Henderson businessman finds key to success with novel key holder

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Paul Takahashi

Los Angeles native and Las Vegas resident Josh Downes is the founder and CEO of Keyport, Inc., based in Henderson. The company, founded in 2005, creates special key fobs that house up to six keys and accessories in one compact device.

Tue, May 31, 2011 (1:55 a.m.)

Keyport Inc.

Beyond the Home News

It started with a minor annoyance that turned into a major gripe.

In 2004, Josh Downes was an architect working in Los Angeles. The 36-year-old was a cool guy: He lived in a downtown loft and rode a motorcycle.

There was one thing cramping his style however — his keys.

“They all dangled on the handlebar, flopping around in the wind and scratching my bike,” Downes said.

So he set out to create a compact keychain device that could hold all his keys together. After a few days of molding sheet metal and filing down his keys, Downes created the first iteration of his patent-pending invention: the Keyport.

The initial design was simple but crude. The keys swiveled individually out of a metal box and tucked back in when not in use. Downes, however, could see his idea had potential because of all of the positive feedback he received from his family and friends.

In 2005, Downes quit his architecture job and moved to Las Vegas to launch his new business, Keyport Inc.

“I loved my job and I thought I would be doing architecture for the rest of my life,” said Downes, who majored in the field at the University of California at Berkeley. “But I decided to just go for it. I never had any entrepreneurial or business school experience, so it was a rough learning curve.”

Downes raised $250,000 from family and friends, moved into a Summerlin apartment and began working on designing a prototype Keyport that could be mass-produced.

After 100 conceptual designs and a number of setbacks — including running out of money multiple times — the Keyport has evolved into a stainless steel key fob that houses up to six interchangeable keys that slide away for compact storage.

“It’s been described as a Swiss Army knife for keys,” Downes said. “I didn’t realize how hard (the design process) would be. I’m proud of my design.”

In April 2008, Downes posted a few photographs of his Keyport and a link to his website to a number of technology gadget blogs, and his invention became an overnight sensation.

“I just woke up one morning and my email inbox was stuffed with order forms,” he said. “The concept was a hit.”

Downes and his business partner in Boston, David Cooper, opened the Keyport headquarters last year in Henderson, where they assemble the Keyport from manufactured parts. The seven-employee company has been selling the product all over the country and world, from Kazakhstan and Turkey to China and Singapore.

Sitting behind a white desk in front of his Macbook computer one recent morning, Downes pored over new models of his Keyport, which include accessories such as an eight-gigabyte flash drive, an LED light and a bottle opener. The two-ounce Keyport will be a boon for people who carry multiple tools on their key chains, Downes said.

“Minimalism is my thing,” Downes said. “I’m always trying to reduce clutter. I like things neat and organized.”

The Keyport is not for everyone, Downes said. The Keyport housing is $49, with individual key “blades” costing $4.99. Microchip-embedded keys, such as car remote keys, each key costs $20.

But, he said, he thinks there is a potentially large market for his device.

“Everyone carries a cell phone, wallet and keys,” Downes said. “There are some cool wallets and cell phones out there, but keys are the only things that no one really thinks about, but pretty much everyone carries.”

In addition to new colors, Downes plans to add diamond studs and glow-in-the-dark materials to the KeyPort. “We’re always trying to come up with new, innovative stuff,” he said.

Last weekend, Downes opened his first storefront at his Henderson location, 50 N. Gibson Road. He plans to open a kiosk at the Galleria at Sunset mall in the coming months so he can show his Keyport to a wider audience.

“It’s great to have all these customers using this,” Downes said. “That’s the most rewarding part about being a designer, seeing your product out in the market with happy customers.”

For more information about the Keyport, visit mykeyport.com.

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