Saleh Safran Is Using The Internet Of Things To Power His Qatar-Based Startup, Subol
Safran and his team are behind homegrown startup Subol, an IoT venture that develops and manufactures smart solutions for home safety.
As more and more use cases of devices based on the internet of things make its way across various sectors like healthcare, education, agriculture, and more, Qatar-based entrepreneur Saleh Safran has been utilizing this cutting-edge technology to keep homes safe. Safran and his team are behind homegrown startup Subol, an IoT venture that develops and manufactures smart solutions for home safety.
Its first device, the Subol Detector, is an internet-connected gas detector, which can detect gas leakage, high temperature, and low or high humidity conditions. Using the Subol Home app, the detector can connect to the Wi-Fi, thereby enabling users to easily monitor the working status of the device, as well as current temperature, humidity, and gas safety status, and even trigger sound and visual alarms to notify nearby people in case of any danger.
An alum of Qatar University's mechanical engineering program, Safran had always been motivated to pursue entrepreneurship, particularly to "solve issues that people face." Whilst working as a Project Engineer at the Qatar General Electricity and Water Corporation, Safran got together with other early team members of Subol and applied to the Qatar Business Incubation Center for its Lean Startup Program. One of the ideas he stumbled on then with co-founder and Product Manager Omer Taban was coming up with a solution to gas leakage issues by offering a gas leakage detector and shut-off unit.
Omer Taban, co-founder and Product Manager, Subol
"We started talking to people about it, and we realized some people fear [the occurrence of] gas leakage, and above 20% [of residents] had experienced gas leakage," says Safran. To validate the concept, the team first conducted surveys and collected feedback. "We've noticed that the biggest fear people have in their home is fire," Safran explains. "When we asked people where a fire can most likely catch up, two big reasons caught our attention: gas leakage-sourced fire and unattended cooking. We saw potential there, and we decided to start getting funding to develop a solution and start building the team. We gathered family investment, and we applied for grants fund from the Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP) in 2015."
The funds helped the team to develop the alpha and beta version of the product, and in mid-2018, the startup also received pre-seed investment from the Qatar Development Bank that helped it manufacture and ship its first 100 units to its first customers. This was quite beneficial for the team, Safran notes, as it allowed them to gain customer feedback to better their offering. "We had valuable data from users, and we decided to remove the shut-off part from the product, and to make it as simple as a detector, with great value added in the mobile app, so that we can have a higher chance to scale the product," he explains.
Subol detector and app
The startup then went on to distribute its devices throughout 2019 and 2020, but in late 2020, the team decided to make some changes due to the issues with certification processes and overseas shipping. They thus focused on improving their device's electronics capability as well as the user interface and user experience on the mobile app, and eventually, the team launched its second version in February 2022.
Available for purchase from the Subol website, the Subol Detector protects a home against flammable gas leaks, fire, and mold. Unlike standalone detectors, its USP is that the user can easily access the device's operating status and sensor values, and track updates on usual issues to know when it's time for periodic maintenance. It also gives off a notification in case of danger even if the user isn't home, and it offers instructions when safety risk pop-ups appear. Its robust sensory technology is a crucial feature too- Safran points out the company's first sensor was delivered in August 2019, and all its products are still active today. "Our users don't have to think about maintenance and calibration challenges every six months," says Safran. "Our detectors can operate for more than five years without maintenance."
Having secured financial support from family, as well as Qatar Development Bank as a venture capital investor, and QSTP as an institutional investor, Subol has raised around US$630,000 in funds so far. Talking about his entrepreneurial journey, Safran is candid on the challenges he has faced. "In Qatar, we have challenges in the maturity level of the startup ecosystem, [as well as its] lack of venture capital and angel [investors], and it's a small market for businesses," he says. Despite such issues, the Subol team is now gearing up to scale its customer base across Qatar, GCC, and internationally.
And in terms of the company's future plans, Safran says that sales and marketing will now be his team's major focus, as they finalized beta testing and product development in the last couple of years. "We want to see [more than] 2,000 units sold of our product," says Safran. "The end goal is to expand in the smart and safety technology [sector by] bringing new innovation each year, and to grow the company, and have an exit as one of biggest technology players in the region, or go for [an] IPO in 10 years."