Tell us a bit about you and your venture! What problem is Senso solving, and why did you choose to tackle this market?
Before Senso, I worked in the loan and mortgage industry. I started in customer service at RBC, and also held positions in retention and underwriting at Home Trust Company. This experience gave me first hand knowledge of how the industry worked, how outdated the technology was, and where the friction and frustration points existed.
I left the industry in 2012 when I enrolled at Brock University to follow my passion of learning more about Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence. The faculty at Brock was amazing and supported me in pioneering a Data Science program by bringing together their Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence programs. While I still have a passion for academic research, the entrepreneur in me was constantly thinking about how AI could improve the mortgage industry by solving many of the inefficiencies and problems I experienced first hand.
My co-founder, Saroop Bharwani, already had the idea for Senso being an AI solution for the financial services industry. Given my previous experience, we decided to focus on mortgage and home equity products since I had both the domain expertise and technical background.
How do you believe technology will impact your industry over the next decade?
I think technology will have the biggest impact on customer experiences. Millennials value experience over ownership. Steve Jobs didn’t make Apple what it is by just selling consumer products, he did it by creating exceptional experiences which anyone could use. Financial institutions need to do a better job of embracing this mentality, and in my opinion, the winners will be the ones who nurture startups in creating these engaging experiences for new generations.
What are some of your venture’s biggest milestones?
We were able to find a strategic partner within a few months of starting NextAI. This gave us an early test bed to iterate fast and find product market fit. This in turn opened the door to begin conversations with larger lenders and partners in the Canadian real estate and mortgage industry. That being said, I see the core team we’ve brought together as the biggest milestone for the company. While this is my first startup, I have heard many horror stories of companies not having a core team that clicks. I believe that this is fundamental for any company. What matters most is a team that’s executing towards the same goal, and having fun while they’re doing it.
What piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to start a company in your industry?
Be patient. The financial services industry in Canada is much smaller and more conservative compared to similar markets elsewhere in the world and, as such, has traditionally been slower to innovate and adopt new technology. Expect to be to told that something can’t be done, question everything, and get to know their biases. Then, build something that proves them wrong.
What would you say are the top 3 skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Patience, humility, and a strong desire to learn. It’s almost cliche to say this now but success isn’t a straight path (some people joke that success looks like my beard — curly and all over the place). You need patience to get through the valleys in the journey, and you need humility so you don’t exaggerate early wins and think you’re ahead of where you really are.
The strong desire to learn is a requirement for anything in life, but especially so for entrepreneurship.
Everything you build, every person you meet, every opportunity you get should be treated as a learning experience, whether or not the outcome is what you wanted — learn from it.
What has been the most valuable lesson you learned during your time in NextAI?
We can do this! Growing up I would say I wanted to be a software entrepreneur, but I always thought there were too many barriers, and thought I could only do it if I got an opportunity to go to the Valley. NextAI has smashed those assumptions. Conditions are never going to be perfect but if you work hard, surround yourself with like-minded people, and take risks, building something big can happen here on our home turf.
How did going through the NextAI stack up to your expectations of it?
My only expectation of the NextAI program was that I would get out of it what I put in, and it turns out what you put in is returned with interest! The network, resources, advice, classes — everything has been more than I imagined, let alone what I had expected. It’s been a very humbling experience realizing I’m part of something much bigger than I had originally thought.
Who is one person that has tremendously helped you through your time at NEXT? How did they help you?
Fellow NextAI entrepreneur and CTO of Karen.AI, David Vradenburg. David has 20+ years experience as a systems architect and lead developer and has been a tremendous help to me and the Senso team as we’ve come across technical bottlenecks and roadblocks building the Senso platform. The fact that he has a family, is very busy building his own startup, and still takes the time to share his knowledge when we need it is a real testament to David’s character and a prime example of who NEXT looks for when accepting candidates into the program.