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Monday, 18 June 2012 | By Michelle Hammond

start-up-profile-mmMuleDespite operating on a global scale, Sydney-based business mmMule only spent a few hundred dollars in order to start up, excluding legal costs.


mmMule allows people to get anything they want from anywhere in the world, rewarding each “mule” – typically travellers – with a local experience in return for making a delivery.


Earlier this year, the business copped a bit of flak from tech start-up blog Tech Crunch, but that hasn’t stopped it from hurtling forward with some ambitious plans.


Co-founder Avis Mulhall talks to StartupSmart about how three travellers came together to launch a business, and why money should never be your motivating factor.


When was the business founded? Who are the founders and where is the business based?


We went live at the end of January 2012. The founders are Andrew Simpson as well as Alan Mulhall and I.


Andrew is an Australian who spent almost six years living in NYC – he recently returned to Sydney.


Both Alan and I are Irish. However, Alan has lived in LA for over 12 years and I moved to Sydney just over a year ago after a stint in Africa.


The business is based in Sydney and Alan works remotely, but we’re aiming to get him over here soon.


What prompted you to launch mmMule? What niche did you identify?


We’re all expats and seasoned travelers. We often found ourselves either missing treats from back home or wanting stuff we came across on our travels that we just couldn’t find where we lived.


We realised it was a common problem as we kept seeing posts on Facebook from friends of all different nationalities who wanted stuff – like food, cosmetics and electronics – that they couldn’t get shipped to where they lived.


To solve the delivery problem, we drew upon our extensive travel experiences.


Having visited more than 65 countries between us, we knew that it was always hard arriving in a new city not knowing anyone.


We also knew that we always had the most fun when we had a local connection. That way, you don’t feel like a tourist and you actually get to experience a place like the locals who live there.


So we thought that if we could connect locals who want stuff with travelers who want more authentic experiences, we could solve a real problem for both, and that’s how mmMule was born.


As for AngelMule [mmMule’s non-profit subsidiary], this originated from a trip to Africa, where Andrew and I first met.


Whilst living in the rainforests of northern Tanzania and teaching kids, I saw how much the project suffered due to a lack of resources.


Around the same time, Andrew stumbled on an orphanage in Rwanda for kids whose parents had been killed in the genocide.


After talking to the kids and hearing their stories, he wanted to help.


As it turns out, it was as easy as going to the next village and buying some books, pencils and a football.


Such a small thing made such a big impact on the kids, and made him feel great too. We want other travelers to be able to feel that.


So now, with AngelMule, we’re making it easy and transparent for people to connect with and help non-profits in the countries they visit by delivering supplies to projects in need.


How did you fund the business?


We’re entirely self-funded, but because we have such a well-rounded team – Alan on development, Andrew on design and strategy, and myself on marketing and PR – our costs have been minimal.


Aside from the actual legal costs of setting up the company, we’ve only spent a few hundred dollars.


How many staff do you have?


For now it’s just the three of us. And of course there’s Henry the Mule, our trusty mascot.


How do you promote the business?


Our initial traffic was all from social media, from Twitter in particular. We built up a lot of buzz prior to our soft launch so had a really amazing start.


We’ve grown really well on social media – I guess that’s down to the nature of the site, its uniqueness and the fact that the content is shared really easily from our site to help with this viral growth.


From there, we’ve just used traditional PR. In the longer term, we’re also looking at large-scale partnerships to help drive user acquisition and will be using a small army of mmMule and AngelMule ambassadors to help grow the brand.


How do you stand out in the market? What's your point/s of difference?


We’re literally one of the first sites in the world to attempt something so big.


We’re solving a real two-sided problem – we’re enabling people to essentially shop without borders whilst truly enriching people’s travels by connecting them with locals.


We have such a strong social focus and we are working hard to maintain a loyal, engaged community.


Our biggest point of difference is probably AngelMule, which is something we’re really passionate about.


We believe that most people want to make a difference in the world and now, with AngelMule, we’re enabling those connections.


We’re dreaming big and we really think that mmMule is going to forever change the way people travel, get stuff delivered and help not-for-profits.


What are your revenue projections for 2011-2012?


At this stage we’re pre-revenue – we haven’t introduced the monetisation strategy just yet. Our main aim is to grow the community.


We aim to have postings from over 100 countries within the year.


What’s the biggest risk you face?


I think with any peer-to-peer website, the biggest thing to overcome is the trust issue, so we’ve been really thorough in providing trust and safety advice for our users.


We’ve also introduced features like a private messaging system and references to rate experiences. We’re looking at adding even more trust and safety measures as we grow.


Is there anything you would have done differently?


Of course there’s a million things we would have done differently, but that’s what is so fascinating about working in a start-up – you never stop learning.


In fact, I think the constant learning you experience, and the agility that’s needed in a start-up, is what we thrive on.


What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?


I have a few pointers:

  • Get out there amongst it. The more entrepreneurs you talk to, the better you will become, the leaner your processes will be, the clearer your pitch, the more focused and driven you’ll become.

  • Follow your passion. A start-up is damn hard work. But if you’re following your passion, you’ll always want to jump out of bed in the morning, even on the tough days.

  • Don’t be afraid of failure. It is not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign that you are innovative and dare to think differently. If you want to change the world, you can’t just follow the crowd.

  • Stop chasing money. Do what you love and what you’re passionate about. If what you do is good for you, your customer and the planet, you won’t have to worry about chasing money. The money will come later.