From High School Grad to CEO
An interview with IDU Identification Founder Mitch Robinson
If you’ve been around our studio in some way shape or form, chances are you’ve come across or heard of local legend Mitch Robinson. The young-gun entrepreneur has had a mammoth 12 months, launching iDU-Identification fresh out of school, and building up his team to support the nightlife industry right across Australia.
But Mitch’s entrepreneurial story spans back to sitting in the classroom, having dreamt up his product idea whilst completing his final years of high school.
We caught up with him to learn more about his journey, hear what it was like launching a product for the nightlife industry in the midst of a global pandemic, and share some tips for the next wave of young entrepreneurs coming through.
Dive in to read the full transcript..
AV: Mitchy — mate. How are you?
Mitch: Yeah good. Busy, but pumped.
AV: Fair enough.. you’ve had a huge few months. Thanks for making some time to share your story. Let’s get reflective for a second.. Where did all of this epicness start for you?
Mitch: The concept of iDU was actually born out of this school project I did in 2016. The subject was called the ‘Academy of Ideas’, a business stream that focused on looking at what ‘Future Brisbane’ might look like. We had to identify a bunch of problems that we thought our city might encounter, and develop a hypothetical solution to address those problems. I focused on the issue of identity theft (shout out to Melissa McCarthy!) and the fact that while technology generally was advancing rapidly, the measures to prevent identity fraud hadn’t changed or evolved at the same pace. So I focused on this product idea being a digital driver’s license, where you could verify your identity against a centralised government database no matter where you presented your ID. But the focus of iDU has shifted a fair bit since then..
AV: How old were you then?
AV: You legend! So what happened next?
Mitch: We wrapped that assignment up. But I kept thinking about this idea of identity theft, licensing and security. I wanted to pursue it properly, so I kept the momentum rolling as I continued through high school.
AV: We love this story.. Can you tell us a bit more about what it was like pursuing this idea and turning this assignment idea into a fully fledged business whilst still in school?
Mitch: For sure.. It was pretty funny. But I was serious about it, so the school made an exemption for me to only attend three and a half days a week, while for the other one and a half I’d work on my business from what was formerly known as Little Tokyo Two in Brisbane. But to be honest, for those three or so school days, I was quietly chipping away at iDU from the back row of the classroom, and became an expert at the old ALT-TAB manoeuvre when the teachers would wander :)
AV: Hail the ALT-TAB king! That’s so good. So you had this idea, you were keen to explore it further. What happened next?
Mitch: When I was 15, I’d arrived at a point where I had a product solution in mind, focusing on that digital driver’s license concept. I’d sussed the market through some research as far as I could, but wanted to get a sense check from the venues themselves as to what the problems were. Which was proving a little difficult since I was underage at the time. I remember asking Mum to drive me out to a local Brisbane pub one evening at like 10pm that I had organised, where we sat in the car watching patrons enter the venue before going and actually speaking to these patrons in the line about the concept. Ended up speaking to like 400 patrons that night who I’m not sure whether they would remember all of the conversation if any! I ended up being able to enter the venue as an ‘exempt-minor’, to dive further. So boom, there I was all of a sudden hanging out at this club hanging with the big dogs, and researching this idea a little more, face to face with nightclubbers, bouncers and bar staff.
AV: That is bloody unbelievable! And a massive shout out to Mrs Robinson for the late night research rendezvous. What a gem! We know that validating a product idea is key to any successful venture. Tell us how you went about that?
Mitch: Yeah Mum’s the best. We had a great time back then. But what became really obvious in talking to that first venue, and then a few more to follow, was that the problem was more than digital licensing. There was a huge pain point around the ability to quickly and efficiently scan an ID. The process was pretty cumbersome, and there wasn’t a huge adoption of cool technology to help them achieve these things.
“I gathered a bit more feedback, revised this idea a little more, proposed it to a stack more venues and ended up getting like 50 letters of intent from other venues right across Queensland.
I knew what the solution had to be — to build a next-gen ID scanner using amazing tech.”
AV: Boom! And what a solution it is. Since that point, you’ve gone on a rollercoaster journey, all without having any initial investor capital.
Mitch: Yeah for sure. I had the business plan sorted, heaps of customer demand rolling and a little bit of investor interest. I started to build a team, which is where Aginic Ventures came in. I was introduced to you guys (AV) through a mutual friend/mentor, and after a few meetings we got stuck into building the thing. I loved the sweat equity model of Aginic Ventures, it suited me really well as a young founder with no operating capital in the door at the time. That also provided a pathway to a bunch of other technology partners, advisors and connections that have helped support iDU to where we are today as a business. Pretty quickly we were able to go from launching into the market, to trading into profitability. So we’ll wait for the right time to look to raise capital externally.
AV: We’ve always admired the fact that you’ve never earned a dollar for yourself in iDU yet, but have maintained your part time gig in retail whilst running your own business. How’s that juggle been?
Mitch: Hectic. But yeah, I’ve held down my part time role at JB HiFi to keep some money coming in along the way. I’ve always wanted to focus on the business — get us up and running sustainably and building up our team first. I gotta admit, those early morning Sunday shifts at JB have been a huge battle after working with clubs until 4 or 5am in the morning. But it’s all been worth it.
AV: Your commitment hasn’t gone unnoticed mate. So overall, it’s definitely been an epic journey, and this is just the start. Can you give a bit of context around how long it took to develop your first market-ready product?
Mitch: Yeah, it took us a while. Operating in this space means there’s a lot of compliance standards we have to abide by, but also the nature of the product requires a lot of testing to be perfect and ready for the market from the get-go. It took us a good 18 months to get through all of that, to a point where we were ready to properly launch. In mid-June of 2020, we received our approval to operate from the Queensland Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation (OLGR), and were in the market a few days later.
AV: A super quick turnaround into the market! How did all of that go down?
Mitch: It was hectic! At that point, we had a customer success lead on board, myself, and the rest of the AV crew behind us. We were in a rush to get into the market before the end of that financial year, but every single member of that crew rolled their sleeves up to get us out there and into the ears and eyes of our target customers. We had people like our engineers jumping on the phone and touching base with venue owners, we had design and marketing guys helping get all of our comms out there, and a few other friends and volunteers helping run demos, run our support desk late into night, and just hustle like hell. But it was all worth it..
“Within 2 months we signed 30 venues, and that was just the start.”
AV: A mighty effort! And since that launch point, where have you landed?
Mitch: We’ve built up our team a bit more to become operationally independent now — something I’m pretty proud of. And we’re about to sign our 100th venue which we’re all so pumped about. It’s been a big team effort, and we know we’re changing the industry for the better. We love the community of nightlife operators across Queensland, who helped introduce and recommend us to their friends and colleagues within the industry. So we’re proud to be part of it together with them. We’ve also built our team up, and taken up residency in 22 Constance Street with you guys.
AV: We love having you guys around. We also really dig that comfy sofa you brought with you…
So what’s next?
Mitch: We’re continuing to optimise our scanner app, develop our customer support processes, and work on a few new and exciting complementary products which are a bit hush hush for now ;)
And of course we’re focusing on more growth. We launched to market across Queensland Safe Night Precincts, and since have signed venues across Victoria, South Australia, the Northern Territory, and soon Western Australia. So we’ll continue growing into those markets as well, to help out as many venues as we can.
AV: And what are the majority of customers saying about iDU?
Mitch: Most of the time, they’re just happy that iDU helps them get patrons into their venues quicker, easier and more safely than ever before. And the guys that use iDU as a vehicle to improve overall venue revenue.. They’re the ones really killing it!
AV: Your story’s amazing Mitchy. And we’ve only just scratched the surface. What are you most proud of to date?
Mitch: My team. They’re absolute legends. Coming to work everyday is the best — we all really care.
“And probably the fact that we traded into operational sustainability within 12 months of launch without any external investment.”
We have room and flexibility to grow how we like now, and can’t wait for what’s to come.
AV: If someone’s out and about, where can they get their mug scanned by IDU?
Mitch: We’re in a bunch of businesses across the place, but if you’re in Brisbane’s fortitude valley sometime soon check out Prohibition, Royal George Hotel, Savile Row Bar, Retro’s, the Osborne Hotel, Maya Mexican, Suzie Wongs and Kenjin restaurant and nightclub to name a few. Look out for the shiny iPads.
AV: Amazing job buddy! We’re super proud of everything you’ve achieved with your team, and can’t wait for more. But before we go, if you were to pass on some learnings or reflections to the next generation of ultra young entrepreneurs, what would you say?
Where you start is not necessarily where you end up going.
Treat entrepreneurship as a journey, and don’t be afraid of change. I started iDU around the concept of that digital driver’s license, and now it’s an ID scanner. Two completely different products. Embrace where the journey can take you — it’s epic
Don’t build a product until you’ve validated your idea and done ample market research.
I got about 50 LOI’s from venues around town, and verbal commitments from another 50 or so. It’s awesome that a number of those guys are now valued customers of iDU :)
Focus on customer experience and customer satisfaction.
We’ve had pretty much all of our clients since year 1, and it’s because our tech is good, but our customer support team is better. Care as though it’s your business
Fully understand the problem before you attend to try and solve it.
Common sense I hope.. But get as much feedback to validate this as possible.
It’s a positive experience, but you have to be resilient to the hurdles that pop up. Keep your eye on the goal, enjoy every challenge and celebrate. It’s an epic ride. The best analogy I could give is running a business is like the arcade game whac-a-mole, you don’t know where each problem is going to pop up but you know they’re coming and you’ve gotta try and hit it (solve it) as soon as possible.
Be prepared to wear many hats!
As a founder, you have to wear many hats and be willing to do a bunch of sh!t. From physically going to clients to selling, to managing people, to accounting and finance, customer support, and everything in between. Be willing to step in and do whatever necessary whenever necessary, and lean on your team around you to help build sustainability around your business to support growth longer term.
I hope everyone nails it!
AV: Amazing! Anything else?
Mitch: I just wanna shout out to everyone who’s supported iDU along the way. It’s been such an epic ride and we’re just firing up. I love connecting with people across the startup community, so feel free to give me a holla anytime.
To learn more about iDU Identification, click here. And to connect with Mitch, visit his LinkedIn page here.