No One Said It Would Be Easy

A conversation with Anna Gudmonson, CEO and co-founder of Sensate

Anna is the CEO and co-founder of Sensate, a consumer device that uses infrasonic waves and sounds to relieve stress. Since launching in 2019, Sensate has experienced rapid growth, with a $10.2M revenue run rate and thousands of units sold globally.

Time Magazine nominated Sensate as one of the best inventions of 2022, and the company is backed by venture funds including Unlock, Incisive, and Expert DOJO. Sensate recently raised ~$3M from their users via a community round on Wefunder.

We had the opportunity to speak with Anna and learn about her captivating journey as a startup founder and former turnaround CEO. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Dealing with loneliness

  • Get a coach

  • Ignore sunk costs

  • Gamify your sales team

  • Consider hybrid teams of in-house staff and part-time contractors

  • Dedicate your life to what you love

  • Sleep trumps hustle porn

Dealing with loneliness

We all know that startups are a rollercoaster ride, with high highs and low lows. "There was a moment where I felt very lonely," Anna says. "As a CEO, I didn't have my own personal support system set up.”

These are the moments when you need people to support you. “As a founder, the last thing you need when things are challenging is someone telling you that you're doing a bad job or that things are tough. You already know that. I've definitely built up that support system now. I have friends who have been CEOs many times, and some of our investors are my go-to for support.”

Get a coach

As a founder, you don't have to learn everything the hard way. "I really believe in coaching. Having a coach, especially when things become sensitive and you feel triggered, can be incredibly helpful. I don't have to learn all the lessons myself, as others have gone through this before.”

Ignore sunk costs

In addition to co-founding Sensate, Anna has over 15 years of experience as a turnaround CEO. Sensate also faced difficult times in its early days. Anna recalls, "With a very early version of the product, we had to switch manufacturers very late in the game, and that was a crisis. The longer you've gone down the wrong path, the more difficult and painful it is to turn around.” But you have to ignore these sunk costs. Undoubtedly, one of the most challenging aspects of startups is recognizing your mistakes, setting aside your pride, and being willing to change direction. However, the only important question is what decision will be the best one going forward.

Gamify your sales team

"What I've found helpful in B2B is using data to gamify sales. By doing this, you or your sales reps can see that picking up the phone or responding in less than X hours results in a higher conversion rate," explains Anna. "This approach allows you to visualize what's working and what's not, and it becomes a kind of game. It's very enlightening. I invested in training and tools to break down performance and understand how to improve it.”

Not only did this allow Anna and her team to improve their conversion rate, but it was also an opportunity for them to learn and grow as a team. "We also made this type of data public so we could all learn. This approach also made sales more fun.”

Consider hybrid teams of in-house staff and part-time contractors

Speaking about growth, Anna emphasizes the importance of having a hybrid marketing team of both in-house people with senior management experience as well as part-time contractors with very specialized skills. “With the evolution of the marketing tech sector, there are many different channels, each requiring very specific skills to manage effectively. However, you also need to understand the overall strategy, which requires a senior management background. With technology becoming increasingly sophisticated, there is a growing need for laser-focused skills in very specific areas. This is why we have a hybrid team that includes both full-time in-house people and part-time contractors with highly specialized skills.”

Dedicate your life to what you love

"Throughout my career, I've found it important to align my values with what I do. Startups require an enormous amount of energy and effort. If you spend all that energy on something you believe in and that truly matters, you'll feel inspired and excited at the end of the day. Otherwise, it can wear you down. Sure, I've done jobs that were really cool, where we were innovating new mobile technology and the like. But in the end, I asked myself, will the world be a better place when I'm gone? Now, I'm working on a product that helps people manage stress and anxiety. So my creativity, my energy, and everything that I'm sacrificing to some extent, I really believe that it's well spent.”

Anna also emphasizes the importance of communicating values to the team, so that everyone understands the reasons behind their work. "I really try to communicate objectives and values very clearly, even to people who may seem to be doing small tasks. It's important that everyone has a coherent understanding of why we're doing every little thing in the business.”

Sleep trumps hustle porn

For most founders, "hustle" is key. If you're trying to build a high-growth startup, you may feel the need to work 24/7, constantly network, and work until 3am. However, this approach can be detrimental and harmful to your business in the long run.

“I think the secret is just getting good sleep. It’s incredible how bad decisions we make and how inferior our actual nervous system and brain work when we're sleep deprived. Thinking that staying up and working until 3:00 AM will benefit the business is a real myth. Instead, you can be hyper-productive just by getting good sleep and taking care of yourself.”