At our current place on the evolutionary chart, we are a species that carries more things in the pockets of tighter pants.
Michael Tunney understood this every time he went to a bar and saw patrons pull out their cell phones and bulky wads of keys before sitting down. Tunney, himself bothered by keys in the pocket, set out to solve this problem.
The 28-year-old Chicagoan with a manufacturing engineer background invented Key Smart, a holder that keeps keys from jabbing your thigh and removes the unsightly pocket bulge out of form-fitting pants.
Think of a Swiss Army knife, but with keys that fold out of a slim handle.
It’s made from aircraft-grade aluminum and stainless steel and can be purchased for around $20 on the Key Smart website.
“Even with the smallest standard key ring, the loop goes one way and the keys go another and no matter how you turn it, it’s a stab in the thigh not matter what you do,” Tunney said. “Looking at the bar one night, I realized I wasn’t the only one to encounter this nuisance. I decided to take a crack at it.”
KeySmart is one of those ideas that seems simple, yet Tunney had to solve several engineering problems. He settled on an hourglass-shaped handle because it was easier than an oval to fish out of a pocket. He had to consider the average length of keys and spent a week alone trying to figure out the proper distance between the posts that hold the keys.
“We’re talking about thousands of an inch,” Tunney said. “It’s a simple design but to go from point A to point B, there was a lot of zig-zagging there.”
After two months of trying out different prototypes, he settled on a design and put it before Kickstarter in 2013. He wanted to raise $6,000 for a run of a couple hundred Key Smarts.
He raised $330,000 and realized he wasn’t the only person bothered by keys in the pocket.
Many of the more than 10,000 funders gave feedback that has since been incorporated into a revised second model that came out last April. Tunney designed a ring after someone requested a way to fasten their car key and fob. Tunney also changed the size of the lathe-turned posts after one funder said a certain hardware store chain’s keys had holes too small for the posts to fit.
For an extra $3, Key Smart will add a bottle opener and for $10, a USB drive that folds in with your keys. There are other accessories, including spacers and post extenders to add more keys, on the website.
Of course, to get your keys in order, some easy assembly is required. A penny or dime will help remove the screws. Lift the top side of the handle off, places your keys on the posts (teeth folding in) and re-fasten the top, tightening the screws to your preference. The website has an instructional video.
Tunney works out of Chicago’s Broadview neighborhood, employing 14 people and contracting with nearby machinists.
He would not say how many orders he has filled since Kickstarter but says anecdotal information suggests in many cases that when one person buys a Key Smart, two friends follow. Tunney has other products in development.
“We definitely can’t stop at one item,” he said.