London Campus Member:
We sat down with Charles to find out about Sen, the future of live video and his entrepreneurial journey to date.
Sen was founded in 2014 with a vision to democratize space with unique video perspectives of our ever-changing world. Its mission is to stream real-time videos to billions of people, by capturing unique video content using both hosted video cameras and its own constellations of small satellites. Pronounced as a word rather than individual letters, Sen is an acronym for ‘space exploration network’.
Prior to Sen, Charles set up cloud computing business Nasstar, in 1998. Nasstar PLC traded on the London Stock Exchange in 2005 and Charles stepped down as CEO of in 2014 to focus on Sen and his passion for space.
Tell me about your first business?
I had no money to start it [Nasstar] so I ran it from my bedroom, sending letters saying, “I can build you a website”. I didn’t know how to build a website! I used PaintShop Pro to mock something up and then taught myself HTML. I actually built and hosted a website for Jamiroquai, which was a great contract to get. I preferred the scalability and repeat revenue of hosting, so focused on that, adding hosted email in 2002 and hosted desktop in 2004. I successfully grew the business; it was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2005 and stepped down as CEO in 2014 to focus on Sen. At the time I stepped down Nasstar had a market cap of around £25 million, and it has now grown to a market value of over £70 million.
Why did you start Sen?
I’ve always been fascinated by space and came up with the idea for Sen in 1990. I didn’t quite know the best way to get it started back then. The infrastructure wasn’t there at that point and people felt my idea was crazy. In 1998 I started Nasstar, but always wanted to create Sen. I was full time as Nasstar CEO until 2014, but prior to then I actually decided on the name for Sen and purchased the domain back in 2008.
I was free to focus on Sen from mid-2014. Sen’s business is to provide real-time video to both consumers and organisations to move society forward - the idea is that everyone should benefit from seeing unique perspectives of Earth, that is the vision. Video has two main attributes – movement, and the power to tell a story. Like a film it has the capability to change the way you think and feel, and we want to use this to show people the effects of climate change, natural disasters and the movement of people in real time.
What are the future opportunities and threats that you are preparing for?
Currently the industry is worth around $3bn, with forecasts of growth up to $9bn. This number only assumes the growth of existing users and data types. We plan to expand the market with new types of data and create a new market for the consumer. We will be the pure antidote to fake news! We’ll be launching a B2C app, streaming videos from space to consumers – the app aims to educate, inspire and have an element of networking.
The sensitivity of live video data could be a challenge, but this is something that will be carefully managed. For example, when you are looking at the movement/displacement of people you need to be sensitive about how you use that data. If you streamed in real time a group of refugees leaving X country and travelling to Y this could be used unethically and we need to avoid that.
Do you prefer the start-up or scale-up phase of business?
I’d say scale-up. I think I’ll be the most excited [with Sen] when we get to a stage where everything is launched end-to-end, which should be the middle of 2020. At this point we’ll have our own satellite operating, be pulling data, populating our app and we will start to see traction in the market. The start-up phase is all about planning, design and testing. When you finally launch something and see your ideas come to life, it is hugely satisfying.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Establish as quickly as possible before you spend any money, if you can. Prove that there is a market and interest in what you do. This is fundamental, as it’s very easy to spend money quickly on the tech and so on, before thinking, is anyone going to use this? Once you get traction you have to keep going, never give up, and just accept you will get a lot of knock-backs but you have to keep going.
Why did you join RocketSpace’s London Campus?
I wanted to be in London because of the talent here and to be close to existing and future investors. I chose Rocketspace because we were looking at co-working venues and on being shown around I was so impressed with the culture and organisation. It’s a lovely community, I’ve been to the drinks on a Thursday, attended the CEO lunches and have got to know some of the businesses and people really well.
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