Finding a Founder: An Interview with Mayte

“Often people feel threatened by what they don’t know. The trick is to build empathy with the people you’re trying to help, rather than judging them for their misunderstanding.”

Harley Alexander and Brynn Chadwick are the founders of Mayte — a digital consultancy that specialises in helping archaic businesses become future-ready. Brynn and Harley utilise their experience as digital natives to help a variety of businesses innovate: they have a repertoire of exciting projects that include the use of VR to raise awareness about domestic violence, applying machine learning to automate health insurance, and websites that make you want to buy margarine.

Our General Manager at Inspire9 Richmond, Anelia Heese, caught up with the gentlemen over coffee to chat about the implications of VR, LinkedIn, and the big hustle…

What is Mayte all about?

Harley: We like to think of ourselves as a team of digital problem solvers.

Brynn: In the past, people like us were put in the category of a digital agency, but we like to take a different angle. We like to think that we’re putting jetpacks on dinosaurs. With “dinosaurs” we mean businesses that are old, slow and boring. There are a lot of businesses out there that need to innovate quickly, or they’ll become outdated. We’re helping these businesses to innovate in a way that makes sense to them.

Harley: Instead of your traditional agency model where you just take their money for whatever the business commissions you to do, we like to work closely with our clients and figure out what problem they’re solving first. We help them decide what mix of technology we should use to solve their problem. An example would be that businesses come to us thinking they need a website, but then it turns out not to be the right solution.

What’s it like when a client engages you to build a website, but you‘re convinced a website isn’t the best course of action?

Brynn: It takes a lot of convincing for them to change, but often you find people in the company who want to innovate — the intrapreneurs — they are the people you need to reach out to. If they can convince people in the business what we’re able to help them achieve, you just need to keep educating them.

Harley: Take them on a journey of digital transformation, so to speak…

How did you guys meet and decide you want to work together?

Harley: We met through mutual friends 4 years ago. We often chatted about the projects we were doing, and then started thinking that we should do something together.

Brynn: Some guy actually offered us a job at a massive agency — he flew us to Sydney, we had an expensive dinner with a bunch of rich people. It ended up being empty promises.

Harley: Yeah, we were pretty pissed that it didn’t work, but it got us excited and I was like, “Brynn we’re gonna do this.”

Brynn: Yeah, that was actually the real test. I remember thinking, “Oh shit, we have to get money and make an effort.” I think we can almost thank the guy — even though that’s shitty thing to do, we could have made a lot of money working for him… But it inspired to start our own business.

Harley: Yeah, we thought, “If other people think we can do it, we should also start thinking that we can do it.” Now, it’s one year later and look at us!

How does it feel working in the startup world? Do you find it to be a hustle?

Harley: We don’t like the word hustle. I think it’s become a cultural buzzword for entrepreneurs. It sounds as if you’re pulling crap out of thin air.

Brynn: Yeah, we hate the word hustle. Hustling makes you sound as if you don’t have a real skill set.

Brynn: Yeah, we’re not hustling. We’re working hard, and working smart.

You are both quite active on LinkedIn. Isn’t that a bit of hustling?

Brynn: Haha, yes, that’s hustlin’. That’s real hustlin’.

Anelia: For a while, LinkedIn really felt like an endless vacuum of old consultants congratulating and “endorsing” each other. Don’t you think your LinkedIn activity could be seen as putting up a front, or could the platform be legitimately cool and useful for young businesses like Mayte?

Harley: I personally agree that LinkedIn wasn’t cool. However, in the past few months it started popping and people have realized it’s almost like an escape from all the crap on Facebook. The stuff people share on LinkedIn is actually quite thought provoking. It’s definitely still a place to “humble brag” but without the negative social connotations. It’s become an authentic platform to promote your professional skills and your business.

Brynn: I’m starting to see parallels between all the platforms the young kids are using like Snapchat and Instagram…. It’s not really about promoting yourself, it’s about providing the content your audience want you to see and find genuinely useful. If you apply that same strategy but in a professional context, you get LinkedIn. LinkedIn is also great for providing feedback and creating a space for good, organic conversation around certain business problems.

Harley: Definitely — if you provide content from which people can learn and that’s engaging, they can interact with you in an authentic way. Now that they’ve launched video, it’s definitely seen a large influx of young people on the platform too.

Brynn: I find it fascinating that I can chat to someone about a business idea who lives on the other side of the world. It’s created a place where young, creative people get to add real value to more senior people, and they in turn they get the opportunity to give advice to the younger people.

Anelia: Part of that authenticity on the platform has been the merging of business and life to a degree. I’ve been seeing quite a few people speaking up about sexual harassment in the workplace. A lot of people thought it’s inappropriate — but it highlights an important business issue that needs to be addressed.

I saw you’re dipping your toes into VR. I have this misconception that VR is predominantly for the gaming industry. It’s been around for quite a while but it has been really slow to adopt. Where do you see it going?

Harley: The slow adoption is mainly a hardware problem — the technology we’ve got now isn’t able to make it a fully immersive and engaging experience. I think consumer penetration hasn’t really happened yet because the technology is not consumer ready.

Brynn: It’s like a 90’s video game still, really. VR technology has arrived, but for full adoption, you should be able to put on non-dorky glasses and it should be fully immersive. It should be one seamless activity, like putting on headphones. I put music on when I travel on public transport because it’s a way of dealing with how shit the experience is. It would be quite next level if I don’t even have to look at the people on the train because I’m deep in a virtual world!

Anelia: What do you think that would do to spontaneous human interactions?

Brynn: It would probably be harder to pick up chicks in public places.

Anelia: Maybe it will come naturally for people who are VR natives, just like we are digital natives.

Harley: Haha, yes, I remember my first computer when I was 4 years old. It definitely had internet — it was a really slow dial up connection, but it was still a computer with internet. Maybe VR will be applied with the same level of ease that parents use iPads today to entertain their babies in restaurants.

Brynn: They might be addicted to a screen before they even know it because they don’t even know anything better!

If you’ve grown up with the internet being so accessible, what’s it like working with people who don’t understand how valuable the internet could be?

Brynn: Frustrating, but also challenging in a good way. We’re inspired to educate people. Often people feel threatened by what they don’t know. The trick is to build empathy with the people you’re trying to help, rather than judging them for their misunderstanding.

Harley: The other day we tried to explain how a local network could benefit a client’s business. We explained the local network concept using an analogy: loading time through a local network is like going to the fridge to get a bottle of wine, instead of going all the way down to Dan Murphy’s to get your wine and come back. The trick is to simplify a concept without making people feel stupid.

Brynn: Yep, they ended up gaining a good understanding. Sometimes you just need to get wine involved, haha.

What’s the craziest side hustle you ever had?

Brynn: Condom subscription. We looked at Who Gives A Crap, and thought, wow, if they could do it with toilet paper, we could do it with condoms.

Harley: Yeah, we tried to find something else that was ubiquitous and regularly used…But it was a bit of a joke, really.

What tunes are you listening to at the moment?

Tyler the Creator & Queen

Who should we check out on LinkedIn?

Jess Thoms
Gretta van Riel
String Nguyen

Where can we find you on the interwebs?

LinkedIn: Brynn Chadwick & Harley Alexander

Website: mayte.io