Around 100 years ago, a novel was written by HG Wells, “20 thousand leagues under the sea” in which the male protagonist was conversing with a computer for certain operations. 80 years after, Dexter was launched – a cartoon network production (many 90’s kids would know) that had a computer system working on the spoken commands of a three feet scientist.
In 2007, a movie named Iron Man hit the cinemas that had a similar stuff but this time it was a reality.
Smart Devices, a Pakistani startup, is trying to do something similar – the only difference is that its platform is no book, no cartoon, no movie but the land of Pakistan.
Abdul Ghaffar, the CEO of Pakistan hails from Gujranwala. From the start, he was a science enthusiast and aspired to become an astronaut. But due to lack of space education in Pakistan at that time and specifically in his locality (Gujranwala) he had to enroll himself in computer sciences. He did his bachelor’s degree and then went on to start a smart solutions company named True Solutions that had clients from government departments to private enterprises such as Unilever.
“The company used to provide Software Development, Masked SMS, GPS Tracking services to LTC, Unilever Pakistan, and many others but I never felt proud of it,” he describes.
According to him, there was no innovation involved – the thing that fueled his passion. Apart from that recovery of payments from the government was a big hurdle. For that purpose, he soon closed the company and took admission in Masters in the field that he loved, Space Sciences, in the hope that he would be able to secure a job & have future in it. But fate had other plans for him, after finishing his masters he moved to Dubai – as Pakistan still had no jobs for space graduates.
“My dream came true when I was selected for a Masters program in Space Sciences,” though he says he had to work on IOT paradigm after getting a degree in SS, as there is no attractive opportunity in Space Sciences since Pakistan has no active Space program.
After working two years in Dubai, Ghaffar decided to move back to Pakistan and start anew. “This time, I felt it was the right time to come back to Pakistan and to start my own venture.”
He came back to Pakistan and started an IoT business. “I did not want to repeat the same mistakes. Therefore I started a real, innovative startup, Smart Devices,” he adds.
Smart Devices is an incubate of Plan X – a Lahore Based tech incubator. It provides home automation services that allow users to control their homes and offices from anywhere through smartphones or web interfaces.
According to Ghaffar, he started Smart Devices to help Pakistan overcome the energy crises.
“Our home automation system is intelligent enough to detect anomalies in power usage and alert the users when there is excess use,” he adds.
“The company’s products save electrical energy and give you real-time status reports so you can take timely actions.”
He said the company is working on Artificial Intelligence (AI) based functions so devices can auto switch depending upon their surroundings and weather conditions.
Ghaffar says our prime focus is on home automation, but we are also trying to focus on people with disabilities. IoT products can play wonder when it comes to helping the physically challenged people, who cannot switch on-off lights or other electrical appliances. By using our products, they will be able to do that with ease.
Smart Devices was recently shortlisted in National Mobile App Awards by PTA.
Hurdle & Competition:
The major hurdle that the company faces at this time is the prematurity of the IoT products in the country. However, now companies like Telenor, Mobilink and many other have started working on this niche and have even organized IoT-based startup events.
At the time the company has no competitors. Similar startups are entering the field such as Wattie, which manages electrical excess usage – but Smart Devices still cover total home automation.
Ghaffar says as not many people know about it, a majority of our marketing expense is spent on making people aware of this revolutionary product.
He says by 2020; home devices will consume more data than mobile devices, and it is right time if one can tap into it.
The plus point:
On the other hand, hardware startups are easier to scale. Once you complete a tangible and useable product then it can even hit international markets in a relatively short space of time, he adds.
Advice for new entrants:
He says huge opportunity exists for new entrants in this field. There will be around 50 billion devices connected to the internet by 2020, and that is a significant opportunity for Pakistani startups.
He says it will be more beneficial for startups to make products not only for human to machine interaction but for the machine to machine communication – in that way, they will be able to learn from each other and better optimize.