Almost 10 years ago, Farhan Masood started his journey of creating technology which at that time was limited to Sci-Fi Hollywood movies. “Iris scanners” and “3D facial recognition” were common tools Ethan Hunt and James Bond used in their fight against evil with high-tech devices and gadgets. It made us wonder about the future of tech and whether or not these fantasies from the silver screen will ever see the light of the day in the real world.
Farhan, at that time, was working as a futurologist with Dubai Government. His interest in what will be more prevalent in the upcoming years, made him explore some of the areas in technology, which were unheard of. He came up with the idea of SoloInsight while watching Tom Cruise walk into a GAP store and be instantly recognized by an iris scanner in Minority Report. He instantly decided to work on that.
TechJuice asked him whether or not this idea was a turning point for him. He said that things didn’t come easy for him early on, but his true passion and heart was always into developing futuristic technology and bringing it to the everyday life of people. His company, SoloInsight, has developed one of the world’s fastest 3D facial and iris recognition algorithms. In addition to that, the startup has developed a wide array of biometric devices that provide access control and serve as physical enforcement of compliance including but not limited to the fingerprint scanner, palm readers, facial and voice recognition devices. Their products, Smart XS and Biogate, are deployed in over 140 locations across Pakistan and now SoloInsight is preparing for the launch of its latest category leading IoT smartgate, named Cloudgate, in the US.
Secret to Success, 10 years of unparalleled hard work, research and patience
A decade later, SoloInsight is tapping a billion dollar biometric devices market. According to Wintergreen research, right now, the massive biometric devices’ market is generating as much as $6B in sales and this number is expected to triple by 2019, amounting to about $17B. Soloinsight is a pioneer of cloud-based global recognition platform termed as Internet of People. Its latest creation, CloudGate, is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) and hardware based Global Identity Platform with embedded on-spot decision making intelligence to simplify, enrich and enforce rules based real-time workforce access management for large organizations.
It was years of unparalleled hard work and research that has owned Farhan his patented technology and an edge in the industry. He is considered to be an innovator and inventor and, as he proudly told TechJuice, “SoloInsight products are a result of 10 years of research and sweating. Currently, our industrial-strength products process over 110,000 users at over 140 different locations at 96 different national destinations. Our blue chip customer list includes Tetrapack, Nestle, and Pepsico.”
SoloInsight’s Attendance Management System can help track different employee related data of the client factory. The system uses iris and facial recognition to avoid cheating, extra holidays, peers marking attendance for a co-worker (buddy punching), and other similar incidents. SoloInsight’s solutions for workforce management have proved to be very beneficial for their clients, thereby drastically reducing ‘Ghost Employees’ and saving companies as much as 5 Billion worth of loss.
The company, now closing its first round of investment in US, will be a 100 people strong this year and is expected to see exponential growth in the next few years.
Nowadays, SoloInsight is aggressively testing their new platform Cloudgate and the team is busy in preparing it for deployment in the US. CloudGate is a unified system to manage time, access and safety for hourly workers; salaried employees as well as for contingent workforce like independent and supplied contractors, vendors, suppliers, visitors, customers and event attendees. The CloudPass messaging system makes it easy to pre-clear temporary visitors through digital badge distribution, which works with the Apple Watch, iPhone, Android or almost any other phone that has a display.
The CloudAccess engine empowers the client to enroll permanent traffic into their choice of their proprietary 3D Facial, Iris and Palm Vein recognition. If a client has already invested in cards, we support 45 different types of RFID and NFC cards, so SoloInsight has got them covered.
How did Farhan take the plunge?
The simple answer is, he took a huge risk with prior calculation. Farhan left a lucrative job with the Government of Dubai and came back to Pakistan to start a company of his own based on his interest, experience, and passion. “I knew it was a huge risk, but I really wanted to give back to my country and in order to validate the idea, this market seemed the best.”
Young entrepreneurs, take note! As unbelievable as it may sound, Farhan never looked for any kind of investment while he worked in Pakistan, rather he searched for other smart options to raise money for the startup. For example, he participated in plenty of local and international competitions, where he got feedback, mentorship and a chance to meet some of the best minds. He worked hard or each presentation and made sure he gave his best. Luckily, he won majority of those competitions which led to a flow of money for his startup. The first round of investment in SoloInsight has been similar. Raising 3 million dollars for the company has not been an easy journey.
“Nobody came over with a cheque in hand saying, hello Farhan! here is the money.
I reached out to people, I asked for help, I asked for feedback. It was hard but not impossible.”
Farhan believes that a team is the most important ingredient behind any startup’s success. This is why he hired the best talent, let them do what they were good at and gave them autonomy to make constructive decisions for building his startup from ground up.
“Founders shouldn’t have ego problems. I am a technical person. Look! I am not the CEO because I will not make a good CEO, I am a technical person, a scientist but not a great manager.”
Farhan still works 16 to 18 hours a day. He said that there are no holidays, no Saturdays or Sundays for him, there are only good and bad days. When TechJuice inspected, he said, “I have never, (even for) in a moment, felt like I am working. I am enjoying what I am doing. I keep thinking about the next big things, our future roadmaps and strategies even when not at work. It’s something that can’t be helped, it’s just because I am passionate about what I am doing.”
A few lessons from the 10-year-journey of Farhan Masood and SoloInsight
- Don’t focus on investment, build the product, get some traction and try to bootstrap as much as you can. Take money from friends, family and people who believe in you. Farhan raised seed funding 10 years into the business because he never felt the need for it.
- Competitions are a good way to get feedback from highly exceptional people and earn investment as well. Several years ago, Farhan needed 10,000 USD to market the new version of his product. He participated, won and the rest is history.
- Develop a thick skin, get a support network. It’s not going to be easy. People are not going to come over with a smile on their face and a million dollar cheque. You would need to go out and work hard.
- Your team is going to take you to places. Farhan told TechJuice that during MIT business acceleration program, one of the investors shared an interesting insight. “When a team is pitching for investment, I look not at the person making the presentation, rather I keep looking at the team to check their expressions and body language in response to the presentation. This says a lot about team dynamics.”
- If you are looking for investment, choosing an investor from the same field is like killing two birds with one stone because that investor can become your advisor too.
- Do get your startup registered ASAP.
Patience, persistence, perseverance and undivided attention to the cause are some of the attributes behind the success of SoloInsight. Farhan saw an opportunity, envisioned the future and prepared his startup for the right time and right technology. Today, SoloInsight has more than 96 clients at more than 140 locations in Pakistan, processing over 110,000 users on daily basis.
As we signed off, we asked Farhan if he is interested in investing in local startups. He politely said, “Well, I can’t really cash out right now so I won’t be able to invest in terms of money. But, I am advising a lot of startups by giving my time and expertise. This is an investment from my side in the talent of the country.” Farhan has also been requested by the MIT BAP 2015 to guide the participating teams as a mentor and, in general, he dedicates a large chunk of his time to this activity.