Finding your personal journey

Summary:Inspiration can strike in the strangest places. For Irishwoman Avis Mulhall and Australian Andrew Simpson, it was halfway up a mountain in Ethiopia.

Inspiration can strike in the strangest places. For Irishwoman Avis Mulhall and Australian Andrew Simpson, it was halfway up a mountain in Ethiopia, which they trekked in the company of a native priest and a goat.

The pair had only met months earlier, when Mulhall worked at a yoga/surf resort in Mozambique where Simpson stayed as a guest. When they re-united in Ethiopia, they realised that they both wanted to share their passion for adventure with the world.

They kept in touch, and, two years later, re-connected in America to create mmMule and sister website AngelMule. The site was developed by Mulhall's brother.

mmMule connects travellers with people overseas via a transaction where a foreign item can be swapped for a unique local experience.

For example, an Australian expat living in India might post a mmMule request for a jar of Vegemite or a pack of Tim Tams, and in return offer a local tour or even accommodation for any traveller who is willing to bring this with them.

They also developed sister-website AngelMule, which targets the growing "voluntourism" market by having travellers deliver goods to community and not-for-profit groups (such as taking old books to a school in Bangkok, and volunteering for the day).

The site went live on 19 January, and one of the first swaps was completed within a month, when a girl travelling from Mexico City took some tronquitos (chocolate-covered marshmallows) to Los Angeles, to a former Mexico City resident.

She hopes the community will become a micro economy, where travellers deliver duty-free goods in exchange for local experiences and volunteering.

"People are fundamentally good; they just don't know where to start," Mulhall said. "They don't want to sacrifice their holidays and be a martyr, so why not have nice holiday, drop off a stack of books and then you feel a million dollars."

"We're seeing this as being a community, as opposed to a courier system, and the 99.9 per cent of the postings that have been made so far, nobody asked for cash, nobody offered cash; instead, they want to meet people and want a local experience," Mulhall said.

There are over 200 requests on the site from nearly every continent, she said, and at any one time there are up to 30 deliveries being made.

The site has a number of revenue strategies, including charging a fee on secure payments between members, she said, but the business is "pre-revenue" as it searches for the function that engages the community.

"We're putting out the bare bones model out to the world, and it's really being directed by our audience, and we're going to be really agile and see what they want and amend it that way."

SWOT analysis

Strengths

The site has early traction without any publicity, and passionate founders that live and breathe travel. Avis is probably the most prolific networker amongst Australian "change makers".

Weaknesses

mmMule and AngelMule target different travellers, and over time they will divide the founders' attention. There is also no clear revenue model at this stage.

Opportunities

This could facilitate a cultural shift in the way that people travel. If they nail this "mechanic", it could enhance nearly all elements of the travel experience, and be a modern-day Lonely Planet.

Threats

Someone like an AirBnB could provide a similar service. Their vision is too big to achieve without the appropriate scale. The lack of a revenue model at this stage means that they might have to rely on investor funding to grow.

Conclusion

This is one of the ideas that makes me glad I'm writing about start-ups. The passionate founders genuinely want to improve the travel Experience, and AngelMule is a truly unique approach to changing the way we help communities around the world.

However, the founders are targeting too many conflicting opportunities (eg, mmMule vs. AngelMule), and there are significant threats to scaling.

I am confident that over time, the founders will select the single, best opportunity available (AngelMule), and execute on this, but in its current form, this business will struggle to scale.

Verdict: BUST

Topics: Travel Tech, Start-Ups

About

Mahesh Sharma earned his pen licence in his homeland, where he covered the technology industry for ZDNet, SMH, Sky Business News, and The Australian--first as an FTE, and later as a freelancer. The latter fueled his passion for startups and empowered a unique perspective on entrepreneurs' passion to solve problems using technology. Armed... Full Bio

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