In the first of a series of in-depth interviews with founders of our portfolio companies, we talk to Simon Kampa – CEO of Senseye - a company that has been providing scaleable predictive maintenance in industrial settings since 2014.
Q: What inspired you to found Senseye?
I met my co-founders when we worked together for a company providing condition monitoring in the aerospace industry. We could see the potential for predictive maintenance in other sectors and could see there was a genuine opportunity for companies with courage to be pioneers in this space.
Q: How hard was it to take those first critical steps?
With families to support and mortgages to pay, it would have been easy for myself and my co-founders to stay put. But our domain knowledge gave us confidence and we all brought substantial experience to the table; plus I’d personally had experience of growing and scaling a small business before. So it was more of a big step than a giant leap. We were also fortunate to have some savings and investment support from high net worth angels in the early stage – so the risk felt tolerable.
Q: Can you give us some insight into the challenges you faced early on?
We began our journey in 2014 – 4 years on, that makes us a fairly established player in what is still a very young market. But at the outset, it was before there was really any buzz around the kind of technology we were offering and there really wasn’t an established ‘model’ to follow. That translated into a lot of uncertainty over the first 6 months. We had to try and pitch our product into several verticals to see how it landed and where it clicked. With just four people in the mix back then, so we had to be careful about how we spent our time and the pressure was on to make smart choices. But we kept close to the data. The analysis influenced our direction and lead us to focus in Manufacturing – which has really paid off.
Q: How do the demands on founders change as the business begins to grow?
Dealing with people is probably the primary challenge of growing and scaling a start-up – we started with four people, we’re currently at 40 and expanding fast. But having driven the growth of another small business to 100 people previously, this came as no surprise. For me, it’s about building a strong team, and then delegating and empowering your people to perform. As a founder you don’t have the time or bandwidth to micro-manage – so those early hires are really important. All of my co-founders were experienced senior players – so we were naturally operating with a high degree of trust. But I imagine that for entrepreneurs and start-ups with less business and commercial experience, those core team dynamics can be a major challenge early on.
Q: What advice would you give to other founders?
Keep an open mind and treat every potential customer connection as an opportunity to gather insight that will steer you on your journey. Assuming exactly where and how your product will land and fit in the market place is potentially dangerous and could lead you down blind alleys. Keep a close eye on the cash flow. Amongst the uncertainty experienced by most early-stage companies, you’ve got to be confident on how much runway you have and how that fits with revenue and future funding plans. And finally, choose advisors and investors carefully – making the right choices can really move your firm forward, fast. But a poor choice has the potential to stunt progress at the pace you want and need.
Q: What did the journey to scale look like for Senseye?
Again, we were fortunate to secure a large customer contract with the potential to scale, early on. Getting our pricing model right to minimise any barriers at the point of sale was a big part of our challenge in a nascent market. Building on that point – we’ve had to be very focused in the prospects we target to fuel our growth. We were aware from the outset that we would be better with a smaller number of customers with the propensity to scale to £multi-million contracts – rather than trying to satisfy a high volume of smaller touch-and-go type deals. Consequently, we invest a lot of time in qualifying our leads to keep our sales efforts lean and high impact.
Q: How do your customers respond to a solution that is so new and innovative?
As a supplier to manufacturing, we’re dealing with practically-minded technical experts. Our pitch is less about the technology itself and more about the solution it offers and the problem it solves. We steer away from a heavy play on IoT – because we have witnessed a lot of hype in the market that is simply a distraction from what we want to achieve. Our challenge is to cut through jargon and get prospects to a point where they’re confident about a pilot, understand the realities of technology implementation and adoption and can clearly see that roll-out – and the associated benefits – are all within their reach.
Q: How do you feel about the future?
Right now we’re building sales and revenue to secure our next round of funding. So there’s a clear emphasis on sales and marketing to get the right kind of leads in. The sales are beginning to get a little bit easier – as we’re building some strong brand recognition – so people know who we are and what we do. Plus we’ve got good customer advocacy and we’re collecting case studies from the deals we’ve done – which all lends weight and credibility to our pitch. The future is bright. But growing a business is hard work – and as we get bigger, so do the day to day challenges of running and managing a successful operation.
Q: Is there a lesson you’ve learned that you’d like to share with other founders?
Always be mindful that you don’t know what you don’t know. Mistakes made through lack of knowledge or naivety are to be avoided at all costs. They can make or break companies at start-up, so it really pays to surround yourself with experts you trust - whether they are recruits or advisors. Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. It’s my view that in-experienced entrepreneurs who display ignorance or arrogance (or both), are making a difficult task doubly hard for themselves. A little humility and being able to ask for help when you need it goes a long way.
Senseye’s cloud-based solution helps manufacturers avoid downtime and reduce maintenance costs. By automatically identifying machine failure through predictive machine learning,SENSEYE is revolutionising industrial maintenance providing automated diagnosis of potential failures up to months in advance.