A Chat With Openpath’s James Segil

James Segil headshot

Security Industry Association (SIA) member Openpath is a leader in touchless, modern access control and workplace safety automation. The company is headquartered in Culver City, California, with an additional office in Fishers, Indiana.

SIA spoke with James Segil, president and co-founder of Openpath, about the company’s history and philosophy, the future of the office, unique access control adoptions and more.

James, could you start by sharing a bit about your background?

JS: I’m a serial technology entrepreneur, and I’ve been building and running companies for the last 20 years. This is the fourth company my team and I have built in that time. We’ve been working together because we found a bunch of folks that are pretty smart and capable and have skills that balance one another well. 

We started off in the web hosting space in 1999, and then we did call center software, content delivery and video streaming, cybersecurity – and now here we are in physical access control.

It’s actually five founders who started the business, so you can see that we must all like working together if we’ve been doing it that long. Our goal is to always build something that’s real and changes the industry we’re in – that solves a lot of customer problems. We always experience these problems first and get frustrated. We always say, “Why didn’t somebody do that?” And then we go ahead and start a company that solves it.

So that’s the origin story of how we got into Openpath. We were frustrated users of key card and badge access systems, and we couldn’t understand why nobody had taken advantage of the mobile phone as an access credential. We started a company to solve that problem, and here we are today.

Your company espouses a philosophy of openness. How does that philosophy guide Openpath?

JS: Yeah – it’s in the name – so that helps. I would say that if you look at the way technology on the internet works today, there’s a movement towards open web, developer-friendly, ecosystem-friendly software that uses standards so that you can connect to it. We did the same thing. We built cloud-based software that has an open API published so anyone can integrate with our capabilities and our technology.

We have a robust developer community that has built over 60 different software and hardware integrations with our stack. Our goal was to make it so that we become an intricate, interwoven part of the technology, security and operations fabric of our customers. Access is how you control who comes and goes, and if you can connect that to other things, the value is very material – by way of contrast, the industry was not like that.

We looked at the industry as we entered it and saw that there were all these different silos of companies. There were folks who do access control software, folks who do panels, folks who do reader credentials. We saw they all had their own proprietary software and firmware, and they had these intricate sort of business arrangements between each other where you have to sign a proprietary license agreement, commit to a certain amount of dollar volume exchange between both companies and then codevelop technology on their proprietary firmware, hardware and software stack – and that was preventing innovation.

So we built an open platform that allows anybody to connect without signing a license agreement. They can just go to our website and start to use our APIs. We use industry standards like SIA OSDP and Wiegand so that any reader can connect to our panel. We can read credentials and cards from a whole host of providers, and the goal is “let’s make it as open as we can.” But we also want to deliver really unique and magical functionality to improve the user experience so we offer our own readers and mobile app that can perform in a way the industry hasn’t seen before.

And that does involve using our technology, right? What we say to customers is, “if you want to use the hardware that you’ve already got: the readers that you already have – the biometric devices you’ve got – the panic buttons you have installed – go ahead and use it. You can even use the existing wiring in the building! Openpath will run on that RS-485 wiring no problem. But if you want the magical Openpath experience at the door, you’re going to need to use our reader along with our panel.” So that open approach has definitely differentiated us in the marketplace.

Last year Openpath made headlines when you raised $36 million. Did you find that to be much of a change in work or design expectations?

JS: It’s not that big of a change for us. We raised $27 million before the Series C round, and we were pretty flush, so we didn’t feel we needed the money to stay afloat. But Greycroft and a number of strategic investors came to us and said, “We want to be part of your company,” so that additional money just gives us runway and flexibility to not be stressed when events like COVID happen, right?

Think about the reaction that a lot of companies had when suddenly the world shut down for a while: they furloughed employees. We did the opposite. We kept all our employees. We did not take any government money. We had raised this additional money, so we started hiring. We hired more than 35 people last year! That’s the ability that money gives you: to lean into an opportunity, take advantage of it and grow.

But we were doing that anyway – what we didn’t do was pause and stop because of COVID. Instead, we just continued forward with our plan to gain market share. And I would say there are a lot of companies in this category – not just us—who have recently  raised a ton of money. Look at what Latch just did – they just raised hundreds of millions of dollars by going public through a SPAC acquisition. Look at Verkada – they’re a unicorn with a billion-dollar valuation. So there are companies in this category that have raised a lot and are really leaning in to grow and gain market share fast. I would say that we’re doing that. We’re probably not leaning out over our skis as much as some of those others, but we’re definitely aggressively growing.

With all the uncertainty of the past year, what do you think the future of the office is going to look like?

JS: The office is certainly being redefined by COVID-19. The appetite for working remotely and flexibly is much greater within the workforce than it was before, and it’s probably easier to accept now for employers who were reluctant to have that as a factor of their workspace. The changing nature of how we collaborate and work together is such that you can virtually collaborate more effectively now because we’ve been forced to learn how to do so.

There is, however, a hunger to be back in front of your coworkers and to work together. To have that momentum of coming to work, and the lack of distraction that comes with being out of your house and being in the office. So I think that there will be a kind of ‘Roaring Twenties’ resurgence of everyone eager to get back to the office and collaborate in-person when the coronavirus period ends, or once everyone is vaccinated. I think everyone will go back, and go back with gusto; the workspace, however, will likely change, and people won’t be coming in every day.

When you look at the variety of businesses that are adopting Openpath for access control, what catches your eye and makes you say, “Hey, this is a really unexpected adoption?”

JS: There are just so many of them! When we launched the company, we were super-focused on office space. We wanted to provide a solution that the enterprise occupier loved, that would allow them to integrate with the right systems, and combine the cybersecurity strategy they already had with the physical security strategy needed to have. We knew that we had to sell to both the building landlord for the perimeter of the building as well as  the occupier/tenant themselves who would put in access control systems for their individual office suites.

Now what happened is we had to go out and sell our solution through our channel – system integrators, security installers and those folks really loved what we had – and they don’t say no to anybody, right? When someone comes to them, and they need a good access control system for a church, or a school or a warehouse, the integrators and installers would say, “Hey, we’ve got a great one. It’s called Openpath. Let me install it.” Suddenly we had all these customers across all these different verticals and not just commercial real estate  – and it’s really cool!

The use cases I love are the gyms. We have a partnership with a big fitness company called ABC Fitness that makes software for the fitness industry. They have thousands of gyms as their customers, and they install software to run the gym as well as the access control system and a number of other point-of-sale systems. So what’s happening now is that ABC Fitness is putting us into thousands of gyms all over the US, and it’s really cool that you can just wave your hand in front of the door at the gym, and the door just opens.

America is now starting to get back to the gym, and people want to get back to exercise because they can start to go back to how things were. We’re a big part of this strategy to communicate to people that it’s safe and healthy to go back to the gym now.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts and/or profiles are those of the authors or sources and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Security Industry Association.