Virang Jhaveri and Niket Sarvaiya have created a suite of plug-and-play devices that lets one control appliances with a smartphone.
Founders: Virang Jhaveri, Niket Sarvaiya
Year it was founded: 2016
Where is it based: Mumbai
The problem it solves: Enables controlling appliances and electronics through a smartphone
Funding raised: Angel funding, amount undisclosed
For “mad scientist” Virang Jhaveri, who wrote his first line of code at age nine, and Niket Sarvaiya, who collected every possible skill from developing to design to content, being inventors was destiny.
The gap they observed – quite literally - between switchboards and the things it controlled, catapulted them into taking the plunge the age of 24 to create Picostone, a suite of plug-and-play devices that lets one control all electrical and electronic appliances with a smartphone.
“Digitisation of switches was necessary, but making it simple and affordable that it can be scaled to reach the masses was the major problem,” says Virang, co-founder and CEO at Picostone.
While he is an Electronics and Communications Engineer from Mumbai’s DJ Sanghvi college, Niket is a computer science engineer from Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Technology. Virang worked at Diebold for a year and a half as a software engineer, but took to freelancing as a web developer since his early engineering days.
Niket worked at Iksula for two years as Digital Marketing Head, and later freelanced as a videographer, graphic designer, UI/UX designer and also a creative consultant for startups before co-founding Picostone.
The first family of products from Picostone includes “Basic,” “Polar” and “Mods”. Basic is a pocket-size box that fits behind a switchboard and lets one control the appliances through the phone, from anywhere in the world.
It can simultaneously control four devices that follow similar technical specifications – including tubelights, fans, and dimmable and non-dimmable LEDs – to the extent of controlling the appliances for speed, brightness, and temperature.
Basic can be set up and synced with a phone and wifi by the team in 15 minutes. “It’s plug-and-play, and doesn’t need you to touch-up on your existing circuitry,” says Virang. One can also access the usage statistics of each appliance to optimise it, and even schedule switching it on and off.
The Polar product is a similar plug-and-play device, as small as a charger, that can control the TV, set-top box, air conditioner, audio system, and any other remote controlled (IR based) devices.
It lets one schedule the usage, based on preferences. “It also learns your remotes just in case it isn’t familiar with its operations,” notes Virang. So, essentially, one can pre-cool their home or office, schedule the working of devices as perhaps - “AC turn OFF at 2 am; Fan turn ON at 2.10 am; Fan turn OFF at 3.30 am; AC turn ON at 3.30 am,” he adds.
Picostone Mods, on the other hand, is a modular smart-home system. These devices are extensions that can be connected to “Basic,” to control devices with higher voltage ratings. It encompasses curtain controllers, geysers, motors, and even plug-points with up to a 5A current rating.
Use cases arising out of this, for example, would be cutting off the supply if your phone is charged to a 100 percent to improve its battery life.
Virang and Niket point out that the device is also great to sniff out suspicious behavior on your device, and avert accidents. It has value-added features like tracking bills, analysing the amount each device contributes to total consumption, and Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered algorithms to optimise the bill.
“The tech used behind our products is wifi, which is something our users understand very well. It is economically priced, and the entire hardware and the software stack is built, developed, designed and engineered by us,” he says.
They ran a pilot with a few friends and relatives in their rooms in January 2016, and after validating the product engineering and design, deployed the first 30 of the 3D printed units at various places.
They then ran a bigger pilot, attempting to automate an entire school. “We deployed roughly 120 units in just two days. Here we discovered a major glitch in the hardware. There was an issue with the WiFi circuitry, and it needed a reset after every two to three days. It was a huge learning experience and we proactively rectified it,” recalls Virang.
Once the loose ends were secured, they appointed dealers and partners across the country to set up a retail network. “We also developed small portable demo kits as people needed to see our product in action to believe it. Our distributors and dealers to provide instant demos to our clients,” he explains.
Strategies like offering 180 free installations across 18 cities, and the “Mad Sale” – which was also their first attempt to go online – wherein they sold their products at 77 percent off on their website for three days, contributed to their early traction.
So far, Picostone has installed over 1,100 units, and this number is growing at the rate of 40 percent month-on-month. “We were lucky to have some really strong brand advocates – popular VJ Jose, comedians Biswa Kalyan Rath, Kunal Kamra, Sahil shah, entrepreneur and novelist Durjoy Dutta who loved the product and have been kind enough to help us grow and reach out to people,” Virang says.
The two met their third partner, Nilesh Jain, at an event in June 2016. What they were trying to achieve resonated with him, and he decided to come on board as an investor and subsequently, a partner.
With over 11 crore urban households in India, as per their calculations, even tapping into 2 percent will amount to sizable revenues.
Locally, they compete with players like Cubical labs, Pert.me, MySmitch etc. However, Virang notes their key differentiators are the ease of installation, affordability, being Wifi based, hubless, and completely Made-in-India.
“We want to make home automation a DIY kind of a thing, where the products can be taken off the shelf,” he says.