- Asher Moses in Silicon Valley | Episode 1 | 2 | 3
- Aussie women in tech | High flyer | Valley veteran
Avis Mulhall was earning $250,000 a year in executive recruitment in Dublin when she threw it all in to start a long and precarious journey, which led to her becoming an entrepreneur in Sydney.
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"I was always told that if you had a great job all these things would be fabulous and it was - I was making loads of money and I had two houses and two cars and i was going out with this guy for seven, eight years," she said.
"I suppose I just woke up one day [in 2008] and said 'I've done all the things I'm supposed to do to make me happy and successful and i'm not', so I kind of went a bit overboard and just ditched my job, ditched my boyfriend and booked a ticket to Africa and went and lived in a rainforest."
The 32-year-old was traveling until 2010, when she moved to Sydney to build a start-up, mmMule.
This week, Mulhall was invited to the home of the President of Mexico to give world leaders tips on innovation policy.
mmMule is essentially a social travel network that connects travelers with local people who want something from overseas. The local rewards the traveller with an "experience" in return for delivering what they want.
For instance, a man who runs a surf camp in France gave free accommodation and lessons to someone for bringing him English bacon from Britain. A woman in New York treated a traveller from Guatemala to a night on the town at her favourite bar in exchange for a brightly coloured blanket.
And a woman in Canada offered a tour of Toronto to whoever brought her toilet paper from Germany.
"We've got people delivering all sorts of weird and wacky things from edible insects, cigar boxes and carpet to saris," said Mulhall, adding the site has grown to a modest 1000 registered users since publicity began six weeks ago.
There's a long list of items not permitted to be requested on mmMule, inculding anything illegal, animals, medicines and counterfeit goods.
Mulhall says the site is more about creating unique connections and experiences than a courier service.
"The first mmMule story was a girl delivering chocolate-covered marshmallows from Mexico to L.A and then she got to stay in L.A for a week for free with another Mexican girl and they said they were just chilling out, talking Spanish and the girl who lives in L.A she was saying it was like having a little bit of Mexico City with her for a week," she said.
Mulhall has been in Mexico this week as part of the Australian delegation to the G20 YES (Young Entrepreneurship Summit) - a gathering of 250 entrepreneurs under 40 from around the world that aims to influence world leaders at the G20 Leaders' Summit.
"We are here to provide information to the heads of state on how governments can support and encourage entrepreneurs who are a key driving force in ensuring our future economic prosperity," she said.
The entrepreneurs at the summit put together a communique of recommendations that was presented to the President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, at his home yesterday.
Mulhall got to meet and chat with Calderon, who will present the communique to leaders at the G20 summit in Los Cabos later this month.
"At the president's house we basically had a panel discussion with the president and other key ministers," said Mulhall, whose trip to Mexico was sponsored by AMP.
"He talked more about the G20 summit, the importance of entrepreneurship in shaping our future, what he as a president has done to foster entrepreneurship in Mexico and he assured us that he will champion our communique at the upcoming summit."
Upon its return the Australian delegation plans to lobby the Australian government to support holding the G20 YES event in Sydney in 2014.
Mulhall runs a regular Sydney meet-up event for entrepreneurs called Think Act Change and on top of her mmMule commitments, works a regular day job in recruitment. She has to work in a sponsored job as a condition of her visa.
"I think that the Australian government could maybe look at more startup visas in order to attract real talent," she said.
Mulhall had a long and windy journey to entrepreneurship.
During her travels in Africa, she said she lived in a village in Tanzania and volunteered teaching English and biology there - learning how to speak Swahili along the way- before travelling through 16 countries in Africa.
In Mozambique she ran a surf and yoga lodge, "basically just doing yoga, working behind the bar and chilling out".
But the journey wasn't without its hiccups.
"I ended up getting malaria twice, cerebral malaria once, I ended up breaking my foot, I tore a ligament in my arm, I ended up slightly decapitating one of my toes and I also ended up getting attacked my a cheetah," she said.
"All of my mishaps happened within a year."
On the journey Mulhall met Australian Andrew Simpson and the pair went on a three-day trek in Ethiopia.
"Half way up the mountain with a crazy dancing Ethiopian priest and a goat named Henry we decided that we would ditch our real world jobs and just build a business," she said.
Both Simpson and Mulhall moved to Sydney in 2010 and began working on mmMule, but within six weeks Mulhall, who has Crohn's disease, fell ill again.
"I ended up having to have three surgeries, I nearly died, it was a very serious situation so not only were we building a start up we were worried about the fact that I might not make it and so it was quite a challenge; I spent about four months in hospital," she said.
"It was a really really difficult time ... but at the end of the day I think the only thing that kept me going was the fact that I knew that I didn't have that standard boring dull hamster wheel of a life to go back to ... I think being an entrepreneur means that you persevere no matter what happens."
Mulhall says start-ups are generally too focused on money rather than doing good in the world. She and Simpson both volunteered in Africa and have seen how much a difference simple things like footballs, books and pencils can make to lives in the developing world.
That led them to spin off AngelMule, which allows travelers to deliver much-needed supplies to non-profit organisations in need.
"I think we've reached a tipping point in technology where it's enabled people to connect in an entirely new way and I think that can be used for good, for social good."