In 2017 from a kitchen in Islington we founded Sensat. And like many founders, we had big ideas for what was then a passion project. Five years on we are proud to announce that Sensat has raised $20.5M (£16.7m) Series B funding led by National Grid Partners, one of the largest investor-owned energy companies in the world.
The funds will help us scale our sales and engineering functions and help drive digital automation in infrastructure projects in energy, rail and telecommunications. Sectors which have traditionally lacked the productivity gains that have been a by-product of the rapid digital adoption that has occurred in other sectors.
Sensat helps Infrastructure owners and their construction partners to deliver Infrastructure programmes on time and on budget by uncovering hidden risks. Our software powers teams to manage and visualise live construction information so they can plan, coordinate and track project performance for better, faster, more data-driven decisions.
Read the press release here.
In the beginning…
This is a story of adventure, curiosity and exploration - as much as it is about technology. But it doesn’t start in the campuses of Silicon Valley as you may expect, it begins in a leafy borough of north London in 2017, where we were working late nights from a kitchen that doubled up as a bedroom…
Sensat has shifted and evolved during our 5 years and don’t get us wrong, we have made mistakes and learnt along the way. However, our intentions have remained tied to making the world a more sustainable place.
Sensat’s mission is to automate the way civil infrastructure is planned, built and managed with the aim of reducing costs by 5x, opening access to fundamental infrastructure to billions more people and ending devastating environmental practices.
Our idea (a platform that transformed large datasets into representations of the physical world) put the real world into a computer's language for the first time ever. Soon after, the project was named Sensat. Over the next few months, Sensat caught the attention of not only the academic community but London’s tech investors as well. In May 2017 we gained our first investment of £300,000 which we used to hire a small team and made the upgrade from an Islington kitchen to our first office—a 6-person suite at Moor Place, London.
Once we found our feet and began securing customers, Sensat outgrew the old space and moved to a 100-person office in Old Street, London. There we celebrated our Series A funding of $10M in 2019, our first $1M deal as well as 200% team growth during the pandemic. All of which have been celebrated with legendary Sensat parties (and the odd bout of sing-a-long karaoke) which carried us into the early hours of the morning.
The relentless search for better answers continues to be at the core of everything we do. Today over $150bn of Infrastructure is planned, built and managed through Sensat around the world. As the bedrock of society, we want a greater proportion of the global population to have access to fundamental Infrastructure (without wrecking our planet in the process). Although we’ve grown, our passion for building technology has stayed with us from the bedroom in Islington right to this very day.
Growing and maintaining robust values
The term startup is almost synonymous with growth. Growth metrics of sales, revenue, and quite frankly anything else that demonstrates a solid upward trend to share with the world. However, the one thing we have been very mindful of is our team growth and how we go about it. We knew from day one that our people were the foundation of Sensat, and they needed care, time and resources.
We figured out pretty fast that values are way more important than culture. There is this illusion that “startup culture” is all beers, pizza and table tennis, but it’s the winning together and “us against the world” mentality that keeps everyone motivated to work with each other every day. When you can win together working from home in a pandemic, you know you’re onto a good thing. If anything, the pandemic fired us up more!
As we have grown, especially over the past few years, we couldn’t not mention the dreaded C word… covid. When news first broke and our teams had to leave our 160 Old Street office we had recently moved into, we were adamant that we did not want this to affect our momentum or growth. We had planned to double our team by the end of 2021 and planned to stick to this.
While we believe in growth, we also believe it should never be at the expense of our team’s values. Our team, and the relationships within them, are the foundation of Sensat. We work together and win as a team. Subsequently, we have always been very attentive when hiring. We can say hand-on-heart that 95% of the time one of us will be a part of the interview process. We have found this so important. Not only do potential candidates get time with us to buy into our mission but also to check cultural fit within the organisation. We look for team players who are not afraid to go against the status quo.
Through the pandemic, as we all worked and onboarded team members remotely, we had to find a way to stay tight-knit, despite growing hard and fast. We arranged virtual coffee mornings, quizzes and drinks which helped to keep the team feeling alive. And it seemed to have worked, despite our nearly 100-person-sized operation we maintain a small team mentality. Why is this so important? It means that communication and willingness to help each other are baked into our values. ‘Winning Together’ means the team can support each other, brainstorm ideas and bring their whole selves to work.
Our team are experienced operators who have built, led, contributed to and learnt from some of the most well-known scaling success stories in global tech. Our management team has led multi-billion dollar exits in the construction/tech sectors at companies such as Google, Amazon, Oracle, McKinsey, Microsoft and Palantir. We're aligned by purpose, equipped with transparency and enabled by agency.
Today it is clear that individuals who come to work at Sensat are not just looking for ‘a job’, but looking for a purposeful place to spend their time. Our culture is bound by people on a mission to make the world more sustainable.
Our bet on the future of work
Following the pandemic when Sensat was forced to adopt a hybrid work approach, it made us reassess how we approached the norm of a 9-5. As the office reopened and we adopted a more hybrid approach, we realised that our team knew how they worked best, and we trusted that. Some would come into the office every day, others would be in for just collaborative sessions and face-to-face client meetings. Every day we could see our people naturally adapting the way they worked to suit how they can best create value.
For our people, purpose and meaning matter, so we wanted to redesign the way we build and operate Sensat to best support them, so that we could succeed together. We no longer believed that time spent equals value created. Rather, creating the right conditions for people’s success leads to our ability to outcompete, which equals outsized value created (by every measure). To be intentional about this, we moved to a 4 day week, redesigned our office and kept a flexible hybrid structure. These compounding effects of wellbeing, inspiration and reflection, combined with clearer prioritisation are creating a virtuous cycle that is setting Sensat apart, generating significant momentum and helping us to achieve our ambitious mission.
Lessons through scaling
Sensat’s scaling and growth has been quite a mission. And do not get me wrong we have not always got it right-first-time. Here are our top 3 lessons we learnt the hard way through scaling:
We ruffled a few feathers… and perhaps not in the best way
When we first started it was an uphill battle to try and win customer confidence back in 2017, especially when you’re the new kid on the block in an industry such as Construction. I think it’s ok to admit at this stage that we probably got our value proposition wrong at the beginning. We may have ruffled a few feathers trying to convince a “laggard” industry that we knew what was best for them and I think some in the industry still remember this side of us. Finding visionaries to risk their reputation was a big ask of them but I think it’s paid off for those who did. We wouldn’t be where we are today without our early customers and the invaluable feedback loop we have with them.
Fail hard and fast
A startup always has the odds stacked against it – grit is not a key trait, it’s essential. One of the largest challenges we had overcome is one I think is rarely discussed but super common in Europe; building products with non-technical co-founders. We spent over two years incorrectly building (research, product, engineering) because we didn’t really know how, and in the end, we threw everything out and 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. Failing dramatically and learning quickly from it only made us stronger as we now knew what not to do and we carry these lessons with us every day.
We have two ears and one mouth for a reason
Although you may approach an industry with a set idea, you shouldn’t be afraid to pivot and shift once you get to know your customer better. Listen to your potential customers, they will be the ones who are best able to share their problems. In our case, we cannot just show potential customers all the amazing things Sensat can offer, but we have to educate an industry that there are improved efficiencies to be gained through technologies like our own. When you educate and people connect the dots themselves, they discover their issue has a solution, and you are there to swoop them up when they are ready.
In the last 12 months
- We have officially launched our platform which has quickly become our key revenue stream.
- We have introduced some ground-breaking new features including CCTV feeding live information into the platform, scheduling features, and so much more (read our Q3 feature roundup here).
- We have reinvented how our teamwork by introducing a 4-day work week, going hybrid and empowered our people with autonomy.
- Secured our series B funding with National Grid Partners, one of the largest investor-owned energy companies in the world.
- We have moved out of our 160 office into a space which has been reimagined to fit the way our people work with more collaboration spaces
- Our employee engagement has never been so high with an eNPS (Employee Net Promotor Score: how likely our employees are to recommend Sensat as a place to work) at 62 (anything over 50 is considered ‘excellent’ and the tech sector average is 26
The one thing that you can be sure of in a start-up is change. We learn and grow from our customers, what is going well and what changes need to be made. Today more than $150bn worth of Infrastructure is planned, built and managed through Sensat worldwide. The investment from National Grid, one of the world’s largest publicly listed utilities, adds significant credibility to the future of our technology and the prominent role it will play to safely and sustainably transition critical energy Infrastructure to support renewables. There is currently a once-in-a-generation shift away from centralised power generation towards more distributed renewable power. Sensat’s technology has a crucial role to play in Net Zero objectives.
National Grid will also facilitate the launch of Sensat into the US market, where the vision is to eliminate fossil fuels from the US gas and electric systems.
“The backing of National Grid brings additional credibility for the business to both customers and industry players. We welcome their participation in helping us expand into the US and beyond to help Sensat underpin Infrastructure automation at such a pivotal point in world history. Their investment will help make renewables ambitions a reality, powered by our technology to enable the modern societies of tomorrow to take shape.”—Sensat CEO James Dean
Read the press release here.