This week, we are speaking to James Dean for our Founder Feature series. James is a technology entrepreneur fascinated by the way the world works. He founded Sensat in 2017 to enable the greatest step change since the internet; the digitisation of the physical world. SenSat’s mission is to build the third platform, an intelligent eco-system that translates the real world into a version understandable to AI. This technology will help us to build a more sustainable future, using the wealth of new insight to help people make better decisions.
Learn more about James Dean’s journey and his plans to build a sustainable future with SenSat below.
Q: Could you tell us about your company and what you’re striving to achieve?
A: As an up and coming SaaS company, Sensat’s evolution began in 2017, with the aim to digitise the physical world. Ahead of its time in terms of innovative thinking, never has it been more important than today to have digital technology that can create a digital representation of our built environment.
For example, mapping and surveying has experienced the biggest evolution across the civil infrastructure and AEC industries in the past decade with the move towards reality capture using drones, scanning, and Lidar, to name a few technologies. With this in mind, and with a current focus on these sectors, we are building a solution which captures infrastructure site data and helps our customers aggregate and visualise this in our common visualisation platform, Mapp – creating a digital representation of the real world. Our customers can access a single source of truth that surfaces the most important information to the top in an intuitive way to drive site context, and supports understanding for more informed decision making, as well as more effective, sustainable projects – from design to planning and all decisions relating to construction.
Our vision is to use our technology to help create a sustainable world where human development is in balance with our natural environment. We are committed to helping deliver this by taking the complexity out of physical data, aggregating it and adding context so industries can change their impact on the real world.
Q: Can you tell us who your mentors and heroes are, and what impact they’ve had on you?
A: A startup always has the odds stacked against it – grit is not a key trait, it’s essential. One of the largest challenges we have overcome is one I think is rarely discussed but super common in Europe; building product with non-technical co-founders. We spent over two years incorrectly building (research, product, engineering) because we didn’t really know how, and at the end, we threw everything out and basically started again. Sure it cost us a few million pounds (expensive school!) but we learnt so much about not only our customers but how not to build a product, which means we’re now much better equipped. Founders in Europe generally are non-technical, and I think is a really common obstacle for many startups founded here.
Q: How are you measuring your success? What are your metrics?
A: At the moment we’re looking to prove that our product is valuable to our paying customers, this is called product-market fit. As such we have defined a ‘North Star metric’ which is an action in the business that is closely linked to revenue (but not revenue itself). For example, a business like hello fresh may have a North Star metric like ‘increase the number of food boxes delivered’, more boxes = more revenue.
For us our North Star metric is ‘Weekly Active Projects’. We look at all the civil infrastructure projects that use Mapp and measure to see if they’re using it on a weekly basis. Our goal is to get to 70% of all projects with recurring weekly usage. To help influence our North Star metric we define ‘key drivers’, which for us include the jobs being done in the platform and the amount of data uploaded to the platform.
Q: What are the future implications of the technology you are developing?
A: Our mission is to provide industries with the insight they need to shape a more sustainable world. At the moment physical, offline industries like civil infrastructure account for the vast majority of emissions and pollutants in the world, because they cannot rely on digital technology to help them make better, more informed decisions. We’re changing that by allowing work to be done digitally with a greater level of insight, delivered exponentially faster. We aim to be net positive for people and the planet.
Q: What has surprised you in your journey so far?
A: The importance of culture and putting your team at the centre of everything you do. At the end of the day, a business is the sum of its people, and so those people are the most important thing to get right. That means effectively creating the space to hire the best people and allow them to come in and do their best work.
Q: Do you see this as UK centric or will you conquer the world by going global?
A: Going global! In fact, as the world moves into a recession we expect governments to heavily invest in infrastructure as a means to kick start their economies. Because of this we see the single best opportunity to digitize civil infrastructure on a global scale and make a huge impact on the way we plan, build and manage our infrastructure assets. In turn, this will have large ramifications on our ability to live sustainability and in balance with our environment – this only works on a global scale.
Q: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to budding innovators taking the same journey?
A: Going back to one of my earlier points, people are so integral to the business. If I could do this again, I’d bring in a professional recruiter into the team as one my first hires, to help validate and plan the team we need to grow and then make that happen.
Learn more about how SenSat are digitising civil infrastructure by visiting their website: www.sensat.co.uk