By Anusha Ashwin
Operating out of a garage, entering into the Top 10 hardware startups of India, making inroads into the niche home automation sector is the best-fit description for the startup, Falcon Control Systems and Automation. Founded in July 2014 by Ohio State University alumnus Neil Savant, Falcon is an IoT company that has developed IntuitThings, a brand of home and office automation systems.
Mumbai located Falcon is Savant’s entrepreneurial debut. When he completed his Masters in Electrical Engineering with a specialization in Control Systems, Savant knew one day he would own a company that manufactures products for home automation. Savant held various engineering and management positions when he had previously worked in US for four years with Navistar and Cummins. He returned to India in 2014 aligning with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make in India initiative.
“The journey began with the idea that was formed in the final year of my engineering in 2007, when smart homes was more a concept in theory than in practice. I took a brave decision to move out of the US, and back home I started brewing on this concept of home and office automation. While working on a student’s BE project quite similar on the lines of home automation, I decided that this is something I wanted to do since my college days and this where I should take a leap of faith into. Soon, I started hiring and even firing team members to achieve this dream, and today with a stable team of 10 members and after about a year and two months of inception, I have progressed to the point where my company is in production of its first large quantity of products,” explained Savant about Falcon’s growth from baby steps.
Turning countless hours of research effort into value-based products
Like many startups, Savant had a rough beginning. Savant and his two other full-time team members started off with a couple of old laptops. They made crudely designed circuits in-house, but they were working. Today, Savant has managed to elevate his capabilities to make industry-grade hardware and even earmark a position in the top 10 hardware startups of India. “We were able to get the products tested and passed all CE certification tests in one shot. Now, we are a mature team, who can react to the market requirements in the shortest period of time and come up with a robust product. The core team at Falcon has more than 10 dedicated engineers coming from Power Electronics, Embedded Systems, Advanced R&D and Android/IOS and Web platform development,” says Savant.
Falcon’s range of innovative products now include Smart Switches (IntuitSwitches), IR Blaster with Temp/Humidity sensing, Door sensor, Motion sensor, Curtain Motor control and a Central Gateway which work with an Android/IOS mobile application as well as a web platform not just from inside the home/office but from anywhere in the world.
“We have put countless hours in driving the product development that is not just solving the problems but also making hardware and software very ‘INTUIT-ive’ for the user to use and also keeping the costs low. It is the customer-centric product design that gives our product its USP and ease to be accepted by the customer,” stated Savant.
Savant says that the company was initially bootstrapped, but he quickly realized that hardware development was capital intensive. He then managed to raise an angel round from FFF, and was able to reach a production phase over a year and two months. “We started off as a typical Silicon Valley startup from a garage and are still working from it. Now, I have realized that the space is falling too short for the current size of the team and are moving to a slightly large office,” said Savant.
But, today, the realty and construction market is flooded with home automation products. Questioning Savant on what makes his products have an edge over others, he says, “To automate the devices like lights/fans/etc. our competitive companies’ products currently have boxes that go behind the switchboard. In mostly all the cases, there is no space behind the switchboard to fit any small device due to the standard switchboard size being smaller and also due to a lot of existing wiring. Hence, in most cases, there has to be some civil work done to make space for their boxes. Also, there is wiring from the devices going into their box as well as from the switches to their box. Now an expert is needed to make the wiring as any local electrician would not be able to make the wiring. There are some competitors who need to rip away the walls and install CAT5/CAT6 wires through the walls making it an extremely messy and cumbersome process.”
Explaining further Savant said, “Falcon’s hardware eliminates need of rewiring and civil work as the existing switches just need to be replaced by the IntuitSwitches in the existing switchboards with the same line-neutral-earthing-load wiring. This makes the system truly DIY and cost-effective and any local electrician can install the system. The ease of installation gives competitive advantage as installation can be done within 10 minutes and entire system can be set up to running in 20 minutes flat.”
Falcon not only has set apart itself through hardware-backed wiring products but is also exploring possibilities of exploiting Artificial Intelligence-based chat bots. “With implementation of chat bots, a simple home is given a personality that enables two-way communication between the resident and the house. The home acts like a person with whom you can chat in natural language and control or sense things inside your home. This also eliminates the resident for compulsorily having the mobile application to execute commands, but rather talk to the house and order through the voice recognition system (like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri),” envisions Savant. Three weeks from now, Savant will be testing his chat bot-based home automation systems. Once, he is confident of its performance, Savant will take it to market.
Moving forward in time
Falcon today has over 30 customers. Savant is confident that his customers have found a lot of value in the versatile system that suited specifically to their needs. Quoting an example of his success in automation, Savant indicates, “Falcon was instrumental in doing streetlight automation for a customer having 135 streetlights. My team was able to able to set the lights on schedule so that they operated automatically without manual intervention. Their requirement was to have different set of lights to be turned on every night so all lights are not turned on at the same time saving power. Falcon’s system is so versatile that we were able to put different schedules on different set of lights for each night.”
Savant is now confident that his products are making a point in the home automation space. Setting some near-term targets, Savant aspires to cross 4,000 installations by the December 2017. A product pipeline that would cover all the aspects on home and office automation has been set and his team is striving to realize market launches by mid-2017. There is vehicle tracking, remote warehouse monitoring, and agro-automation, which would also be taken up in mid-2017.
“We are not just looking at creating products but we are working hard to create a platform for automation, where people can integrate their solutions too. 2018 has been proposed for execution of this plan. Five years from now we plan on having not just products in all the realms of automation but a strong platform that will be intelligent as well as intuitive and solving grave energy and environmental problems by helping reduce the carbon footprint.”