Welcome to ‘Female Founders’, the Information Age series profiling 12 women who have grabbed the entrepreneurial reins and ridden into the unpredictability of start-up life.
We talk to the women about their business, entrepreneurship journey and advice they’d give to other women considering starting their own business.
Information Age interviewed all 12 women on the Start-up Catalyst Mission to London this year. Start-up Catalyst runs regular missions for start-ups, investors, and other leaders to some of the world’s top tech hotspots, such as Silicon Valley, Israel, Hong Kong and London. The goal? To transform both the individual and innovation landscape in Australia.
Today we speak with Trish Mackie-Smith, co-founder of Inndox.
Name: Trish Mackie-Smith, co-founder
Established: 2017 in Brisbane
No. of employees: 3
No. of customers: 250
Information Age: Tell me about your business.
Information Age: Inndox is a digital property logbook that passes from one owner to the next. Like you have a logbook for your car with all the service history, Inndox is a property logbook that covers the entire lifecycle of a property, starting from the builder or property developer who provides all of the data, manuals, warranties, certificates, specifications, plans, and approvals.
That then passes to the owner who can better manage and maintain their property, keep updating it, share it with a solicitor or property manager. When selling the property, it's passed onto the next owner – that’s very valuable.
We have traction across four states of Australia. We're endorsed by Master Builders, Property Council of Australia and Housing Industry of Australia as a best practice tool for builders.
IA: What problem does your business solve?
Trish: Being a property lawyer and being also a building consultant with my husband who’s a commercial builder, we saw lots of issues around the history of buildings and property, and paperwork going missing when you really need it.
We thought there had to be a better way for us to know what's the real state of that building that you're about to buy or move into, or have work done on – having trusted records rather than paper that could easily go missing or be subject to fraud. I was looking for a solution and I thought technology could digitise all the property records, and help you better manage them.
I also think the ‘buyer beware’ law is an unfair law. The seller of a property doesn't need to provide anything. No information is needed to be supplied to potential buyers and buyers are getting ripped off. They're buying lemons and this is where I've been having to come in as a lawyer to try and sort things out.
Once you've bought the property, you've got no come back at the seller or the agent, especially if it goes to auction. A lot of buyers aren’t getting building and pest reports done at a feverish time at auction, thinking it all looks great. They put down a lot of money and then they’re stuck with it.
All these issues combined, I thought, if we only had records that you could trust, at a trusted central location that everyone could know that history of the property, and then the true value of that property, then that would answer a lot of problems.
I even have a petition in state parliament. I’m the principal petitioner in Queensland, and it's for seller disclosure. It was sponsored by Kate Jones, Minister, and it's being debated in parliament right now. Laws take a long time to change and I'm hoping that we can set a standard in the industry, improve the industry with transparency, safety, sustainability.
IA: How long did you sit on the idea for a business before you did something about it?
Trish: I was talking to my husband about that recently. We remember that we were on a holiday, which is pretty rare [laughs]. We were surfing, bobbing up and down in the surf together. It was December 2015 and we thought, “We're sick of this, records going missing all the time, people getting stressed, losing sales. How can we digitise this? What can we do? Let's work on it. Let's do some research.”
I was also fed up with a ‘buyer beware’ law too. That's around Australia, except in the ACT. They have seller disclosure in the ACT which has been operating successfully since 2003. I thought, “Well, why can't the rest of Australia follow?” The world is changing. Around 30 states in America have seller disclosure. In the UK, they have a form of seller disclosure.
It only makes sense, and it provides consumer protection. You've got consumer protection for every other asset except for your own property, which is the most valuable, biggest asset you'll ever buy – and there's no consumer protection.
IA: Who is your ideal customer?
Trish: A mid-tier property developer or builder doing about 200 to 250 handovers a year of multi-unit complexes.
IA: What's the biggest challenge you have faced so far on your journey?
Trish: There have been so many challenges [laughs]. Number one, I'm a female in the tech space. I'm not a tech person, but I knew technology could help.
IA: What are some jobs you’ve had previous to Inndox?
Trish: Lawyer, registered nurse, flight attendant, model.
IA: Who has mentored you on this journey?
Trish: I got into an accelerator course back in 2017. It was a smart cities accelerator course, and that was with BlueChilli in Sydney. I found that that was very helpful in knowing how to plan ahead with regards to validating our product, getting it out to market, and having the right technology. Our mentor came from BlueChilli and his name is Brett. He now works at River City Labs, a few desks away from me – he’s awesome.
IA: Have you ever wanted to throw the towel in?
Trish: Yes, of course. A few times because there are some very huge decisions and things can go wrong. I have a family as well. Of course, there’ve been times where I've contemplated giving it all up, but I do feel I need to do this, and I have a purpose, so I want to see it through.
IA: What do you think is the first international market you’d enter?
Trish: UK. I've done research into the market and there's a definite need and a greater willingness for customers to use technology. They have home information packs in the UK, which means that at time of sale, the seller has to provide all of the information about the property to the buyer.
That was legislated in 2003, and at the same time the ACT had its legislation. However, it was all paper-based and abolished in 2013 because it wasn't working, because paper kept going missing.
There was an actual call by the UK government last November. It was in the Law Gazette – an urgent need for digital property logbooks. They need us. We can do what they need us to do. We've got the solution. There's a big marketplace.
There's already a competitor that does a bespoke expensive siloed service for the high-end property developers, but they're not about transparency, one owner to the next or due diligence or anything beyond just servicing high-end property developers.
They've got 250 property developers using it and it's not a self-management system. It's like a consulting service. I already know there's a market for what we're doing. And we’re less expensive.
IA: What's been your experience in hiring staff and how have you found that process?
Trish: It’s very difficult with tech staff, getting the right person, feel, culture. You need that right fit in your team. It's not just about the person with the right ability tech-wise, but they also need to understand what we're about, be on board with our purpose and mission, and be excited by it.
Finding the right person has been a bit of trial and error. We did use an agency to begin with and that was really a big, big mistake. Very expensive and the quality wasn't great either. We now have an internal full stack developer and he is a genius. We love him and if we come to the UK, he said he'd come too. We've found a star!
IA: How would Inndox work? If I'm looking at buying a property would I buy the Inndox record for it?
Trish: Hopefully the seller would already have an Inndox with all the records there to help with their sale and then it's online. When you do a search, like on realestate.com, you can see, "Okay, they've got all the information about the property. Do they have an Inndox I can look at?”
They've got the plans, approvals, the flooding maps, other reports, building and pest reports, all of that is in their Inndox. It’s got all the maintenance history, all the trades that have been there, the warranties – because we do residential and commercial. If they're all there, that can help the buyer have confidence to go ahead and buy that property.
IA: How would you go about creating an Inndox for an existing building?
Trish: Our market entry is with brand new builds but we do have the ability to provide all the records for existing buildings as well. We're building that right now – it's in development and will be released shortly.
Anyone who owns a building no matter how old can set up their own Inndox and they can put whatever records they wish to in there. Some of it will be able to be pulled from council. We're in partnership with Australia's biggest online digital conveyancer, so you can pull records from other places and have it in your Inndox.
IA: How have you funded your business to date?
Trish: Some self-funding, then we got into the accelerated course. With that, we had an MVP [minimal viable product] built. That would have been worth about $100,000. Then we had a VC come in with some cash. Currently we have one sophisticated angel investor and three VCs on board as investors.
IA: Who put you on the path to entrepreneurship?
Trish: No one really put me on a path. I think I've just always been a problem solver and being a lawyer as well has made me very aware of problems and how to solve them. It's given me confidence that, yes, you can actually do something about solving real problems. I think it's just been in my blood.
IA: What is the vision for your business over the next five years?
Trish: To set the standard for having all your records in one place in a trusted central location. Every property could be using this. There are 2.5 billion properties in the world so I don't think that'll happen in five years, but I'd like to be known in the industry. I can see that eventually, it'll be a brand known as a standard. “Okay, I’m buying that property. Does it have an Inndox?”
Roulla Yiacoumi travelled on the 2019 Startup Catalyst Mission to London with the Female Founders.