Alex Young – Innate

Meet Alex Young, founder of Innate – which is it’s working title – a mobile experience designed to help young people increase their self-awareness and deal with stress.

We recently sat down with Alex to hear more about his entrepreneurial journey.

Where did you get the idea for your business?

I’ve run startups before as well as working in a few different industries, but my heart is in the startup space. I’m very much enthused by the great challenge to do something that you couldn’t do in a corporation. It’s about achieving something great with a small number of people that can really change the world.
I had caught up with my best friend and he was challenging me to do something purpose driven, not revenue based. I can do something that makes money but what’s really hard is to create something that really benefits humanity. I asked myself, what do I have that I can really use to drive this? I thought mental health, I had worked for Medibank so I had an understanding of the health care system and trends, and mental health was a big one. One in five people will suffer a mental illness within their life, and that usually presents in young people. It’s the transition from school to uni, child to an adult, so you’re being pummelled from all directions. At that age, you don’t often learn ways to deal with these types of stresses, and you can end up just doing what your friends do. Ways to cope could be alcohol, drug use or isolating yourself, and unfortunately, this typically becomes a behavior you carry through your life.
I’ve experienced corporate burnout, which I saw a psychologist about and they told me about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT helps you control your thoughts and feelings to then manage behaviours. When you’re working on a startup, it’s something you think about daytime, night time –  you just never stop. This kind of stress was a prevalent issue around me. I wanted to leverage my twenty years worth of digital experience as well as utilising gaming and CBT for the next generation of young people. It’s aimed at people at high school or uni age and older, it’s entertainment but it’s teaching you something.
What lessons have you learned on your business journey?
The thing that has been reinforced is the value of other people’s input. Open sharing is beneficial, that means accepting input from others. Although this is not my first startup, I entered this with the view that I don’t know everything. I want to expand my thinking, the older you get the more set in your ways you become. It’s important to start connecting and mixing and with people that challenge your thinking. I’m also recognising more of what I can offer to others.
How important is it to have a business mentor?
It’s critical. Absolutely. It’s like having a compass or a spirit guide – whatever you want to call it. I’m a sole founder but now we have a team. The value of getting guidance from ‘oldies’ and people who have been there and done it, I’ve found to be so amazingly beneficial. Having a mentor is a sounding board to say this is what’s happening, they are someone that you can open your heart to and they help you to consider this or that.
I’ve had two core mentors over a decade, and they will tear my ideas to shreds, but always with my best interests in mind.
You now actually act as a mentor yourself, how has being on the other side of that experience been for you?
I love it, when you talk to other people you learn more about yourself. I’ve been mentoring an amazing young guy, he’s had a challenging childhood and is passionate about improving the lives of other young people. We’re in the process of taking where he’s at and building a platform for his idea.
What are your top 3 tips for starting a business?
  1. Surround yourself with advisors you can trust and actually listen. When you start you can be so confident in yourself that you’ll say thanks but no thanks. The hardest thing is to take advice, accept it and really listen to it. You need to balance out that advice and be flexible.
  2. Have support around you. You need the support of your friends and family, starting a business can be lonely and tough, there’s a lot of good times but there will also be bad times. You need emotional support. I remember in my previous startup when we were putting absolutely everything into the business, we were basically eating two-minute noodles breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’d have friends come and buy me lunch, which was amazing, but it’s not even about that – it’s just having people who are present.
  3. Accept your vulnerability. It’s your belief that drives your business forward, and with that comes a public presence – you’re exposed. You must have the readiness and acceptance that you need to acknowledge and grasp that visibility.
How would you describe your life as an entrepreneur in 3 words?
Failure, relentless, belief.
Who are five people dead or alive you would love to have dinner with?
Jonah Nader  – he wrote ‘How to Lose Friends and Infuriate People’. I read that when I was fresh out of uni, it helped me with my thinking about how to grow my network. I did a lot of telecom work so I learned how to speak to people. Any time I would travel I would intentionally look up people in that city to connect with, eventually, I built up a Rolodex of amazing contacts from around the world.
What is a saying you live by?
‘If you don’t take a risk you don’t have a chance.’ I use that to force myself to overcome fear.
What has been the best part of your Activator journey so far?
It has accelerated me, the urgency of the weekly check-ins has a big kick up the bum. The Activator team have expectations we have to meet, and it’s allowed us to see who in our team is really onboard and to speed up everything we do.