Three years in
Written by Rob Stead, Managing Director at Sense Media
I’ve just returned from a two-week trip to the US including hosting the P2020 meeting at Intel’s headquarters in San Jose, attending two conferences in San Francisco and a quick stop in Detroit to meet stakeholders ahead of our next edition of AutoSens. On the flight back, I took the opportunity to write about our 3 year milestone in business since taking the step to incorporate Sense Media as a company in February 2015 (although we didn’t start trading until September that year).
It’s been a demanding journey for me personally, but I feel that I’ve reached a point – having achieved growth, visibility and respected events on two continents, as well as built a growing and successful team around me – that I can really appreciate it. Although there have been moments of glory – after our first AutoSens back in 2016 for example – the reality of a start-up business is that it’s a long hard administrative battle, a very steep learning curve and often far removed from the ‘creating Facebook working out of a basement’ scenario popularised in the media.
The more realistic picture is that most of the time you’re keeping your head above the waterline, besieged by tasks you never imagined were part of the process, finding yourself decorating the office, learning countless rules and regulations (don’t even mention VAT!), trying to find the balance between being organised and letting your team flourish under their own motivations, all while managing to retain a degree of cool while you feel it could all be two steps away from it falling down around your feet. It hasn’t, of course, because we have a great team and we know what we are doing, but you can’t help feeling that way when everything seems to be developing so quickly.
I have kept many of those challenges to myself, and I’m grateful for the support I’ve had from both industry and personal friends in particular my wife, Deborah, and business partner, Sophie. Of course, I had doubts and nerves prior to starting Sense Media, but now they are all disappearing into the distance we are able to focus on the strategic planning for the next year and further into the future.
On the positives though, while of course there have been mistakes and lessons, many of the decisions which I took have paid off – being able to create and deliver events which are exactly in line with what our clients and customers want, as well as delivered in the way they want to consume them, is tremendously satisfying. Running my own business gives me the freedom to pursue non-core objectives that I believe have a benefit for the business community. P2020 is a great example of that, an initiative that I could never have been started while employed by someone else as it’s a time and financial burden, but it was one of the first things I decided to initiate outside of AutoSens and I’m so pleased to see it’s appreciated by those involved. It’s been a great way for me to operate outside my comfort zone, learn more about the technical aspects of imaging, and build relationships with the technical community.
Content marketing was always an area I wanted to invest in more, and we’ve been able to prioritise this at Sense Media. We are fortunate to have great in-house capabilities to create content, think creatively about how to engage with the industry, and all with the spirit that sharing knowledge is a key enabler for making technical progress – all of the content we produce is made availlable for free, removing barriers for those with fewer financial resources. Producing timely, high quality, information-rich written and video content empowers people around the world to see what we and our partners do, while supporting growth of other parts of what we do as a company.
There’s a spirit of agility and experimentation that we support in our team, to try new things, and if it doesn’t work then learn from it quickly, change the approach and try another angle. As a business manager I’ve had the opportunity to travel more, engage in other industry events and meetings, enter and win awards, judge and hand out awards, and I always take great pleasure in meeting new people, sharing my business ethos and aims with them and hearing their varied (but invariably positive) feedback.
I’ve also had the opportunity to learn lots from my employees. After all I’m doing all of this for the first time and I’ve gotten things wrong from time to time. I’m not too proud to realise there are others in the business with more specific expertise than me and I’ll always try and make sure the business benefits from their experience as well as my own. But it’s my vision that has brought us here, and while the business might look a little different than I had imagined, the fundamental vision remains completely intact and I’ll protect that as long as I have Managing Director under my name.
In 2018 we continue to grow, and as a company are nearly twice the size of what I had originally planned when we began – that creates its own challenges too, and while the quality of our approach and professionalism brings rewards and opportunity, it also means that we’ll need to move office again very soon. Fortunately, construction has just started on the ‘new’ Old Dairy barn conversion we’ll be moving into by the summer – another important milestone in what seems like a never-ending torrent of milestones!
I will finish by thanking you for this, you’ve come across this blog post because you’re interested in what we do or curious about doing business with us, or perhaps we have met at an event. It’s people like you that I want to keep me on my toes, whether you’re a potential partner, client or competitor – we have to aim higher in order to satisfy the demands put upon us. After all, if we aim high, we might just achieve it.