Using data to create safer places: The story of FalconDHQ
Since receiving investment from Pi Labs, FalconDHQ has shaped a bold vision for the future of private security. We spoke to their chief exec Benjamin Weld about how digital tools can be used to improve everyday security and what this means for the proptech industry.
At Pi Labs, we seek out disruptive startups and imaginative entrepreneurs with the drive to reshape industries. Our focus is typically on innovation in the property sector, but our approach is wide and deep when looking at the full value chain around real estate. Some of the most exciting ideas are the ones that look beyond traditional industry boundaries; yet still have a fundamental impact on the operation and value of real estate. FalconDHQ certainly falls into that category.
Pioneering a new approach to security
Private security is one of the oldest industries and has enjoyed strong growth in recent years. Half of the planet’s population currently live in countries where there are more private security workers than police officers. Here in Europe, the private security sector generates an annual turnover of €200 billion and employs 4.7 million people, according to the European Commission. Despite its scale and importance, the industry is fundamentally conservative and has failed to keep pace with technology.
Whether safeguarding a property, an event or an individual, security personnel are always highly reliant on paper records. A combination of pocketbooks, log books and spreadsheets are essential for storing activity reports and complying with mandatory compliance measures. The European Commission has identified the lack of reliable data in private security as one of its greatest challenges. Put bluntly, it is an antiquated industry that’s ripe for digital disruption.
One of the reasons innovation happens so slowly in the industry is due to the lack of competition in the marketplace. In the UK, the top 30 security businesses make up over 80% of the regulated security services market. FalconDHQ started in May 2015 when co-founders and University friends, Benjamin Weld and Thomas Williams, who were working in private security and events management, began to question why records were still kept on paper and what they could do to disrupt the industry incumbents.
From digital log book to fully-fledged security platform
The first prototype of FalconDHQ was a simple app to be used by security personnel. It allowed personnel to complete logs on their smartphone rather than having to scribble them down on paper. An early pilot was staged at Hyde Park’s annual Winter Wonderland, which is attended by millions of locals and tourists, and the results were impressive. The security management company organising the event said the tool was four times more efficient than their existing reporting processes, but already the FalconDHQ team were thinking beyond a simple app.
“Our initial focus was on usability for guards. It allowed them to ditch handwritten notes and do all of their reporting with the tap of a finger,” explains Benjamin Weld. “But gradually, what began as a smart reporting tool for guards ended up bringing a lot more capabilities to the back office team. For instance, compliance teams and human resources could be given real data-driven insights to work with. We could also link payroll to geolocation data with the push of a button. We realise the value of our prototype extended far beyond just streamlining a common security task.”
They began fleshing out their vision and FalconDHQ quickly evolved into an end-to-end security platform. At a minimum, they knew they could improve the efficiency of security, but they had become more interested in using the technology to make people as safe as possible. The key was to integrate data between control rooms and on-the-ground personnel so that security teams could react to situations in real-time and manage entire operations from a single dashboard. As the vision for the platform grew, so too did the support that they required.
“We realised that we needed to find venture capital and to increase our network, so we started doing a bit of research,” says Weld. “We were referred to Pi Labs by a friend and quickly realised that wherever there’s property there’s also a security requirement — they pretty much go hand in hand.”
Shining a spotlight on security
Bridging the gap between proptech, regtech and security has required the FalconDHQ team to become experts across many fields. They’ve also needed to learn how to communicate the value of their product to a broad range of investors. To do this they learned to focus on the human element of their product and to break down their offering on more of a personal level.
“Security itself is such a silent part of business operations until it’s needed or it goes wrong. Even then it responds quickly and tries to create minimal disruption, so we had to demonstrate not only the size and value of the security sector, but also the ancillary stuff around it,” says Weld. “We received some great advice from Pi Labs to make it human. We’d walk potential investors through a missing child scenario in a busy shopping centre. By putting our solution in that context we gave them a way to relate to the problem we’re solving.”
Since joining Pi Labs in 2017, FalconDHQ has raised more than half a million pounds in funding. The platform now has over 1000 users and records real-time data and historic insights at over 200 locations. These include some of London’s most iconic sites such as Hyde Park, Kings Cross and Trafalgar Square, and this is just the beginning. The team is now in active conversations with over 100 companies with a potential annual revenue worth over £45 million. Through this rapid growth FalconDHQ have reminded us that ‘proptech’ is not narrowly about property itself, but about all of the opportunities that can be created from our interactions with the built environment.
Security and crowd management is as important today as it’s ever been. In uncertain times, we expect our environments to be professionally managed and secured — but the lack of real-time data is holding security teams back and inhibiting the value of properties. FalconDHQ is leading the way for tech innovation in the space, using live data and historic insights to create safer, smarter, and more secure environments for all.
About Dominic Wilson:
Dominic is Co-Founder and Managing General Partner at Pi Labs. He leads the firm in a general capacity with a specific focus on investments and investors. He also sits on the boards of Brolly, FalconDHQ and Office App. Dominic has a wide background in Private Equity Real Estate worked with both AEW Europe and Savills Investment Management and transacted over €3bn of deals across Europe. Dominic has a degree in Law with French from the University of Birmingham and an MBA from the London Business School.
About Pi Labs:
Pi Labs is Europe’s first VC firm to focus exclusively on proptech investments. It has established itself as a pre-eminent global leader in the early stage domain in this vertical. To date, it has backed 44 investments including Airsorted, Land Insight and Plentific. Pi Labs is global in its focus — it has backed founders from 25 different nationalities. To date, its portfolio companies have raised over $140m.