Australian startup snapshot: Mobilyser

Perth startup aims to simplify tracking of work phone expenses

A look at the Mobilyser app on Android.

A look at the Mobilyser app on Android.

Mobilyser is the Perth startup that has developed an app to help workers easily separate their work and personal calls for tax reporting purposes.

Founder Robbie Adams, a military veteran with a background in agriculture, told Techworld Australia about his first startup’s plans to expand into the enterprise and the US.

The pitch

Mobilyser has recognised it can be difficult to provide an accurate line-by-line expense report of mobile phone calls at a time when many workers use their smartphones for both work and play, according to Adams.

With the Mobilyser app, users can sync their contacts and tag each name as either work or personal. From then on, when a call or message is sent to or from a work contact, the app tracks the pertinent details. When tax time arrives, the app calculates the claimable total on calls, data and SMS and automatically generates a report.

Mobilyser uses methods prescribed by the Australian Taxation Office for reporting work-related calls, and has been working closely with the ATO to ensure compliance, said Adams.

Adams has a varied and somewhat unusual background for an entrepreneur, having first worked in agriculture on a family farm a couple hours south of Perth. He then bought a pub, which he said “wasn’t really for me,” moved into mining and later joined the military.

Adams’ family sold the farm in 2008. Soon after, Adams lost half his hearing in an accident and was discharged from the military. When he returned home, he began to think seriously about joining the startup scene.

Adams said he had long had startups on the mind.

“Even when I was on the farm, I was starting to think of a lot of innovations,” he said. But at that time, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, “entrepreneurship was still a dirty word.”

The idea for Mobilyser came to Adams while working on an idea for utility management, Adams noticed his phone bill was soaring. However, his accountant wouldn’t let him put in a tax claim without a line-by-line expenses document.

While spending hours trying to work out which calls were personal and which were related to work, Adams decided there had to be an easier way. “With a smartphone, we should just be able to put a tag on your contact and at the end of the month it will split the two out,” Adams said.

Adams, who claimed not to “have no technical bones in [his] body,” outsourced development to about eight part-time workers and app developer Readify. He launched the Mobilyser app for Android smartphones in November last year.

Funding and selling

So far, Adams has self-funded Mobilyser. “This has been bootstrapped by myself,” he said.

The company plans to begin raising capital in the next couple months, he said. “That will be to build out the enterprise solution and also to aggressively expand into America.”

Initially, the startup has targeted individuals and small to medium-sized businesses as customers. The company charges $4 per user per month with a 30-day free trial.

An enterprise version is in development that will cater to executives who carry company-supplied devices and integrate with HR systems, said Adams. Mobilyser also plans to cover bring-your-own-device (BYOD) users in the enterprise, he said.

While Adams wouldn’t name any specific enterprise customers, he said the startup is in discussions with some of the telcos and a couple of large supermarket chains.

Mobilyser currently supports only Android phones, but the startup is working on a version for Apple iPhones. The company might support Windows phones later on, but has no plans for BlackBerry 10, he said.

The app is available globally, but the company has prioritised finding customers in Australia early on, said Adams. Expanding into the US will be the next focus, and plans to launch its app there through the channels of Intuit and H&R Block, he said.

Startup scene

Adams said there’s a lot of interest in startups today in Australia, but it’s still not an ideal environment to grow a young business.

“Australia is a small market. It’s great for a trial but naturally Australians are very pessimistic until it’s been proven overseas.”

Valuations are lower in Australia than other markets, he said. Also, the tax regime in Australia is not as favourable to startups compared to other countries, he said.

“You need to be developing a global product,” said Adams. “Unless you’re specifically the lunch bar down the road ... these things need to be built for scale.”

Adams voiced frustration with government policy on startups. Mobilyser had applied to Commercialisation Australia before the election, but this was promptly put on hold when the new government came in and killed Labor’s version of Commercialisation Australia. The Coalition has since set up a new body called Accelerating Commercialisation.

“For six months we were in absolute limbo, after spending a heap of money on the application, and it just knocked all the momentum out,” he said.

A few investors pulled out because they couldn’t wait around, he said. “You just can’t do that to startups.”

Previous startup snapshots:

Cloud Awakening
Gym PocketGuide
Shiny Things
The Search Party

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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