Yvonne Lee – founder of OddSwop

Yvonne Lee, the Sydney based founder of OddSwop and 99interns has been in the digital and internet space since the term “Information Superhighway” was popular.

She studied at UNSW in the hottest degree at the time… a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Marketing and Hospitality Management.  By year 2 (of a 4 year degree) she decided that she didn’t want to work in marketing or hospitality management. She ‘pivoted’and started to gear herself into IT.  She worked at CompuServe whilst still at uni and took on an extra computing subject to bolster her chances of getting a computing related job after she graduated.

I want to give eBay a run for their money!

Yvonne ended up as a Grad at IBM and then moved to Accenture, eventually ending up working at Ticketek where she worked on a number of different initiatives and roles and gained core experience in product development within digital media.  Since then she’s worked at a couple of other companies including startups in a tech Product or Project Management basis.

oddswop.com.au 99interns.com @vontweeter (personal) @oddswop @99interns facebook/oddswop

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

My husband came up with the concept of Oddspots™ (the photo tagging) as we were trying to declutter and were frustrated with ebay.  We often have a lot of stuff that we hang on to and don’t list as it’s too tedious… and I wanted to find some way of listing quickly.

I joined and started at Founder Institute last year for their Spring session and was actually going in with the idea to take a photo, have it automatically find out what it is (using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk or some photo recognition) and prepopulate an ebay listing. However, for a number of reasons, that wasn’t going to fly.  Then due to personal reasons I dropped out of Founder Institute only to return the following semester.  But between the semesters the idea of photo tagging and an alternative marketplace was brewing.

In January of 2013 I approached Andre from 73robots to build it out.  We brainstormed domain names as well (as the best I could do at that point was Schtoof.com!) and we ended up with Oddswop.  It was a mashup of Odds and Ends, Swap meets and the domain name was available.  We also have oddswap.com but the spelling of ‘swap’ is not that appealing to me.

I started again in Founder Institute in March and this time managed to graduate.  During the course of the 16 weeks I worked on and improved the idea, gained knowledge in the startup space and formed some great relationships. At the same time I was working full-time and developing Oddswop.  It was fairly intense!  To make it all happen I ended up dropping my full time job so I could focus some more time on Oddswop.

Please explain your business model.

We charge a fee for a successful sale.  The fee model is very modest as we are working on volumes.  The item value needs to be over $5 before we charge.  For pro sellers we’ll offer a subscription based service.

There is another pending model in the works which will be a revenue sharing model with a community owner.  This will be available as a freemium or paid subscription model

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

We’re working on getting people to use Oddswop.  Having only very recently launched, it’s early days but I’d like to see more people listing stuff, especially given it’s free of all fees for now.

The thing I’m most excited about is our community model. We’ve already had interest from Ozbargain.com who want to use Oddswop as their classifieds component.

We’re attending Shoestring’s award night for the Startup of the Year.  Let’s hope it’s us 🙂

How do you make ideas happen?

That’s one thing I’m great at.  Getting things done!  I’m great at execution!  I’m also very pragmatic so will reign myself in from being too crazy with trying to do too much. Even as is, I need to have a ground who has traditionally been my husband who is much more pessimistic than me (he calls it realistic!)  My husband isn’t that interested in being in a startup so Dave (my co-founder) needs to be that grounded person.

What does your typical day look like?

Get up around 5 or 5.30am.  Brush teeth etc then walk Sprocket (my dog) for around 30 minutes.  Come home and have some breakfast and start reading emails and catching up on feeds.  It’s pretty much straight into doing some sort of work either on Oddswop, one of my client’s things or 99interns!

Some of this will include social media, blogging, reviewing documents, creating an eDM via Mailchimp, fixing some graphics, doing some PR type stuff, testing the site or raising bugs or talking to the developers.  I try and remember to take a break every so often and grab some lunch.  It helps that Sprocket comes and whinges at me wanting some attention.

Yvonne's Workbench
Yvonne’s Workbench

At times I’ll pop out to the post office or the shops or get fuel.  There will be days where I have meetings.  I try and do one or two meetings at a time otherwise I feel that I spend too much time commuting.

The photo is my make shift standing ‘desk’ which really is a kitchen bench where we have a couple of computers/laptops etc.  This was a day when I was doing some cross browser testing and therefore had pretty much all the machines out!

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

Starting up in Australia is quite difficult but certainly not impossible.  The articles in the press make it sound very easy with lots of money being talked about, but that is in Silicon Valley and not here in Australia.

Growing out an audience is difficult… but I can’t see how that would be that different than in the US or anywhere else in the world.

Funding a business is difficult.  I’ve started up a few in the past and either sold the businesses or just wound them down as I became less enamoured with them.  They were always started on a shoestring budget and that’s the way I prefer to do things.  I have enough stress in my life without having to worry about cashflow.  This time it’s a bit different where a lot more funds have been thrown at the business and so I had to have the savings behind me personally in order to do that.  Is it different here than anywhere else in the world?  I suspect not but in Australia there are some things that just cost more.  Like hiring staff.  So I just do a lot of stuff myself.

I would say the biggest challenge is to have people understand what I do.  Whilst I’m in ‘startup’ circles things are great and fine but in my normal circle of friends and acquaintances it gets a little more complex.

Since when does everything become a “startup”?  It used to be just called a business!

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

The good thing about Oddswop is that it is fairly sprawling otherwise I think I’d be bored and thinking of my next startup!  OK here are a bunch of ideas… if any of your readers take it on I’d love to hear about it.

What about:

  • Social Media as a service? (help companies organise their social media — beyond hootsuite.  almost a swayy + hootsuite type service)
  • Local online -> offline communications
  • Mobile phone arm bands that let you feel like Buck Rogers?
  • Overnight curated information and fed as a podcast (like a voicemail)
  • Paper and online synchronised to do list (ie something better than current hand recognition)
  • Snap Meeting Organiser (better than Doodle as it will do a temp sync of Outlook and Notes and Google Calendars… in the cloud!)
  • One-day-organisers who come in once a fortnight to help people organise their affairs
  • Consolidator of all feeds into one (social, emails, alerts, everything) with smart filtering
  • Contact anyone service (service that works out a way to contact someone on your behalf)
  • Human driven service able to ‘push’ information to a phone.  (e.g. “send me the address details of the shop and push it to my navigator”)
  • tumble broken glass into mulch materials (rather than recycle)
  • pick up service for composting
  • street based market bartering (collaborative consumption based on home food production) — I think this may already exist
  • Product Roadmapping tool

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

In terms of decluttering rather than money making these ones:

Garage Sale Trail do an amazing job in converting unwanted stuff to cash or charity donations!

I’m really impressed with sites like Green Villages and Garbologie  (whom you covered in December) as well.

What about internationally?

In the international scene I know there are other companies out there doing similar things ot the Aussie sites but I just don’t know who they are other than Freecycle.  There are a number of fantastic marketplaces specialising in clothes or particular veritcals.

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

A huge role.  Depending on what the social change is.

Sometimes it’s ‘build it and they will come’, other times it will be just being able to throw some resources at the change required and other times it may just be the community they already have access to and communicating to them about the cause.  A business or at least a company is seen as a separate entity and as such needs to be part of the community and give back.

Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.

It’s hard to come up with only 3 websites.  I follow lots of sites via an RSS feed to save some time.  I use Feedly for this since Google Reader died.

  1. Lifehacker.com – I use the international one via an RSS feed.
  2. Popurls.com – when you want to know what has been happening in the world and come up for some air it’s great)
  3. TedTalks – although I consume these via a Podcast

Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter.

Hmm.. I don’t really follow that well on Twitter but I do have some people I follow on LinkedIn so here’s my combo for 3:

Peter Cooper – via Twitter is @pc0

Naomi Simson (Founder RedBalloon) on LinkedIn

Guy Kawasaki on LinkedIn (yikes he’s not Australian)… um… not sure!

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

Yes please!  We’re new and shiny so we’re looking for funding, interns and marketing help!  Let’s make this Australia’s big foray into a product marketplace.  We’ve done well with freelancers, design market places, a clothing market place and a number of others.

I want to give eBay (and Gumtree) a run for their money!

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 are the ways people would recommend for getting user adoption?

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

This was a hard one!  I have a few I go to regularly and a few I like but it was hard to say where is my favourite restaurant.  I like my Asian food and I love Peking duck and dumplings so I’ll choose Mr Chows down in Millers Point as my favourite.

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?

If we still have our property in the country, I can offer it up for a week’s retreat.  There is even internet up there and it is all off-grid.  (Property is currently for sale).  I can also offer up access to my skills… I have a lot of knowledge about ‘stuff’ but I would say I’m like an index rather than an encyclopedia 🙂

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