Troubled teen to tech ‘disruptor’
office, the company has offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town and is close to signing a master distributor agreement with a still unidentified company.
Amber Connect has 600 employees locally. It has employed 800 mobile fitters across South Africa and put 1 300 vehicles on the roads to help recover stolen vehicles.
From June, there’ll be massive product roll-out.
Savadia says he started with Amber Connect as he’d spotted obvious gaps in the vehicle-tracking market which he believes had become complacent and had not invested in development.
“That is what gives rise to disruptors like us, who have innovated new stuff that is cheaper, and it does what the consumer wants it to do,” he says.
The first shortcoming his team identified was that existing vehicletracking systems could not locate vehicles in real time but “in hops” at five- to 10-minute intervals.
The second was that the large size of the device meant it could be easily detected and removed.
Amber Connect developed technology that would optimise the speed of data coming from a vehicle with just a two-second delay, leaving an electronic “breadcrumb trail” that could be accessed by cellphone.
They also created a device the size of a car key fob but that does not compromise the amount and quality of data it can transmit. He says he started thinking like a consumer and realised what was needed extended beyond simple vehicle recovery, to vehicle management and more.
Parents wanted to track a vehicle driven by a teenager to make sure he or she was safe and driving properly.
Families were worried about wives or daughters driving home late at night. Employees needed to record business trips to claim expenses.
“We built one of the first native apps on mobile phones. With most apps, people use a web browser application. If you look at the Amber Connect dashboard, you’ll see we’ve built around 42 engaging features on the app for the consumer that helps you to manage your vehicle better.”
Savadia had another priority – making the technology affordable.
“If you build great technology and it becomes expensive, there is something wrong. Security is a human right. You don’t have to think twice before buying a toothbrush.
“Security has become something just for the elite in this society. Many can’t afford a tracking device which costs thousands to install then comes with a monthly premium.”
The product he has brought to South Africa costs a third of the price of comparable products, yet it is a decade ahead of the technology currently available, he says.
“You can remotely shut down the vehicle from the app if you think it’s being stolen or misused. We became the first in the world to deploy artificial intelligence in tracking. Now a vehicle can automatically react to threats and lock itself down.
“When you go to sleep at night, you raise the shield of the car. If anybody tampers with it, it immediately shuts down the engine, then notifies you on your cellphone, and a security service provider who sends an armed response. Everything is done in three seconds without human intervention.”
The story of the man behind Amber Connect is as fascinating as his business.
Savadia grew up in India and moved to the UK, where he lived for 12 years.
“In my youth, I was an alcoholic. I drank a litre of rum every night for seven years, chain smoked 60 to 70 cigarettes a day, took a lot of drugs and was the leader of a gang made up of violent, angry people.
“The company I was working for made it mandatory for all staff to participate in an Art of Living stress management workshop. That four-day workshop turned my life around.
“I ultimately resigned from that company to serve the Art of Living Foundation. I’ve taught mediation and gone to war zones and done peacekeeping missions,” he said.
In 2004, while living in Scotland, he decided to take a sabbatical to
“get a little Western exposure to sales, marketing and finance”.
He returned to the foundation in 2008. In 2011, it sent him to the Caribbean where crime, violence and murder were escalating.
He worked extensively in prisons, teaching nearly 200 inmates in Jamaica alone. He ran educational programmes in schools and universities and held stress management workshops for corporates.
In early 2015, Savadia noticed a decline in the foundation’s income. He wasn’t convinced donations and course fees provided a sustainable income, so he switched gears and decided to draw on his background in innovation and technology to build a business that would support the foundation’s work.
In just three years, Savadia built six companies, becoming a technology-driven multinational with a staff of over 130 full-time, in-house software developers in
India with teams across the world.
Initial testing took place at the head office in Jamaica. From there, he launched in Canada, the US and other parts of the Caribbean.