Today we are looking at two products that should have gone mainstream in South Africa but have not taken off in the way that has been anticipated despite there being a market need: the dashcam and the smart video doorbell and look at whether there are still opportunities.

The Dashcam
A dashboard camera or simply dashcam, also known as car digital video recorder (car DVR), driving recorder, or event data recorder (EDR), is an onboard camera that continuously records the view through a vehicle’s front windscreen and sometimes rear or other windows.

There are two things that drive the sale of dashcams (people driving like imbeciles and have no regard for the rules of the road and lax and corrupt police) and where both are prevalent sales of dashcams skyrocket where the point where every car on the road has one. South Africa has both of those, probably some of the worse in the world. Our taxi’s, drunk drivers and police are the baddest of the bad. So why hasn’t this taken off as it has in Russia where there are similar conditions?

The Smart Video Doorbell
A smart doorbell is an internet-connected doorbell that notifies the smartphone or other electronic device of the home owner when a visitor arrives at the door. It activates when the visitor presses the button of the doorbell, or alternatively, when the doorbell senses a visitor with its built-in motion sensors.

The smart video doorbell is a far more nascent industry than the dashcam but has also seen a similar lack of interest from the general population. If you think about it, it can notify you when someone approaches your door in real-time, (it can also activate a motion-detecting light along with the video), which could be helpful with the proliferation of “crowbar gangs” we’ve seen in South Africa. These guys are not cat burglars they just use brute force usually through the front door.

So why haven’t these taken off? We all know the value of video surveillance, that is why most houses have CCTV. Is it a western cultural thing?  Is it cost?

As dashcams have gotten cheaper and cheaper, I think the reason dashcams haven’t taken off is crime, people are afraid their windows are going to be smashed to steal it and don’t want the schlep of removing them all the time. Remember before turn-by-turn navigation came to cellphones people used to use Garmin GPS devices, most people had to remove it from the holder when they parked their car because not only would it attract thieves but the thieves would smash a window to get to it. That is OK for a GPS device to be used like that but the nature of a dashcam is that it has to be used all the time not just when you don’t know how to get to a place.

As for smart video doorbells, it’s still too early to say, but with smart homes and the potential of IoT (internet of things), I found it interesting that the thing that would be the “trojan horse” to the mass market so that they could see the potential of this fledgeling industry. Could it be that most of us are already living in fortresses where a smart doorbell wouldn’t change much? Most people in South Africa have high walls, electric fence, CCTV, armed response and guns, which brings us to a potential problem. South Africa’s self-defence laws favour criminals if you see someone on a smart video doorbell and arm yourself and you confront that person under South African law you looking at a murder charge if you kill him. We don’t have any “stand your ground” laws that protect homeowners from trespassers, you have to hit the panic button and hide. Or call the police and wait, you have to wait for the home invader to kill you before you can use lethal force and by then you are dead already. So if you do shoot a burglar or home invader after being tipped off by such a device it might count against you in a court of law. Remember how Oscar Pistorious was grilled as to why he didn’t run away when he heard what he thought was a burglar instead of confronting them? You can expect similar treatment if you confront and shoot a burglar in your house after being alerted to them approaching.

There are some other considerations with smart doorbells in the privacy sense, you can see who has been coming and going to a house, catch a cheating spouse or catch a boyfriend visiting a daughter etc. but I don’t know how much that will play into buying decisions.

But let’s not forget South Africa’s demographics, the vast majority is poor, the middle-class is shrinking, smart homes was always going to be a niche market unless we get an economic miracle to lift people out of poverty.


Opportunities
So you thinking wow, much negativity, is there even money to be made here? Yes, there is, I think dashcams and internal cameras do have potential selling to businesses rather than consumers. Trucks and security companies have already adopted internal cameras. And we have seen some footage in the media, security guards murdered for their guns, truck driver texting while driving. In the latter case, such a driver is a liability and you have grounds for dismissal – something you might not have had in South Africa’s pro-labour market.

As for smart doorbells. maybe it has to be redesigned for the local market, or maybe for buildings, it could be integrated into armed response companies where only motion between certain hours is detected and beamed so they can be prepared before even an alarm goes off. How many offices will get visitors after a certain period?

Business Opportunites in the dashcam and/or smart video doorbell business
Design – Both devices can be better redesigned to cater to the local market. Maybe the dashcam can be integrated better into the vehicle.
Manufacturing – South Africa’s complex manufacturing industry is gone. I don’t see a lot of opportunities here. Ditto for assembly, you can just as well import the assembled item unless you going to milk the IDC for investment look elsewhere.
Import and distribution – Probably where most of the money is to be made, you can sell to either wholesalers or retailers. With distribution, you become a local agent for a manufacturer.
Retail – Can be sold by an electronics or security retailer. Is there enough money to sell to the consumer only? It’s risky but if you sell various models, you might be able to specialise in these types of devices.
Installation – Not sure how much money is here, it is basic to install these products. Any handyman can do it.

Again while there were obvious uses in South Africa tread carefully, just because you assume you are solving a problem does not mean there is demand. When I’m planning a business, unlike many others, my “Problem Worth Solving” and “Market Need” is looked at differently (or in different contexts). Just because there is a problem worth solving, does not mean there is a market need there might be local factors, cultural, economical that just do not translate into demand.