Starting a new on demand service – Interview with Ilter Dumduz, Blys

I spoke with Ilter Dumduz, co-founder of Blys for Episode 7 of This Mobile Life. Ilter formerly worked with, and Glamcorner. Blys provides on demand mobile massage service in Sydney. Blys is very new and was launched in March 2016.

Building an on-demand service business

What was very interesting with this interview is that we get a glimpse of how someone who has extensive knowledge of on demand services, marketplaces, and eCommerce products applies this knowledge into a new business. Ilter shares how to take care of both the customer and provider sides of a business.

Below are highlights of the interview. If you’d like to listen to the full podcast, you can find it here.

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All advice is wrong

I get asked for advice by a lot of people. These range from startups, tech companies, people interested in mobile, business people etc…I also have been the recipient of a lot of advice.

I’ve started prefacing a “disclaimer” when I speak to people who ask me for advice. What worked for me may not work for your situation. If you receive advice from an adviser, its based on what worked for them. It is what worked in a particular circumstance, in a particular industry, in a specific point in time. Every industry, every situation has its own dynamics. Advice that worked for one particular circumstance may not work in another. Even if you have seen similar pattern in different industries or in similar companies, it doesn’t mean its going to automatically apply to your situation.

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Developing Australia’s fintech ecosystem at Tyro Payments

Earlier today I went on a tour of a new co-working space called Tyro FinTech Hub in the Sydney CBD. Its backed by Tyro Payments. Tyro is a startup but has since grown now to 200 staff.

They’ve moved into a new space with multiple levels. Its still under some construction, but I got a sneak peak at their office and what they are doing.

Here’s some office shots. They’re exclusive shots that I took on my visit from my exclusive iphone 6.

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15 things that happened in the last 12 months in Australian FinTech

We’re seeing a lot of innovation happening in the FinTech (Financial Technology) space. In the past 12 months, I’ve noticed these developments in Australian FinTech industry. I wanted to separate my visit to Tyro’s fintech hub today and the latest news in FinTech. I’ve gathered my insights and news from speaking to industry participants, friends, contacts, startups, banks, reading up about it and just being on the ground. This is from the period of March 2014 to April 2015.

I have a special interest in this space. In my earlier career, before I worked in tech I was a tax accountant at Deloitte specialising in FSI (Financial Services Industry). I worked with banks including the big end of town – Merrill Lynch, BNP Paribas, and Deustche Bank. I also worked with insurance companies, fund management, private equity, venture capital, mezzanine finance, securitisation, and mortgage companies.

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Taking weekends off

This weekend I did something unusual. I decided not to work on the weekend. Over the past two months, I’ve gradually been working less and less on the weekend. I use to work on Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoon. In fact, for the past few weekends, I rarely worked with only a few minor tasks or urgent things to do.

On Friday afternoon, I got a call from my co-founder saying that he was tied up and could speak to me on Friday night. But I stated that it was the weekend and we could discuss it on Monday. It could wait. In addition, there was a project for a client I could have worked on and promised delivery first thing on Monday morning. Instead I communicated to them that we would deliver it on Monday. This gave us more time to regroup, recharge over the weekend and complete it.

I also received a new client enquiry at 6.46pm on Friday as I was leaving the office. Normally, I’d jump on it straight away. But in all these cases, there is a reasonable expectation from a customer that a business is closed on the weekend and will re-open on Monday.

With all these things, I realised that this was pressure that I was putting on myself.

When you are running your own business, its very tempting to work all the time. However its important to take a break and recharge. I asked a staff member if they could work on Sunday. I thought about it after I asked them. If I wasn’t going to work on the weekend then I shouldn’t get them to do it either. I would be taking their weekends away as well.

A decision not to work on the weekends

My co-founder and I had decided earlier this year that we would get our weekends back. By working on the week days, you can be more productive. This is because you know that you are limited to only those days and hours. If you know you can catchup or do more on the weekend, you can waste more time procrastinating or stretching something out. You can also start out the week feeling really tired. In the past, if I worked all weekend, then sometimes I would take Monday off, either whole day or half day to make up for it. I have that flexibility as I run my own business. But that flexibility is a double edged sword.

This weekend since I didn’t have to work, I decided not to check my emails. Ok, I admit that I took a brief glance! But then I decided that these were not that important that I had to answer them right now. In fact, if I looked at it any more, I would have probably gone ahead, created work for myself and answered them. Also, if you answer emails on the weekend, you build an expectation from the customer that you will be available on the weekend and out of hours.

Instead my weekend looked like this

With the free time, I decided to start a new blog on Saturday morning. I created a food blog called “Where’s My Sauce“. It took me about 1.5 hours to setup and publish my first post on visiting Mary’s City, which is a new burger takeaway store. I wrote about visiting there on Friday night because I wasn’t working. I was able to start a passion project. Something that I had been thinking about for weeks. I’ve always been interested in food, predominatly eating & trying new restaurants. It is a website & writing content, which are things that I get involved with normally during the week but I was doing this for fun.

I was also able to take a break and see my girlfriend, friends and family. I had dinner with my family. I went to karaoke with friends. I went to Bible Study & attended Church. I went to a Quentin Tarantino t-shirt exhibition. I had time to enjoy life. In addition, I came back on Monday refreshed and ready to work. It gave me enthusiasm to talk to people about my new food blog and the other interests I have. It gave me another perspective and dimension to my life because of the weekend activities.

Creating an optimal business environment

As an entrepreneur, you can create the kind of business you want to work in. You don’t have to work 24/7. You can choose to but thats a lifestyle choice in my opinion. If you have raised significant amounts of investment and you have a lot of external pressure, then maybe you feel obligated to work more hours to meet the expectations of a huge exit. But thats not the kind of business I want to run.

When I took time off over the weekend, I started considering how I could make money without being as involved. How I could make money in my sleep and have time to enjoy the things that I want to do. How could I make more money in less hours of the week. How I could work smarter, not harder.

For my business, Tapmint which is a consulting business, there are several paths to do so. These can include the following options:

  1. Increasing our rates
  2. Charging based on value as opposed to hourly
  3. Productized consulting
  4. Have products with recurring income, typically SAAS (software as a service business)

These options can move you off the hamster wheel of consulting. But this is a discussion for another day.

For now, I’m just looking forward to the next weekend when I’m going to a really big water slide with some friends, going to Cirque Du Soleil and to a friend’s bday 🙂

I’m out like the week day,

Matt Ho.

Building something awesome

Right now I’m really proud of the team that we’re building at Native Tongue and the work that we are doing. We’re transitioning over to doing more and more app development consulting work. We have always been in the business of building apps, just that we’re doing it for clients now. The core team has been together for the past two years.

I feel like I’m combining everything I’ve learnt over the past few years from building my own apps at Native Tongue, my own independent projects, working at Next Digital and at Deloitte. Today, I realised that my work experience, training and producer/account management experience at Next Digital is coming to the fore.

For 3.5 years, I was at one of Australia’s top digital agencies. I had some really good managers in Stephen Lord aka “Lordy” and Clare Owens. I actually caught myself thinking over the past few days “What would Lordy do?” and “What would Clare do?”. I always have that broader experience to draw upon for “What would we have done at Next Digital?”.

I’m really excited about what’s next in store for our team and for our clients. I know that its still a tough road ahead and there will be tough times, but we have the foundation for something special. Also, a big shout out to my co-founder James who is doing awesome work and really great complement to my skills. We also have Isabell, our designer who is doing some great work. So we have the hustler/hacker/designer combo happening!

I’m out like Edward Snowden,

– Matt



Can you withstand the meteorites?

As 2012 comes to a close, it’s time to briefly reflect on the year. This is my story of 2012.

I came across this memorable quote recently from an article about startups raising money:

Investors at the seed level are typically less concerned with the fact that a team has yet to pull off market or customer fit, and much more focused on whether it can weather the storm of running a startup.

My own startup journey has a lot of highs and lows in 2012. I can attest that its very stormy! Hence, the team has to be strong to withstand the bumps and bruises along the way.

You need to be able to fight your way out of a very dark hole and into the light. That’s why its called the trough of sorrow. The majority of startups will die in this phase as they attempt to find their way. This is reality. The majority of small businesses will fail within 2 years. This is where we are now with Native Tongue – in the trough of sorrow.

In our first year, there has been a lot of rain, but more like meteorites that have been dropping down from the sky. But we have survived, we’re still intact and I have my sanity.

Buckle in

In the first week of launching our product, Mandarin Madness on iphone in February, we made over $1,000 AUD. It was making roughly $200/day. We were the #2 Australian education app and featured on the iTunes Australia home page. We were a top 10 grossing education app in Australia. We thought awesome!!

Mandarin Madness iTunes

Mandarin Madness makes the iTunes homepage

I quickly calculated that we would do $52k that year on this one product alone. Lets just bang out a few more products – then we would be self funded! Thats $52k x 3 products = $156k annual revenue. No need for raising seed investment. If it did well in Australia, then a similar Spanish product would “smash” it in the US. And the English product would “erupt” in Asia!

So we started beavering away and launched a whole array of new language products this year – Spanish Smash and English Eruption.

However, the sales in the app store started slowing down. We did our best to prop it up. But we learnt something critical about the app store – the first 2 weeks are critical as you are classified as a new app. You are featured as a new app and can also be in the “new and noteworthy” section. We were also beating a lot of the bigger branded apps (except for Spongebob) when we were featured.

When we launched the Spanish and English product it didn’t fare as well as the Chinese one. In fact, we botched the launches and it fell flat. Our dreams of making $1k/week vanished within several weeks.

If I look back, we should have focused on one product, Mandarin Madness. We should have kept polishing and refining it to get product market fit. We went too wide instead of focusing on one vertical and missed the mark. I’ll explain later on what we decided to focus on.

More meteorites

These were just some of the meteorites that rained down on us in the first year. We thought we were close to getting seed investment from some investors. However, that didn’t come through. We were also faced with dwindling cash flow and our runway fast disappearing.

James, one of our co-founders had to do some contracting work to get by. My personal runway was longer, so I kept focusing on the business, as we needed to keep moving forward. We knew that if all of us went to work, and worked on it part time or we came back to it within 6 months, we’d lose all the momentum we had.

We also parted ways with one of our original founders. It didn’t work out. We moved offices from York Butter Factory to South Melbourne. We pitched at several events but didn’t get much investor interest. A lot of things like this happened in the first half of the year.

Chaotic personal life

I also had my own personal situation to figure out. I had moved from Sydney to Melbourne last year, and I had been staying on airbnb and then living with a friend. But I had to find a more permanent and more cost-effective place to stay. I found a place in Northcote and was about to sign a lease.

I came back to Sydney for Christmas and NYE. I found out a few days later, that the landlord decided to kick us all out, citing that the property needed repairs. They gave us 3 months to vacate (in March 2012)*. I didn’t have time to deal with it, and it was only until the last two weeks that I started looking for a new place. It was hectic and we had only 8 days to find a place to live. So I banded together with one of the housemates and another friend, and we found a place within a week. We then signed a 12 months lease.

Up until this point, I also had no possessions in Melbourne other than 2 suitcases. I was sleeping on a mattress for 4 months on the floor. I had acquired the mattress from the previous tenant. I also acquired Anthony’s old desk and chair. I had clothes hangers from my friend Tyson. It was a very nomadic life style I was living but it was all I needed to get by.

Everything I had in Melbourne – two suitcases & a suit

So my own personal situation was somewhat chaotic whilst in Melbourne. I did my best to not let it bother me. I believe that if you can settle your personal life, it will be much easier to focus on your work. I watched a interview video by Steve Blank who believes that entrepreneurs make sense out of chaos and often had a dysfunctional personal life. When things are organised, they actually don’t do that well. So maybe there’s something in that.

The dark months

With our runway dwindling, I was on the path to going broke while paying rent and living expenses in Melbourne. So I decided to move back to Sydney and live with my folks. Both my brothers had moved out last year and we still had several empty rooms including my old room. I figured if I could cut down on my costs, I’d live to fight another day.

There was some adjustment period, but it was fine. My family had missed me while I was living in Melbourne, and I could also take care of my grandma during the day as she lives with us.

But that period between May & June was probably my darkest period this year. I had to move back to Sydney, slightly dejected and I wasn’t sure what I would do – even if I would continue with Native Tongue. Because the team was going to be separated in two different cities which would make things difficult.

In a way, I was also slightly relieved. I felt at times I was stuck in Melbourne, unable to see my family and friends. I flew back to Sydney several times for weddings and for Christmas, but it was always brief. However, money was tight, and I needed to save money. Paying $230/week for rent alone, plus expenses for bills, food + entertainment expenses was too much in an early stage startup.

Things start picking up again

But somehow we made it work.

I started hanging out with my friend Alvin at his place as he had just resigned from his job and was working on Pocketbook. Bosco then joined him, and the 3 of us started co-working together in his apartment. I couldn’t afford to go to a co-working space (even though they are great), but this was just as good. I had two guys that were working on another startup and it re-created that startup vibe. I was excited to work again on my own thing, and I felt like they were extra members who would give me ideas and inspiration, and feedback.

Tech 23 Native Tongue

Presenting at Tech23 – duck face bonus

There were certain events that happened in the next few months which gave us a shot in the arm. I pitched at the Sydstart event and was awarded 6th place in September. In October, I made it into Tech23, one of Australia’s most prestigious technology conferences. The top 23 up and coming companies were selected. We made the short list and I got to present again. You can read my insiders perspective here. We were amongst the best tech companies in Australia.

We were able to get several great blog reviews of our products and formed a partnership with a language blogger for a competition. We also had interest from several schools for a trial. I was also featured in the BRW in an article on “How to make the perfect pitch“.

Featured in BRW

We also got around the distance factor, and I was speaking to my co-founder every day on the phone when we had to or communicated via email.

Renewed focus

We felt stretched with the number of products in our portfolio – we had over 10 products! So we decided in June 2012 to concentrate our effort on one product for one platform and in one market. We released a free version of Spanish Smash (Personalised) on iOS for the US market, as it has a large number of Spanish language learners (6 million).

It was initially only available in English and then we added Korean and Russian translations. Its now doing about 180 – 200 downloads a day. The upsell rate is 5% for in-app-purchase modules or to the full paid version. This app now represents roughly 35% of our total downloads. We still haven’t “cracked” the US market, but downloads are increasing month on month in the US. The app is also reguarly featured in Russia, Korea, Netherlands and now in China.

Our airbnb moment

I noticed there was a new word game called Letterpress which was simply brilliant. I showed my co-founder and he liked it too. I predicted that this new app would be popular. We had our “airbnb moment” where we thought we could fund the business with some crazy idea. I knew the story all too well as I had worked at airbnb.

Airbnb sold boxes of Obama cereal at Obama’s inaugruation. So we decided to make a cheat app for Letterpress and sell copies of our cheat app. We actually made it in one week, but decided to work on it for another week to polish it up. We submitted it to the app store with a free version and upsell for $0.99. It only sold a few copies and started dying. We kept iterating on it and recently rebranded it to LP strategy and have about 1,000 downloads to date and its one of the top ranked cheat apps for Letterpress. I believe that we have the best cheat app for Letterpress, however its quite crowded now as there about 20 of these apps now in the app store.

Lets make it rain Obama O’s!

But the one thing it did was show that we could make mobile apps and we could do it fast. We could respond to market conditions and opportunities, and we had a strong resolve. We could figure out a way to survive.

We also applied for the Startmate incubator on the final day. Out of 220 applications from around the country, we were one of the 20 teams selected for interview. We ultimately didn’t get in, but meeting with 15 of Australia’s top investors in one afternoon and getting their feedback was worthwhile. It also validated our efforts to date to make it to the final round.

Backup plan

We had a back up plan in case we didn’t get into Startmate. We decided we could try consulting on behalf of the business rather than as individuals. We would make apps for other people. We’d already made roughly 10 apps in total. So we created a landing page on unbounce and prepared some keywords for google adwords.

As soon as we got word that we didn’t get in, we re-calibrated and our backup plan kicked into gear. We started running the google adwords campaigns. Within a few days, we started getting clicks and enquiries. We have a number of enquiries we are following up on, and this is how we are going to fund our business. Partly through growing and also by doing work for other people. When I spoke to a lot of startups, this is what a lot of them had to do to get by in the early days. If you’d like to build an app, check out our consulting page.


This is where we are now. We believe that we will lose nothing by revealing our figures, in fact it will help us measure our success.

– Revenues: $1k/month in revenue. Annual revenue approx $11k.
– Downloads: 90,000 downloads. This is across our 3 games. On iOS, Android, Amazon Kindle.
– Monthly Active Users (MAU): 18% iOS.


Ideally, we want to be doing 10x in terms of revenue ($10k/month) to be self sustaining.

What we need to do in 2013

1. Focus on a product and customer segment.
2. Improve the game mechanics
3. Increase user retention
4. Increase life time value (LTV)
5. Grow the consulting business

Final word

Thanks to everyone that has supported Native Tongue – friends, family, colleagues, our customers, and the startup community. If you are in startup, then don’t forget your hard hat and your raincoat, cause its going to get rocky in 2013! You have to learn how to withstand the meteorites 🙂

I’m out like 2012,

Matt Ho.

*The landlord & agent took us to court over property damages, even though we were only there for a few months. We ended up getting most of our bond back and I invested my bond money into my housemate’s new startup. Double down ftw.

Pitch someone else’s startup

Pitching doesn’t have to be this hard

Today, my friend Bosco and I were helping out another friend with his startup pitch. I got a great tip from Bosco, which was that I should pitch someone else’s startup.

It was actually a really good experience for myself and also the founder that we were helping. The founder was able to see it from another perspective. A founder is always so knee deep in the history and detail of the work they’ve put in. They’ve worked on it non-stop so viewing it from a different perspective is very insightful for them. I was able to synthesise the pitch a lot better because I didn’t have all the legacy about the business bearing down on me and I didn’t feel the need to communicate EVERYTHING.

Funnily enough, when we pitched it and described a certain section in a shorter time span his feedback was “you’re spending too long on these slides describing it”. Our animated response was: “That’s what we’ve been trying to tell you!“. Sometimes it isn’t apparent until you see someone else do it.

I can’t say that I’m great at pitching but I’ve done it a few times and learnt a few things which I can pass on to other people. I hit the panic button when I had to pitch the first time, and luckily I had a few friends & people in my network to lean on for advice. I also watched other people pitch but there’s nothing like actually pitching yourself, and pitching for money.

Hopefully you don’t have to pitch in an elevator

Here are some things that I discovered and some thoughts that I have:

– It gets easier the more times you do it. The first time I did it in front of 40 people, it was pretty nerve wracking. Then I backed up and pitched the next week at another event, and it was much much easier.

– People tend to ask similar questions, so the more times you pitch the better you get at answering questions.

– I always said to myself before I pitched that I had “to give the pitch of my life“. We were at several crossroads that it was do or die so I had to have that mentality. You’ve got to pitch with passion.

– I like to have some backup slides to answer some common questions. In a 5 – 10 minute presentation, you can never address everything. There are certain things that people might ask for e.g. statistics, more details about customer acquisition strategy, exits, etc…

– I’ve never fully understood why investors ask about exit strategy. I’ve been asked this several times. For an early stage business that has just started, shouldn’t a founder try to build a sustainable business that doesn’t need to exit, that can stand on its own two feet? I can understand the logic behind the question, as I worked in an accounting firm providing advice to private equity funds. Per the fund terms, they are required to exit and make a return in certain time frame (e.g. 5 years). An exit could be via IPO, M&A (trade sale), MBO (management buyout), or liquidation. The investor possibly want to see if the founder has given it some thought. In some larger markets (e.g. US), M&A activity is a lot more common but in other markets like China, the exit strategy is IPO. My opinion is that you should build for the long term and not the quick flip.

– I hate working on powerpoint slide decks (or keynote). It could be a combination of my lack of skills in powerpoint and design to make something sophisticated / pretty. The hours spent sweating over the content, the pictures, the layout. Some people enjoy it, but I didn’t. Get a designer to help you.

The school of ABC

– ABC: Perhaps I’ve watched too much Mark Suster on This Week in VC. Always be Pitching, Always Be Raising, Always Be Closing. I know that in the latest YCombinator batch, none of the startups pitched for money at demo day. But I’m from that school of thought of “Always Be Closing!”.

– Take advice from people that have pitched for money before.

– Have a rough idea of how you will spend the money that you raise. Unfortunately, I’ve seen other startups get grilled on this, so I thanked my lucky stars that I had an answer for it.

Pitching is a daunting experience for a new entrepreneur so I hope some of my experiences are useful to you.

I’m out like pitching,

Matt Ho