Brad Scoble – Director of OwnFone Australia & New Zealand

Australian entrepreneur Brad Scoble

Brad Scoble is the Director of OwnFone Australia & New Zealand – Australia’s simplest customisable mobile phone keeping our youth and senior generations connected to the most important people in their lives.

Brad started his first business at 16, selling prawns and mangos to boats on Sydney Harbour in a borrowed dinghy during school holidays. He went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Commerce in 1994. He gained corporate experience with Aon, Insurance Australia Group, and more recently with Singtel Optus including as General Manager – Credit and Risk.

At Optus, Brad identified a need in the market for a simple, easy-to-use, customisable and safe mobile phone for youth and seniors. In 2012, Brad pursued his dream and resigned from Optus to launch OwnFone – a UK-based invention – for the Australian and New Zealand markets.

An enthusiastic athlete, Brad won the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic, a 111km overnight race, as a teenager. In recent years, he has switched to marathons and triathlons including conquering the Ironman triathlon in Germany. Brad lives in Sydney with his wife Nikki and their Labrador Barney. He is uncle to five nieces and nephews including Max (12), Ava (10), Redmond (13), Clementine (11), and Chester (6) and enjoys teaching them how to water ski.

The challenge is in choosing an opportunity which will stretch you without being a step too far. @OwnFoneANZ facebook

Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?

Ownfone is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) launching a unique mobile handset specifically designed for young children and the elderly. We believe in the importance of simplicity and good design, and want to bring some balance back to a world where complex smartphones dominate the marketplace. OwnFone was recently launched in Australia in early April 2014 and will be rolled out in NZ soon.

Every OwnFone is personalised to suit the needs of its user; whether it’s a child who needs to call Mum and Dad, or an elderly person that speaks to his wife, son and carer on a daily basis, and needs an emergency ‘000’ button just in case.

The impetus to develop Ownfone for Australia and NZ followed an incident at my niece’s school where an 8 year old with an iphone took a photo under a toilet door of another student to embarrass her.

It was clear that just because children can drive a smartphone, it doesn’t mean this is the best option for them. More particularly, parents needed to have the choice.

Please explain your business model. 

Our business model involves the sale of a unique handset linked to a network service agreement. Revenue is received from the handset and usage of the service.

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?

The recent launch of OwnFone in Australia has been our main focus. The launch of any new product is exciting and all the more so given how popular Ownfone has already become in the UK.

Even prior to launch the team were already working on new markets for Ownfone (domestically and OS) as well as an entirely new product. That said you have to survive today to prosper tomorrow so our main focus is on the fundamentals of getting it right for our customers right now.

How do you make ideas happen?

Like many entrepreneurs, my experience has been one of having several ideas which had real merit (and still do). The challenge is in choosing an opportunity which will stretch you without being a step too far.

Starting your own business can be a lonely place in which you question your ability, direction and prospects, and others in your life do too! In this environment it’s very easy to develop paralysis. I seek a diverse range of views from friends, family and others to ensure all the potential risks and issues are covered, however I’m careful to avoid the common mistake of seeking endorsement or validation.

One way to address this potentially negative influence is to become actively involved in the local start up community. Yes it does exist and it’s vastly more vibrant than you might expect. Involvement in a local start up group is a welcome source of information as well as being a source of angel funding and suitable staff. Oh – and it’s cheaper than therapy!

What does your typical day look like? 

Most days I’m up by 5:30 am, then start the extensive commute to my home office with my co-worker Barney the Labrador!

I keep pre-launch costs down by working from home however being just weeks from launch the search has become for some nearby office space.

Being self employed and for the moment working from home means there are no regular days and hours of work. Nights/weekend work is fairly common although I do try to keep some balance through coffee with friends, exercise and walking my dog.

What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?

The greatest hurdle in any start up is just that – starting. Leaving a well paid and secure corporate role, investing your savings in an uncertain venture and surviving with little or no income for months or longer is always the biggest challenge. Fear of failure then becomes a wonderful motivator.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

A useful way to identify business opportunities is to look for products and industries more broadly where the main rivals compete almost exclusively on price. The price wars between Pizza Hut and Dominos is a great example where for a time you could order a large pizza for just $5. The quality of the product also declined, creating an opportunity for Crust, Svens and other companies to make significant ground in a short period. This same scenario involving McDonalds and Burger King presented opportunities for higher end burger chains like Grilled and ultimately spurred McDonalds to introduce its own premium range. In both cases the companies involved competed on price at the expense of quality and customer satisfaction. When presented with an alternative, customers happily paid a premium.

What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment? 

In Australia Yatango Mobile is one to watch. Rather than making assumptions around the usage of the ‘average’ customer, they let customers choose their plan using onscreen sliders. A unique customer centric offering, plus a very savvy social media campaign makes them an exciting entrant.

What about internationally?

I am a long standing advocate of Near Field Communication (NFC) technology and there are a number of companies globally bringing significant products to market now. Using your mobile phone to make contactless payments, unlock and start your car, unlock your home, pay for your bus fare or buy from a vending machine is all available today and will change our lives. The days of cash, wallets and keys seem numbered.

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change? 

Business has an enormous role to play in affecting social change particularly via their support of charities and community groups. Traditionally this has taken the form of direct financial support, but increasingly needs to involve a partnership between business and these groups to effect change. This means leveraging the existing strengths of a business, not just fund raising for an otherwise unrelated (yet not less worthy) group.

For example, Ownfone has been very well received by the visually impaired, particularly those suffering from macular degeneration and other conditions which make reading text difficult. With this in mind we developed a method for customers to customise their own handset with pictures of their loved ones. We are now seeking to take this a step further using our 3D printing process allowing Braille to be applied to buttons. We are currently seeking to combine our expertise with that of a charity or advocacy group with unique knowledge in this area.

Speaking of affecting social change, we’ve teamed up with Shout for Good to encourage readers to ‘shout a coffee’ to charity by clicking the button below. Is there a particular charity you’d like to support?

I have long been a supporter of Beyond Blue for its work in mental health and suicide prevention. More people die from suicide each year than car accidents (the vast majority are men) and yet it is rarely discussed.

Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers. – Perfect for managing a myriad of passwords and logins. – A great way to centrally manage your social media channels. – The simplest site I know for creating banners and social media content.

Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter.

Craig Alexander – Inspirational Ironman triathlete

Kerri Sackville – Always entertaining

Mark Colvin – ABC Radio PM Presenter

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?

We are currently seeking promotional agreements with businesses involved in youth and seniors markets. We would like to discuss these opportunities with aged care facilities, senior advocacy groups, charities, schools and others.

We are also currently seeking a partnership to assist in the development of our Braille handset.

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?

In our set up phase we have had issues with a couple of suppliers of key components such as billing who have not met expectations or what I would consider to be basic standards of service. As a new entrant it is important to be able to get real world feedback on suppliers that do things well and those that don’t. I would welcome any adhoc feedback from the start up community or advice on forums or review sites which can be used to rate suppliers.

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

My favourite restaurant at the moment is Mamak Chatswood/City – Amazing Malaysian. The queue for a table is often out the door and with good reason!

We thought it would be cool to crowdsource an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize?

Sure – A free Ownfone and four month free call plan?

Learn from over 100 Australians making ideas happen.

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