Solving A Uniquely Australian Problem (and other reflections)

Property, in Australia, is a massive asset class. It’s highly tangible and well understood, yet it has become inaccessible for many people. With BrickX (Brick Exchange) we’ve created a platform where people can buy and sell property in a similar way that they buy and sell shares.

We’re opening up an asset class that was otherwise becoming unavailable and in doing so we aim to profoundly impact home ownership in Australia. BrickX is an Australian business built to solve a uniquely Australian problem.

My Purpose
For most people, when they leave university, they think the important thing to do is earn as much money as they can. I was the same. I got a job as an investment banker and started on a path to earning more and more money, and I thought life was great. But pretty quickly I began to say to myself, “Hang on a second, what’s my purpose in life?”

Some people ask that question at age 35. Some people ask it at 50. I asked it at 24.

I got a job as an investment banker and started on a path to earning more and more money, and I thought life was great. But pretty quickly I began to say to myself, “Hang on a second, what’s my purpose in life?”

I was in a role that put me on a treadmill. I looked above at the people in my company and I could see where I was heading. I wasn’t sure an investment banking career was going to fulfill me. Luckily I caught it at a point where even though I was earning a decent salary I knew that leaving later would become much harder. I didn’t want to get into a trap of never being able to leave corporate life because I was accustomed to living a particular way with a huge mortgage and all the trappings.

I very quickly found out that once you get beyond a basic level of income, money doesn’t bring you happiness. You just keep changing your spending patterns, always finding more things that you want.

I knew investment banking wasn’t going to be what I wanted to do in the long term. I was more inspired by the entrepreneurs I was working with – bringing their businesses to life through IPOs – than I was with the internal processes of the bank.

I wanted to sit on the other side of the table.

Entrepreneurial Life
In running a company like BrickX, I see myself more as an entrepreneur than a traditional CEO. The reality is, I like execution; I like having a team around me and being part of the action. I want to be on the journey, identifying real problems and working out how to solve them. I’m probably more hands on than most.

I like having a team around me and being part of the action. I want to be on the journey, identifying real problems and working out how to solve them. I’m probably more hands on than most.

I’m an obsessive problem solver. Where other people see obstacles, I’m always looking to get beyond the obstacles and create outcomes. That’s a good quality for an entrepreneur, but not so much appreciated in a corporate environment because politics and hierarchy come into play, and so does knowing your place. I like taking a team of people with me on a journey into the unknown to produce amazing results. Corporate life doesn’t always allow for that.

For my own happiness and to live the most fulfilling life I can, I choose the freedom of being able to pursue the things that really interest me. I choose to solve real problems that add value to people and ultimately build a sustainable and viable business.

As an entrepreneurial leader I take the view that BrickX is my main hobby that just happens to take up almost all of my time. How great to be able to spend the majority of your waking hours doing something you love.

Occasionally I’ll feel like I’m operating below par. I’m probably too hard on myself and we all have those days and that’s okay, but you can’t let them go on for too long as ultimately there is a danger it starts to affect everyone around you. Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone. You have to put in more hours than a regular job and it’s an emotional roller coaster. You have to confront self-doubt that wouldn’t arise in normal circumstances, and there’s very rarely people to pick you up off the ground; usually you have to pick yourself up off the ground.

In the times when things are not going well, of which they are many, you have to keep focused on your mission. You have to be so committed to what you’re doing that you’re happy to put in 15-18 hours days when needed.

In those circumstances it’s important to keep your mind healthy. I believe mental health issues are probably the biggest danger to entrepreneurs. It’s easy to get into a downward spiral.

Something that’s been transformational for me is that my first child, a son, was born recently. The perspective and the balance he has brought to my life have meant that I work fewer hours and it has made me a better delegator; I’m more efficient because I still need to do the same amount of work but have less time to do it.

He’s enabled me to focus on something other than work; to not always have work filling up my mind. When I’m with him, I’m focused 100% on him which has been amazing and incredibly rewarding.

I’ve discovered that as an entrepreneur you’ve got to have other things going on in your life. It’s a problem when the only thing in your life is your business and if that is in a low, then your entire life can feel like it’s in a low. Seeking a good balance is so important.

Growth and Survival
In a startup business, you’re living hand to mouth a lot of the time. We went through an arduous fundraising process last year with many highs and lows. We had great meetings and people seemed really interested, only for things to fall over pre-deal. It does cause you to ask what’s going on – they believed in us, now they don’t, what can they see that I can’t see? Am I crazy?

A large number of those things are unexpected and we deal with them as they arise. We don’t try to predict everything in advance at the expense of executing well on the stuff that has to happen today, constantly riding growth and survival curves.

And then you have to bring yourself back to the purpose of the business. I look at the amazing team members who believe in what we’re doing, and the thousands of customers we have, and remember not to let one person’s opinion weigh so heavily.

Through it all, I’ve learnt how to be a better business operator, always trying to exert influence for a better outcome in the future. I try and remove emotion from it; to make sure that the energy that I put in is constructive and gets us where we want to go next.

At different times that might be a new growth opportunity, focusing on the cool things that we’re working on that will help us achieve our vision. At other times we will be in survival mode, dealing with a challenge that threatens our very existence such as fundraising or a regulatory impasse. A large number of those things are unexpected and we deal with them as they arise. We don’t try to predict everything in advance at the expense of executing well on the stuff that has to happen today, constantly riding growth and survival curves.

Problems will always present themselves and they can be crushing but feeling crushed isn’t going to help so I let go of that quickly and work constructively to fix things rather than take it personally or give up. However much you plan, things happen, and a good entrepreneur (which I aspire to be one day) will suck it up and keep going.

The Future
My passion is solving challenging problems that bring a significant beneficial advantage to everyday consumers. I love dealing with consumers because it’s incredibly rewarding to have an impact and to make people’s lives better.

My overarching passion, which is shared across the business, is to deliver meaningful products and build a meaningful business that helps people achieve something that’s important to them. In a little over 18 months we’ve surpassed 10,000 investors on the BrickX platform, which is amazing…and yet it still doesn’t feel like work.

Anthony Millet is the CEO of BrickX