Steve Mitchell: Serial Entrepreneur and Co-Founder of The Happiness Compass
Top 3 Post Insights:
1. DO ONE THING AND DO IT TO THE BEST OF YOUR ABILITY
2. HAVE THE RIGHT TEAM AND A CLEAR VISION
3. TIME IS THE ONLY TRUE CURRENCY
Steve Mitchell, Co-Founder of The Happiness Compass.
His school principal said to his mum, ‘Steve is either going to be Prime Minister or end up in jail.' As a serial entrepreneur, Steve’s curiosity for learning and taking any opportunity that comes his way, has earned him one colourful bio. From managing a bar, to fitness and human biology startups, to now running a social enterprise, find out how this relentless millennial is carving out his own career.
NB. The Happiness Compass is a social enterprise that aims to integrate more happiness into our daily lives. From schools, corporates to community gatherings, the organisation is dedicated to developing the tools and initiatives that educate people on emotional intelligence, positive psychology, mindfulness, resilience and physical well-being.
Before we crack into your career, can you tell us what young Steve was like?
I was really outgoing and curious. I always felt like I was looking for something more. Even with everyone I met, I would sort of put them up on a pedestal because I wanted to learn from them. But then I quickly realised they were all just like me, and whatever they could do, I could do too.
At school, I was a smart kid. Not just in books, in other areas too. If there was a problem, I always wanted to solve it. The principal even told my mum, ‘this kid is either going to be prime minister or end up in jail one day.’ (I love this quote!)
What were your formative years like?
I grew up in Sydney but went to high school in the Gold Coast from ages 14-20. So again, had to make friends from scratch. Plus, I was still trying to find my way as a teenager as well.
But I was always very emotionally intelligent. I could just pick up things easily. If there’s a problem, I’ll be able to solve it. Although, I probably could have excelled more with more. Without having a strong ‘fatherly’ figure around, I did the best I could.
You studied Political Economy at the University of Sydney, but your first two business ventures were in fitness and human biology. How did that come about?
During uni, I was managing a bar and then worked at a gym. I loved learning, but at the time I saw more of a business opportunity in fitness. So one of the guys at the gym and I started personal training in Bondi. Then in 2012, we opened up Enjoy Fitness, as a physical premise in Surry Hills.
But being the serial ideas man I am, and thinking I could do so many things at once, I came across this genetics test I wanted to bring to Australia. It was called Xcode Life Sciences. A saliva/ DNA test that could tell you what type of exercise your body is more prone to. For example, some people’s body types are more suited to endurance exercise, whilst others may be more responsive to strength and weights. With this test, you’d be able to see results faster and mitigate any future injuries.
So you were managing the two start-ups at once?
Yes, which is why I think they never really lived up to their full potential. I did my best but from what I’ve learned, you’ve got to do one thing and do it to the best of your ability. You need to be fully committed, you can’t have 2 or 3 different things.
What were the biggest lessons from the two businesses?
Probably 3 things:
1. Money Doesn’t Solve Your Problems
It’s about having the right team and a clear vision. You’ve got to have everyone buying into the vision, moving towards the same goal, whilst being fluid enough to change with it.
2. Test the Market
With Xcode, we should’ve tested the market more. I went to India, got distribution rights and brought their product to Australia. Rather than testing maybe 50 gyms or new members. But it was a really great journey nevertheless, it got me speaking to geneticists at Monash University and exploring India.
3. Trust Yourself
Although we had investors, who provided a wealth business knowledge from previous success, their ears weren’t necessary ‘on ground.’ We were the ones having the on-ground customer conversations. So don’t take everything your investors say as the only option. Trust your gut and don’t be afraid to act on it.
What should people look for in an investor?
Above capital, you look for expertise and network. You don’t just look for money, you’re looking for their knowledge and network. You want them to be like ‘yep we can do that and I know just the person who can do it.’
THE HAPPINESS COMPASS
How did the Happiness Compass come about and what’s your mission?
I met Evan, my business partner, through boxing. We first connected over similar interests, like stoicism philosophy. We knew there was a need for ‘modern day’ philosophy and its application to real life. We first started out with a blog, community events and now that’s all evolved to The Happiness Compass.
Our mission at The Happiness Compass is to create the tools for people to be happier in every moment. To be able to understand and control emotions, to seek happiness internally, not externally.
Why have you focused on happiness?
Well there’s so many companies focusing on helping people who are depressed and suicidal -and rightfully so. But what about all the other people, like you and me, who aren’t necessarily at that stage, but still want to be happier?
The people who look at these company’s messages and think ‘meh, that doesn’t apply to me.’ You don’t want them be rich at 40 and only then realise then money doesn’t make you happy. We want to catch people earlier, ideally in high school or young adults. The earlier we promote the true values of happiness, the less likely they’ll go down the path of depression or suicide.
What do you enjoy most about The Happiness Compass?
I enjoy the value it provides other people, the community and the conversations. But don’t get me wrong it’s still a business. So you’ve still got to do all the daily operational things -the stuff I don’t like!
What does the next year or two look like?
I’d love to have our app out and be running programs with schools and corporates. I’d also love to go global, there’s a huge opportunity to scale The Happiness Compass.
What do you think the future employment economy looks like?
In the next 10 – 20 years, there isn’t going to be 9-5s. It’s going to be a contract world. But your traditional jobs like law, accounting and dentistry, they’re not disappearing. They’re institutionalised but it’s a great opportunity to disrupt.
What’s some advice for someone looking to start a business or work for themselves?
You’ve got to be willing to put in the effort. To work hard and do whatever it takes to get the job done. Whether it’s working 5am – 10pm or for 2 weeks straight with only 3-4 hours sleep, don’t lose sight of the positive consequences and know the crappy times won’t last forever. Also, always look for opportunities because they don’t some around that often. You’ve got to make things happen for yourself.
For contractors, they need to add more value to leverage the opportunities at hand. I’ve had so many emails from SEO (search engine optimisation) businesses telling me about their business. Instead, it would be better for them to initially come to me with a mini proposal or a POV (point of view). Instead of asking for a meeting, show me you’ve already thought about the solution.
Where do you see yourself, from a business perspective, in 5 years time?
I actually want to take a step back and reassess. I want to sink my teeth into one thing. At this stage I’m not quite sure what that is. Something more creative probably.
How do you feed your curiosity?
Podcasts and Audiobooks:
I’m in the car about 10-12 hours a week. With audiobooks and podcasts, I’m learning 10-12 hours a week. From astrophysics, entrepreneurial advice, mindset, to alternative history, they’ve literally changed my life! I listen to Tim Ferriss, Joe Rogan, Lewis Howes and Sam Harris –I really like his philosophy around evolutionary biology.
I set featured pages, currently my favourite is Brain Pickings. I read every article they post.
I own about 200 books but I’ve probably only read about 3! I’m currently reading, The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal.
Who inspires you?
Joe Rogan and Tim Ferriss. People who have designed their lives. They've found success through analysing what they do and are always looking to improve it.
Jason Silva. The way he communicates and expresses his philosophies is awesome.
What does success look like to you?
Freedom. I wouldn’t want to be stuck anywhere where I don’t want to be. I see myself being successful because, if I can go away next week, I can go away. I can go to the Hunter Valley, Gold Coast or just sit at home watching the footy. Time is the only true currency. Once it’s gone its gone. You can’t get it back.
What is your definition of Hacking Life?
Continuous learning. There’s so much to learn out there, knowing that you don’t know much is a really cool thing. Life is there to be lived, we’re only here for a short amount of time so learn as much as you can and build as many great relationships as you can. You’ve got to take stuff seriously but enjoy it as well!
You can catch Steve here at The Happiness Compass: