Many an early-stage startup founder gets through each day faking it in the hopes they one day make it, but eventually, for some, it becomes too much to keep the charade going.
Such was the case for Adam Miller, who had founded online learning platform Tuteable in 2013. Its original iteration sought to allow users with a specific, time sensitive problem to connect with ‘tutors’ able to help them solve it through the use of video chat and a virtual classroom.
“Eventually I got to a point where I lost my interest, because I’d over-promised and under-delivered. It’s a valuable lesson; only go out and sell when you’ve got something to sell, don’t go and sell promises, sell products,” he said.
The journey to this moment, however, was a long one.
Miller had come up with the idea for Tuteable three years earlier, following two key events.
The first was a trip to India, during which Miller said he noticed “a large amount of entrepreneurial talent” among the local children; here he thought about the potential to create some kind of platform to provide these kids with entrepreneurial education, with no charge attached.
The second was a personal problem Miller faced. Working in online marketing at the time, he at one point faced a couple of challenges with a client’s account; as he kept hitting walls, he took to Google to find the solution but couldn’t find anything specifically tailored to what he was looking to address.
“I then had an ‘aha’ moment thinking, there should be a platform allowing people like myself to connect with knowledge experts via video chat to specifically address challenges someone was facing in their day to day activities,” Miller said.
“This reminded me of my time in India, thinking of how could I connect kids in India wanting to learn about entrepreneurship to people who were happy to provide their time, and I thought that could be a solution that covered both those areas.”
The solution was Tuteable, with the push to build it coming from frustration and motivation, Miller said.
“It was motivation to see something that I had floating around in my head actually be turned into an idea that would add value to people.”
Having moved to Sydney for a job, with no family or friends in town, Miller said he was happy to every night in his bedroom wireframing the platform before learning about concepts such as lean startup methodology, eventually developing a working prototype.
With a focus on the online marketing niche, Miller then shifted to solving the classic chicken and egg problem around which side of the marketplace to first build up. Concentrating on the tutor side, he contacted over 300 experts on platforms such as Udemy and other online learning hubs, bringing on 200.
With this tutor base on board, Miller applied for and was accepted into the ANZ Innovyz Start accelerator program.
“That’s when I decided to quit my job to give it my all and take a risk in startup land,” he said.
Bringing on customers was the next challenge, with Miller soon realising something most founders realise at one point or another: “Getting people to do something for free is somewhat easy but getting them to pay you is the much more challenging part.”
Soon into the program the startup shifted its focus to what it knew best – startups – and pivoted to become Wahuna, offering a solution to connect startups with advice from mentors. The problem around monetisation, however, remained.
“We learned very quickly that startups don’t like paying money and mentors don’t like charging for their time, so that created an interesting dynamic,” Miller explained.
At the end of the program, Miller said the startup realised this wasn’t a sustainable model, and so pivoted once more to become Next Round. This new offering was designed to connect startups with potential investors, and in turn provide investors with due diligence on startups so they could make better investment decisions.
“One of the ways mentors fit into that process was that if a startup wasn’t up to scratch, we were able to then channel them into a mentor network and then allow the mentors to charge for their time, but in a way that was based on KPIs,” Miller explained.
“A mentor typically would only want to charge money if they actually hit specific milestones, so we created a milestone system where a startup would set specific goals, and upon those goals being completed they would then pay the mentor. I built that because I found it very difficult to get investors but I found it very easy to get mentors, though at the same time mentorship was somewhat of a commodity so in order to make it more valuable I thought you needed to attach a price to it.”
While the model gained positive feedback and onboarded users, the journey to it had taken around three years and Miller wasn’t yet able to offer his senior developer cash.
“His motivation stagnated, and even though I was moving quickly to get sales or commitment to sales, the development was running slow, and many times when the site was meant to be ready it wasn’t,” Miller explained.
At the same time, Miller was becoming interested in other things and began exploring other projects. After shuttering Next Round and trips to the US and Perth, he got a call from an ASX-listed pharmaceutical company asking him if he was interested in working in the cannabis space.
What came next was BuddingTech, a medical cannabis accelerator working with companies and researchers on a case by case basis to develop opportunities within the industry.
For Miller, BuddingTech is the perfect opportunity; not only is medical cannabis a growing industry, but it has the potential to help people’s lives.
“That’s the sweet spot, doing something that’s not just based on materialistic value, but something that fulfils your soul,” he said.
Since its launch in 2015, BuddingTech has partnered with global cannabis software and point of sales solutions company Guardian Data Software (GDS) to act as an analytical engine and business consultancy for GDS clients, and worked with the University of Sydney to host Australia’s first ever pitch event for innovative medical cannabis technology, dubbed ‘Seedlings’, to support startups working with medical cannabis tech.
Among its current projects are a medical cannabis hackathon in conjunction with the University of New South Wales, the creation of a medical cannabis-focused innovation hub, and developing medical cannabis honey.
With so much going on, it would be easy for Miller to talk up everything on the horizon for BuddingTech, but he said he learned his lesson with Tuteable.
“My approach is to talk about what I know is ready or close to being ready, and if it’s not, if something’s an idea, I accept it’s an idea and don’t go over sharing, take your time, you don’t need to rush,” Miller said.
“Rushing can lead to poor decisions, but also quick decisions can lead to very interesting projects. If you take something on board or you’re having a conversation where you’re excited and pitching things that aren’t ready, make sure that you are able to execute, because if you’re not, it will come back and bite you and you’ll lose your credibility.”
Image: Adam Miller. Source: Supplied.