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Why Avis went overboard at 28 and ditched her $250,000 job

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Women chasing the tech dream

Nikki Durkin gave an interview to Fairfax Media in Silicon Valley in 2012. She was one of three female Aussie tech entrepreneurs in this video. Her interview starts at 3'42'.

PT12M1S 620 349

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.

"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.

mmMule .... rewards amateur couriers with travel experiences.

mmMule .... rewards amateur couriers with travel experiences.

"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.

While trekking through Africa Avis taught children at a rural village.

While trekking through Africa Avis taught children at a rural village.

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.

This week Avis has been in Mexico for the G20 Young Entrepreneurship Summit.

This week Avis has been in Mexico for the G20 Young Entrepreneurship Summit.

"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.

Avis in hospital during one of her bouts of illness.

Avis in hospital during one of her bouts of illness.

"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.

Australian delegates to the G20 YES summit.

Australian delegates to the G20 YES summit.

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.

Lock and load in Africa.

Lock and load in Africa.

"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."

143 comments so far

  • isnt this smuggling.......

    Commenter
    rubensung
    Location
    sydney
    Date and time
    June 07, 2012, 11:11AM
    • Well, in the same way that sniping can also be 'sharp shooting' or 'defence force' is actually 'offence force'... it's all about who you're trying to convince.

      Personally, I think this is a great way to bring the world together and deliver great value without the taxman or corruption getting in the way. Bravo.

      Commenter
      dabug
      Date and time
      June 07, 2012, 11:54AM
    • I agree its a good idea but if someone tells you to carry a body board bag into bali and you get arrested good luck trying to tell the officials its not yours cause you met with a person off a website.

      Commenter
      rubensung
      Date and time
      June 07, 2012, 12:46PM
    • It clearly states in the article that you can't request anything illegal. Also, you're not being asked to carry anything prepared by another person.

      So no, it's nothing like smuggling...

      Commenter
      Dags
      Date and time
      June 07, 2012, 2:23PM
    • I was asked to take a bogey board to Bali and got a lengthy free stay at the Bali Hilton for free! This system works well...

      Commenter
      Corby
      Location
      Bali Hilton
      Date and time
      June 07, 2012, 3:44PM
    • What agreat idea. I don't know what all the comments are about being a 'mule', and carrying things that you haven't packed?? that's not what this is about. The article clearly explains that a person is asked if they can buy and bring something for another person, like bacon, toilet rolls, etc. Let's not spoil this story with our over the top political correctness. Oh, how I dislike that term.

      Commenter
      JM
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 07, 2012, 3:49PM
    • After reading the concept and checking out the site I can't help but think this is a no brainer and a win-win for everyone. So, I get my favourite products from Aus delivered to my door in LDN or anywhere and Im not wasting my cash on postage which quite frankly seems to get lost most of the time anyway.

      As for all the people knocking the site, you certainly prove the point that Australians are the worst when it comes to tall poppy syndrome. Why waste your time moaning about a cool new concept don't you have better things to do with your time?
      She is out there giving it a go and the best thing about it all it costs you absolutely nothing!!!

      and what i want

      Personally, I think this is a great way to bring the world together and deliver great value without the taxman or corruption getting in the way. Bravo.

      Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/why--avis-went-overboard-at-28-and-ditched-her-250000-job-20120607-1zxgs.html#ixzz1x5Vi21S3

      Commenter
      Aussie stuck in London
      Date and time
      June 07, 2012, 5:00PM
    • no, you own the property as you have bought it, it's yours until you sell it, it's not even a gift

      Commenter
      amos
      Location
      New York
      Date and time
      June 08, 2012, 1:42AM
    • As an entrepeneur i wonder if shes ever thought of starting up a car rental company .
      Just remember when placing an order with ddDonkey its not a great idea to get a bloke from the U.S.A who you dont know to deliver you some lotion for your skin !

      Commenter
      su ridge
      Location
      Verrry Long Latex Glove
      Date and time
      June 08, 2012, 3:10PM
  • I can see it now - this conversation happening at the airport check in counter.

    Check in attendant - "Are these your bags and your items?"
    Mule - "Yes"
    Check in attendant - "Did you pack them yourselves?"
    Mule - "Yes"
    Check in attendant - "Are you carrying any illegal items?"
    Mule - "No"

    Commenter
    rar222
    Date and time
    June 07, 2012, 11:45AM

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