Logan Merrick


Startup Founder Series: Mitch Hills, Founder of AroundAbout App, The Exceptions Network

In this founder interview series, we rounded up some of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs who have scaled their startups into national and even global success stories, and picked their brains on their biggest achievements, challenges and tips for startups!

Mitch is the founder and CEO of the AroundAbout app — a random activity generator app for tourists — and the founder of The Exceptions Network, a hub for the entrepreneur community.

How old were you when you started your first business?

My first legitimate business was when I was 17 in high school.

People were asking me to DJ their house parties so I hit up with another guy who had speakers and lighting and we did house parties together.

I would rent his gear off him and I would DJ, then POGO Entertainment was born.

Eventually so many people needed the service (everyone was turning 18) that I had to hire more staff.

So for months we were doing 2–3 private functions every weekend, and then I was also DJ’ing in clubs around Brisbane so it got full on!

I ran that for 2 years before selling it last year.

You describe your app AroundAbout as ‘Tinder for Tourism’. What gave you the idea and how did you validate it?

AroundAbout is actually the spawn of an early pivot.

I had another travel app idea which went sideways, and as a result we ended up with the swiping app.

To be honest, Tinder never even came into it when we were planning the application.

It just happened and then the Courier Mail and MTV said that, so we went with it. It pops. So does ‘Tinder for Food!’. There are actually some really cool things we are about to add…. You’ll see! (It’s epic).

In terms of validation, I actually didn’t do much when it comes to the product. A rookie error — I recommend validating your idea as much as possible. I just got lucky that people liked it, but next time there will be much more validation!

I did do a lot of market research into the tourism / travel industry, with some really helpful statistics that I got from doing surveys.

We surveyed 100 people with travel experience and 86.5% said that they had wasted time traveling not knowing what to do, and 65% said it was an annoying problem. That was very useful.

Is there anything in the app development process you would have done differently?

I wrote a whole article called ‘Top 10 Things to Avoid When Starting an App’ which is SO worth reading if you’re thinking about going down the app road.

A few key points:

  • Do as much preparation as you can before talking to developers.
  • Talk to people with experience, get feedback and advice first.
  • Do your research with developers and service providers. Don’t get hustled!
  • BE THE BOSS! People will walk all over you if you aren’t.
  • Make sure you plan out the rest of the business (marketing, legal, accounting etc)

What did you learn from your biggest failure?

I suppose spending too much was a big thing I regret.

When you’re new to business it can be hard to know who to listen to, because everybody is telling you that you need this and that. Just be careful… everyone wants your cash.

I’ve also always enjoyed marketing but I’ve learned a LOT about how to get the most bang for your buck and hustle your way into situations.

Marketing is definitely my strength.

What is your productivity hack?

Ah, where do I start! I am ALL about productivity, it’s what a lot of my videos are about.

Three good tricks are:

1) Turn off ALL of your notifications and put your phone on do not disturb when you are working.

2) Categorise everything you need to do, then write the order you will complete them in. Then do ONE thing at a time.

3) Use countdown timers to make you feel like you’re running out of time, it helps you work faster. Also, create little rewards for yourself. E.g. if you want to take a break, or you need some lunch, smash out your current task and then use that as a reward instead of just stopping.

Did you go to university? What class did you learn the most from?

I did one term at university and dropped out immediately.

I passionately disliked it haha. I won’t rant about university, people seem to get very defensive about that… But I will say that the education system is so backwards at the moment.

I think it is about to get rocked by innovation and the new economy that we live in. It has already started and I’ll be very interested to see what colleges are like in 5 to 10 years.

Related: 4 Big Predictions For How Technology Will Disrupt Our Broken Education System.

You write a lot. What advice can you give startups on writing and distributing content to grow their business?

I do write a lot! I’ve also started making regular videos.

First of all EVERYONE should have a blog (another article I wrote) because it’s free, it’s a powerful way to add value targeted around your audience and EVERYONE has something to write about.

When it comes to creating and distributing content for your startup, just think about how you can bring value to your audience.

Who are you writing for? What do they value? What do they want to see? Reverse engineer the audience so you can write content accordingly.

Bonus: Content Marketing Strategy For Apps: A Quick And Dirty Guide

One thing I want to mention as well is build a COMMUNITY.

Engage with your readers / users / customers and go the extra mile to actually talk to them. You need to create conversation.

Twitter is the best place for this. I prescribe you to read the ‘Thank You Economy’ by Gary Vaynerchuk if you haven’t already.

It will change your perspective on marketing and the best part is, most of the concepts are free. It just requires your effort.

Did you require any external funding to get either of your businesses off the ground?

I saved $100,000 before I turned 20, so I used that to create the app.

I then raised more to accelerate the project and develop AroundAbout on Android.

I have had several investors interested although I haven’t gone ahead with any deals just yet. I think I can pull it off without investment for now to get it to the point where we can get a way better valuation.

Bonus: The Secret To Acquiring Venture Capital Investment In Australia

Any last minute advice for startups?

To sum everything up if I can give you any advice, it would be to just get started.

I love Richard Branson’s quote ‘it’s better to do something imperfectly, than nothing perfectly’.

You will learn along the way, but be warned! It’s literally a blue pill or red pill situation. Once you get a taste of entrepreneurship… you won’t be able to go back! It’s not easy, but go for it.

“What if you fail… but what if you fly?”

Download Mitch’s app AroundAbout on the app store.

Where to go next

The 1 Page, 20 Minute Business Plan For App Startups

Startup Founder Series: Matt Bullock, CEO of eWay

Startup Founder Series: Sarah Riegelhuth,Co- Founder of Wealth Enhancers, League of Extraordinary Women

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