South Africa is full of influential and hard working people. Many of which are not celebrated enough by fellow South Africans. We had a chat with one of SA’s self-made millionaires – Quintin Daffarn. We get to know him and his background, his business and lessons learned in his journey.
(Q) Please tell us more about yourself?
(A) My name is Quentin Daffarn. I grew up in Johannesburg and attended John Orr Technical High School. I realised early on that our family was unlikely to have the financial means to put us through University, so I made a conscious decision to focus heavily on my academics at school and was able to finish high school as the Dux of the school, despite my father passing away in March of my matric year. My academic achievement enabled me to secure a scholarship to study Electrical Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand through AECI, which I was very grateful for.
I went on to complete my engineering honours degree. Subsequently, I became a Registered Professional Engineer specialising in RF communications and control and software systems engineering. In 1999, we founded a business with venture capital partners to supply financial stock exchange data with partners from Australia where the solution was widely used. Almost immediately, Autopage’s paging business was sold as they turned their focus to cellular, and we operated the solution for five years. New generation technology was emerging for integrated communication systems and alarming in industries such as healthcare. I secured the representation of this technology for Africa, and that was the birth of what would eventually become UC-Wireless, now in existence for 18+ years and representing ongoing emerging cutting-edge solutions in Wi-Fi business intelligence, IoT and healthcare communication and AI solutions (which we developed in 2020 as a solution for global health risk management called Instant Vitals).
(Q) What has been your greatest success in business?
(A) After several years of innovating in terms of trying to get ahead of technological advances (paging was a declining industry, so we had to look to other wireless technologies), I found a product suite of interoperable products that are best in breed in terms of quality and functionality at competitive pricing. I managed to find reputable telco and system integrator partner networks that have the confidence to push our products into the market. We achieved close to a 100% growth in the last financial year as a result of this.
(Q) What has been your lowest point with your business? How did you recover?
(A) In the 2019 financial year, our company made a large financial loss (attributable to growth expenses and delayed expected sales), which weighed heavy on the company and me, personally.
We have recovered and have been working with a business coach, which helped us focus on key aspects of the business such as; cementing partner networks, focusing internally on processes, and applying science to our marketing strategies.
(Q) What inspired you to design and develop Instant-Vitals?
(A) Being entrepreneurial in nature, I’m always looking out for technical advances, and through my business relationships, together with medical doctor partners, and our focus on tele-health solutions, I was introduced to a cutting-edge artificial
Intelligence (AI) software that works on smart phones. It would enable us to advance our tele-health solutions to the next level.
This coincided with the start of COVID-19, and the lockdowns were starting around the world, and it didn’t take much insight to understand that the economic impact was likely to be negative.
I came up with the concept of using the AI. I could see we could create a health-risk proactive management solution since wellness was already a factor in enterprises but was being magnified by the asymptomatic nature becoming prevalent with COVID-19. Working with our medical doctor and partner we incorporated a colour-coded risk assessment status (Red/Yellow/Green). The result of the vital signs that had been screened using the camera of the smart phone (on consultative medical advice with our business partner Dr Legodi) as a “back to work” and “risk-management for the new normal” screening solution. This was due to the fact that temperature alone was proving not to be enough indication of a COVID-19.
The solution incorporated general medical symptom risk assessment and still takes temperature into account so that the overall risk assessment enables a reliable screening. This determines if someone should be referred to further medical professionals, and would therefore provide peace of mind since it is able to detect symptoms as early warning in individuals who are otherwise asymptomatic. The applications are numerous and can assist with flight travel, hospital, mining, medical, and education etc, such that to avoid ongoing lockdowns when waves of this virus and other conditions may affect economic viability, these businesses can continue to operate while mitigating the risk more effectively.
(Q) Can you provide a detailed description of Instant-Vitals?
(A) Instant Vitals is a SAHPRA-approved, smart phone application, that is intended to screen a person’s vital signs by actually measuring the heart rate, respiration rate, and critically their oxygen saturation (it also can calculate HRV), and compares it against normal medical ranges to determine a Green/Yellow or Red risk status result. Red meaning the person should self-isolate and seek medical attention, yellow meaning be cautious and screen daily and green that no vital signs are outside of the healthy expected range, and that the person is not likely to have an infection that will affect their vital signs.
The idea is that hotels/flights/commercial businesses etc would ask employees who scan red to remain at home in a work from home scenario, and not allow visitors/customers who screen red into their premises and thus protect their own staff and healthy customers. Encrypted QR codes are used for the protection of users and locations.
(Q) How did you find a manufacturer for your product?
(A) After designing how the solution should operate, we found a local app developer where there was a synergy between what they were doing on other apps for tracing. We heard about them on a radio program, where an application was mentioned. I could see would be symbiotic with ours, so I contacted them, and they have been incredibly accommodating and easy to work with. We foresee a long relationship with them as we will need to evolve the app with our customers’ needs and requirements as they change due to the impacts of COVID and the government regulations imposed. We are also presently looking at integrations for their other applications for Europe and African countries.
(Q) What secrets have you learned in terms of marketing your product?
(A) Honestly, this is the one area that we have not been adept at, and thus the marketing function has been a steep learning curve for us as a company. What we have learned is the power of digital marketing, having a call to action that takes the customer on a predefined journey, and statistically analysing the return on each type of marketing spend as invaluable. We are always learning and adapting to what works.
With the scope and magnitude of where Instant Vitals could take us, we invested in a PR company that has done its best to put the company and the product into the market.
It has not been easy with regulations around what can and can’t be advertised/discussed around COVID. However, it has still been a good learning experience for us.
It is still early days for the application, which has a significant global benefit to saving lives. We continue to work with synergistic partners while looking for others where we could partner and provide value in Europe, Americas, Middle East, APAC and Africa, of course. Partners, organisations and governments of scale will deliver incredible value to the global population while being able to do so extremely affordably for the world to overcome this pandemic and other challenges to global health we may face in the future.
(Q) What advice would you offer other inventors developing products?
(A) My advice would be that you will find stumbling blocks at every turn. Still, by having faith in your product, you will find the passion and energy to find solutions to each stumbling block, and thus you will progress and succeed. My motto in life is to never, never, never give up. At the same time, if we focus on delivering real value to people and society, success will follow. We look forward to seeing Instant Vitals making a difference in the world, which desperately needs some good news.