Jane Martino had recently turned 30 and reached a crossroad. A business founder, she had just sold her successful and profitable public relations enterprise to Bastion Collective. But Martino quickly found herself in a very unusual position — for the first time in decades, she didn’t have anything to do.
Martino had started Undertow when she was only 25 and in a little over five years, had built it to a team of 30 before Bastion came knocking. But selling her business created an entirely new challenge: “I actually had a huge identity crisis as well because, because I’d done that from such a young age … and I actually the first time … since primary school, I did actually just stop and really reflect”, she says.
It was that reflection that led Martino to her next idea, partnering with Moonlight Cinema founder, James Tutton, to create Smiling Mind, a wellness app aimed at helping kids meditate.
Fast forward a decade and Smiling Mind is one of Australia’s most successful wellness apps with more than 6 million downloads and 600,000 monthly active users.
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But unlike the international giants Calm, which was recently valued at more than US$2 billion ($2.6 billion) and Headspace, Martino and Tutton chose to make Smiling Mind completely not-for-profit. If it were a commercial app — based on Calm’s most recent multiple — it would probably be worth upwards of $100 million.
But that never bothered Martino, who noted the Smiling Mind model is “very, very different to a for-profit, tech, high growth business, [it’s] very grassroots”.
“It’s in the curriculum, which is what we wanted. We wanted it to be part of people’s everyday at school, at home, in their families. And I just don’t know if you look at say some comparisons of Headspace and Calm that businesses like that would ever have the same community sentiment and the same feeling,” she adds.
While the runaway success of Smiling Mind was happening, Martino started her next venture, an app called Shout for Good, which allowed charities to raise micro-donations using mobile technology, like a mobile version of Everyday Hero. Within a couple of years, Martino had delivered her second exit, this time to ANZ.
But with three successful ventures on her CV, Martino was far from done. Quickly building a reputation as one of Australia’s shrewdest angel investors (Martino was one of the first backers of the Jules Lund’s incredibly successful influencer marketplace, Tribe, and has also backed Brandcrush and Deliciou), she met a young entrepreneur and former professional cricketer, named Matt Berriman, who was trying to commercialise mobile phone screen advertising.
Martino invested in the business, called Unlockd, and a year later, joined Berriman’s 15-person startup. By 2017 Martino had become chief operating officer of the business and, when Berriman stepped aside in early 2018, took over as chief executive as the business sped towards a $200 million IPO.
But just weeks before the business was due to list on the ASX, disaster struck, with Unlockd’s only distributor, Google, banning the app from the Play Store, effectively a death knell for the business. While Unlockd was successful in seeking an injunction against the global giant, the aborted IPO meant the business ran out of cash and slipped into administration before it was able to continue its action.
The collapse of Unlockd did little to stop Martino’s incredible drive; she worked with Swisse founder Radek Sali’s burgeoning Light Warrior Group and Commonwealth Bank’s x15Ventures, before creating her most recent venture, a startup in the wellness media space.
While 99% of founders are never able to raise capital, Martino has three successes to her name and may soon be adding a fourth.
Hear Martino talk about her remarkable business journey on From Zero with Adam Schwab.