How a break-in changed Oncam CEO Firas Bashee’s life for the better

Firas Bashee speaks to GrowthBusiness about setting up Oncam and what lies ahead for the security tech business.

When Firas Bashee’s family home in London was broken into 12 years ago,  he was told by the police he should have expected it. This was a turning point for the pilot-turned-entrepreneur, who went on to found Oncam.

“I was the first in the house after the police responded,” he tells GrowthBusiness. “What really stuck with me was when the police said ‘if you own a detached house, you will get broken into; it’s inevitable.’ That really bothered me. Why should it be inevitable? What’s the point of these security systems if they don’t work? In the case of this break-in, the alarms did no good, physical security didn’t do much good, and even the police couldn’t do anything afterwards.”

“It’s a destructive thing. No one should ever go through such an invasion of privacy. My parents sold the house three months after the break-in. They just didn’t want to be there anymore. Now, 12 years later, we still don’t know who broke into our home.”

According to Bashee, it’s not that police are negligent or that people aren’t investing in home security. “There’s just too much to do for the police. And for both the police and homeowners, security systems don’t help, either. The question I wanted answered was what was the point of technology in security industry? What does the technology do for customers? This is how Oncam and ONVU Technologies came about. Our initial focus was on video and security technology, but we’ve added to our capabilities since then.”

The security company provides 360-degree video capture and business intelligence technology that is increasingly used for operational efficiency than security alone.

Throwing tech at the problem won’t work

The security industry is fraught with outdated views and legacy technology, which is one of the things that spurred him on to launch Oncam. For example, pretty much every company nowadays has invested in CCTV, he says. But what does it actually do? “This is the problem with the wider security market. Everyone keeps throwing technology at the problem. Video footage is a great resource, because humans verify things visually about 80 per cent of the time. A useful security solution wouldn’t just be to stick cameras everywhere. It would combine new technologies to make a viable security product.”

That said, Bashee believes he’s in the people business. Oncam Security is just one arm in a growing empire. Last week, ONVU Technologies, the parent company, launched an ed-tech company, ONVU Learning for lesson observation. The company is also in the process of launching a video solution for the retail market, Oncam Retail.

“On the surface, people may think we’re in the video capture business, we’re in the security business, and so on. But it’s more than that. We’re in the people business. We see our technology as a base, and the way it can be used as the added value we bring,” he says.

ONVU Learning has the lofty goal of improving teaching standards. If a classroom is fitted with a 360-degree camera, the platform allows teachers to review lessons and how they’re received by students. “The education sector needs a lot of money and help. Companies and governments invest in schools and technologies, but not much in teachers. They need all the help they can get, and right now, they’re having to figure out innovative ways to do this themselves,” Bashee adds. ONVU learning presents an easier alternative, allowing teachers to try new teaching methods and reviewing what works on which students for a tailored approach.

In retail, Oncam Retail is already in use at Burger King and a number of other fast food outlets, not as much for security, but as a way to increase operational efficiency. “In retail, small costs can add up. (360-degree video technology) can keep track of every little detail at the store, from the length of the queue, when they’re the most busy, to even how many pickles go on a sandwich,” he explains. More importantly, this level of of video capture helps cuts down on waste and shrinkage; two of the biggest issues affecting the bottom-line in retail. Waste is a major loss for food retail outlets and the technology helps with accountability on what happens to wrong orders after they’re voided at the till.

In clothing retail, Bashee says video capture technology helps with marketing and customer experience. “Cameras can work as sensors in a way. Retailers can look at the footage and observe customer behaviour. Maybe there are a lot of people who gather around one area, and walk past others. That can help floor managers figure out how to optimise the shop floor, and where to send employees to help customers.When this information is compared to point-of-sale data, retailers will have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t.”

Piloting a people business

Bashee’s background in computer science and flying jumbo jets have both fed into his leadership style at Oncam.”When I was a pilot, I had 300 people behind me and safety is the most important thing, so you don’t take shortcuts or cut corners. That’s stayed with me, which is why in business, it’s important to stay strong, stick to your vision and don’t compromise on your beliefs,” he says. “For 99 per cent of the companies in the world, the journey will have many ups and downs like a yoyo. But thats’ the fun bit.”

He leads the way he piloted planes, he says, delegating tasks and trusting his gut. “It’s not easy managing a team when you’re 30,000 feet in the air. You need to learn to delegate and rely on that delegation. Team work is critical, and no single team member is more important than the team.”

Team work and communication are the two critical skills he honed during his time as a captain, but beyond that, Bashee says it’s helped him deal with cut-throat competition in his field.

“Tech is a vicious field. You can’t combat copycats,” he adds. “People try to copy what we’re doing, or at least make a lot of noise that they’re doing something similar. It’s just disruptive in the wrong way, and frankly, irresponsible. The customers are the ones who pay for this.”

Intellectual property (IP) battles may be a way for big companies to get back at each other, but for smaller businesses, IP is everything. “You have to protect your IP. There will be other companies who’ll come in making a lot of noise to distract, and this is bad for the sector,” says Bashee. “The security sector is very difficult to sell into, so we also see companies undercutting and trying to take each other’s customers. Ultimately, they can make all the noise they want to make. You just have to focus on making your products the best they can be and focus on standing out with great customer service.”

Bashee’s approach to growing the business has led to a few acquisitions, something he’d consider again as ONVU Technologies continues to expand. “We’re prepared to purchase cutting edge technology that fits into our business. We’re also open to partnerships and collaborations to form joint solutions. A spirit of collaboration is exactly what the security sector needs.”

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