He's only 25 years old, but Jonathan How has already launched his first app called Sharetings.
The National Technological University (NTU) business student is also the founder of the popular Singapore Freebies (Sgfreebie) telegram channel.
He is on a mission to democratize upcycling and his company is wholly driven by a desire to reduce unnecessary waste by making it convenient for people to upgrade their unwanted items through an online platform.
"Recycling and fundraising drives can be inconvenient, but platforms like sharing allow you to do (upcycling) from your phone," said Jonathan.
What a waste
The inspiration for sharings came from the amazing waste Jonathan saw his schoolmates produce.
In a kind of college tradition, dozens of students who have moved out of their dorms have disposed of unwanted items every semester.
He sees an enormous waste of material in this.
"They would throw away useful items (and) there was a lack of digital initiatives to solve this problem," complains Jonathan.
When he was in his freshman year of college in 2018, he built Singapore Freebies that allowed users to list unwanted items for free in five easy steps.
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 per day and over 5,000 subscribers.
The acceptance rate of articles has remained constant at 70 percent, and by 2020 over 56,000 articles have been listed.
Image credit: NTU
Motivated by the surge in users, Jonathan set out to assess the niche in the market for app sharing and found that Singaporeans had a large number of freebies.
For example, Singaporean Facebook groups offering free exchanges had over 100,000 subscribers. Supported by the demand, he took his next step into entrepreneurial territory.
Development of a release platform
In June 2019, Jonathan applied for the National Environment Agency's (NEA) Call For Ideas Fund to raise the capital needed to create a mobile app.
The plan was to build a platform that can succeed where Singapore Freebies have failed.
However, Jonathan had to find a co-financing partner to qualify for the state grant.
It took quick thought and ingenuity to find a co-financing partner. He ended up on the Southwest CDC, which at the time offered the Eco Fund Plus.
On a coffee date, Jonathan convinced the committee members to grant him the scholarship – a huge risk given that he was a young and relatively inexperienced student.
A sharing event / Photo credit: Sharetings
"My passion won them over … It's about coming up with a case that people believe in and creating perceived value so that they'll buy in during your pitching."
Jonathan killed two birds with one stone and received seed capital from two government agencies through December 2019.
By September 2020, Jonathan had created and published the beta app for sharing.
An important step compared to the telegram channel: the app rewards its users for exchanging promotional gifts in the app, can aggregate data on transactions and prevents fraud through an automated moderation function.
"It's definitely a big milestone," says Jonathan.
A postgraduate project
Jonathan is currently nearing graduation from NTU and sharetings is a project he wants to work on well beyond graduation.
"It makes sense," he says simply.
Singapore Freebies users have posted stories about how their articles have helped others online.
Jonathan held two events earlier this year to promote sharing.
The first was in Choa Chu Kang and included a giveaway giveaway that contracted over six blocks. The second event took place in collaboration with the Jurong Community Center.
Currently, the users of Sharetings and Singapore Freebies are mostly housewives, and the items shared online are mostly household appliances.
Looking ahead, Jonathan wants to improve traction for his app and, in some ways, contribute to the burgeoning sustainability movement in Singapore.
“We can use technology to find interesting solutions to problems. It's about making it easy for people to change their habits. "
Selected image source: Sharetings