At just 27 years old, David Mah has been the driving force and cofounder of three successful start-up businesses. Spending his spare time collecting vintage mechanical watches and immersing himself in books on business, technology and innovation, David is an exemplary entrepreneur. We caught up with him recently to hear about his time at the Melbourne School of Engineering and his success since.
Why did you choose to study engineering?
I was a bit of a nerd growing up! I always loved computers, phones and all sorts of gadgets so I think I always wanted to be an engineer. Being in one of the first cohorts to go through the Melbourne Model, I was able to do a Bachelor of Science (2011) and a Masters of Engineering (2013). While I majored in Electrical Systems, I always took business breadth subjects so I was the odd one out among my classmates who were pursuing more strict engineering studies.
What did you enjoy most about your time at University of Melbourne?
The highlight of my time at uni was meeting brilliant people, both fellow students and professors, who continued to expand my view of the world. In terms of my studies, I was really inspired by the engineering entrepreneurship subject which showed me how to bridge the gap between the inventive and the commercial. The combination of these two commonly separate approaches is what can really change the world. I was also fortunate enough to participate in the Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP) which helped me establish a start-up and fine tune my entrepreneurial skills. Both the MAP program and my engineering entrepreneurship studies demonstrated that the connection between disciplines is where value is created.
What is your current role?
My newest venture is Kepler Analytics and I am the Managing Director and lead engineer. We specialise in behaviour analytics of shoppers in a physical retail environment, an area not previously understood. With the skills I gained through my electrical systems studies, I was able to develop sensor technology that tracks customers via their mobile phones while maintaining customer privacy. The sensor gives retailers insight into how many shoppers pass by, how many engage with visual merchandise, how many come into the store, how long they stay for, how many make a purchase and how many return. Retailers shouldn’t live without these insights!
How did you get to your current position?
When I graduated I was working on Bluesky, a mobile shopping app which brings the best retail content from Australia’s top stores into one app, using one shopping cart. Within 11 months Bluesky was a team of 18 and had attracted 500 partner brands, more than 110,000 app users and was at the top of the itunes charts. The retail contact base and experience I gained with online analytics thanks to Blue Sky, along with securing some seed funding, saw me co-found Kepler in January 2015.
What do you think is the most exciting part of your job?
Making a difference. When customers turn around and tell you that you’re a driving factor in their success it is a pretty incredible feeling.
What advice would you give students who are preparing for the workforce?
Have an open mind! Learning doesn’t finish when you graduate. University is actually about learning how to learn and once your studies have finished you need to apply these learnings to the workforce.
What was the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
Focus, focus, focus!
Where do you see yourself in five years?
After nine months, Kepler is already operating Australia wide, so in five years I see myself running Kepler as an international company with global offices.
What do you see as exciting new developments in your field?
The idea of understanding human behaviour in physical spaces is definitely exciting to me. Predictive intelligence which sees you capturing millions of data points per day is providing unprecedented value (in my case for retailers). I think the future will be all about being smart about being smart!
Do you have a favourite invention/ piece of engineering?
The internet! It seems obvious, but my generation was probably a bit of a turning point in terms of experiencing life before and after the internet and I guess I can really appreciate the incredible impact it’s had and the way it has changed the world.
Thank you David for inspiring us with your success!