We recently caught up with Alessandro Guazzi, CEO and Founder of Sentimoto, a technology-enabled care service provider. They support older people in remaining healthy, independent, and connected to their families and friends. They provide a smartphone-based analysis platform for data from wearables to address health and lifestyle risks early on. Alessandro is about to finish his DPhil in Biomedical Engineering and has a background in Physics and web development. Before joining Sentimoto, he worked for a number of larger SMEs (Lein Optics and Oxehealth) and dabbled in other startups (BioBright and TripMinded).
1) What were you up to before Sentimoto?
All four founders of the startup met up doing our PhDs – we were all enrolled in a doctoral training programme for “healthcare innovations”, although we came from completely different fields and were each doing different projects. Max had worked for GE and Motorola on embedded software and had already attained an MBA in marketing, while Lisa came from a design background, having worked for the Hamlyn Centre and the WHO, and Tasos was actually a medical doctor.
2) What sparked you to create Sentimoto?
We were keen to bring what was beginning to be commonplace (at least research-wise) in medical technologies – data mining, machine learning and advanced analytics – to the field of social care, which we felt hadn’t been updated in a couple of decades. At the same time, wearables and quantified self were becoming popular but we noted that they kept being marketed at 20-30 year olds even though the most immediate benefits were clearer for older age groups. Personal experiences of living far from our families and of managing their interactions with the social and health care systems in their respective countries (we come from all over Europe!), were also extremely influential. We wanted to make something that would be useful to them.
3) With that said, at what moment did you realise that Sentimoto could potentially be something great ?
The “demographic time bomb” is a horrible name for the problem we’re tackling, but is at the back of the mind of many. I think we realised the true potential of Sentimoto when we saw people understanding it both from a top-down level and from a very personal level as well.
4) Was there anything in particular you were looking out for when you were building your team, in terms of personal qualities?
Our team grew through different stages, up to the formation of the company. What we were looking for was the breadth of experiences that we now have – abilities from marketing to design, from hardware to medicine – but that at the same time could be relied on to implement any new idea we had. The fact that we were all in the same location every day anyway helped this hugely, and I think that it was important that everyone could understand (even superficially) what was being done and what could be done.
5) Do you think there is a right time to dive into the journey of entrepreneurship?
I guess it depends: we were extremely lucky – we were able to develop our idea while being enrolled on a paid PhD course, which definitely slowed our progress but also made sure that we were able to survive any changes that happened and able to play with the idea and tease the real value out of it. That said, we started our journey within Bethnal Green Ventures, a social accelerator, and the infrastructure and support they (and other accelerators) provide is usually enough for a company to find its feet and its direction. I think this is easier for software companies than for hardware companies, but tools are becoming more available every day and we had some fantastic co-entrepreneurs who did very well on the “hard” hardware.
6) What do you wish you knew when you started your journey that you now know today?
A lot! I think the main one is to not rely on interviewees to give you solutions – you’ll just hear your own solutions back. This is something that we were told over and over again, and seems quite obvious, but I cannot warn people enough of the dangers of asking for problems when you already have a solution in mind. Another is to always have had an immediate revenue stream with incremental additions in mind from day 1, regardless of what the final objectives are. In our experience at least, a “this leads will lead to this but in the meantime gives us this” approach is infinitely more understandable and marketable (both to investors and to customers) than a “please wait for two years while I do this and then see” approach. Step changes are great, but they also need a lot of resources that are not normally available.
7) Any advice for the potential entrepreneurs out there who are doubtful of their abilities?
One of the many, many maxims used in the Silicon Valley (for what they’re worth, as this one I’m told is from the Mad Men era of advertising) is about always hiring people who are better than you. If you know that that’s going to be the objective of your hiring strategy anyway, there’s no point worrying about your abilities to begin with. The only ability you should have is the only one you cannot pick up on the way: the belief in your idea.