Groundup Features: Sharetings
Jonathan, founder of Sharetings mobile app (PHOTO: Jonathan)
In this edition of Groundup Features, we speak to Jonathan, the founder of Sharetings – a groundup initiative which aims to empower individuals to make more environmentally conscious decisions by enabling them to share, swap, or save usable items instead of disposing of them or purchasing new ones. By leveraging the power of community and technology, Sharetings encourages sustainable consumption and helps reduce waste and carbon emissions.
Hi Jonathan, thanks for being with us today! Tell us more about yourself!
Hi everyone, I’m Jonathan and I'm working as a Product Owner in a Swiss startup in Singapore, so the things that I do are quite similar to what I did with Sharetings: coming up with products, designing the system, the process, the flow and everything that you see on the Sharetings app.
Could you share with us how you started Sharetings?
I started Sharetings in 2018, during my first year of university. The reason why I started Sharetings was because while I was in the army and university, I noticed that people were quite wasteful. Back then, there weren't a lot of digital initiatives, so I started the Sharetings Telegram channel, SGFreebie, as a pilot to see if people would be receptive to such an idea. I didn't expect the response to be so good. The group had around 12,000 people and this was with minimal marketing, so everything was organic and it really shows that people are quite receptive to all these kinds of ideas in terms of giving and sharing. Then, I applied for grants from the National Environment Agency (NEA) and Southwest Community Development Council (CDC) from 2019 to 2020, and began developing the app.
What was the process like for you starting an app as a non-tech person?
It was full of challenges because as a non-tech person, you don't know what the technical aspect of things are. When I am told “this is the best” or “this is the most modern programming language that we use” or “there are certain features that we cannot do because there’s a restriction within this programming language”, I cannot tell if they are telling the truth or if they are just unwilling to do a particular feature that I requested. So along the way, I talked to a lot of people because I believe that if you expose yourself to many individuals, you will gain a lot of different insights and knowledge. I also did a lot of desktop research on Google and YouTube to understand how the entire software development life cycle takes place and I'll match it to what they tell me, so that I can see and learn how the entire process will be like.
Sharetings Mobile App (PHOTO: Canva)
Could you share with us what running Sharetings looks like?
Back when I was building the app, a lot of effort was poured towards the product side of things: the features and designs, how I want the app to look. Currently, I’m focusing on publicity in terms of partnerships and getting the word out, so it is primarily on planning the strategy for the various social media platforms.
We are quite active on social media. We have a skills-based intern who is helping us to create content on Tiktok. For Facebook and the blog on our website, there is ChatGPT which helps greatly in terms of generating content. It is really mind-blowing to use ChatGPT — you can generate two to three blog posts within minutes and you can use these blog posts to do search engine optimisation (SEO) or backlinking to other partnerships or organisations. These are all what I do on a weekly basis, usually during weekends.
What are some of the challenges you faced along the way?
Publicity is one of the main challenges. Most apps cannot survive past two years. I've seen a lot of student projects that are very good, but they cannot find the right tech people or the right resources to push the entire app out. Likewise, I could not find a suitable tech person to help me with developing Sharetings at the start, so that was the first challenge I faced. The second challenge would be adoption. It is not just about getting people to download the app, we want them to use it too. That is another challenge that I'm currently working on.
What kept you going despite the challenges you faced?
Passion and Mindset. Passion is like a fuel within yourself. If you have passion, the fuel will keep burning and you will keep going. I think passion really differentiates whether a project will sustain and last over a long period of time. Along the way, you will face a lot of problems and the one who lasts usually has a lot of passion.
On mindset, people always believe that their project is great and that many people will be receptive to it when they start. They have this “I'm always right” mindset and I used to have this mindset too. However, as you start implementing things and when they don’t go your way, you'll feel disappointed because your expectation was very high.
That’s when I decided to change my mindset: instead of assuming that I'm right, I assume that I'm wrong. My goal essentially is to be less wrong, so in everything that I do, I don't expect to be successful. If it's not successful, I will think of ways to make it more successful, or less wrong. In this case, your expectation is really low, with the end result close to what you expected, you won't feel that disappointed. At the end of the day, the mindset that I have is to always assume that I'm wrong and that my goal isn’t to be right, it is just to be less wrong. That was the mindset that kept me going.
‘Share more Waste Less' Free Market by Sharetings held at Chua Chu Kang where residents could pass their unused items to others. (PHOTO: Jonathan)
Where do you see Sharetings heading towards as the next stage?
I see Sharetings becoming one of the top sharing Eco apps in Singapore in the next two to three years. At the same time, I'm also looking at expanding into other countries like Indonesia and Vietnam. The reason for this is because the freelance designer I got to help me with developing Sharetings is from Indonesia and he shared that the app is a good idea as there aren’t any similar projects in Indonesia. Indonesia is a very big market, with a population of 200 million. They have this kampong spirit within their neighbourhoods, so many will likely benefit from the app. I think it will be quite amazing to see what the response will be like if we were to introduce the app there.
As someone who has been through the whole journey of starting your own ground up, any advice for peers who are keen to start their own groundup initiative?
Be creative. Most projects will face the issue of being resource constrained, like not having the funding or the right people, but I think that's where your creativity comes into play. You have to challenge the status quo and come up with things that are not usually done in a normal setting. You have to be creative, see how you can do things differently and test it out. If it fails, analyse why it failed and just keep trying until it succeeds.
How can our readers support your initiative?
There are three ways in which people can support Sharetings. One is to be a user by downloading and using the app. Another way is to support us through volunteering, like being a skills-based volunteer and helping us to manage our social media channels. Thirdly, they can also help us spread the word, or connect us to potential partners.
Jonathan sharing about his initiative to Minister Gan Kim Yong at the ‘Share more Waste Less' Free Market (PHOTO: Jonathan)
Finally, how do you think your initiative helps Singapore become a City of Good?
Sharetings helps in two aspects: the environment and community. On the environment aspect, our vision is really to compete with our biggest competitor, which is the landfill. We are trying to channel or redirect those reusable items, especially those newer items from going to the landfill. On the community aspect, Sharetings helps people save money. If you can get things that you want for free, I think it's something that will really benefit the community.
Fun fact: What was the most meaningful item that you have received from somebody else?
I received a brand new item during the first day of University which was an ASUS router. Back then, we didn't have Wi-Fi in the halls and needed a router to be plugged in our rooms. I was searching for a router and it was quite expensive, around $100+. Fortunately, I chanced upon this listing from a Master degree student in NTU. She was living in the hall and had wanted to give away the router for free.
Running a groundup initiative of your own and would like to share your story with a wider audience? Join the Groundup Central membership and gain access to exclusive publicity opportunities!
* This feature has been edited for clarity
About the authors: Jing Yi is currently an Intern at Groundup Central. She is deeply interested in solving social issues and hopes to pursue her passion in policymaking.