‘I’ve never worked longer hours but I’m very ex­cited by what I do’

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - News -

ter­nity leave from her job as a man­age­ment con­sul­tant when they moved to North­ern Ire­land, is chief strat­egy of­fi­cer.

The cou­ple has ded­i­cated count­less hours to mak­ing a suc­cess of the com­pany. Af­ter de­vel­op­ing the tech­nol­ogy, they worked with the Univer­sity of Ul­ster to de­sign the cas­ing.

“We were ac­tu­ally pleas­antly sur­prised when we got to North­ern Ire­land with the level of sup­port for busi­nesses try­ing to start up,” con­tin­ues Irene, mum to nineyear-old Ma­rina and Lizzie (6).

“We both ob­vi­ously had a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence but start­ing up your own fam­ily busi­ness is to­tally dif­fer­ent be­cause you have to do ev­ery­thing.”

They reg­is­tered See.sense as a busi­ness in April 2013 and had launched their first prod­uct on Kick­starter, a crowd­fund­ing plat­form, by the end of the year.

Not only did this help to fi­nance devel­op­ment of the prod­uct, it also val­i­dated the idea when sup­port for the bi­cy­cle light came in thick and fast.

“We met our tar­get of £11,000 in eight days,” says Irene.

The re­sponse to the prod­uct at­tracted me­dia at­ten­tion and they even ended up in the New York Times. They then made their first sale to Chain Re­ac­tion Cy­cles, one of the world’s largest on­line bike stores.

“It was quite a rea­son­able size, I think it was about £1,500,” says Irene.

“It was a great feel­ing be­cause in the early days peo­ple did take the at­ti­tude that we had given up our ca­reers to try and start our own busi­ness and that it was go­ing to be some­thing we would re­gret.

“We had ac­tu­ally thought that we would give it a few years and if it didn’t work we would go back to our old jobs.

“Our chil­dren were quite young at the time. Lizzie was just oneyear-old and I rather naively thought I would get to spend some time with the chil­dren and do a bit of work with the com­pany but it didn’t work out like that.

“I ac­tu­ally work harder now than I ever did. The suc­cess we have had was un­ex­pected and we are busier now than we ever were in our old jobs.

“We have ac­tu­ally en­joyed pretty phe­nom­e­nal growth.”

Since launch­ing the first prod­uct, they have de­vel­oped the tech­nol­ogy and launched a num­ber of other prod­ucts.

They have also cre­ated tech­nol­ogy that al­lows users to gather data from their time on their bikes on an app.

How­ever, it was as they gave a pre­sen­ta­tion to a po­ten­tial cus­tomer that they re­alised ex­actly the po­ten­tial of the tech­nol­ogy.

Irene ex­plains: “What is re­ally in­ter­est­ing is that the light re­acts to the en­vi­ron­ment and knows when the cy­clist is in a risky sit­u­a­tion.

“It does that by read­ing the en­vi­ron­ment around you. It can tell what speed you’re trav­el­ling, if you’ve had a crash, it can tell what the road sur­face is like.

“It was prob­a­bly about 2014 and we were do­ing a pitch and ex­plain­ing how it all worked to a po­ten­tial cus­tomer and he said ‘ hang on a minute, did you say the light de­tects road sur­faces and con­di­tions?’

“When we told him it did he told us it was ac­tu­ally a re­ally big deal. We re­alised then we had un­cov­ered some­thing re­ally ex­cit­ing, that there was a value to the data as it could help to make cy­cling safer by re­design­ing the cy­cling in­fra­struc­ture.

“We knew it could have a big im­pact and we got quite ex­cited about it.”

See.sense has since col­lab­o­rated with Dublin and Manch­ester cities who have used data col­lected from lights used by cy­clists us­ing their roads and there are plans to de­velop this fur­ther.

In ad­di­tion they also sup­ply Raleigh and are now stocked by Hal­fords, as well as ex­port­ing their prod­ucts around the world through their web­site.

De­spite their in­cred­i­ble suc­cess, Irene says they have ex­pe­ri­enced chal­lenges. “Hard­ware is hard from an en­trepreneurial point of view be­cause there is a big­ger cash flow is­sue than if you are work­ing with a soft­ware busi­ness.

“Kick­starter was very im­por­tant and helped us get around fi­nance is­sues and al­lowed us to move the busi­ness for­ward.

“We also had to grow the team quite quickly as well and that brought its own chal­lenges be­cause we went from six to 16 in the space of a few months.

“It went from a fam­ily al­most to hav­ing to have HR poli­cies to deal with things like sick leave and it can be a bit of a dis­trac­tion from the day to day things you have to do.

“In the early days, the man­u­fac­tur­ing side of things was hard as we had never done that be­fore.

“We’ve just been lucky that the prod­uct is so good be­cause in the early days we didn’t have a mar­ket­ing bud­get at all.”

And she ex­plains: “I would say that you have to be­lieve in what you are do­ing be­cause it is so much work, but for me and Philip, it is some­thing we are very pas­sion­ate about. We be­lieve we are ac­tu­ally mak­ing a dif­fer­ence to the world, we are re­duc­ing con­ges­tion and pol­lu­tion and we’re help­ing peo­ple im­prove their health.

“There are dif­fi­cult days but I have won a num­ber of women in busi­ness awards and that gives me a lift and it also makes me think that I am set­ting a good ex­am­ple for my daugh­ters.

“I’ve never worked longer hours but I am very ex­cited by what I do and I think that is ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial when it comes to set­ting up your own busi­ness.”

We’ve had to grow the team quite quickly, that in it­self brought chal­lenges

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