He’s only 25 years old, but Jonathan How has already launched his first app called Sharetings.
The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) business undergraduate is also the founder of popular Telegram channel Singapore Freebies (Sgfreebie).
He is on a mission to democratise upcycling, and his enterprise is entirely driven by the desire to reduce unnecessary waste by making it convenient for people to upcycle their unwanted items through an online platform.
“Recycling and donation drives can be inconvenient, but platforms like Sharetings lets you (upcycle) from your mobile,” said Jonathan.
What A Waste
The inspiration behind Sharetings came from the prodigious waste Jonathan saw his schoolmates produce.
In what has since become sort of a college tradition, scores of university students moving out from their dorms would dump unwanted items every semester.
He sees it a huge waste of materials.
“They would throw away useful items, (and) there was a lack of digital initiatives to resolve this problem,” bemoans Jonathan.
When he was in his first year of university in 2018, he built Singapore Freebies, which allowed users to list unwanted items for free through a five-step process.
With the help of several friends and volunteers, the Telegram channel quickly made waves.
By early 2019, Singapore Freebies had over a few hundred postings a day and over 5,000 subscribers.
The take-up rate of items hit a steady 70 per cent and over 56,000 items were listed by 2020.
Motivated by the jump in users, Jonathan set about evaluating the market gap for sharing apps, and realised that Singaporeans were big on freebies.
For instance, Singaporean Facebook groups offering free exchanges had over 100,000 subscribers. Bolstered by the demand, he made his next step into entrepreneurial territory.
Building A Sharing Platform
In June 2019, Jonathan applied for the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) Call For Ideas Fund in a bid to raise the capital needed to create a mobile app.
The plan was to build a platform that can succeed where Singapore Freebies failed.
However, Jonathan had to find a co-funding partner in order to qualify for the government grant.
It took him some quick thinking and resourcefulness to find a co-funding partner. He landed on Southwest CDC, which was offering the Eco Fund Plus at the time.
Over a coffee date, Jonathan convinced the committee members to give him the grant — a major risk, given that he was a young and relatively inexperienced student.
“My passion persuaded them… It’s about presenting a case that people believe in, creating perceived value so that they buy-in during your pitch.”
Killing two birds with one stone, Jonathan succeeded in acquiring seed money from two government agencies by December 2019.
By September 2020, Jonathan had built and released the beta app for Sharetings.
A significant step up from the Telegram channel, the app rewards its users for exchanging freebies in-app, is capable of aggregating data on transactions and prevents scams through an automated moderation function.
“It’s definitely a big milestone,” says Jonathan.
A Post-Graduate Project
Jonathan is currently about to graduate from NTU, and Sharetings is a project he plans on working on far beyond graduation.
“It’s meaningful,” he says simply.
Users of Singapore Freebies have posted stories about how their items have helped others online.
Jonathan has also held two events to raise awareness about Sharetings earlier this year.
The first was held in Choa Chu Kang, and involved a freebie giveaway pulling together over six blocks of residents. The second event was held in partnership with Jurong Community Centre.
Currently, the users of Sharetings and Singapore Freebies largely comprise of housewives, and the items shared online tend to be household appliances.
Looking forward, Jonathan wants to build traction for his app, and be able to contribute in some small way to the burgeoning sustainability movement in Singapore.
“We can leverage on technology to find interesting solutions for problems. It’s all about (making it easy) for people to change their habits.”
Featured Image Credit: Sharetings