Sanjay Parekh co-founded Cocoon to address the growing concern of home security. Along with other people, he now runs this successful business from the centre of Leeds. Here he explains why the city is a fantastic place to be and what might happen to it in the future.
Tell us about your business.
Cocoon is all about giving people peace of mind about the things they care about the most, which is typically their family and home. We do this by having a smart security device that can detect movement through walls and ceilings. If something happens when you’re not there, it alerts you and sends you a video message online of what is going on in your home. You can then either set off a 90 decibel alarm or you can choose to phone the police or a friend.
The whole point of Cocoon is that it puts you in control of security and it makes it really simple and easy to operate. There’s no need to set and unset it as it’s automatically activated when you leave the house. It learns the soundscape of your home over time and will use that to determine when an intruder is in your home.
Our core technology is based on infrasound, so it’s sound waves below what humans can hear. This is anything under 20 hertz and below. Our technology can detect it. Whenever there’s any movement, such as a door opening, you might hear a small sound but there’s a massive infrasound wave. You can sometimes see it when you open a door down one end of a corridor and a door will close at the other end, that’s all caused by pressure changes, which is all sound is.
Big movements, like a person moving around or a door or window opening, have a really long amplitude and so can easily be picked up because they are penetrating walls. It’s not as simple as that though because a lot of things create infrasound and movement so Cocoon creates a machine model of your home when it’s occupied and it has another for when your house is empty. It then compares those two models and, if it knows that it’s supposed to be empty, and it notices something that is associated with an occupied house, it’ll alert you. It changes over time too, so if your house gets quieter or louder, the model will adjust itself.
What inspired you to start it up?
It was like a perfect storm of reasons: we wanted to apply our software knowledge to hardware, we wanted to build a physical product, and we wanted to solve a problem we’d all experienced.
Cocoon was founded by me and four others, some who I met and worked with through Dotforge. We came together because we’d worked with software in the past but wanted to create something physical. We saw that hardware was becoming smarter and changing, so we wanted to apply our software knowledge to it.
We also all had problems with security alarms, either they weren’t going off when they were supposed to or they were going off too often. So we looked at the industry and found that it actually hadn’t changed for 25 years and no one had really been applying new technology to it. That got us excited because we could find a way to fix a problem that we had all experienced.
Why does tech interest you / How did you get into tech in general?
I was working in London in banking in the late 1990s, and a few of my friends went to business school and came back talking about ‘this internet’ thing. Until then, when you graduated you’d go into a graduate training scheme or if you were lucky, consulting or banking, but they were telling me all about people who were setting up their internet businesses. I didn’t know that much about it, I’d heard of it, and we’d just started using it at work. I didn’t see myself in banking for the future so I went up and started a business with my friends. A real leap in the dark at the time!
Fundamentally, I like the idea of changing the status quo and technology gives you a chance to make the world a better place no matter what industry or field you’re in. Generally, tech evolves quickly and only the best survives. In more traditional sectors, you can have people that are around for decades, not because they’re any good but just because you are in a position of power and influence. Nothing is perfect, but I think this attitude filters down into the workplace in tech and companies are often less bureaucratic and more open to change.
What does Leeds have to offer, as a city, to tech businesses?
Leeds is a good size, in the sense it’s not too big or too small. It’s large enough for there to be a good pool of talent here, but it’s small enough that you can understand it and know who the other players are.
It’s also obviously got two great universities, which increases the likelihood of getting talent in certain areas. There’s a lot of agency support around for when you finish your degree, which helps a lot, and the house prices are pretty reasonable. It’s relatively easy to access too, within a couple of hours you can be in London.
What are you excited about for the tech and digital scene in Leeds?
There seems to be a real organisation of the tech scene. There’s a lot of companies and consumer groups here, and there seems to be a real effort to bring it all together and make it co-ordinated. That’s really important to put Leeds on the world stage. We’re not competing with Manchester and I think that’s a big thing. We’re not against Manchester, it’s a world stage. Our rivals are companies in China or anywhere in the world. The best way to do that is to bring together the talent in your region and sell yourself as a strong, united front.
What advice would you give for people looking to start up a business in this sector?
Understand very clearly what problem you want to solve. You need to be able to articulate that quickly and simply. You’ll also need to make sure that the problem you’re solving is a real cause of pain. There’s a saying that you shouldn’t sell vitamins, you should sell painkillers. Vitamins are nice to have but people need painkillers. That’s the most critical thing. Solve a painful problem.
Favourite Yorkshire eatery/bar?
It has to be Betty’s in Harrogate. I live near there so I take my daughter there on special occasions.
What tech do you use?
I have an iPhone and have recently got a Dell XPS, which is really fast and nippy to use.
Top 3 films?
O’ Brother Where Art Thou, Toy Story – because it’s probably the film I’ve watched the most thanks to my children – and Le Diner de Cons.
What do you drive?
A Citroen. It’s a great little car, it’s got a really funky design.
Perfect Sunday Breakfast?
A nice brunch. My wife is vegan so it would have to be a vegan brunch so we could share it.