Co-founder Annette Starkweather’s company has helped reshape the way other manufacturers secure their businesses for over two decades.
FaceKey Corporation’s patented biometric recognition technology provides safety and security to companies in myriad industries. Financial services, medical and pharmaceutical manufacturers, restaurants, schools, video game shops, industrial manufacturing facilities, and data centers are among the businesses that have integrated FaceKey’s facial and fingerprint recognition services at their locations.
Founded in 1999 by Starkweather — the company’s president — and physicist Yevgeny B Levitov, the FaceKey has constantly evolved to keep up with the times.
“The first products we actually sold were running on a regular, repackaged PC,” says Starkweather. “We sold those with fingerprint recognition to a lab in New York for over $7,000. Now, we can sell a better one slightly bigger than my cell phone for $750. We had to find a way to sell them at a lower price or else we couldn’t sell them at all.”
FaceKey got off to a slower start than anticipated. Despite Levitov’s patented face recognition technology — associated more with science fiction than reality in the late 90s — finding the right manufacturer was a significant hurdle that took years to overcome.
“People were suspicious of working with new technology around then, and nobody was interested in helping us build a prototype. We were never able to find the support we needed in San Antonio,” says Starkweather. “That led us to work with other people in other places. But it turned out that we couldn’t build the product that we needed to run our software in the U.S. at a price point that we could sell. Back then, that’s just the way that it was.”
It took more than half a decade for Starkweather and Levitov to connect with the manufacturer they were looking for, but they got there. After meeting a man based in Taiwan with the necessary manufacturing capabilities, a reputable company, and the ability to offer an affordable price for FaceKey, Starkweather and Levitov were sold.
“It wasn’t until around 2005 that we found the guy that could build the product at the needed price point,” says Starkweather. “It just so happened that he ran an ISO 9000 company and wanted to work with us. We remain great friends with him to this day, and he can manufacture whatever we need.”
All FaceKey products are assembled by the Taiwan-based manufacturer, and all product designs come from Levitov. The rest of the business shakes out as follows: Starkweather runs the day-to-day operations — including marketing and client acquisition — and the third employee, Richard J. Prince, is in charge of customer service.
Longevity and reliability are among the greatest selling points for FaceKey. While the tech world seemingly cycles incessantly through equipment and software, FaceKey products retain value and efficacy without hiccups.
“When we talk about having something to sell, we mean hitting the right price point as well as offering product reliability, it’s easy to install, and it can run on the already-established network,” says Starkweather. “Some of our clients purchased equipment from us in 2008 and just now want to replace them.”
Though keycards are not as progressive as a face or fingerprint scan, over the years, FaceKey has obliged its customers by offering products with biometrics and card reader capabilities. Securing client relationships comes first, even for a biometrics business.
Challenges: As with any industry, change is resisted until or unless it is embraced as a necessity. Businesses don’t want to revamp, re-install, or re-establish a security system — much less learn a new way of doing things or teach employees a new protocol. The resistance to new and different can stump even a company such as FaceKey.
“Our biggest competitors are the card access-based control systems still out there,” says Starkweather. “Consistently, we find that many, many people out there are resistant to change, regardless of whether our product is better than whatever it is they already have.”
Opportunities: Looking ahead, FaceKey is ready to go big game hunting. With an upgrade in the works, they are certain to better pique the interest of larger, more profitable clients.
“Currently, we’re working on a new product we’re calling the Shepherd Elite,” says Starkweather. “The first phase of it will be products that can recognize up to 10,000 faces.”
Needs: Despite having an impressive collection of products, FaceKey still suffers from too few businesses knowing who they are. Starkweather attends trade shows and industry events to better market the catalog, but finding new, consistent business sources is the crux of the company’s future.
“The biggest thing we need now is funding for our marketing,” says Starkweather. “Getting the word out is tough. Not enough people know us, or what we can do for them.”