Women in AV: The Three – Part 3: Anne Sellers, Sensory Technologies

This blog and interview were written and conducted by Penny Sitler of Draper Inc. Check them out on Twitter at @DraperInc.

Anne-Sellers-1014I’m honored to have been invited to help write this blog series on women AV entrepreneurs. Corey Moss had the idea, and I hope you’ve already read his excellent interview with Cory Schaeffer of Listen Technologies, as well as Kelly Perkins’ chat with Midori Connolly of AV Girl Productions.

Corey invited me to choose a woman in the integration sector of our industry. That is a wide open field with many outstanding women business owners, and at Draper we work with many of them. So it was hard to select just one for this interview. I’m so pleased that Anne Sellers of Sensory Technologies accepted my invitation. Like many business owners in our industry, Anne is part of a partnership. She brings a passion for finance and a deep understanding of management principles to her work as Sensory’s CFO. While I was interviewing her for this post, Anne and I were surprised to find that we missed an opportunity to meet years ago. Back in the 1980’s, we were both students at DePauw University, graduating just a year apart!

Sensory Technologies comes from the joining of two longtime AV industry companies: Video Images in Wisconsin and the integration segment of Markey AV in Indiana. Their success is documented in the recent Commercial Integrator feature on CI Industry Leaders, where Sensory Technologies appears at the top of the list of Corporate Market Integrators. Quite a recognition after just eight years in business!

PS: What was it that first interested you about the realm of audio visual technology, and at what moment did you decide it was time to enter into your chosen field of AV? In essence, when and how did it all begin?

AS: Actually – I married into this industry. My husband, Andy, began his integration work when he was a manager at the old Ameritech – Indiana Bell Telephone company. My interest came primarily in how to take a product and talent and build it into a successful business.

PS: Did you always know you wanted to run your own company? Was there a specific moment, event or person that really influenced you to make the jump?

SensoryTech_logo-1014AS: Yes, I would have to say I always wanted to own my own company. I am not very risk averse, enjoy reading about and understanding patterns of success and failure, and embrace the financial aspect of running a business. CNBC is playing constantly on my car radio. Age and experience has helped my confidence, and often I have been lucky enough to have someone else say “of course you can do this!”

My first business was producing a video about the Medicare system for nursing homes to use. I had wonderful partners then, and I do now. Early on I realized you need to have a product and a customer….then you need to find excellent team to surround yourself with.

PS: Financing a business is always a challenge, and women compete for a smaller pool of funds. In the July issue of Inc. magazine, Kimberly Weisul writes “Women entrepreneurs get just 19 percent of angel funding and about six percent of venture capital.” Would you share a little with us about your financing journey?

AS: I would like to see the numbers behind those numbers. Maybe women get just 19 percent of the funding because out of all the businesses looking for angel funding, only 19 percent are women-owned. If there is a bias in loaning women money, women should start their Angel funds and only loan to women businesses that have their act together – they would be wildly successful.

But that aside, our funding has always come from either our own pockets or our banking relationships. And understanding what is important to your bank is vital. I learned that through having the good and bad luck of being assigned to certain bankers, finding a good accountant who had a lot of experience himself dealing with banks, and experience.

If you have a solid business plan, demonstrate a degree of success with that plan, and understand your own balance sheet you will get funding. The United States is great that way; if you have your act together and are confident that if you invest two dollars, three dollars will result, I guarantee you will attract lenders and investors. It just takes more than a love of AV to convince someone they should loan you money to start an AV business. Find a client who needs what you sell, sell it to them at a fair profit, figure out how you can do it again and again, and write it down.

PS: Women-owned businesses have out-performed male-owned businesses, achieving 35% higher ROI according to a 2013 study by the Kauffman Foundation. Tell us something of your personal success story.

AS: Sensory Technologies continues to enjoy a very high return on investment. We are rarely the least expensive, but deliver a value and expertise that solve issues for our clients. My partners and I did not grow up in the AV business, so we have never been constrained with “this is the way it has always been done.” We recognize change in the world and in what our clients are looking for, and adapt. Our profits are reinvested in a broad range of expertise and technologies that makes Sensory a good partner to our clients.

My success story is due primarily with the people who are on the Sensory Team. “Surrounding yourself with the best people you can find, paying them as much as you can afford to pay them, and leaving them alone to do their job” was advice given to me by Patricia Miller, founder of Vera Bradley. And she was right.

Corey Moss: I would like to thank Anne Sellers for participating in this third and final part of the series. I would also like to thank Kelly Perkins and Penny Sitler for helping me to bring this important endeavor to rAVe [Publications] and the AV public. I hope you have all taken something away from this series and any comments you’d like to post in this or any of the blogs in the series are appreciated. Three great women interviewed and two great women writing them, in one of the greatest realms of technology.

(Note: See Cory Schaeffer’s interview for links to the studies and facts and figures provided here)