Last Lock, a company run by CEO and Founder Jack Ryan (Engineering ’18) and Director of Product Johnnie Wagman (MBA/WAVE ’20, Engineering ’17) placed top in the Business Services Category of the 2020 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest. Last Lock is a self-powering smart lock cylinder that is easily installed into any door’s existing hardware, transforming a mechanical entry system into a smart lock.
The Wisconsin Technology Council produces the event and recruited independent judges to evaluate the finalists in each of four categories: Advanced Manufacturing, Business Services, Information Technology and Life Sciences. Plumb Pharmaceuticals, a Madison-based drug delivery technology for extended-release medications used in the treatment of opioid addiction, took home the grand prize in the 17th annual contest. Over 300 startups applied for the 2020 competition which is made up of four phases: abstract, executive summary, business plan, and video pitch. The top three businesses in each category made up the “Diligent Dozen” and recorded seven-minute pitches available on the Business Plan Contest’s website.
Johnnie took some time to share her experience working with Last Lock during her final semester in the Operations and Technology Management MBA program.
How did the Last Lock idea come about?
Jack was walking around campus and saw a daisy chain of locks which is used to give multiple people access to buildings or construction sites. It is a low-cost, low tech way to allow access without the hassle of copying or sharing keys. You can add another user by adding another lock to the chain. Jack saw this as an opportunity to leverage technology to solve the same problem while prioritizing security. Around the same time, Jack was participating gALPHA, a venture-creation workshop to create innovative products or solutions, so he decided to use this idea to design a smart lock.
How did you get involved with Last Lock and who is on the team?
I went to the gALPHA’s premiere night in 2019 and ran into Jack. We knew each other from undergrad and worked together on the on the Formula SAE Team, where we designed and developed a Formula-style race car. I didn’t know that Jack was working on his own company and I was interested to learn about his concept. Then, in January Jack reached out to me because he knew I was finishing up my MBA and he wanted to see if I was interested in helping with his project. I had been focusing on entrepreneurship and wanted some hands-on application of the concepts we were learning in class, so I decided to join the Last Lock team. It was around the time of the first submission for the Governor’s Business Plan contest, so I started working on the application.
Rick Chopp (MBA ’20) joined as the director of business development and Charlie Chermak (Engineering ’20) as Director of Marketing.
What were the steps for the Governor’s Business Plan Contest?
The first phase was a 250-word abstract responding to five prompts. Your business idea had to fit into one of the four categories, for Last Lock we were in the Business Services category. Next, the top fifty entries were invited to submit 1,000-word executive summaries and participate in a business plan “bootcamp.” In the third phase we submitted a 20-page business plan alongside the top 20 startups. Finally, in the last phase the “Diligent Dozen” made seven-minute pitches. The category and grand prize winners were announced at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in early June.
What is your role on the Last Lock team?
I started out mainly creating content for contest submissions and now I’m transitioning to focus more on product development where I’ll move Last Lock from a concept to a physical product. In figuring out what our Last Lock product will look like, we are working with concept design companies to refine our prototypes and gather customer feedback. We are also conducting more customer interviews, building Last Lock’s brand awareness through website outreach, social promotions, and ongoing networking.
Over the last few months I’ve also worked on setting team dynamics as the team expands from one to a few members. We work through what each person’s roles and responsibilities will be and how we will work together as a company.
What was it like to work on a startup while being in school?
It was fun! It’s really interesting to take a lot of the concepts that I have learned in the classroom and put them to use right away. Working with Last Lock was not a thought experiment, like many of my projects in school. I could take industry reports and digest them and find the right bits of information to use in our business plan. It was a great way to validate my understanding of class concepts in the real world and to see how all the pieces fit together.
Where there any classes or experiences that were particularly helpful?
WAVE (Weinert Applied Ventures in Entrepreneurship) hands down. It has a wholistic perspective of starting a business where other class focused in depth on one aspect. I could directly apply that week’s material to what I was doing for Last Lock.
Can you share any advice for others thinking of joining a startup?
You find opportunities in unexpected places. The Governor’s Business Plan Contest was a great place to test things, like how we worked together as a team and how our business model would be perceived. It allowed me the time to figure out how we work together and evaluate if I would like to be involved full time.
When you started your MBA did you think you would work with a startup?
No, I didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do but I was pretty sure it would involve commercializing products. I didn’t know what words described the type of work I wanted but I was considering product development or management, project management, growth management, or technology strategist. I quickly learned I wanted to do something in technology and with product management because I like the strategic aspects of it. I wanted to sit at the intersection of business and engineering so that I can provide a deeper perspective of what’s possible and what is needed.
What would you say are the key elements for working in a startup?
Structure and communication are key, it’s also important to figure out how you like to address those things. It will change once some people start full time and leave the area, but we all agree it’s important and are willing to have the conversations which is extremely important.
What’s next for Last Lock?
We are continuing to work on prototypes to launch the product. It’s been a challenge since many of the initial pilots have been in makerspaces or businesses that have been closed since the COVID-19 pandemic. If you want to learn more, visit our website: lastlock.us