked at, getting into office buildings feels the most behind right now yet easiest to solve since everyone has their phones on them all the time. So it only felt natural to start there.
YC : Can you talk a little bit about how the technology works?
Simon: The phone acts as a beacon; it emits a Bluetooth signal that gets picked up by a sensor connected to the door. As you approach the entrance the sensor will detect your presence and see if you have access to the building by requesting an ID from Proxy. This ID is verified by our backend, and once the sensor confirms that you are allowed in the building, it’ll open the doors for you. All of this happens in a few seconds so you stroll right through without stopping.
YC : How hard was it to integrate with an office building?
Denis: When we first started we knew nothing about access control but after some digging we found that there are only two to three big companies controlling the market. That was great for us because they enforced a standard on everyone which made it pretty easy to integrate our solution. We are able to connect our sensors on top of existing systems.
The funny thing is, the hardest one to integrate with was YC’s door. That one took the most because we had to figure out how to work with a stand alone battery powered keypad and door handle. Every other door has taken us much less effort.
YC : This idea feels like how Apple uses your fingerprint to unlock your phone and now companies are building that feature into their application.
Denis: Yeah, that’s a great analogy because your fingerprint is never transmitted. We do this with Proxy with your private information. It’s a one-time token that authenticates your physical presence and verifies your access to the building.
YC : How will Proxy evolve beyond office buildings?
Denis: We want to create the next layer of connectivity. If you looked at all the steps that it took to create the level of connectivity we have today, you needed to connect all the wires for the first iteration of networks. Then you needed Wi-Fi to connect all the portable devices. The trend is that connectivity will continue to increase to the point that there is no longer a device; it’s just you. We want to build the layer that’ll allow us to do things in the physical world and benefit from the tremendous amount of innovation that will come with it.