Friendzone Founders
In this article

There’s no denying our eyes are mostly glued to the screen in the lifts on the way home. Most of our parents on the other hand, know everyone around the block and then some.

Face-to-face conversations have clearly taken a different direction since our parents’ generation. Social media has become our comfort zone, where we can freely interact with people around the world.

Despite the lack of face-to-face interaction, we sometimes know more about them than we know about our direct neighbours living right next door.

Taking these into consideration, a trio of 28-year-olds — Grace Ann Chua, Tham Jun Han, and Valencia Wong — want to change the way we converse.

Living on campus during their undergraduate days, they enjoyed the strong sense of community and friendship with the people who lived around them. This prompted them to start Friendzone in 2018, with an aim to connect communities through conversation.

Upon graduating and moving home, we realised that we weren’t familiar with the people who lived around us anymore. There were also fewer opportunities to get to know them. There’s a lot of value in knowing your neighbours – not just aunties and uncles, but people around the same age – and we wanted to create those opportunities to form new connections and friendships with the people living in close proximity to us.

– Grace Ann Chua, co-founder of Friendzone

The name ‘Friendzone’ captures the heart of what the founders intended to do: create ‘zones’, or spaces, for new friendships. They also see it as a “super clickbaity” name intended to capture the attention of their target market: young adults between 18 and 35 years old. 

Neighbourhood-hopping to build community spirit

Dubbing themselves as “accidental business owners”, Grace recalls how Friendzone started out merely as a passion project with a social mission to connect people through meaningful conversation.

They only made the move to establish themselves as an official company because an organisation had wanted to engage and pay for their services, which eventually led to a business registration.

friendzone tampines
Community gathering at Tampines neighbourhood / Image Credit: Friendzone

The team had first started out before COVID-19 times. They would host events at void decks that they would decorate with fairy lights, carpets and cushions. They would also provide free Milo drinks and snacks like chicken nuggets.

The team also established Telegram groups for every new neighbourhood they visited, with new participants added post-event. This helped neighbours who met at previous events to keep in touch, check in on one another, and even share food deliveries.

Now, they not only build communities in neighbourhoods, but facilitates the community spirit within companies and different interest- or cost-based organisations.

Bringing together their various expertise in community-building, communications and facilitation, the trio design and host gatherings to combat social isolation and disconnect.

These gatherings consist of thematic conversations that last approximately two hours, and is a mixture of large group sharing and talking in small circles.

Most of these sessions are made up of small groups of around four to five people, and caters to everyone, including the introverts who are trying to expand their social circle.

A safe space for open conversations

The thematic conversation topics focus on young adult issues such as work, play, family, adulting, life transitions, and dreams for the future. This makes Friendzone relevant and attractive to a young adult that is personally experiencing these.

Said conversations are then divided into three rounds, beginning with questions as simple as “what’s your name?” and “what do you spend your days doing”, which eventually increase in depth and sharing as it progresses.

Prompt questions conversations friendzone
Prompt questions to facilitate conversation / Image Credit: Friendzone

According to Grace, this invites everyone to introduce themselves in a way they are most comfortable. The questions are also carefully crafted to be simultaneously insightful, easy to answer, and open ended so that participants can be as authentic as they are comfortable with.

We make it clear to participants that they are in a safe space and are welcome to be as open as they would like. Also, the energy is contagious! All it takes is one or two people to be active in the conversation before everyone catches on. Generally, we’ve found no matter how introverted someone is, they are willing to share when given the space and permission to do so.

– Grace Ann Chua, co-founder of Friendzone

Friendzone’s activities are also focused on uncovering similarities, points of connection, exchange of resources or knowledge, as well as experience and skills. For icebreakers, the trio designed fun, large, group conversations that give everyone a sense of their fellow participants’ interests and backgrounds.

In general, the overall event is designed around deeper, structured conversations for a small group of four. Ultimately, the aim is to exchange new ideas and perspectives on the topics discussed.

Pivoting online is a blessing in disguise

Like all other businesses, Grace and her team faced certain challenges upon launching, and one of which was finding the right business model for their organisation.

Our focus has always been on building friendships in neighbourhoods, but we don’t think that a young person would pay to make friends with their neighbourhoods, so we took the B2B (business-to-business) approach.

– Grace Ann Chua, co-founder of Friendzone

When COVID-19 hit, Friendzone began to convert to hosting online events.

Although it took some trial and error to adapt the programme and find the right platform, the team managed to develop a virtual version of the Friendzone experience that allowed participants to experience the connection, safe space, and community that they would have in-person.

Neighbourhood zoom friendzone
Building communities online during Covid-19 / Image Credit: Friendzone

This proved to be a blessing in disguise because they could originally only run one physical event a day. However, pivoting online allowed them to run multiple events in a day across Singapore.

It allowed Friendzone to scale rapidly, especially on weekends, when they could only do four to five neighbourhood online events a day. Furthermore, setting up online events were less resource-intensive than physical events.

Another unexpected benefit of virtual events were that those who felt more comfortable meeting new people online were more willing to attend.

“Our events also provided a rare opportunity for social interaction when everyone was stuck at home during the various lockdown phases, and craving for social interaction,” said Grace.

Not limited to neighbourhoods, but organisations as well

The traction gained during COVID-19 has been helpful in maintaining momentum, especially as they plan their transition to hosting in-person neighbourhood gatherings again.

“Since our first gathering in Marine Parade in 2018, we’ve run more than 100 neighbourhood gatherings both online and in-person with more than 2,000 youth participants,” Grace said.

Friendzone’s recent events have continuously been oversubscribed with a waitlist. Despite the demand, the trio stick to a maximum of 40 participants for in-person gatherings to maintain the cosy vibe.

Social and corporate organisations such as the National Youth Council, Singapore International Foundation, and The Boys’ Brigade have since engaged them as well.

Friendzone meetup at Wisma Geylang Serai / Image Credit: Friendzone

Grace shared that the key to having a good turnout is simply due to the nature of the organisation. They also try to regularly return to neighbourhoods they’ve visited before to maintain and grow communities further.

“Our work is flexible enough that it’s beneficial to virtually any community – from neighbours to co-workers to individuals with similar occupations, hobbies, and interests,” she added.

Aim to connect with other like-minded individuals

Moving forward, Grace aims to continue growing Friendzone’s B2B work locally in other different contexts – hopefully in supporting companies, institutions, and cause-based groups to build stronger and more connected communities, teams, and internal friendships.

We want to connect like-minded people who are looking to broaden their network and social circles. We’re also planning to start events to introduce expats to more locals and bridge international friendships.

For example, Friendzone for tourists traveling through Singapore and non-neighbourhood based community gatherings. At the end of the year, we also have a reflection session planned that’s open to everyone called Wrapped 2022.

– Grace Ann Chua, co-founder of Friendzone

Additionally, Friendzone also plans to launch some B2C (business-to-consumer) events, and Grace hopes that it will one day be able to go international — to create connections for people who have recently moved to a new city, or just creating the opportunity for young adults in the same environment to meet and form friendships.

Featured Image Credit: Friendzone

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© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)