Founded by a bunch of entrepreneurs, Lav Agarwal (Indian), Abhishek Mishra (Indian), and Stella Aw (Singaporean) in Singapore, SmartClean – an IoT & AI company, bringing intelligence to facilities with connected sensors and intelligent algorithms while enabling data-driven cleaning operations. Launched in 2017, SmartClean has also raised about 3M USD this year and is planning to raise a total of 10M out in the near future, and SmartClean has expanded to India and Dubai, Indonesia, Malaysia with the mission to completely digitize the cleaning industry and its operations. Lav Agarwal CEO and Co-founder of SmartClean Technologies talks to BWBusinessworld about the Data-Driven Solutions the company plans to bring to the country’s cleaning industry.
Tell us your story
In early 2017, two of the co-founder’s Lav Agarwal and Abhishek Mishra were pursuing their Ph.D. in NTU and NUS, Singapore respectively, and were working on a Robotics start-up for service industries. Lav and Stella met in late 2016 where she discussed the day-to-day issues, she faced running a cleaning company (Spotless) she had co-founded in Singapore back in 2012. During one such discussion, they realized the potential for groundbreaking digital transformation in the Cleaning Industry and the absence of the tech adaption at the time. After thorough research, Lav, Abhishek and Stella co-founded SmartClean in 2017.
1. Explain your business strategy and how do you achieve a competitive advantage?
Cleaning and Security form 2 of the biggest segments of Facility management, yet while the Security Industry is tech-enabled with automated surveillance (all the way to facial recognition, etc.) and command centers, cleaning operations are almost all manual, with cleaners going around and doing physical checks and cleaning on a scheduled basis. It’s also very hard to standardize cleanliness since there is no real-time visibility and cleaners are only identifying issues during periodic checks, not to mention that the whole quality depends on their perception of cleanliness.
SmartClean’s IoT systems monitors build spaces in real-time, learns from the facility data, and autonomously run the cleaning operations of the property with a team of Cleaners and Robots. Utilizing big data and AI, SmartClean is further building Optimus as a one-stop Digital Cleaning platform for all stakeholders in the cleaning ecosystem to facilitate transparency and seamless information flow which will be used to make operations more efficient by fulfilling compliance requirements, improved SLAs, and digitize all of their back-end operations.
Our software, patented hardware systems, strong business development team, competitive pricing strategy designed keeping the market in mind, customizable solutions for each market is what gives us a competitive advantage.
2. A brief on key products/solutions. How are your products installed?
SmartClean strives to become a one-stop solution for cleaning management at commercial properties with its end-to-end digital solutions. The system comprises of patented sensors to monitor environmental conditions in real-time (such as wetness, odor, missing consumables like sanitizer, tissue, soap, etc.). The system uses advanced data analytics, machine learning, and predictive algorithm to compute usage and cleaning requirements, which are used to send alerts to cleaners with detailed work instructions & used by managers to plan resources in advance.
This helps the cleaning industry to move from scheduled to on-demand operations, increasing productivity by over 30%, improving service quality resulting in net savings for the organization.
The cleaning managers and supervisors get access to a customized dashboard that displays the team’s activities and the notifications sent to them on a real-time basis. They get 360-degree insight into the facility’s cleaning operations and can make informed decisions with respect to manpower planning, purchase of consumables, leave management, etc.
Our sensors can be installed in all parts of the facility such as washrooms, cafeterias, pantry, elevators, board rooms, etc. They can easily track the occupancy of the facility on a real-time basis to enable social distancing.
Installation Process: Once we are connected to a client who expresses interest in our solution, we organize a site visit with a team of engineers and specialists. This team then identifies optimal locations for the deployment of sensors and the quantity of it depending on the installation space size. A detailed report with a site map is created to graphically represent the plan to the client along with the charges depending on the pricing model chosen by the client. Once, this is approved, we organize a 1-month pilot at the facility starting with our team working after hours to install the sensors in the facility and integrating it with the existing system (a standalone system can be installed, depending on the client’s preference). This process takes a few days to a few weeks depending on the size and quantity of the deployment.
Post this, the cleaning staff and officers in charge are trained by our customer success team who then keep close touch with the team and monitor the systems on the backend to identify and rectify any issues. The sensors observe the conditions that it is exposed to, on real-time, and the parameters for alerting are personalized for each of them according to the installation location. By the end of the pilot period, the client correctly identifies the effectiveness of the sensors in terms of productivity and ROI and takes a decision on a fixed period contract.
3. Give us insights into the industry landscape. Who are your competitors in the country?
Commercial properties such as hospitals, malls, offices, airports, etc hire an Integrated Facility Management (IFM) company to run end-to-end FM operations. Cleaning and Security form 2 of the biggest segments of Facility management; and yet while the Security industry is tech-driven with automated surveillance (all the way to facial recognition etc.) and command centers, cleaning operations are almost all manual, with Cleaners going around and doing physical checks and cleaning on a scheduled and periodic basis.
The Cleaning Industry globally is a $300b industry out of which 60% is organized Commercial Cleaning segment in which 50m people are involved in operations; and the manpower drives 80% of the cost. In India alone, more than 10m people are involved in cleaning operations with total market size of approximately $10b.
At SmartClean, we cater to the B2B aspect of this industry. Our solutions are targeted for use in commercial spaces and used by industry stakeholders including Cleaning Companies, Facility Management, and Hygiene Companies.
In India, the cleaning industry is highly unstructured with no clear cleaning standards. The first step towards transformation is to improve the cleanliness and hygiene as compared to other markets where the focus goes beyond that, to make the process more productive. Hence, in India, our system is being extensively used to audit the cleaning operations and to make sure that the cleaning vendor delivers the agreed SLA, given that the system captures any cleaning issues and logs their checklist digitally.
The Indian ecosystem has not yet developed solutions with the same or similar offerings to us and it remains a rather unexplored area. However, all existing systems that a client uses to manage their cleaning workforce, can be easily integrated with our sensors and cloud system.
4. What have been the challenges in building this business in India?
Our solutions are fast becoming the norm in Singapore. However, we faced challenges commercializing in low labor cost markets like India, as it’s hard to justify the ROI which drives the procurement decision making. So, we have worked on market-specific pricing with Sensor-as-a-service model which eases the procurement and justifies a positive ROI from almost day one.
5. How has COVID-19 impacted your business? What’s the new trend? Have client expectations evolved?
Cleaning is evergreen and recession-proof business. In COVID times, the need for cleaning and hygiene has only gone up. As cleanliness and hygiene gained priority, something that was good to have, became a must to have, and so did our solution.
We have designed multiple solutions catering to the post-COVID commercial buildings. That aside, the world is realizing the importance of digitizing the commercial cleaning sector, thereby making us an obvious choice. However, since our offering is B2B and all corporates went to work from home, we faced challenges with respect to ongoing deployments which had to be paused until people could go back to work.
Client expectations have now drastically changed, both in terms of buying patterns as well as interactions with a brand. Clients expect you to follow safety and hygiene protocols once they are allowed to restart their businesses. Serving a customer base that’s been financially impacted by COVID-19, who wants his/her experience to be touchless and digital. Therefore, companies need to start taking advantage of the technology available to make life less complicated for its customers/clients in an already strained COVID world.
6. What is the way forward in the coming future or post-pandemic era? Please list your target for the next 2 years
In a post-COVID world, there is an increase in the need for high cleaning standards which will be difficult to meet without technological intervention, which is where lie immense opportunities for our product and services.
We are looking at launching our SaaS platform Matrix that will allow us to become a one-stop cleaning management platform for Commercial Real Estate (CRE) properties. Next in the pipeline is another version of sensors to cover property-wide cleanliness monitoring. A ‘lite’ version of these sensors will follow which would cost a fraction of the current cost and would cater to low labor cost markets to achieve an easier ROI for the customers.
Our upcoming Series A round of $10M USD funds will be used to expand our product portfolio and will aim to fuel our APAC expansions, including building our regional teams. In terms of geographical expansion, we will look at widening our reach across APAC to Thailand and Australia to begin with and further reach out to top metro cities in India as we target the majority of the IT offices.