Ben Burton is the founder of Zeppee, an app connecting people who want to buy, sell, and most importantly, re-home pets to good homes. At only 25 years old he’s already a serial entrepreneur – having founded and sold several different businesses.
After completing school Ben went into hospitality, working in cafes until he launched his first business, a coffee van fitted into a VW Kombi van, dubbed ‘Rustic Bean Espresso’. Then, after successfully selling the van and moving to Byron Bay, Ben saw a niche market selling luxury cars online, privately on behalf of the owners. He recognised that there were people with a lot of money, nice cars, and no time to sell, so he created an ‘online real estate for cars’ business. He carried this through until the latest, and largest entrepreneurial venture to date – Zeppee.
Ben is currently based in beautiful Coffs Harbour, on the NSW North Coast. In his non-existent spare time, he enjoys driving, hiking, exploring, exercise and adventuring between Coffs and Brisbane.
For me, it’s all about giving it a go. I know it sounds cliche, but as far-fetched as it may seem at the time, chipping away a little bit each day is how you make things happen.
Can you tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
The idea of Zeppee came like a lightning bolt when I was walking home from dinner with a friend in Byron Bay. We walked past a Lost and Found poster and I just turned and said to him: “imagine Pet Tinder”. Long story short, after sitting on the idea and thinking a lot about it, I decided to call my now business partner, Pierre (Moio), and see if there was potential here for it.
We knew each other through my car business. I had sold his Mercedes, and he had offered me a job, and although nothing came of it, I loved the way his mind worked and he definitely knew how to make things happen! We had only met once before, but from the moment I called him he said ‘yep’ and we hit the ground running.
As quickly as the morning after that we began planning, creating the wireframes and flow, and adding to the initial idea.
After doing a heap of market research, we realised that although there were numerous websites offering specific pets for sale, e.g. shelters, pure-bred animals etc, there was a) no app for it and b) no location-based aggregator app or website that catered for all.
We built Zeppee to be a location-based platform to buy, sell, and more importantly re-home pets across Australia, but with the potential to scale to other countries with minimal effort.
Pierre and I both jumped with two feet into it, because pets are an industry that works on both empathy and sympathy – and they are trending. Hard.
We’re in an age where pets are replacing kids for young professional couples, and we knew that our technology would be able to bridge a gap between the younger Gen Ys, and the stale pet industry.
Please explain your business model?
Right now, we’re still in the early stages. We have a seed investment fund that we are still using and we are focused on continually acquiring users, and growing our user base before we monetise.
When we do in the coming months, it will be standard in-app advertising, urgent adoptions, premium accounts etc. and some secret product roll-outs that are in development now. But we also know that without the user base there is no point in monetising, so we’re focused on that.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next year?
Right now, we are about to release a new recoded, redesigned, much cooler version 2.0 of Zeppee, with registered Breeder accounts, and a whole lot more features.
As soon as that goes live, the team will then arrow in on our secret product roll out.
I’m excited to see where Zeppee goes. I know that seems like a blanket statement, but in 8 weeks we have seen fantastic traction, mass media attention, and a lot (over 2000) animals coming onto the app already.
Each day it grows bigger, and we are presented with new partnership offers and everything in between. It feels like it’s snowballing in a good way, and I love every moment of it!
How do you make your ideas happen?
For me, it’s all about giving it a go. I know it sounds cliche, but as far-fetched as it may seem at the time, chipping away a little bit each day is how you make things happen. Before you know it, your idea is a reality, and you get blindsided by the scary-fun feeling that you have no idea what you’re doing.
With each day you chip away, your confidence swells with it. All of a sudden you realise ‘I can do this’. I had this moment when building the coffee van. Had the idea and chipped away at for 5 months in between working. And then it was done. It opened up and from that first morning, I realised ‘I can do anything’!
What role have mentors played in your business life?
My mentors have been half of the journey for me. I think I could still have done it, but it would have been a whole lot harder without them in my life. I have been very blessed, in that my mentors range from my business partner and my investor who are both older than me, and far more knowledgeable, to other friends with startup companies who have been through the same trials, to my mother telling me “always do the right thing, because it’s the right thing to do” i.e. don’t take shortcuts.
What does your typical day look like?
I wake up around 6:30, make myself fried eggs and black coffee (I know – I’m one of those). I will make a conscious effort every morning to read something unrelated to the app, or business, or watch something short and interesting on youtube, so I start my day with a clear perspective and a fresh mind.
Then it’s checking and responding to emails, which always proves to grow my to-do list by at least a kilometre each day! I do a sweep across social media, posting daily content (FB, Instagram, blog), check in with our Dev team, check for bugs on the current app, plan marketing… and the list goes on. It does differ daily, as some days may be intensive marketing, whereas others may be about planning new releases and roll-outs. It’s always interesting.
I’m one of these people that gets stir crazy if I sit still for too long, so I will always go for a run, or go and buy a takeaway coffee to break up my day.
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing your business in Australia?
One of the biggest is the support network for startups in Australia. I think something should be done about it, as it’s slightly ridiculous that we are pushing for an innovation boom, yet, if someone wants to innovate by taking the plunge and starting a company, there is no payment scheme to support them to enable them to work full-time on their idea. I know that pre-investment, it was a nightmare trying to juggle working and working on Zeppee every hour in between.
What I’m trying to say is that if you want to dole-bludge, it’s ‘pick your payment plan’. But if you want to innovate, and take risks, it’s unheard of that you should get support to do that.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
Someone needs to make an app, or network of people, that have enough mechanical knowledge to look over a car for someone who is buying secondhand. I’ve done it so many times and I have enough knowledge to know what’s good and bad. If there were a network of similar people ‘in the know’, who could be contacted via an app based on location, it could save a fortune in dodgy repairs, upset buyers, and legal cases. I think something similar was done previously, but they had to be verified mechanics. I think there are enough people with in-depth mechanical knowledge who can do it.
Can you name some Australian people or companies that you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry at the moment?
Madpaws – www.madpaws.com.au. It’s AirBNB for pets. Such a great idea, pet-sitters when you need to go on holidays. Genius.
What about internationally?
Petcube. It’s a camera that allows you to talk to your pets and see what they’re doing while you’re away. So cool. It has a laser for your cat to chase around which you control from your finger. I don’t even know if it works but it is awesome!
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
Business is a lot about marketing. Marketing is about sending a message to your clientele, hence creating trends, opinions, lifestyles, and everything in between.
I think business has a huge role in social change. In the age we are in, people’s opinions are formed, swayed, and changed by what they see online. And brand marketing/ business has a lot to do with content creation, and what we are presented with.
Businesses have an immense power to mould people into what they want for the product. It’s fascinating.
Is there a particular charity or social enterprise you support?
I am a huge fan of Compassion Network, a charity for sponsoring kids. They are doing unbelievable work, and saving so many lives. It’s incredible the amount they achieve with mostly volunteers.
Can you name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers?
How Stuff Works for learning great conversational knowledge.
Art of Manliness for great day-to-day reading.
Uncyclopedia For when you need to laugh, it’s like WikiPedia, except anyone can edit. It’s amazing.
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea?
We are always looking for cool people to potentially partner with. Zeppee is a community of like-minded people, and we love cool people with cool stories. And funding, possibly! Shoot me an email [email protected] – I’m always keen for a chat.
We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea-makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc., what would it be?
What is the fastest way to create viral marketing content?
Lastly, do you want to give a plug to your favourite place for a drink or good food?
The Walrus Bar, under the Regatta in Brisbane. It’s like an old prohibition-style basement bar. Really amazing – have a whisky and listen to the live music.