Can a Ukrainian company become the most interesting in the field of home and professional security? It would seem so looking at the very fast path carried out by Ajax Systems. On March 29, 2019, the company secured a $10 million investment from Horizon Capital to expand its global expansion. The subsequent rise was very rapid, leading Ajax Systems to earn more than 70% of its revenues from exports, mostly within the European Union markets. Recently, the company hired compatriot footballer Andriy Shevchenko, a former AC Milan star, to promote its solutions.
Ajax and Andriy recorded a series of comedy videos in teleshopping format to show, in a simple way, the advantages of the ecosystem proposed by the company. And to better understand what are the strengths of a brand that is launching itself with greater conviction throughout the continent, also following the growing concern for people in the era of Covid-19 and the increase in thefts due to the crisis global economy, we had a chat with Aleksandr Konotopskyi, CEO of Ajax Systems.
“The story began in 2008. That time my friend and I set up Secur, a distribution company that was engaged in the import of alarm and video surveillance systems from China to Ukraine. The business was very successful and now Secur evolved into a global distributor and integrator, having contracts with top security brands. But back then we only dealt with Chinese products which quality was often lame, causing troubles and headaches to us. I had talented engineering friends from the university, so we decided to try to create an alarm of our own”.
With our first product eight years ago, we targeted the Ukrainian market, adopting technologies and ideas that were far from perfect. Our priority was to be able to compete with and replace foreign products. We learned a great deal by copying and imitating—and we learned the hard way. We also understood that to make it globally, we needed more than just another upgrade. We needed a revolution. As newbies with a clear vision, we stood a chance”.
“It took us 3 years to develop a completely new product from scratch. In 2015, we finally launched Ajax product line as you know it today: with its own communication protocol, hub, detectors, cloud server, mobile apps and new product design”.
Today Ajax Systems is an international business. Right now, they have around 1600 people. The HQ, R&D and manufacturing capacities are based in Kyiv “but we’ve already started building up local teams in our focus markers which are Italy, Spain, UK, France, Nordic and Benelux countries, DACH region and South Africa”.
“Currently, we export our product to 120 countries and protect over 830 000 people worldwide. Our mission at Ajax is not only to make the world a safer place, but we also strive to develop and promote the engineering culture of Ukraine. As a post-Soviet country, we have a very strong engineering school. We are proud to inspire our engineers that Made-in-Ukraine hardware product successfully competes on the market with German and Chinese solutions and that professionals and end-users choose it for top quality and high-end innovations”.
What advantages are there in your systems compared to those commonly sold?
“Primarily, it’s important to understand that there are 2 different types of solutions in the security systems market: DIY and professional alarms. While DIY alarms, like Google Nest or Ring Alarm, are meant to be installed by the end-user, advanced alarms like Ajax should be set up by the professional installer”.
“What’s the difference? The difference lies in functionality, compliance to standards and above all reliability. Professional solutions are primarily distinguished by their anti-sabotage features: backup communication channels, jamming detection and prevention, encryption floating key backup, etc. And it’s not a matter of simplicity — Ajax, for instance, is very simple to use. The question is how the system behaves in unstable situations when electricity or the Internet goes out for example. How quickly will it report the loss of connection?”
“Also, DIY solutions leave it up to you to take action when an alarm is triggered. They don’t call the police or security company in an emergency situation. Only professional and certified alarms can be connected to the central monitoring station. They are also commonly required by insurance companies”.
“The privacy issue also matters. DIY solutions are prone to hacks, it’s enough to recall the relatively recent major breaches with Ring home security cameras. At Ajax, we take user privacy very seriously. Let’s take, for example, our motion detector with a camera MotionCam. The detector is designed to make a series of photos only when triggered so that the owners can be convinced whether the intrusion is real or somebody just forgot to disarm the system. MotionCam doesn’t record 24/7 which is good for privacy. And neither Ajax, nor the security company, nor users themselves have a chance to make the photos via MotionCam by request”.
“Apart from this, DIY alarm manufacturers usually provide a very basic range of security products, like simple motion, opening, fire and leakage detectors, doorbells, smart locks, etc.). Comparing to them, Ajax’s product range is much wider and more diverse: right now it features 33 security devices including combined detectors, glass break detectors, curtain-like detectors, devices for outdoor security, and so on. Such a variety of gadgets lets Ajax cover more use cases and deliver more options for countermeasures”.
“Speaking of the European advanced security market, we can say Ajax has revolutionized it completely, offering new market standards for mobile app-to-server communication speed and system configuration depth that did not exist before. This includes configurable polling rate, signal strength tests, and remote configuration of devices. And all this without compromising the reliability of the system. Ajax became the first mobile-only professional alarm that can be fully set up using just a smartphone, simplifying and speeding up the overall installation process dramatically”.
You have also developed your own internal operating system …
“Right. Well, Ajax is a part of IoT and we wanted to take the best from this type of solution: over-the-air updates, constant communication with the server which allows controlling the system via the app from any spot in the world, regular polling, speed, etc”.
“At the same time, IoT has a big security problem — it’s known for its vulnerability issues. And the most common point of failure in IoT is the operating system (OS). For example, you have a smart camera and this camera has an OS. If there’s a “hole” in OS that allows third parties to install something on your IP camera remotely, anyone, even without the access rights, will be able to retransmit the traffic through your camera, have access to the video, whatever. The idea is it’s a “hole” in the OS that allows hackers to interfere in the work of your device”.
“At Ajax, software is our heart. It was crucial for us not to use a vulnerable type of solution. We saw a way out in proprietary technologies which we have empowered with features necessary to prevent IoT vulnerability issues”.
“For our hub, which is a brain of the system, we’ve designed our own real-time operating system OS Malevich. It neither allows to install anything on it (as all the memory and processor resources are distributed in advance with the firmware) nor uses binary components from the 3rd parties. It’s fully closed and there is no backdoor even for us”.
“The same goes for our proprietary protocols. We don’t use ZigBee or Z-Wave as they do not meet the requirements of European security standards. Sure, from the development point of view using a popular and ready-made solution is much faster and cheaper. But from the security point of view, it’s not the best option”.
“After all, nobody can be 100% sure that their system won’t be hacked. It just a matter of how the process of countering threats is arranged, how much you invest in anti-sabotage protection, what kind of technology you use. For us at Ajax, security is a top priority. We challenge each solution, ask questions, analyze each option critically, and only then we make a decision: can we use this engineering solution, or we need half a year to develop our own technology if the widely used one is not secure enough”.
What is the difference between your wireless communication protocols, Jeweller and Wings, compared to traditional signals?
“The main difference lies in Jeweller’s anti-sabotage properties and its compliance with the requirements of professional certification bodies, which again neither ZigBee nor Z-Wave meets. Data encryption, frequency hopping, and device authentication protect Ajax from sabotage. Jeweller operation can be interrupted only by jamming all wireless signals near the protected property which is really difficult to implement. But even in this case, the system wouldn’t be compromised as it will quickly notify users about the issue”.
“Jeweller also ensures a big communication range of up to 2000 m and provides high energy efficiency thanks to which batteries in Ajax detectors live up to record 5-7 years. Another protocol Wings was developed for visual data transmission from MotionCam to a hub. It’s based on Jeweller technology and transmits the first snapshot of the situation in under 9 seconds at a distance of up to 1700 m”.
What is your main sales channel in Europe?
“Ajax works through a partner-based distribution model. In each country, we have official distributors that sell Ajax goods to installers and security companies. And then these installers and security companies sell Ajax to the consumer. Besides the installation service, they may also provide maintenance services for the system or professional monitoring”.
“We never sell the system directly to customers — our business is professional security systems that are distributed by professionals. In Europe, the market for professional security systems strongly prevails over DIY. Because the market is regulated by the work of certification bodies, insurance companies, etc”.
In the last year, has the interest of citizens in advanced security systems increased also due to the global economic crisis and therefore the greater risks of intrusion?
“For sure. On the one hand, given we’re all now spending so much more time at home than ever before because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to fall into a false sense of security, feeling you’re protected just because you’re inside the house”.
“However, if you look at the numbers, you’ll see that, for instance, 64% of burglaries in England and Wales occur while the residents of the property are at home, which means that thieves aren’t afraid to attempt a burglary even while people are inside”.
“Therefore, even now the advanced security market is actively growing. The demand is increasing provoking the appearance of more and more competitive players. They invest in the market development, enlarging it and boosting its growth”.
“Since Ajax is a disruptor, we are growing rapidly by biting off market share from our competitors in each country. For example, from outdated manufacturers who no longer keep pace with the times and have lost their relevance. There, we manage to grow even faster than the market itself”.
What are your growth prospects for the future?
“Our plan for this year is to grow x2 as well as to enlarge our R&D team x2. In 2 years we want to expand our engineering department to 1,000 people. We have divided our R&D force into several teams: one team will continue to develop our range of anti-intrusion products, the second will work on creating a professional fire solution, the third will be engaged in smart home development. There are also 2 more teams formed, however, we cannot reveal any details about them so far. In 2021, Ajax Systems will also continue to expand the geography of its presence. The plans include expansion in the Middle East, North and South America, Australia. And by maintaining a high-paced and responsive business approach, we intend to consolidate our position as the largest manufacturer of security systems in Europe”.