Many say successful business leaders aren’t born entrepreneurial. It’s a skill that they learn over time, and perfect as they go.
If so, Dany Milham is the exception to the rule.
Having grown up in laid back, sunny Bryon Bay on the NSW far north coast, Milham wasn’t the typical surfer type. He always knew he had a passion for business and IT.
“I started my first business when I was 13, building and selling custom gaming computers. Then I got more into gaming and I was a professional gamer at one point,” he recalls.
“As soon as that peaked I got out and went to uni. I got a scholarship at the University of Queensland and did a computer science degree.”
Milham kept his entrepreneurial flame alight, starting Mude Creative, a digital agency, as a small side project while studying.
“After uni I moved to Sydney for an iPhone app that I launched. It did quite well but didn’t have long to live.
“‘Toppit’ was like a SnapChat-style app where you send challenges to friend via photos. It was big in the skating scene. It was a good learning curve.”
“That was four years ago at Fishburners, which is a tech co-working space. I really found my feet there and worked on a range of startups. And then I got poached to work at Ogilvy to do some innovative stuff for them.”
By the way, Milham is just 25.
“Having grown up on the beach, all my friends now are surf school instructors and stuff like that but I guess I just had a passion for IT,” he said.
While working at Ogilvy that Milham became interested in e-commerce and got together with co-founder Mitch Taylor, who was formerly his footy coach, to brainstorm.
“He’s always been trying to get me to work with him on a project. When I was a Ogilvy he’d ring me almost every week and tell me to come and join him and do an e-commerce startup,” he said.
“So we started a looking at a few industries and we came across the mattress industry, and we were like: ‘Woah, there’s so much that needs to be done here’.
“It’s this age old industry that hasn’t really had that big tech disruptor. So we were like we need to go in here build a really affordable product and make it very tech-focused.”
So Milham quit his job in pursuit of his next tech adventure: Koala Mattress.
“From there we got together, spent 12 months researching the market. During that time decided it would be best to develop our own type of foam.”
This has become the defining aspect to the Koala business. You have probably seen ads for it on your Facebook newsfeed. Basically, the design prevents users from feeling movements like a partner rolling over.
See the ad here.
Milham said that among advantages of developing their own foam, they were able to package it into a block which can be shipped within four hours.
When it came to a name, Milham had experience working with social enterprises — just one his many businesses not mentioned above — and wanted this business to follow a similar path.
“We thought of the animal, the koala and it couldn’t be more perfect. Koala’s themselves are these sleepy little animals, and the fact that they are in danger, we decided that’s what we were going to be called,” he said.
“We now adopt a koala with every mattress sold.”
Despite the successful career path, it’s not too often you hear of tech entrepreneurs launching startups in traditional industries. But that’s one reason Milham thinks the business has been a success.
“We are really a software company,” he said. “We have invested a lot of money in software. We have our own powering software called Gum Leaf, which we’ve built from the ground up. It handles all our communication with out customers, sends out tracking links, gives us updates on our stock levels.
“We couldn’t find something out there that connected all our systems together. So I was like: ‘Hey, let’s just build something.’
“If you don’t have a system that does all this, not only are you going to have a lot of staff, its going to be very clunky,” and you’re not going to have a smooth customer experience,” he said.
“The reason we are doing so well is because how transparent we are with customers.”
And because no one has disrupted the industry in decades, there is a lot of wriggle room for the Koala team to innovate.
“Our mattress itself is a first of its kind… but we want to keep innovating. We don’t want to stop there. We don’t want to be a once trick pony.
“We’re looking at doing products down the track that can track your sleep… we want that next step beyond sheets and pillow and keep trying to innovate. It could be anything from bed bases to integrated trackers.
“You look at everyone with their Fit Bits and as soon as people see data around what they’re doing [they get excited]. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.
“We’re also thinking about doing a 30-day sleep coach, where you tell us what time you want to go to bed and we’ll send updates via email or text message.”
Milham said it was about time there was a big shift towards sleep and technology.
“You spend most of your life on your mattress, it should be one of the most important things in your life. But people don’t really care about them until they get educated about how good it can be for you.”
Since launching in November last year “it’s been absolutely crazy”, said Milham.
The business is currently expanding into Asia, and once a foothold has been established Europe and America will be next.
“Our first target was to do $12 million sales in our first year, and we’re definitely on target to do that,” he said.
“We did a $1 million in 80 days and then each month it’s just been better and better.
“It’s such an interesting area that no one has really touched, it’s really exciting times.”