Human on the Inside with Sensand’s Peter Moulton

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5 min read

We’re big believers in the power of human skills. But don’t just take our word for it – the evidence for excellence powered by human (‘soft’) skills are everywhere! In this engaging, ever-enlightening series, we speak with industry leaders, innovators, and game-changers to learn a little about their personal career journeys, and how human-led strategies, philosophies, and cultures are proving a force for good in their working worlds …

Welcome Peter, and thanks for stepping into the #SuccessIsHuman Spotlight! 

You’re the Co-Founder and CEO of Sensand – a platform bringing all AgTech together to work faster, smarter and more collaboratively to the benefit of farmers, advisors, and technology partners. In 1 sentence (ok, we’ll give you 3), what does your role entail?

Ultimately my role entails getting the best out of all the team members to execute on Sensand’s vision. My job primarily is to get everybody on a mission, to understand the priorities, and everything that we all need to do so that we can all go out and collectively work together to execute it. So it’s a really holistic role: I’m the custodian of the whole company, its culture, its values, and everybody wanting to come to work and engage in the mission.

A self-taught and passionate technologist who thrives on using tech to solve some of the world’s most significant challenges, your career in tech & innovation (prior to founding Sensand in 2016) has involved tenures with the likes of Harris Technology, 3dynamics and Evocate. How does all this work speak to your personal purpose and what drives you as an individual?

I always knew that I wanted to be a business owner. I always wanted to do something that was driven by me. I always knew that that was part of me. It was never a question of whether I would run my own business, it was just a matter of when. 

So yes, I’ve owned my own business since I was about 26 when I created what became 3dynamics and was eventually acquired by Evocate. That said, I started the company not realising the sort of business that it was: a services company. I learnt an awful lot from it, and I enjoyed it, but with that kind of business, you’re always on call, and you can’t scale and grow beyond your ability to manage your existing groups of customers and your own one-to-one personal relationships. This was incredibly limiting. 

I knew I wanted to move out of that space. I wanted to be in technology, but I really wanted to build something that could scale and wasn’t dependent on you and your ability to add more people to the team. That was important to me, but I didn’t want to just build McDonald’s franchises or something. I wanted what I did to matter as well. 

When the concept for Sensand came along, it just resonated for both me and my Co-founder Davi La Ferla. We knew it was something that would have an impact. It would make a difference in the world. It would be a product that we could grow and scale to solve all these new types of problems, but it wouldn’t be restricted the way my old services business was. That meant a huge amount to me and Davi personally, and really is what drove us.

Tell us a little about your personal education pathway/s – what led you to where you are now? How closely do your formal qualifications match your current career?

I think my highest level of formal education would probably be year 11. I have done various small courses along the way, but I haven’t completed a degree or anything along those lines. This is another strength of working with Davi who has gone all the way through school and university to become an Associate Prof. at Melbourne University. 

Relatively recently I was diagnosed with adult ADHD — maybe three or four years ago. And looking back, I always thought I was lazy with study. And I probably was, I found it very difficult, but really the problem was I just couldn’t focus on it. I couldn’t concentrate long enough to fix things. The way that I evolved and grew through that was by going out and getting jobs and doing really well in all the jobs I had. Then, moving on into the next sort of role. And when my last job at Harris Technology came to its natural conclusion, I wanted to just start my own business. With that, the ball’s in your court and qualifications don’t matter.

I was a sales consultant account manager at Harris Tech and the thing I did well there was understanding deep, technically complex pre-sales work around server licensing, network infrastructure, quotes, and projects. This was quite technically challenging. Even though I’d never worked in that space before, I just did the work and the research to learn what I needed. So, higher value, complex jobs just sort of gravitated toward me. 

I ended up taking that knowledge and skill set and created my own business, which as I said was a services company. However, I needed to learn how to manage customers, corporate relationships, plus technical and financial elements. It was very much on-the-job learning, teaching myself the skills I needed as I went through my career in my business.

Now, while it’s still on-the-job, I spend all my time constantly learning and absorbing new things, and I do it myself. I don’t complete courses or anything: I just try to consume information and knowledge at a massive rate. 

I just love podcasts and books and reading and learning these things. I’m an active listener, not a passive one. A lot of people listen to podcasts while they’re driving and it’s just background noise — like listening to the radio. When I listen to a podcast, I concentrate on every single word. It’s a highly engaged, active process for me. I run my podcasts at 1.5 or double speed, but I absorb them, and I write notes while I’m listening. It’s not background noise to me; it’s an active thing I do. I’d listen to between 20 and 30 hours of podcasts like this a week.

If you could share one piece of career advice to your 21-year-old self it would be …

That’s really difficult for me to answer because the 21-year-old me was very, very confused about his position in the world. I was in the middle of a DJ career, and learned how to teach back then too. I worked hard, and I had a great work ethic. but I just didn’t know what I wanted to do in the world. I was entrepreneurial but didn’t realise it: I didn’t have that language. I didn’t know what startups were. When I went and started my business, I created a small business because it was all I knew. I didn’t have that experience or knowledge growing up. 

So, I guess all the advice I would have had would be to look more broadly at the world and everything in it. Look at tech companies and startups, not small businesses doing IT. And if I knew then that I had ADHD, my advice would be to go and get diagnosed!

Maximising the potential of individuals, communities, and businesses through the power of human skills is the reason Maxme exists. Can you tell us a little about the role and/or value of human skills in the work/workplaces you’re involved with right now?

We focus a lot on culture, and that’s about really empowering the person. So, when we hire people, we really trust that they’ve got something unique and special about them, and a thing that they do that is as good as anybody else is able to do. We really want to empower and get the best out of them. We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on things like that.

We also do things to encourage people to actually voice their thoughts, and to pull their superpowers out — to bring that different perspective, so it’s not just a wind tunnel of ideas. We’ve got these great young people that work with us and if we don’t give them the opportunity to share what they think about, we’d just be so much worse off for it.

That’s the most important thing about getting the human side of this: it’s making our team feel safe and empowered to share their perspectives on things and we’re all the better for it. 

At the same time, we also need to make sure we’re doing things like encouraging people to take leave. One of our cultural values is that it’s work and life, not work instead of life. So, if my one-year-old has a swimming lesson on Wednesday at three o’clock, then we go out and we do swimming lessons at three o’clock on Wednesday, and we’ll take a photo of it and post it on the internal intranet so that people can see that Founders do this too!

Self Awareness sets the critical foundation for all Maxme learning experiences. With that said … what’s your strongest trait/personal superpower?

Well, I’m a creative technologist, as opposed to a technical one. I’m more interested in the way that technology can solve problems, than physically exist or work perfectly. I can see how we can do things in different ways to solve the problem. And in a company like this it’s about understanding that product-market fit. 

And I think that’s probably my superpower: bringing together a technical solution that solves a real problem in a way where everybody in the market gets value from that interaction: the customer, the supplier, other partners. Everyone’s got to win.

And on the flip side, what’s one human/‘soft’ skill you’ve had to really work on improving over the course of your career?

Oh I hate public speaking! I like my product and my solution to talk for itself, but that’s not a luxury that you’ve got as a founder. You’ve got to be willing to tell people and put yourself out there. And that translates through to pitching and capital raising. That doesn’t come naturally or comfortably to me, but it’s something that I’ve needed to learn. It’s an ongoing journey and one I’m still working on.

If you could share one piece of career advice with tertiary graduates, or other individuals keen to work at a company like Sensand, what would it be?

Take responsibility, own your job and your role. 

The classic example of this is that one of the youngest engineers in our company is one of the most senior, because they’ve just taken the bull by the horns, and they’ve owned the responsibility and the role. I didn’t give them a title and a label and the “authority” to be a leader; they simply stepped up and took leadership and the business rewarded them for it.

My career advice to anybody is that if you own the thing that you’re doing, you take ownership of it like it’s actually yours, and therefore you are a leader. It’s not a title that you just get stuck on your lapel. 

You’ve been granted approval to add one University graduate to your team, but have 100 applicants, all with outstanding academic results. How do you find your perfect candidate – what are you looking for?

Well, I just get a great instinct about people from the way that they answer the question. When you ask them something, did they answer the question you’ve actually asked, or did they answer something else? Are they effortlessly across the thing that is important, and does it matter to them? Do they have great values? And when they tell you a story about things that they’ve done in their jobs or whatever, can you see the personality and the values that they will bring to it over and above just the technical things on the resume?

I think it’s quite hard to quantify exactly what it is, but you get a sense for these people — the ones who understand the reason why you’re asking the question, answer the right thing and elaborate the right amount. It’s a bit of an instinct around high-quality people and people with integrity and with values. They sort of just bubble to the surface.

In the words of John Dewey, “education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” What’s next on your #learning agenda?

I don’t treat learning like a box that needs to be ticked. I’m just always learning. Whenever some new thing comes up and I need to get my head around it, I go and do some research. I collate a stack of material, usually podcasts, but not just that, and I just completely devour everything about it as quickly and as deeply as I can.

So, learning for me is not a course with a certificate at the end. It’s just something that I constantly do. And sometimes it’s a technical thing, like learning around blockchain; other times, it’s learning about culture and values and the way that you get the best out of people. And I do the ADHD thing of hyper focusing on areas that I need to get really deep on, so I can just get across those things as much as I can and incorporate it holistically into everything that I do. In that way learning is a process, not a task to me. You never finish it. You’re just always doing it.