Meet this week awesome studentpreneur:Christopher Drake student in Business at Queensland University of Technology and entrepreneur at Car Values.
My first real business was uCrack iFix, a mobile phone repair business. Since 2009 I have started a handful more, and failed at a few others. My passion is eCommerce. I create them, market them, improve them and of course buy from them! My Main focus is now Elastice,which has been seed funded by iLab.
I am a Business and Engineering undergraduate and founder of several businesses. The first was uCrack iFix, a smartphone repair business that has expanded to include several online stores that drop-ship products internationally. It was quickly followed by Viscous Solutions (an eCommerce consulting firm) and then by several online stores. I have an interest in product design and business strategy, and specialise in advising early stage start-ups – particularly those with student or graduate founders. I am an active member of the Brisbane technology start-up community, a member of River City Labs, involved in the Germinate program at iLab and in March 2014 I was a speaker at TEDxUQ. I am passionate about inspiring student to become entrepreneurs while studying and am organiser of a student entrepreneurship conference to be held in July 2014 (Global Innovative Youth Conference). Currently my main focus is Elastice, a service to democratise the pricing and discount process for eCommerce stores.
Twitter: @Christopher_87SUBSCRIBE TO THE STUDENTPRENEUR PODCAST
Julien: Do you want to tell us more about yourself?
Christ: Sure, so I started my first business while I was at university studying my chemical engineering. And it was a mobile phone repair business. I really just fixed iPhones and smartphones for people. Since then, I have, ah, gone on and started a couple of other businesses, mostly related to e-commerce and online marketing. But the two most recent ones are in the technology start-up area. So they’re essentially using technology to solve a problem rather than relying on an old-school service based business. These are both, um, more related to technology and using tech to help solve a problem.
Julien: All right, Christ. So, what got you started? Ah, was it passion, hobby, a friend? What was it?
Christ: It was a hobby for me. So, I was really interested in technology when I was, ah, studying at UQ. And I was really interested in mobile phones and laptops and, just technology. So using that, I became really good at iPhones. And I got the iPhone when it first came out. A friend of mine got them and I would jail-break them and I would modify them, and of course, that led to actually repairing them. So, I kind of knew everything there was about iPhones. And I even applied for jobs at Optus and Telstra and Three and Virgin, but never got a call back. So, it wasn’t until, um, I had been doing that for a while, that I realized that “Hang on. People are dropping these phones and they’re being cracked. I can fix them.” So I did, and I would fix it for friends and I fixed it for other people who I just knew or friends of friends’. And it wasn’t until one, one point when I was like “Oh, this is a business. This is a business now because I can charge people to do this. I don’t just have to charge them the price of the parts. I can charge them more.” And at that point, Apple had opened up one Apple store, but it was like, 300 dollars to fix the screen, and I could fix it in about 15 minutes and it would, but I think I charge about 150 or 200 dollars. So, it was still somewhat cheaper than Apple, but it was also quicker and more convenient.
Julien: So, what made you realized that you could charge for it, because, before, you were just doing it for friends?
Christ: I think I didn’t realize that I could actually charge people and that there were more people out there than just other students. And, so, therefore, there were people who had money and could justify spending a couple of hundred dollars on fixing a phone when basically, a student couldn’t.
Christ: Yeah, so, I think that was, that point when I realized that it was actually a business when there are other people who wanted to get it done and they weren’t friends of mine.
Julien: Okay. So after this business, you went on onto others right?
Christ: Yeah. That’s right. So what I did is, I used that hobby and that passion around mobile phones and I built up the knowledge based around that. And then, all I had to learn was how to do the business-side. So, for me, doing uCrack iFix was very much like my mini MBA, you know, like, it’s kind of where I learned to run a business. It’s where I learned how to do customer-service, learned how to answer the phone, and learned how to talk properly, speak properly to people because I had never been exposed to it before. So, those skills really just developed through uCrack iFix. It was doing webpages, so I learned how to build the webpage. I learned how to do the online marketing. I learned how to convert someone over the phone, so it was like a called-call, or it was a reverse called-call, I guess, people calling me. But then I was able to transfer that to my next business which was other e-commerce stores. And so, procurement from trying to get the pots, I could apply to a different area and import something different, and getting people to the e-commerce webpage with just the online marketing. So I built up this skill set which was able to be transferred to different areas and I helped other friends set up businesses, and I helped them do similar stuff to what I was doing. And it was really just a transfer of those skills, and that is essentially what I’ve done over and over again, used the same skill set, but shifted it slightly, learned one or two more skills, but really, had that solid foundation.
Julien: And, so for all of us, when we start, we, would you think, we, we don’t have the skills, you know. But you, you have your hobby and so, you’ve learned from your hobby. And then for each company you built your knowledge on top of the previous one.
Christ: Yeah. I kind of think of it like a Venn diagram. Venn diagram was my knowledge and then the new business, some of it crossed over, but not all of it. And so, I built up those skills of that vacant area in the Venn diagram. And the next business crossed over again, and so, as things started to evolve and I started to develop different businesses, I, was using more and more of those skills. And so even now I use a lot of those skills that I learned, in uCrack iFix to do online marketing for my own businesses, build a webpage, build a landing page, do all of that, right and nicely worded, ah, sale email or “thank you for signing up”, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. All of that came from uCrack iFix.
Julien: All right, Christ, what’s your secret? So, how you do balance uni and your business?
Christ: Yes, so I was at university full-time and I still am. I graduate in the middle over this year. So, what I do, personally, is find the units where I can directly apply the content to my business. So, I will study a unit that is about, um, sales for example. And another one I did was actually about entrepreneurship and innovations, so I got to write a business plan and do the researching, market research on a business-side idea. So, for me, personally what I do is that I try to find units which will complement the skills I have, but also develop often and create newer skills, but I always try to do my assessment and tutorial questions, and I just relate it back to my business. So, all of my assignments are about a business that I either have to run, or am currently running or could see myself doing in the future. So I just make everything directly applicable. And for me, that works better than sitting down and studying theory. If I can apply it, that’s how I learn. If I can do it, that’s how I learn. And it wasn’t until the last few years when I started studying business that I realized, that was the way I learn. I need to apply it. If I can’t see the practical ways that I can use it, I don’t want to learn it. I don’t want to pick it up, and I don’t want to remember.
Julien: Did you fail a few subjects on the way?
Christ: I did. Mostly, none of them are business units, but in the engineering, I did fail a couple of units just because I didn’t have the focus required and I wasn’t able to practically apply the stuff. So now that I’m doing businesses instead, I found that I haven’t failed anything. My GPA is pretty good, but that’s only because I am able to directly apply everything that I learn at uni back to my own business.
Julien: And, for your first business, you used to run it from, ah, uni, right?
Christ: Um, so the first business uCrack iFix I, my first customers came from uni. But it got to a point where I was actually getting the staff. So, because, I had built up the business to a point where people were searching for iPhone repairs, Brisbane and I was the first thing they saw. I would get phone calls. And so, I would run out from home but of course, in the afternoons, I would go to uni. And that was, to see friends and to work on my own business, less on the fixing of phones, so I’m then more on the actual business-side of getting the webpage, increasing the calls, doing all of the testing and stuff. So, for me, it was really about, ah, accessing, having staff being able to be like:” Oh, this guy is going to come and fix it. And he’ll pick up from our office” where they thought I was coming from my workshop to pick it up, I was picking it up from their office, walking to the first-year learning centre or science learning centre, setting up there, fixing a few phones, making a couple of hundred bucks. And then…
Julien: In the learning centre there?
Christ: Yeah, yes. So I had it all set up in the, the little area and I was just fixing them back to back and, depending on how urgently someone needed the phone, I would be able to do it on the spot or I take it to uni and, and fix it there. But even now, my previous business before my current one, which is car values co. Elastic was actually supported by iLab, which is a part of UniQuest, which is also a part of university of Queensland. Even though I am a [inaudible 8:52] student, having, essentially a place on campus means it’s really, easily to access resources. It’s really easy to access, ah, the other university campuses. So, if you can be, have a good office face on uni. And a lot of unis now are starting to have these co-working spaces. It’s really beneficial just because you’re not, you don’t just get that academic side. You also get the practical side.
Julien: And you get your learning from interacting with all users, through entrepreneurs as well. Ah, that’s one of your main ways of learning now. But, in your early days, do you remember how you learned like, was it books? Blogs? Podcasts? What was it?
Christ: Yes, so with my hobby, I read, ah, I just became like an expert on mobile phones. So, I just went to all of the forums and contributed and read everything possible. Looking back on it now, I must have spent so much time reading stuff, but that’s how I learned, like, when I first built my first webpage, that’s how I did it. I just followed the guide online, so, it was those online resources and, because that was starting to be more easily accessible. It just made the barriers to learning so low that all you really needed was some time and focus, and to sit down and just do it. And once you, I did it once, I remembered how to do it.
Julien: Can you recommend two for our listeners? Like a book, or a podcast?
Christ: One of the best parts about running uCrack iFix was that I got to interact with all of these customers, as in got to speak with them and spent time, just talking business and what I was doing. And a lot of them actually helped me. And one of them suggested this book “Rich dad, poor dad”. And I was never much of a reader, other than on the internet. So this is one of the very first books I can actually, I actually finished. And, it was just like:” Oh, that’s kind of what you do”. It was that different mind-set of the difference between who a student, or who a typical student is compared to what business [inaudible 10:52] is, or what a typical corporate worker is, compared to an entrepreneur. And it was that book that kind of opened up my mind to that. And so, as much of it cliché as it is, it was a very good entry point for me. And I know a lot of people have had a, a similar experience, but these days now, I rely mostly on podcasts, because they’re easy to listen to, audio books, and there’s a few blogs that I will read about specific topics. One I really enjoy is actually Tim Kastelle, who is a professor at UQ. He talks a lot around innovation inside corporate, but also how it can apply to start-ups as well. And so, his, ah, book, or his blog, I can’t remember what it is called but his address is Tim Kastelle.org.
Julien: Okay, so you talked about the extra writers, and the books and the blogs in which you learn. But for support, who do you rely on and how do you find them?
Christ: When I first started, like, I said I realized a lot of interaction with my customers. And I didn’t realize there was this entire community of people who help entrepreneurs and people have gone through the same stuff. So, what I ended up, ah, doing is actually iLab kind of opened my eyes to all of that. I entered into a competition at uni. It was a pitching competition and I ended up winning that. And for with that, I got into iLab and got into with the city labs, which is the co-working space in Brisbane. And it was in there that I met all of these people who were building a start-up community in Brisbane. And it was various people who actually helped me. They’re the ones that provided me with the resources, gave me hints, gave me tips, gave me all of what my education around start-up and entrepreneurship, which was way better than reading it from a book, like actually hearing other people who have done it. And now, they’re the ones that I rely on, and, even while I was at uni, I had a tutor, who ended up becoming a mentor of mine. And for some reasons, I remember asking him a question and he’s like:” Oh, let’s, let’s get coffee and talk about it”, and that was the first time I met him outside of him as a tutor. And he is someone who helps me a lot. He is really the one that drives me to do everything that I do now. And anytime I have questions about anything, I just call him up and he helps, and he started as a tutor, but that entire community, is, is something that really helps. But if you don’t have some, going like iLab, going to meet-up groups is actually a really good start-up, and, you know, spent a month, just going through as many things as possible, and you’ll start to see the same people over and over again. And they’re the ones that you want to start spending time away from the meet-up groups, but just find out where they hang out, where they
Julien: So you mentioned your customers, you also mentioned your tutor, the people you meet at iLab and then the competition. You also mentioned a change of mind-set when you read a book. It sounds like, ah, now you hang out with people with the same mind-sets.
Christ: Yeah. That’s right. So, at the moment, as depressing as it sounds, the majority of my friends are, actually run their own businesses. They’re identical to me. My best friend actually started working for his dad engineering firms and then went on and started his own engineering firm because he saw that I was doing it. And, now, he and I are essentially doing the exact same path of trying to run our own businesses and be better at it. And we rely on, not just each other, forming their own personal support side, because running a business can be tough. You do need people who aren’t just going to give you business advice, but actually personal support, like, “How do you feel today?” “What, what can I help with?” because it can be tiring and it can be exhausting and you want, a big enough community that knows how to deal with that.
Julien: And you want people who understand or what, uh, what you’re going through versus professors, or friends who are simply trying to get a degree and, can, when you, relate with you?
Christ: That’s right. So I find it really important that in adversity to make it very clear why you’re at university when you speak with lecturers. So sometimes, they’ll adjust your units and your assessment
Julien: Well, that’s when you’re lucky right?
Christ: So, but you need to be at that point where you’re confident enough in going up to them and saying:” I am so and so. This is what I do. For me, I want to apply everything I do to my own business. I don’t want it just to be theoretical. Can you help me change this assessment item so it’, it’s not unfair to other people, but I can still get something, get out of it”. And, ah, a lot of the time I find that every, very accommodating if you’re upfront about it rather than trying to be like:” Oh, I don’t to do this, this assessment”
Julien: All right. So, ah, we’ve heard a couple of good stories, ah, do you want to share with us your tough times that is in entrepreneur now?
Christ: Yeah, sure. So, after I did uCrack iFix, ah, I started creating e-commerce stores for people and doing online marketing. And I did that by myself for a while, a year or two. And it wasn’t, not super successful. I got enough business from it, just, you know, was like, pocket money on the side other than uCrack iFix because at that point, it was interesting. And I met a couple of, I met one guy who actually originally met because I fixed his phone, um, he said:” Oh, you know, we could actually turn this into a proper business and start creating webpage and doing digital marketing”.
Christ: Yeah, that’s right. It was awesome. Because I’m like:” Yeah, it’s cool, like I can have a business partner and do that” So what we ended up doing was, you know, we set the company up, and we did all company structure and we did everything we all meant to do when we had our marketing plan, when we had all of this non-sense, and it took months and months and months and every time, I was kind of the tech-side, even though I, not a developer, I was still able to manage a team overseas to create these webpages. Ah, and he was like the sales-side. So he was, you know, get the sales and then I was going to build it. So he would start with the first half, I would deal with the end-half.
Julien: Great combination.
Christ; Yeah, that’s right. It seemed like the perfect mix, but as time went one, he was always saying: “Oh, the webpage isn’t perfect” or “We haven’t got our branding” or ” I haven’t got an iPad so I can show what our webpages do to people”. And it was just like it never wasn’t, he was, what I realize now is he was making excuses not to go out and actually get some sales. And at the time, I didn’t realize that that what was happening. I thought this is just what real businesses do, without realizing that there is actually another way to do it, which is, to do your market validation upfront, and find customers beforehand. So, really what we should have done is, we both should have gone and, and had an order of five webpages, given them somewhat of a discount and said:” We’ll have it done in a month”. And then, once we’ve done that, then start up the business, use that money to set up the business rather than putting in our own money to set it up, and then essentially I ended up having to buy them out . I ended up making more sales. He had lots of sales in the part one, but not one of them, nothing closed. So, it, and the ones he did sell with people he knew. So they weren’t even real and he wasn’t even able to, to close them. So, I ended up having to do the front end and the back end, and everything.
Christ: So I should have, just done it by myself in the first place
Julien: So, what have you learned from that, that you can only work by yourself?
Christ: No, definitely not. Now I’m working with other people at the moment. And so, it’s so good doing any work with other people, just stuff gets done so much quicker, and if you have an opportunity to work with people, even just doing it as a project first, and see if it works out, and see if you can actually find out what type of people and what their work ethic is like, because, you don’t want to commit to being in a founding team with someone before you’ve actually done something with them. But, not just that it’s, do your market validation and that’s vitally important. Go and interview your potential customers, find out what their pin-points are, find what their needs are and make sure you are building something that will solve their problems. Frost, in the webpage design business, it was, sure, we were solving people’s problems but, we were just like “We can sell this. I can make a pretty webpage.” But, solving 15.000 other people…
Julien: Simple and basic, but sometimes you have to go through to understand to its value right?
Christ: Oh yes, so now, any time I start a business, the first thing I do is I think about the business canvas, business model and just kind of do rough notes of that and then think or write what out of this thing is the riskiest part. And then I go and I test to that and I use validation boards and things like that to test those parts to find out you’re actually solving a problem that, that people are willing to pay for and there’s lots of research and blog posts. It’s, uh, information out there. The world helps you identify that a bit more.
Julien: Yeah, you’re, you’re referring to the Lean Start-up from Steve Blank right?
Christ: Yes, Steve Blank. He has a great, a great tool set and, especially if you’re a student and you want to write assignments about customer discovery and market validation, Steve Blank has some really well-written articles that articulate exactly, like he put a lot of effort into it and he articulated exactly the, those theories are. You will need to go and find resources to back up what he’s saying, and a lot of it starts with co-creation theories and um, and just market, market research theories, but, the way he applies those is, I think, what makes his tool kits so, so fantastic.
Julien: All right. Thank you so much for your time Christ. It has been really good to have you on Studentpreneur podcast. Before we leave, is there something that you need? Like, what do you want the people who are listening to do? Do you have a Twitter account or something?
Christ: Yes, so, ah, if you can just following me on Twitter, I think my Twitter handle is Christopher _87. So just find me on, ah, Twitter and I’ll happy to chat to you if you want to talk a bit more about how I can help you. I’m very passionate about helping student entrepreneurs go and start their own businesses. Even if you want some help with how to do customer interviews and stuff like that, I’m happy to, to help with that, but also if, ah, I think IDEA network is sponsoring this podcast right, so, yeah, if you haven’t got an IDEA network at your university and you want to start one, go to ideanetwork.com and fill out the form. Ah, IDEA network is something that will help you with a lot of, a lot of learning, is really what IDEA network is about, how can you build a business and we try to build a guest community of people who have done it before and are willing to help each other. So, follow me on Twitter, connect with me on Linkedin, but make sure you write in who you are and, ah, yeah, hopefully, we can build awesome stuff.