Mitch Robinson, IDU Identification
Mitch Robinson meets Nic Dyson in Bending the Future, the podcast from Future Anything where we meet epic entrepreneurs that started their enterprises whilst still in school. Mitch Robinson founded IDU Identification when he was 16. IDU offers licensed venues a digital ID authenticator app to manage their clientele quickly, accurately and up to half the cost of the current market.
Read the full transcript below.
About the podcasters:
Nicole Dyson is Founder & Director of Programs at Future Anything and Founder of YouthX, Australia’s only start-up accelerator specifically designed to support young entrepreneurs who are still at school. Connect with Nic on LinkedIn here or Twitter here
From school student to teen entrepreneur and business owner, Mitch Robinson is an eighteen year old driven young entrepreneur and recent high school graduate. In 2016 Mitch started IDU Identification, born out of a school project and transformed into a business. Currently servicing 35 venues across Queensland, IDU offers licensed venues a digital ID authenticator app to manage their clientele quickly, accurately and up to half the cost of the current market.
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Bending the Future Podcast – Nicole Dyson meets Mitch Robinson – Full transcipt
Nicole Dyson: Good morning, everybody. Welcome to another cracking episode of Bending the Future. Today we’re chatting to Mitch. Mitch, how are you?
Mitch Robinson: I’m going pretty good considering the circumstances and everything that’s been going on with an unexpected 2020. How about yourself?
Nicole: Yeah, look, unexpected is definitely, if I had a dollar for every time I heard that word, I feel like I’d be cashing in at the moment. It’s been a very different beginning to the year. What does working from home look like for you? When I spoke to one of our other guests yesterday, we were joking about what clothing attire is appropriate, like in working from home would not be appropriate if you were going into the office. What does working from home look like at the moment?
Mitch: Working from home looks like waking up at about 9:15 for my first meeting at 9:30 each day with my team to plan what they’re going to be doing. So, there’s no real change between me getting out of bed and going on to the first meeting. So, it’s a different experience altogether where you’d usually be waking up at like 7:30/8 to be able to get into the office in the city to be able to have that meeting physically in person. I rock up to the meeting, just change the shirt, just leave the bottom half of pyjamas on, and away you go.
Nicole: Awesome. I feel like there’s going to be an adjustment period when life returns for people that are commuting into the office around having to acclimatise back to wearing proper pants because I feel like, you know, we’re getting a little bit used to the casual wear at the moment, which is going to be a challenge later.
Mitch: Definitely. My, all my team are generally, when they got on the call, wearing gym clothes or something like that. That’s, I don’t know how much that will actually change when we get back into the office, maybe they’ll get pretty comfortable.
Nicole: Definitely. So, look, you graduated from school only super recently, but you’ve been on this entrepreneurial journey for a period of time now, and it kicked off at school. I want to kind of go back to the beginning a bit and maybe before the venture that you’re running now as well, what was your first memory of thinking a little bit entrepreneurially or a little bit business like, and how is that all, I guess, collided in to create the present moment now with you running your own organisation?
Mitch: So, the very first thing that I can remember myself is cleaning windows. It’s a little bit of a different thing, but basically my parents just bought this like new window cleaner thing which they wanted me to use around home. So, I did, and then when I did it, it was cleaning the windows like I’d never seen before and like my parents were like “wow, this is changing how clear you can really see through the glass on either side”, like “okay, well if we haven’t seen this before, other people probably haven’t seen this before”. At the time, the iPad Air had just come out and like I really want an iPad, I don’t know how I’m going to be able to get it and my parents said to me, if I want the iPad, I’ve got to save up for it myself. So, I went out and I started thinking about it, what could I do to actually get this iPad, because at the time I would’ve been, I don’t know, 11 or 12, and it’s like “okay, what can I do to really get there, to get the money saved to get the iPad?”. So, to start off with, before the window cleaning stuff, I was going to our neighbourhood watch garage sale, and I was selling soft drinks. So, I’d go down to Coles and I’d buy the big little packs of 24 of soft drink and then go up to the garage sale and sell them for two bucks each. So, then I was making a couple hundred bucks at this garage sale. That, that point, I’d only saved about 200 bucks. So, I still didn’t have enough money to go and get that iPad and then it took my memory back to what I’d been able to do with cleaning the windows, and so I thought, “okay, well what if I start approaching the neighbours and saying well, what if I clean your windows for you, and you pay me to clean your windows, and then it’ll be cleaner than you’d ever had it before, with just cleaning it with a cloth or a rag or any other regular window cleaner”.
Nicole: I love that you were selling it right then. It wasn’t even like I’m going to clean your windows. You were like, this is going to be the cleanest window you’ve ever seen in your life. You were already a salesperson from way back at 11.
Mitch: Exactly, like the windows, I don’t know about you but now, looking at it, just looking out my window right now, my windows aren’t clean, and I feel like most people don’t really clean their windows inside and out, and then when you can actually see it, and you can clearly see through it, it’s like holy woah, it’s clear. So, that’s what really kicked it off for me, because then I went around to my neighbours. I did about four houses, and I was charging like four bucks a window, and then the big glass doors, the thing could clean mirrors as well, so then it made the mirrors really clear. So, each house I was doing, I was getting about $100-$150, and that would take
Nicole: Holy! That’s a pretty lucrative like little side hustle for an 11-year-old.
Mitch: Yeah, couldn’t complain with that. After doing the four houses and the money that I’d saved from selling the soft drinks at the garage sale, I had enough to go and buy my iPad.
Nicole: That’s pretty great. How long would it take you to clean, like to do the windows at a house? Was it a whole day that you’d kind of had to put in to get that $150?
Mitch: It depended on the size of the house. Generally, it was between like 4-6 hours, because then you’d have to clean the windows and then go and check over them to make sure there were no streaks, and then if there were streaks, you’d have to go and do it again.
Nicole: So, my first job was at Pizza Hut, at 14 and 9 months, and I’m pretty sure the starting trainee wage was like $4.60 an hour. So, you were killing it at 11, at an hourly rate of $25 an hour, probably earning more than most people in their twenties are at their casual job while they get through uni.
Mitch: It was a pretty good gig while it lasted, and I was happy because I ended up getting my iPad.
Nicole: Nice! Then, how did that window cleaning, I guess, escalate from there? I guess you got a taste for it at the point, right?
Mitch: Yeah, it was an interesting point in time because I was, like each year afterwards, I would still continue going and selling the soft drinks at the garage sales to get some money through the door, but at that point it wasn’t really up until 2016 when I started to do more entrepreneurial stuff. I was always interested in it between when I did the window cleaning and between when I actually started my business, because initially, before I got into entrepreneurship, I was wanting to be a builder, the only reason because of that was because we had an extension put onto our house and I enjoyed actually helping the builder build stuff on our extension, and I thought “okay, well I think I might want to be a builder”. But then when I got to Grade 8 at high school, I met one of my closest friends today, and his dad is an angel investor and a very successful entrepreneur. After speaking to him on a long trip back from their property, was an eight hour drive, he was just telling us stories about all of these different things that he’d done with his 15 different businesses over the past I don’t know how every many years, to the point where he’s got to being an angel investor and that really peaked my interest in business and entrepreneurship and it’s like “okay, this seems a lot more interesting and a lot more, better opportunity for myself rather than being a builder”, and I thought “okay, well what can I do to look further into potentially starting my own business?”
Nicole: Very cool. Isn’t it interesting that these like moments in time, right, so if you hadn’t met that one individual in Year 8, at your high school, and then perhaps not gone on that particular road trip at that time, you may never have had that conversation? I find that fascinating that that one 8-hour trip and the stories that were told that shifted your perception of, I guess, who you thought you wanted to be.
Mitch: Exactly. It was definitely an interesting point in time to see, because obviously his son and my close friend now, he’s obviously also interested in business and entrepreneurship, and then each day at school, it’ll be like talking about different things and you could clearly see that his dad had a pretty big influence on him in terms of the entrepreneurship side of things as well, and then that had a flow on effect on me, where we’d then be talking about different products and different companies that were starting up and different cool things that we’d seen, which then just further developed that interest, because I had someone who thought like me, and who was interested in the same type of thing that not a lot of other people were interested in at that age, to be able to further develop it.
Nicole: and I guess like, that’s something that maybe we don’t talk about that often is being able to build a sense of community or connection over that shared passion that then you could grow that passion. If it’d just been you flying solo, or your friend for that matter, it might have been harder to keep building that skill and building that interest or feed that passion almost.
Mitch: Definitely. It’s really good to then find other people who think like you, to then be able to further develop yourself and you basically just bounce ideas off of each other because, if you’ve got someone that thinks like you, then it’s a lot easier for them to understand what you’re thinking and what’s going on in your head, rather than one of your other friends, like obviously I’ve got a lot of other friends that aren’t necessarily interested in business, and I love them but they just don’t think the same way as me, and if I were to go to them with say this is what I’ve been thinking about or did you see that really cool thing that this company’s doing, they wouldn’t be on the same like interest level and that type of thing is what I am with my other friend that thinks like me and is interested in business and entrepreneurship.
Nicole: So, you found yourself in high school, you’ve, I guess your interest in entrepreneurship has been peaked, your highest part of entrepreneurship thus far is a very lucrative window business at 11 or 12. What sort of happened next in that high school experience for you?
Mitch: So, when, it was at the end of Grade 8 when I went to this road trip with my friend and his dad. So, the next year, at the beginning of the year, I got an invitation for this new subject that the school was starting up called Academy of Ideas and it was like looking pretty cool based off of the assessment piece, and the main reason that I chose this subject was because over the whole semester, there was only one piece of assessment, and I was like yes, a subject with one piece of assessment and it’s not an exam, it’s only an assignment, phew that looks pretty good. So, based off of that and the aspect of being able to look into futuristic stuff was what the subject was based around, I’m like “okay, I’m going to do this, I’m going to accept the invitation to do this subject”. It was the first time the school had done this subject and built it into the curriculum before and the subject started halfway through Grade 9. So, between the end of Grade 8 and halfway through Grade 9, there wasn’t really too much that I did, but then when we started this class called Academy of Ideas, that’s where everything really went on another level and took off.
Nicole: Yeah, and what did that classroom experience look like I guess? So, the premise was obviously designing a solution or some sort of business idea?
Mitch: Yeah. So, effectively we were given a problem statement which we had to come up with 8-16 problems based off of that problem statement. So, it was projecting us 50 years into future Brisbane, and we had to come up with 8-16 problems and then decide on one underlying problem, and then come up with 8-16 solutions to that problem, and then obviously decide on one solution to the problem. So, I personally chose identity theft as my problem, and then I chose digital identification for the solution. So, the only reason I chose identity theft as the problem was because a week or two before, I was watching the move Identity Theft or I think Identity thief, with Melissa McCarthy. So, I was like “okay, this is a problem, maybe, I saw it in a movie, maybe it’s a real life problem”, put some research into it, saw that it actually happens around the world and I was like “okay, what can I do about it?”, and I thought “okay, digital identification.”
Nicole: So, if that movie had been The Hunger Games, we might be talking about something completely different right now.
Mitch: Yes, more than likely.
Nicole: Alright. So, you’re 14 or 15 at this point which means apart from your school ID, you don’t really carry identification. So, this was a bit of a problem that you hadn’t probably necessarily personally tapped into?
Mitch: No, I hadn’t experienced it myself. I just saw that there was a problem that, although I hadn’t personally experienced it, that I could, like I had the knowledge or the desire to actually solve this problem, and that with that dedication that I could actually make a difference to someone else’s life because off of reading reports and news articles of how identity theft had affected different people, I was really like wow, this is really changing people’s lives for the worst, and what could we do or what could I do to potentially make it any easier or to, sorry, to prevent it happening to more people so it doesn’t affect their lives as much as what it has in the past.
Nicole: What were some of those effects that you saw and some of the stories you read that, I guess, captured your attention around the problem? Was there one that stood out or something that you read or saw that you were like wow, this is something I want to solve because of what you read?
Mitch: That people were losing all of their life savings, was the main thing for me. Obviously at this point in time, I’d put in a lot of work to save as much money as I could to be able to get my iPad, and whatever else I was saving for at that time, I don’t remember. But when people are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars because someone has stolen their identity, it’s like wow, what if that happened to me, I would want somebody there if they had the ability to do something, to do something to stop it from happening.
Nicole: So, you’ve sort of narrowed down to a problem, you’ve obviously dug into some research around the problem and the more that you’ve looked at the problem, the more that you felt connected to the issue and solving it. What was the first solution that you came up with? Or what, when you were coming up with those 8-16 potential solutions to that problem, what were some of the other initial solutions that you ideated?
Mitch: In all honesty, I don’t really remember too many of them. The main one was just digital identification because I was like “okay, if the problem comes from people taking like a drivers’ license or a social security number in an American’s case, that’s coming from a physical aspect and as technology is progressing, why not have a technological based solution to make it even more difficult for an individual to have their ID stolen, because if someone’s able to take a photo of your drivers’ license or whatever and see your drivers’ license number and copy all of this information, then if the hackers or the people that are actually stealing the ID are just getting that photo using photoshop and then taking out that actual photo that that person should be showing on their ID and putting it in with their own, they’re easily able to steal someone’s ID with the use of technology”. So, if they’re using technology to, or if the technology is helping them to steal the ID, why not use technology to solve the problem itself, and that’s what like I really got to that point of looking at what technology could I implement that’s going to make it really difficult for someone to steal someone’s ID, and that’s where I landed on digital identification and it’s like what I can implement in digital identification that’s going to make it really difficult.
Nicole: Cool. So, what did that solution look like? What does the solution look like I guess?
Mitch: Initially, it was a bit of a different one. It was basically generating a barcode and like a, just imagine a 3D rendering of a like a drivers’ license in the computer or on your phone or whatever, and on the back of it there’s some random pattern and that random pattern is generated based on your eye colour, based on your age, based on your, all of these different things. So, then each person’s digital ID had a different patter on it, so then no one would necessarily know what was just generating that pattern, so then it would make it even more difficult for someone to try and replicate it, as another aspect of trying to prevent. That was the first key thing that I thought of that really pushed me to keep going forward.
Nicole: So, you were kind of scrambling the identifiers of people to create like a code? So, that, yeah, interesting. Then, how did you develop that idea further? Because that’s obviously not where you’re at now. So, there was obviously lots of pivoting or prototyping that took place around that concept?
Nicole: You’re 15 in this story, right? Like you’re in school, 14? And you’ve just rocked up to reception completely unannounced.
Mitch: Yep. Exactly. So, I walked up to the receptionist, and I said “I’ve got an idea that I’d like to talk to somebody about. Who do you think will be best to speak to and would it be possible to see if you could book in a meeting for me with the best person to speak to about this?”
Nicole: Were you nervous? Like were you nervous?
Mitch: I was really nervous. I was at the door, they had their little X-Box, because the whatever X-Box at the time had just launched or some new X-Box thing, I walked in, saw somebody playing it on the side, there were these big glass doors, going up in the elevator, your ears pop and it’s like I suddenly get butterflies because I’m like I’ve got this idea, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m really excited about it. And it’s at that point where it’s a mix between being nervous and being excited to the point where you’re not sure which you are more of. So, sorry you go
Nicole: Did anybody go with you? Yeah, did, you just rocked in by yourself? Because I think like that to me is, it’s a pretty bold, like pretty brazen thing to do.
Mitch: Oh, definitely. I had Mum come along with me. So, we went in together and she didn’t really say anything, it was just a second person to be there and she’s been supporting me, both my parents have been, which has been really good, along the entire way. But she just came in with me and when speaking to the receptionist, she didn’t say anything but it’s just somebody there. I was really really lucky at this point, because the receptionist was also really nice, she saw that I was some young kid with an idea and she thought “well, okay what can I do” and so she said “let me look who I can potentially set you up with”. She was really good about it, and she ended up setting me up with the Head of Innovation from Microsoft for Queensland at the time, in a week’s time. So, a week later, I came back with my mum and I actually came back with the teacher that was actually teaching the class like for Academy of Ideas, and she came along to the meeting as well. So, I ended up walking up to a board room in Microsoft’s office, it’s like a 12-14 people board room, I plugged in my computer, and I had this big long PowerPoint that I’d made which I thought was like amazing, the next best thing after sliced bread. For a 14-year-old kid I thought I was like pretty proud of myself. I had all the animations put in, I had the curtains coming across, keeping in mind, this is back in 2016 where we didn’t have all the technology for presenting where we’ve got it at the moment, and I decided to use part of the song from Eye of the Tiger where it’s like opening the curtains. So, like, I thought this was super cool to really be able to show that as something different that they they may not have seen before. So, I ended up going through the presentation, I had my animations going, I had my words going like this is what the system is, this is what the problem is, this is what the solution is, this is how I want it to work. This is the first stage where I actually learn about the term the devils’ advocate, and this has been one of the most important things for me along the way, having people be a devils’ advocate. So, obviously not everyone’s going to know what a devils’ advocate is. For business, it’s really important to have someone basically looking over, who are thinking over your idea, thinking over whatever you’re doing, and giving you feedback based on that. It may not necessarily be positive feedback, it’s more than likely going to be a piece of constructive feedback, or maybe even something negative. But if that person doesn’t give you that constructive or negative feedback based on what you’re doing, you could potentially go down the wrong track, and that was really crucial for me, because he said to me that he likes the idea but he didn’t think, as a 14-year-old kid, that I would be able to make a digital drivers’ license, so like a digital ID, for everyone in Queensland or everyone in Australia, because of being able to get access to all of the different government data bases, as a 14-year-old kid, was going to be really really difficult. So, he suggested that I’d probably be best to pivoting the idea, or potentially doing a different thing. Initially, when I was speaking to him, I was trying to sell the idea as a naïve 14-year-old kid. I walked into that meeting with him going “okay, I want to sell it for $30 million or I want to get some help from Microsoft”. Neither of which were, were what the outcome was, but they definitely did help me. So, it wasn’t Microsoft as whole that ended up helping me. The guy that I met with, he offered to mentor me for, I think it was like five or ten weeks, something like that, where he said I could come in to the Microsoft office, I could use their office to work on the idea, and that he would mentor me to be able to help me get through it if I wanted to proceed with the idea.
Nicole: How crucial was that mentoring? Like how crucial was that opportunity to tap into that expertise and that space?
Mitch: If I hadn’t have gotten that offer from him, it wouldn’t have set off the train, sorry, the chain reaction or the snowball effect that I have had because of it. So, because every time I went into that meeting, he’d already sat down and pre-planned what he was going to go through with me, he was absolutely amazing with how he helped. He’s got like the storyboards, and business model canvases, and he went through it with me, used examples from like Air BnB and so forth to really help it. So, I was sitting on the 25th floor of this building, looking over South Bank, and you could see all the way out to Mt Coot-tha, and it was just like an amazing spot to be sitting and working on an idea. While all of my friends were at school for the last few weeks of the term, I was sitting in the Microsoft office working on my idea. At the end of the little mentorship program that he did with me, he introduced me or told me the best person to speak to in the start-up world, and he said to head over to The Capital. So, this was when The Capital had just launched, and for those of you who don’t know what The Capital is, it’s basically the little building in Queen Street Mall where they’ve got Fish Burners, and then they had Little Tokyo Two, which is the company that I actually went to, and Brisbane Marketing is based out of there, but it’s a really cool innovation space. He gave me a contact of someone I could go and speak to there about the idea to take it to the next level. Had I had not got that mentorship with him, then I wouldn’t have gotten the introduction to who to speak to and then I wouldn’t have ended up getting to Little Tokyo Two, and getting that crucial support from Jock that I did get.
Nicole: So, it was a bit of a, like it really does feel like it’s one of those situations where the more you put yourself out there, you might not get what you want in the moment, but you do get what you need. So, what you thought you wanted when you walked into Microsoft was either cash, you know, but you got the mentoring really, and then that then lead to the next connection at The Capital and Jock Fairweather through Little Tokyo Two. So, it’s kind of that situation of putting yourself out there and then, yeah, I don’t know, being given the next leg up, almost, that you need.
Mitch: Exactly right. So, because of that, I then did a start-up program with Jock. It was like a little intense program over the weekend, which really got us thinking about different things about the idea and how we could take it to the next level, and then I just kept on working on it over the school holidays, that was the summer holidays at the time, and then I came back the next year, after working on it, and then I applied for the Lord Mayor’s Budding Entrepreneur’s grant. So, I ended up winning that in 2017, and I was the youngest ever to win that, which was pretty exciting. Then I used the money that I got from that to get a, like a mentorship with Jock. So, each week, it was like 10 or 12 weeks with Jock where I’d sit down with him for an hour every Wednesday, and we would go over different intricacies of the business, to then accelerate it further and really refine the idea to get it to the point where it would be something that would work in a different industry, rather than being a digital drivers’ license for everybody to use. So, after the mentorship finished with Microsoft, it’s like okay, thinking over the summer holidays, how could I pivot this differently. So, I ended up looking at the alcohol industry as the next most viable industry to go into, because I knew that Apple Pay, Samsung Pay had just released at the time, and they were advertising that so people could go out with just their phone, and when I was looking at this it’s like okay, well how can people go out with just their phone when they need to take their driver’s license with them pretty much everywhere, if they’re getting in a car or whatnot. So, it’s like okay, well I could potentially make it so people going out to the nightclubs, the bars, the pubs, could take out just their phone, no longer having to worry about a purse or a wallet or anything else, and no longer worrying about losing your drivers’ license, because, if you lose your drivers’ license, obviously you’ve got to pay to get a new one and it’s a couple hundred bucks each time and if you’re a little party animal going out every weekend and you’re not really good with keeping track of your things, yeah, some people have lost their ID quite a few times, and it becomes quite an expensive expedition per say.
Nicole: Definitely. Also, I guess you are putting yourself at risk of that identity theft, which was the original problem that you kind of tackled. The more you lose your ID, I mean, it goes into the wrong hands and
Nicole: I guess there’s that risk as well.
Mitch: Exactly. So, it was still following the initial problem and solution to an extent, but while making it a more interesting opportunity for me because there was a lot more interest from people that were 18-25 going out to the night clubs, than what there would be for just everyday regular people wanting to use a digital drivers’ licence. So, my mum used to work for Liquor Licensing quite a few years ago, and the guy that was running Liquor Licensing at the time, he owns quite a few licensed venues across Queensland, he’s got about 10 or so. So, she still had the contact with him, so, I ended up having my mum set up a meeting with him, at one of his venues, and then I went and took the idea to him and said “okay, what if we did this to make it a digital drivers’ license for your customers and for other people between 18-25 or whatever age that’s going out to the venues, being able to go out with just their phone”. At the time, he said the exact same thing as what my friend’s dad did, said that he liked the idea, but thinks there’d be quite a bit of work and I’d have to get through a bit of red tape with the government. Which is what I did, but he was still really supportive of it, and he actually offered for me to go down to one of his venues whenever I wanted to then actually do some market research. So, with putting the wheel in action, I went down to his venue at the Alexandra Hills Hotel, down in Alexandra Hills. So, they’ve got a pretty big nightclub down there, they’ve got ID scanners and have had them for a few years now, and I basically stood outside the front of the venue, and over the course of that night, with the support of my mum and the teacher that was teaching the class actually, she was absolutely amazing, she came along to this market research session with me, and she was staying there and helping me do the market research. So, over the duration of, I think it was like 10pm-2am, as a 14-year-old kid, I was standing outside of the nightclub, and I was surveying people coming in the door, asking them would they like to be able to have a digital version of their drivers’ license on their phone? That was the key question, with a couple of other little questions on the side, and we ended up being 400 or so answers that we got out of that. Which is absolutely insane.
Nicole: That is huge.
Mitch: Yeah. It came back really really positive, it was about 88% of people, something like that, wanted to be able to have a digital version of their drivers’ license. It was pretty popular with the girls, because they didn’t like having to take their purse or whatever, they all just want to take their phones, and not have to worry about anything else. Same thing with the guys, but it was quite an interesting adventure. I got to go into the club as well. So, I was an exempt minor, with a bouncer and with my mum as well. So, there’s different clauses that I had to look into, under the liquor act, which would allow me to do it and obviously, being a 14-year-old kid, you wouldn’t really expect to be able to get into a nightclub but I got to go and speak to the DJ, got to go into the DJ’s box there and have a chat to him about it, get his opinion on the idea of it and got some really crucial feedback, which then helped me think “okay, well this actually has some legs and I could actually pursue this”.
Nicole: Yeah, wow. So, I mean, from what I’m hearing so far, the first crucial element, I guess, on the journey was, you know, number one, I think, it’s interesting. Your parents, I guess, providing that provocation of cool, if you want the iPad Air, then work out a way to make the money. Like that seemed like it was a pretty crucial moment in time, if they’d just said yeah, you know, if you’re a good kid, you’ll get it for your birthday, that might not have kickstarted some of this entrepreneurial thinking. Then second to that, it seems to be that, you know, that asking for help or seeking mentoring and support has been crucial, and then, and thirdly, you know, doing that market research, like asking the users and the customers what they want and actually getting into the space that you’re trying to change in order to get that, those authentic voices around the problem seems to be crucial in a development.
Mitch: Oh, exactly. I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today without the support of the mentors. Like, the, I’ve had Jock as the really key person that helped me early on, and then I’ve had a number of other mentors that have helped me in different areas, to really push things and get to the next level, like my friend’s dad, he has supported me, I’ve had different people that have been in different industries put in their thoughts on it and really being, what I was talking about before, a devils’ advocate, because when you go into a meeting with someone really important or a customer, you want to be able to answer every single one of their questions, without having to go um, ah, I’m not sure, versus if you’ve had conversations with people before, and you’ve had those questions asked, then you can go into the meeting knowing you know the answer to everything that you could get thrown at. So, just getting those people to really go “okay, this is something you could get asked”. I sat down for a period of time and I watched Shark Tank, I watched pretty much every episode of the Australian Shark Tank there was, and then after I’d done that, I went “okay, well there’s the American Shark Tank”. So, I went and watched about three or four seasons of the American Shark Tank just to see what the questions were that these people, that the investors were asking the start-up founders, so then I could have an answer to those types of questions if I was asked them myself.
Nicole: I guess that’s one of the, like if you think about as an athlete for example, if you’re training, you don’t want to train under ideal conditions all the time, because the reality is that when you race or compete, you’re not going to face those ideal conditions. So, it’s a similar process when we’re talking about testing your idea, you want to test the idea under unfavourable conditions or questions, so that then you can respond, your training will step up and you know how to handle those curve balls.
Mitch: Exactly. It was quite an interesting time because, at the very beginning, there was questions that I couldn’t answer and there was different strategies that I implemented to make sure that it didn’t sound like I didn’t know my stuff because if you give someone that’s important any inclination that you may not know what you’re talking about, then it’s going to make them think well “okay, do I really want to do something, do I really want to buy this product or work with this person if they’re not too sure about exactly what they’re doing”. Obviously, it’s a little bit different as being a younger person, there’s a little bit more leeway. So, as a young entrepreneur, we are in actually a really really good place to be able to go and launch a business because people are actually wanting to support you. Successful people that have been able to have success and achieve success in their careers, they want to help the next generation, or help other people become successful, and if you walk up to one of the successful people, or get in touch with one of these people, as a 14, 15, 16, 17 year old kid, they are way more likely to give you a helping hand, to what they are to give someone that’s 34, 36 or even 25 a hand because they see that you’re actually putting yourself out there, wanting to learn.
Nicole: So, what were some of those strategies when you got a hard question, what were some of the ways that you handled those difficult questions in the moment, in order to, I guess maintain some credibility and engagement and connection?
Mitch: So, basically, it was saying we have looked into this. So, there’s different phrases that I would say, depending on what the question was, but I would say “okay, we’ve looked into this and we are currently investigating the best route to execute on this problem that we’ve discovered”. So, it’s basically saying “okay, thanks for identifying that as a problem, we have too, and we’re working on a solution”. Or other things, if you didn’t know the answer, this, like obviously I wouldn’t recommend saying, I didn’t really use it myself too often but it’s like if there was a really really hard one, it’s like “that’s part of our proprietary stuff or our proprietary idea, sadly we can’t share that at this time”. So, it’s like blowing off the question, and then it goes allowing you to go okay, someone’s asked me a question I don’t know the answer to, I’m not going to say “sorry I don’t know”. The other option I did say was “we haven’t actually looked into this at the moment, and I will get back to you with an answer as soon as I can”, so then it’s actually like “I’m going to work on this and get back to you about it”, but there’s different little routes or routes that I was taking to make it appear, like obviously I did know a lot of my stuff, but obviously there were still things that would come up that I didn’t know the answer to, and it’s just trying to work out the best way to show whoever you’re speaking to, that you still have done all of your research and that you do know your stuff, but there’s just little things that come up.
Nicole: So, imagine the follow up is really important if you were to say “yeah, that’s a great question and we’re in the process of investigating that, as soon as we have a route that we’re pursuing, I can get back to you with those details”. I imagine it’s in the follow up. So, it’s actually going back to that person and going “hey, when you said this, here’s actually all the information that you requested.”
Mitch: Exactly. Then, after this point, some of the people that I’m speaking to are like “okay, have you actually spoken to any other clubs about this, whether they would want to accept it? Because you’re obviously going to have to have the government recognising it as an approved form of ID, and you’re also going to have to have the clubs willing to accept it as a form of ID, and then on top of that, you’re going to have to have a mechanism to accept it. So, you could either do it so that the bouncers are just looking at the digital ID, but then how are you going to prevent against fraud happening from someone just taking a screenshot of somebody else’s ID or making up a fake one.” So, this was at the point where I then thought about the next step and how could I take the idea further? That’s where I got “okay, an ID scanner”. So, using the barcode and the QR code, I mean I have to actually work out a way to have this scannable, so then I can insure the security of the ID is actually upmost importance so then someone can’t fake their ID, and go back on the problem that I was initially trying to solve, and create another route for somebody to actually create a fake ID.
Nicole: Yeah, so, let’s fast forward a little bit. So, we’ve gotten to the place where you’ve identified that the scanning is super import. Talk me through what the product is today. So, where are we at now in 2020, and where did you get to through that learning and all of that pivoting?
Mitch: So, with changes to it, it’s come a long way. So, initially when I started speaking to clubs about it, this was about halfway through 2017, so it was the 1st of July 2017, ID scanners were made mandatory for licensed venues across Queensland and in safe night precincts. So, there’s roughly 260 venues that have to operate ID scanners from 10pm on pretty much every night of the week. With speaking to these venues, they were telling us about how frustrated they were with these current scanners; they’re slow, they’re bulky, they crash all the time, they don’t scan ID’s well. If you’re building a digital ID, is there anything else that you can do to be able to accept physical ID’s as well to make it even easier and to get rid of this problem that we’ve got with the current system? After having a venue say that to me, and then going to another venue and another and another and another and them all saying how much they hated the current systems that they had, and then seeing all of these media reports around okay, these systems are getting a lot of friction from the venues and the industry about how people are not liking the ID scanners. What would I do to be able to actually solve that issue? I went away and fast forwarding to now, we’re now offering licensed venues a tablet based ID scanning system, so it’s completely mobile, versus the current systems, they’re all, the current systems were hardwired, so they had to be plugged into the wall, they had to be hardwired for internet, they had a server on site, and they were implementing technology from 2011, which is absolutely insane, even at the time, that’s technology that’s just over 6-years-old and now, fast forward to now, they’re still using the same technology, which is 9-years-old, and still has the same problems which is absolutely insane. So, we’ve gone to venues, we’ve got 154 venues across Queensland that are interested in our system, that want to be able to scan ID’s faster. So, our system, we can scan ID’s in a third of the time, so that’s 10 seconds or less for 400 ID’s internationally. So, any of those 400 ID templates we can scan in 10 seconds or less, compared to at the moment it’s about 10, sorry, 30-40 seconds per scan, and they only have about 200 ID’s that they can actually scan accurately in that time. Other than that, the venues have to manually type it in. the problem with this, is that the venues are losing so much money because of the amount of time that a patron is spending outside in the line, the patrons are getting frustrated because they have to wait a long time in the line, when they could be in the venue. So, it’s either going to be I’m going to wait in the line, or I’m going to go and go to a different venue because I can’t be bothered waiting.
Nicole: and that’s me. Yeah, if I see a line, I’m like “nope, not the venue for me”. So, straight away, I’m out.
Mitch: Exactly. So, that was a big problem for the venues, they’re like “well, the scanners are making us lose money”, and on top of that, we did some research into it, and we found out that the systems were costing the venues between $100-190 a week in actual subscription fees for our competitors. Then, they were obviously losing the money because of how many people were just not coming in or how much time people were spending in line, so they didn’t have as much time to spend their money in the venue. So, it was combining and understand what the problems the venues were experiencing, to solve the problem, and that’s where we ended up with the ID scanners. So, in I think it was about 2018, we made the decision to pivot away from focusing on the digital ID, to more so focus on the actual ID scanning system itself, so that we could solve the immediate problem at hand as fast as possible. That’s where we’ve landed today, with having those 154 venues using the system, we’ve had over $350 000 invested into the company. So, as a 17-year-old, I got $350 000 from an investor. Mind you, that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and it took me a year, but it was definitely worth it, and it’s certainly come a long way.
Nicole: Yeah, and I want to dig in on two things. So, one, it sounds like one of the keys to unlocking the real problem was holding your solution really lightly, and it’s a phrase I’ve used before with entrepreneurs is “hold the problem tightly but the solution lightly” because if you’re not listening to the voices of the people that are experiencing the problem, you won’t be willing to relinquish your solution for something that’s actually better, and it sounds like the whole way along here, you had to kind of separate maybe your ego, and your personal investment in what you thought the solution would be, and pull that away from the problem itself so that you could be, you could find the best solution to the problem.
Mitch: Exactly. So, like, the stars had aligned, to use an analogy for it, for the scanning system, so for the ID scanning part of it of the solution so it’s like “okay, it’s probably going to be better for us to pursue this, and solve the immediate problem at hand”, because it’s going to get a lot more adoption from the venues than what the actual digital ID part could do, and then we decided okay, we’ll do this and then we can do the digital version of the drivers’ license later, and then bring that in as a supporting element down the track. So, then we can actually get to market and solve a problem.
Nicole: So, let’s dig in now, in 2020, you know, this all kicked off, you at 14 in your Academy of Ideas class. Now, how big is your team, like what does, what do you and your business look like now?
Mitch: So, we’ve got a team of 15. So, I’ve got three full time software developers, one part time, part time liaison, a part time designer, two venue services managers that look after venue relationships and sales, and then I have a tech support team of six, and then I also have myself. So, it’s 15 of us in total at the moment, I did actually used to have another one. So, this is just a point that I’ll touch on really quickly; in terms of like hurdles, there has been a lot of different hurdles over the period of four years nearly with running the business and with pursuing the idea, and the biggest one was my business partner, of about a year and a half, going rogue and telling me that I wasn’t going to be running my own company anymore, which was pretty difficult to deal with. So, then I had to deal with that problem towards the end of last year, where it was like “okay, this guy’s trying to take over my company, what can I do about it?”, I put in so much time and effort and so I had to go through all this legal stuff to get through it, but it just showed that now with pursuing through it, and getting over the hurdles, we’ve been able to come out the other side and thrive better than what we could’ve with him being there, or what we could’ve done had I said “no, I’ve had enough”.
Nicole: I want to dig into that a little bit, only because, you know, other entrepreneurs that we’ve spoken to as well that have started their business as well while they’re still at school, have encountered these legal and accounting challenges around how to set up the business, and it requires, I mean if you’re under 18, you need to place other people as directors of the business, because you, as young person, can’t be the director of your organisation. I guess, you know, that can work in your favour sometimes, but also it does leave you open to risk, depending on the other adults that you’re bringing into, I guess, some of those accountability positions within the organisational structure.
Mitch: Exactly. So, I made the decision to put this person as the director of my company. So, because, obviously, as you’ve said, you can’t be a director until you turn 18. So, it was either the decision between putting one of my parents as the director of the company until I turned 18, or putting this person as the director, and I made the choice to put this person as the director. Now, looking back at it, would I have made, chosen my parents to be the director over him? Yes. Because I wouldn’t have had to dealt with all of the headache that he’s caused. But, to an extent, I’m glad that I did do what I did with placing him as the director because it’s built a lot of resilience, and it’s shown me the different types of people that you can deal with, and the different ways to read people to make sure that this type of thing didn’t happen again. I didn’t have, or I haven’t had a ridiculous amount of issues with being underage, or under 18, sorry. I was still signing documents; I just had my parents signing the document as well. So, obviously, I was able to be the CEO, I just couldn’t be the director and make the document legally binding. But because of being the CEO, I was able to put my signature there, and then have my parents to sign for me as well, to make the document legally binding. I didn’t incorporate the company until 2018, before that point I was just operating as a sole trader, which is definitely an option for young people to not have to then worry about the incorporation of a company, because obviously incorporating can cost between $500 and $1000 depending on the way you do it. So, if you can avoid incorporating to start off with, and just operating as a sole trader is definitely an easier route. But in terms of paying staff and accounting side of things, I never had any issues.
Nicole: So, I mean, the solution itself that you’ve come up with is a pretty complex piece of technology, using both the software and the hardware development, I guess, like together. I think sometimes tech can be scary for young people, particularly if you’re listening right now and you’re 14 or 15 and you think well, I, maybe I’m, kind of like languages, like learning a language or an instrument like I’m too old to start now. Do you think you have to be a coder from way back to design tech solutions? Was that the case for you, or what’s your take on that for people that might be listening that are like I could never do that because, yeah, I don’t understand coding?
Mitch: You definitely don’t have to be tech savvy to be able to build a tech-based solution. If you see that there’s similar technology in existence, one of the key things I’ll say, is don’t reinvent the wheel. If the technology exists, get in touch with the company, see whether you can leverage and implement their technology or their software into your solution as well. This is exactly what I did for part of our solution. But, at the beginning, I wasn’t really, like I’d been technical, I used to pull apart computers and build them back up again, but you definitely don’t need to have that prior experience in technology to build a technology solution. You just have to find somebody who does. So, if you’re someone who’s more business minded, get a friend that is more technologically inclined or they think as a coder, or they do a lot of tech-based stuff, or even if it’s not one of your friends, when you get a little bit further down the line, you can get something which is called a tech co-founder, and that tech co-founder looks after all of the technology side of things. But it obviously does depend on how complex the solution is. But even then, I’ve got friends that aren’t technologically inclined at all, that didn’t do any coding ever, but have built websites. For example, one of my friends Rylan, he runs a company called Parking Bills Australia. They, they’ve served hundreds of thousands of customers and website traffic for parking deals all across Australia, and he’s built that website himself. But he didn’t program or code any line at all. It’s all built during different software which actually allowed him to drag and drop and build the actual website to be how he wanted, without having to do any coding at all.
Nicole: Yeah, interesting. Cool, I want to, so finish with, I guess, one final question. I guess it probably leans in a lot to what we’ve discussed today. I guess, young people often get told that they’re, maybe, too young to tackle the big problems. Particularly in your case, you were 14 tackling an issue that you yourself weren’t going to face for another four years. If you’re a young person listening to this, and you think that maybe you have to finish until you finish school, or you should go to university, or should, I guess, do all of these things before you kick off a business. What are maybe three simple, clear steps that a young person could take tomorrow to start, maybe, their own business?
Mitch: I would definitely say you’re better off starting an idea, or starting a business while you’re at school, rather than being at university or just graduated from university. At the moment, obviously in the past, university has been crucial to be able to get a good job or whatnot, or you had to go to uni in order to get the knowledge to be able to execute on a different position or a different thing. But at the moment, in terms of business, in terms of technology, you don’t necessarily need to go to university. I’m personally not going to university. I got into QUT for studying business, and I actually went over the course, and with going over the course, I only identified three units of the course that I couldn’t show prior learning for, or that I had done that I couldn’t show that I’d done in the past. By being a young person, you can actually get a lot more support, as I mentioned before, because people actually want to support young people, because it’s not common that young people are actually putting themselves out there. So, that’s one of the other things, put yourself out there, because if you do, as I’ve said, things happen, and it really helps. But if you’re able to then put yourself out there, and find somebody or go get in touch with somebody, chances are they’re likely to say “okay, I’ve got an hour or I’ve got 15 minutes to have a chat with you, let’s get on a call and see what your idea is or see what I can do to help”, and they may be able to help themselves, or they may be able to put you in touch with someone that can help. Because of everything that’s available on the internet, or on YouTube videos, through people like Gary V, and Tony Robbins, Tai Lopez, all these different people that are talking about different business related things, you can learn so much about business through YouTube or through different books without actually having to go to university. Or the other option, exactly what I did, I just jumped in the deep end and learnt as I went. So, it’s definitely a really good time, and you’ll find that if you ask for help, people are likely to give it to you. It’s the same thing at school, if you ask your teacher for help, they’re going to give it to you, but if you don’t ask the teacher or if you don’t ask for help, you’re not going to get anything. So, it’s really crucial that you do ask people, because they’re likely to help. So, there’s that one. Aside from that, being a young person, if you speak to your school about it and you have an idea, this is exactly what I did, I spoke to my school, I said “this is what I’m doing, this is what I’ve got interest from”, don’t follow the norm just because everybody else is. So, I went against the normal, I only went to school 3.5 days a week, which was really really good because it allowed me to develop my business and develop my idea during the week while my friends were at school while still maintaining pretty good grades. Like I graduated with an OP 7, which was equivalated to an OP 5 because of some other subjects and other points that I got, and that was only from 3.5 days of school a week, which was crazy. I was just working around time management as a crucial thing. So, instead of sitting at home and doing your homework or doing your assignments and then every ten minutes getting a message from your friends and then picking up your phone and then replying to that message, I was leaving my phone in my other room, sitting down, getting the work done that I needed to, so then I actually had the time each night to be able to do work on the business without then getting distracted or getting to 12 o’clock at night and going “oh, it’s too late to do anything now because I’ve been doing my school work the whole night”, and obviously speaking to teachers about different things that are going on, and at the end of last year when I had my business partner go rogue, I spoke to the school, I said “this is what’s happening”, I spoke to my teachers and they were really lenient and they were really supportive about it and that just comes back to just asking for help if you need it, and not being afraid to ask for help. The final thing I would say is don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to. So, if there’s things that are pre-existing that you can leverage, use it. So, for our system, parts of our software are actually from a company in the US, so they provide a piece of their software which we’ve integrated into our software. So, we pay them a little bit of money instead of then having to waste the time in redeveloping it ourselves. With that, just because somebody says to do something one way, you don’t necessarily have to do it that way. I actually did everything in reverse, instead of having a solution to then actually sell to customers, I went to the customers with the solution, but not actually having the product. So, I sold the solution but not the product. So, then it allowed to actually have that interest generated from the industry, to be able to then go and speak to investors and say “okay, I don’t have the product, but I have the customers wanting the product, so let’s make this so we can sell it to these people”, versus every other start up, or most other start-ups and founders will develop the product and then go and try and sell it, without actually knowing whether the customers want it. So, you don’t want to do that, because if you’ve done that then you would’ve wasted time and money for something people might not necessarily want. So, as long as you solve the problem, that’s the main thing.
Nicole: That’s great. Yeah, and on that, definitely like Lean Startup as a text, as a book, if anyone’s reading, really digs into that whole notion of being really agile and lean in kicking off an idea and yeah, not reinventing the wheel, but looking for the fastest, dirtiest way to get a product in market or to validate or test an idea before you invest, you know, actual blood, sweat, tears and a lot of cash in something that you’re not sure if it’ll work.
Mitch: Exactly. Like, I’ve got a whole list of books which are just sitting on my desk and one of the other ones that I really like is Rich Dad Poor Dad. It’s not a really long read, but it really gives a lot of really interesting information into different parts of business. So, instead of paying $10k a year, or sorry $10k a semester, or whatever it is for university, you can just get these books from people that are in a position that you want to find, or that you want to be in. So, one of the things that you guys would probably be getting asked a lot of as younger people “what do you want to do after school?” I personally am not a massive fan of this question; I prefer the question “what do you want to achieve after school?” Because if you’re being asked what you want to achieve, you can say okay, I want to achieve financial freedom, I want to be able to buy a house, I want to be able to travel the world, you now can work out what your goal is, and if you know what your goal is, you can just work back from that point to work out what you need to do in order to achieve that goal. So, it comes back to exactly what I did with the iPad. My goal was to get the iPad, I worked out exactly what I needed to do in order to get that iPad, and I executed on it. So, if you set your goals, and then you follow and work out the best way to achieve your goal, it’s going to help you in terms of keeping motivated, even through the tough times, in order to get to reaching your goal.
Nicole: Awesome. Mitch, thank you so much for clearing some time to chat to us. A couple of things that really jumped out for me is, you know, your message around surrounding yourself with key supporters and mentors, but also having some of those key supporters and mentors be the devils’ advocate and ask you the tough questions to prepare you. I love the way that you talked about that it’s an advantage almost to be a young person to be starting an idea, and, you know, in combination with that, to ask for help or to ask for things because you don’t know if you don’t ask. Then, finally, you know that whole notion of not reinventing the wheel but really trying to look at what’s out there and build success off the back of really digging into what the market wants, what the user wants, and creating that authentic dialogue. So, thank you for your time today. I, it’s been such a great conversation. I think my highlight is still the window cleaning for $150 a day, and I’m conscious, I’m actually thinking I wonder if I should actually start doing this, it could be quite lucrative.
Mitch: I completely agree. You might have to get in touch with your neighbours, go and buy a window cleaner, and away you go. You might make $150 a day.
Nicole: Awesome. Thank you so much, Mitch.
Mitch: Thank you.