When Ryan O’Neill witnessed his eight-year-old niece’s disappearing act when out shopping and how upset it made his sister, little did he know that his solution would turn into a million-dollar business.
The Gold Coast local saw his niece Tallulah had a worrying habit of running away and hiding when they were in shopping centres and despite many different strategies to help with this behaviour, nothing had worked.
It got him thinking about the difficulties parents face of staying in touch with their pre-teen kids, with many reluctant to give them a mobile phone at such a young age.
So the idea for Moochies was born. It’s a wearable device offering all the capabilities of a watch and basic phone for children aged five to 12 that links to an app on their parents’ mobiles. But it wasn’t a smooth start for the business which had its eye on Silicon Valley money for its launch.
Mr O’Neill had teamed up with friend Adrian Lisle to launch Moochies and in 2016 they headed to Silicon Valley on the promise of investors from Texas.
But their experience saw them leave the tech centre, having almost given up on their business dream after encountering an “ego fest” and an obsession with apps.
“We spent a year trying to get investors and venture capitalists interested in Moochies. We realised that it was so slow going that if we kept on with a Silicon Valley-centred strategy, the company would never have the chance to ever really get started,” Mr Lisle told news.com.au.
“We found that the process of reaching out, fundraising, making the contacts, was a 24/7 seven days a week job, and that it left no time to actually build a business.
“The Silicon Valley outlook is incredibly faddish, driven by the whim by what’s ‘hot’ at the time. Despite the fact that the most valuable company in the world is Apple which earns the vast majority of its revenue from selling hardware, it became impossible to break through the barrier of ‘oh it’s not an app’.”
The boys had to make a huge financial choice to back themselves.
“We made the big decision to sell our apartments and invested the $694,000 equity into the business to turbocharge it,” Mr Lisle revealed.
It was then two years of hard slog to get the technology and contacts and build up the marketing expertise to make the business really function, with just an online presence.
“Digitally marketing a brand new product on a single-item website can be very hard to start,” Mr Lisle said.
But in just four years the hard work has paid off with Moochies achieving a turnover of $3.9 million in 2020. Since Moochies started selling devices in 2017, they have sold approximately 60,000 watches.
Business is expected to boom this year with an anticipated turnover of $8 million due to a new retail strategy.
The product has recently been picked up by Aussie retailers including Target, Big W, Harvey Norman, JB Hi Fi and Dick Smith Electronics.
Mr Lisle believes the watches are such a success because the devices are essentially miniaturised wrist-worn mobile phones that connect through the network to an app on the parent’s phone.
“The app gives parents control over what the kid’s phone can do, who they can be contacted by etc, as well as allowing parent’s to track their location,” he said.
“Parents have real anxiety about their younger children being away from them, while at the same time they want to give kids the freedom to be kids. Moochies allows kids that freedom to be away from their parents, while also giving the parents the essential peace of mind that they need.”
Moochies are currently sold in Australia, the UK and US but there are plans for worldwide market domination.
The watches will be launched in over 10 new countries this year, including New Zealand, Brazil and various EU countries.
The business is also building on the initial successful launch in the US where they are in advanced talks with a major mobile phone network, Mr Lisle said.
“We have built a great development team who are working on a range of cool new features,” he said.