From scratching vinyl to starting up: Q&A with Mitch Hills of AroundAbout

Flora Wong, Head of Maps for Work Marketing Asia Pacific

Today we speak with the founder of AroundAbout. An activity generating app that started in Brisbane, Australia. Mitch Hills got his first taste for business when he started POGO Entertainment, an event production company, at age 17. He ran the business for more than two years while professionally DJing in Brisbane, Australia, then started his first technology venture at age 20. AroundAbout is a new activity-generating app powered by Google Maps APIs that helps people find interesting things to eat, drink and explore, whenever they want and wherever they are. I sat down with Mitch to learn more about the app, his creative process and how he likes to work.

Tell us more about how the app came about.

I’ve always been interested in entertainment and focused on the idea of “Tinder for activities” — the same simple interface, that gives you a way to find things to do, as well as places to eat and drink, just by swiping left or right. I love hospitality and wanted to create a curated place where people could find cool places and activities, with recommendations they could trust. Once I had the idea, I partnered with developers to make it a reality. Mapping is central to AroundAbout because the app visualises places for users to explore near them. We use the Google Maps iOS and Android APIs for our mobile apps. We chose Google because we wanted really accurate directions and a visually pleasing interface.

How would you describe the transition from DJing to starting your own tech company?

The transition wasn’t difficult, per se, but business itself is difficult. Last year I read 22 books about entrepreneurship, finance and self-development, but reading can only prepare you so much. My background in entertainment was actually incredibly useful, both for building my network and for relating to people who use the app. As I see it, entertainment is about presentation and perception, and that’s useful in any industry.

What do you think it takes to build a successful app for younger people?

Social media plays a huge role in this business, so we invest much of our energy in reaching out to people through social and PR. Young people are also more spontaneous, and we built the app to help feed that spontaneity. Young people also have lots of energy and can be interested in a lot of different things at once, so their tastes and needs can evolve quickly. You have to be constantly listening to what they want, where they’re looking for content and how they’re connecting with each other.

How do you come up with new ideas?

I get inspired by reading about or listening to experts, even if they aren't discussing something directly relevant to me. It gets my brain ticking and my creative juices flowing. I’m always thinking about ideas and come up with something new almost every day. I give it some thought and write it down — some are terrible, but others definitely have potential. I find that the best way to evolve an idea is to talk to people and see what they think.

It’s not easy coming up with ideas that resonate with consumers, particularly in a competitive, fast-moving industry like entertainment. Mitch has an interesting problem: too many ideas and not enough time. For now he’s focusing on AroundAbout and bringing its service to more people by expanding beyond Australia. As for whether Mitch still DJs, he says, “Music will always play a large role in my life, but as much as I like the hospitality industry, I love creating businesses more.”