Opening Doors

Written by: Victoria Wæthing


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Photo provided by Unloc

By building a keychain for all digital keys, the startup Unloc is opening doors for everyone, making our daily lives much easier.   

“It is inspiring to be working in a tech startup like Unloc, because I get to partake in building a global company from scratch,” says Esben Poulsen, COO at Unloc. In this interview, Poulsen tells us the story of Unloc and the journey to becoming the world’s digital keychain, and how he encourages women to be bolder in their quest for a career—and in their investments. 

The Story of Unloc 

Eben Poulsen, COO of Unloc

Poulsen was first introduced to Unloc while working at the investment incubator Arkwright X, which he co-founded. Two entrepreneurs, Kris Riise and August Flatby showed up with a new idea called Unloc. It was an app they called a digital keychain where you could grant people access to your home, offices, or other locked spaces, as simple as sending a text message. 

At first, Poulsen was not convinced, but then he quickly realized that Unloc could solve a universal problem of keys and radically improve mobility and logistics all around the world.

So, what exactly is Unloc?  

“The simple idea behind Unloc is putting individuals at the center of access control. We build an open infrastructure that simplifies everything about keys,” Poulsen says.  

Their app is designed to fit every lock. Think of it as a wallet on your phone, only for keys. You can decide who will get access, and for how long, so you have full control. Some of Unloc’s investors include OBOS, Schibsted, Arkwright X and Novax. 

In a world where everything is linked to your phone, what happens when your battery is dead? You would obviously need a spare key—as you would with a regular physical key as well.  

The good thing with Unloc, though; you don’t have to go through the hassle of ordering a new key, you can simply authenticate yourself with the app and find your digital key safely stored in Unloc’s keychain. 

The Business is Growing—Fast 

As simple as Open & Close

Arkwright X invested in Unloc in 2018, and after approximately two year, Esben was invited to join the Unloc team. “It was almost like we had been dating by investing through Arkwright X, and now I was committing to a full relationship,” laughs Poulsen.  

The company is growing fast. From two founders in 2018, the company now has more than thirty employees and is already reaching beyond Norwegian borders by entering Sweden, Denmark and Benelux markets. Poulsen believes that the company will have a global presence within a few years.  

Being a Norwegian startup does come with a few challenges, though. “Norwegians, as well as the Danes, are less willing to take the salary cuts necessary to join a startup. They want to be a part of building something new, but they also expect to get paid as if they were still working for a big company,” says Poulsen. 

He himself substantially reduced his salary when he joined Unloc, and instead chose to take the risk of acquiring company shares. As the company has already secured funding from large investors, soon they expect to be able to offer salaries that are top market for everyone in their respective roles.  

Women in Startups 

It might have become cliché, but women are generally considered to be more risk averse than men, which could indicate that women would not be as inclined as men to join startups.  

“We always want the person best qualified for the job, and quite often there are simply less women who apply for a role with startups, which means, everything else equal, that there is a much higher probability that a man will be hired. My experience is that many women, though they are very talented, don’t consider themselves qualified unless they fulfill 10 out of 10 criteria when applying for a job. That is quite different from many men who have been found to apply even if they only fulfilled 1 out of 10 criteria.” 

“Unfortunately, this also means that the talent pool is often less diversified. This is something that we are aware of in Unloc. And we make sure to take it into account when we describe career opportunities, our ways of working, our values, and more. We recently implemented a new format for job postings, which really worked well. We noticed that a lot of qualified women applied. In fact, many of our recently filled roles were simply dominated by competent women,” explains Poulsen. 

Investing in Women and the Future 

Esben Poulsen also took part in building SHE Invest for SHE Community together with CEO Heidi Aven. From his experience, he can see the same tendency with regards to investments; many women wait until they are experts, whereas a lot of men jump in headfirst, expert or not. He urges more women to take the step and get started with investing and argues that the best way to learn is to start doing. 

As for investing in Unloc? The company is already well funded, how they will announce their plans for a larger Series A investment round in early 2022.  

“Investing both time and money in a startup is great, because it’s all new and you are a part of a fast-track learning journey,” says Poulsen.

“It is challenging, but it’s also a lot of fun to open the door to the future.”