Let’s face it: we’ve all become at least a little addicted to always being connected to the online world. And while that connectivity can be beneficial in many ways, there are also some drawbacks to consider, especially when it comes to a child’s access to the internet.
This is where KoalaSafe comes in: they recognised a problem—the problem being kids spending hours upon hours online—and have provided a solution that parents can easily implement. Simply connecting the KoalaSafe device to your router lets you schedule time limits, block sites and applications, and monitor your child’s usage on every device in your home. Beyond that, you could even use this handy tool to turn off the internet completely—a great way to entice your kids to play outside or spend quality time with the family!
How did this business go from concept to execution, and what lessons were learned along the way as they strove to change digital habits for the better?
We caught up with Adam Mills, who co-founded the company with his business partner Steve Pack, to discover how they managed to raise $100,000 through crowdfunding, launch their brand, and distribute their product to more than 20 countries in Europe, Asia, and North and South America.
The purpose: creating a safer digital environment for kids
KoalaSafe understands that, even though technology is meant to make life easier, parents struggle with keeping their children safe while they’re online. On top of that, app developers are creating products that are designed to keep kids coming back for more.
Beyond offering a convenient solution to parents who want to encourage their kids to be more active offline, KoalaSafe is also giving adults more control when it comes to restricting how their kids can use the internet.
Think of it this way: just like a seatbelt in a car can keep a child secure, KoalaSafe can help keep children safe while they’re online playing games, using apps, or browsing websites.
“My view from the beginning has been that you need a healthy balance between screen time and ‘off time’. Science suggests the brain is not fully matured until our mid-20s, and that children and teenagers are more impulsive and don’t have the same level of self-control as adults.”
But, even though KoalaSafe is a godsend for parents, kids don’t feel the same way.
“Parents love it, children hate it. We get hate mail from kids. We see what happens when boundaries aren’t set and parents are pulling their hair out looking for a solution. So we really suggest that people come to us a little bit earlier so it’s just part of internet usage, like wearing a seatbelt when you get in the car.”
From brainstorm to business
KoalaSafe has created a product that can help families achieve healthier digital habits. And they’ve been able to scale globally in just a few years.
It all started when Steve’s sister asked him for an “off” button for their internet so that her kids would stop spending so much time playing games online. Unfortunately, there was no such thing as an off switch, so Steve went ahead and built a prototype…and it worked!
“Like all great ideas, it was something really simple that should have been done before, really. At first, I didn’t believe that there wasn’t a product like this on the market, so I did my own research and realised that there were a lot of companies and products tackling individual devices, but there was nothing that controlled all of the devices in a home, which has started to become really important. The average household in Australia has seven or eight internet enabled devices, and that number is only growing.”
Getting the all-Important financial support for a new venture…with a little risk
Pinpointing a problem and coming up with a solution that works is one thing. But to succeed in business, there’s no denying that you need some funds and support. Once they had a demonstration model of their product and they knew that it worked, Steve and Adam got themselves into a startup accelerator called Startmate.
“The network of mentors that Startmate provided was instrumental in our startup journey. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the doors that they opened and the advice they provided. Being able to connect with successful entrepreneurs who have been there and done it before us was just amazing.”
They also set up a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. Doing so helped them generate buzz about KoalaSafe, getting consumers excited about the product and the benefits that it could provide. By the time their campaign was over, they had raised a whopping $100,000!
“Amazon was also quite pivotal in those early days when we were trying to get discovered. The number of eyes on Amazon provides great discoverability for products, so we basically doubled our sales overnight just by going on Amazon.”
Although these steps might seem pretty straightforward, their journey didn’t come without risk; Adam and Steve both quit their jobs in order to pursue this dream full-time and worked on KoalaSafe for year before they were able to pay themselves a salary.
“It requires a lot of belief in the product and yourself. Steve and I are both from a technical background in finance, so we were confident we’d find another job, but you are definitely taking a financial risk by not having a job for 12 months.”
“Like all great ideas, it was something really simple that should have been done before, really.”
Adam Mills and Steve Pack created a solution that makes it easier for parents to monitor and manage their kids’ internet usage.
Overcoming challenges, learning lessons, & staying ahead of competitors
Like every business, there was a bit of a learning curve when KoalaSafe first launched. In the beginning, Steve and Adam were under the impression that parents wanted to focus on restricting what their kids could do and see online, but what they soon realised was that parents were more concerned with restricting the amount of time their kids spent on a device.
“The main differentiator for us is that we work with any internet provider around the world, so we have customers in 23 countries. And because of our technology, we work with any router. We’re plug and play, so you don’t have to worry about whether the product will work or not.”
In addition to discovering more about their target audience, KoalaSafe also learned a lot about China, where their product is manufactured.
“We have a great partner, but every year, we’re out of stock over Chinese New Year (a week-long national holiday in China). Our sales grow each year during that time, and we always underestimate the amount of time it will take China to get back into gear after the break. It’s a challenge that we haven’t learned properly from yet.”
Managing international transactions with support from OFX
Getting your product into multiple markets around the world is an admirable achievement. But, with that, comes the challenge of handling various international currencies. For KoalaSafe, OFX has been helpful when bringing their profits home to Australia.
“We are an Australian company with a U.S. subsidiary, so those USD also have to come back to Australia, and that’s what we use OFX for.“
“Also, when we raised the funds on Kickstarter it had to be in Australian dollars (AUD), and we needed to exchange a portion into USD. It was during a time when currencies were quite volatile, so we set up a Forward Exchange Contract with OFX to lock in a rate. It was mainly to sleep better at night.”
Adam’s advice to ambitious entrepreneurs
In the future, KoalaSafe hopes to be included with every device that uses the internet. That way, anyone could quickly and easily enable it and get started. Would be super convenient, right?
In the meantime, we’re in awe of how far KoalaSafe has come in just three years. When we asked Adam to share some advice for other business owners, it boiled down to:
“Aim for success, not perfection: knowing what success looks like and going for that, rather than wanting everything to be perfect. Being results-oriented is my best piece of advice.”
We couldn’t agree more!
IMPORTANT: The contents of this blog do not constitute financial advice and are provided for general information purposes only without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation and particular needs of any particular person. UKForex Limited (trading as “OFX”) and its affiliates make no recommendation as to the merits of any financial strategy or product referred to in the blog. OFX makes no warranty, express or implied, concerning the suitability, completeness, quality or exactness of the information and models provided in this blog.