Gadgets and Tech.mt teamed up once again to speak to Zach Ciappara, Founder & CEO of FreeHour Malta and see what it’s like getting into the business game at a very young age.
Starting up a business is not an easy task, and Tech.mt is there to help you get the right contacts, the right investors, and deal with tech-related issues to get your project off the ground.
Hi guys my name is Zach Ciappara, I’m 21 years old and I’m the founder and CEO of a local startup called FreeHour.
Essentially what FreeHour does is, it’s a mobile application that allows university and college students to share their timetable with friends in order to facilitate meeting up on campus.
In Fact, FreeHour was established in 2017. How did the idea come to mind? Considering that at 18 you were still pretty young.
I was a student at Junior College and during my two years there, I’ve always felt the need for something like this. I kept thinking about it, drawing diagrams… and after finishing my A-Levels, I said to myself ‘’ Okay, let’s see how we’re gonna do this’’. I started looking for developers who can help me achieve this, and eventually we manage to collect some funds from friends, family and other investors that helped us create the first version of FreeHour which was much more basic than what we have now, due to all the updates we’ve implemented over the past three years. But, yes we started with this basic version that allowed students to input their timetables and share it with their friends to see when they have coinciding free lessons.
Something interesting that we should mention is that FreeHour has expanded into Italy as well so this is no longer just a local app, but rather has expanded into another country as well.
When we first started in Malta, I wasn’t sure if it was gonna work, like everything else, but when we came to launch it, the feedback was overwhelmingly great, where we got around 700 downloads on the first day, after a few months 3,000, then 10,000 and now we have 90% of Malta’s students using the app, which shows the app’s potential of working elsewhere.
We carried out extensive research, spending around six months determining the best location to take the first step into internationalisation. We noticed that Italy has a very similar system to Malta so we started out in Rome and similar locations as a test launch, to see what Italian Students think of this, and it did very well.
In the first 2 weeks in Italy, we got 20,000 downloads. So it shows that what we learned in Malta, we took with us to Italy. Its going very well, and that’s another 20,000 students using the app.
You launched in Rome, and you knew about Emma Muscat, a Maltese person living in Italy that has a large Italian following and you utilised her fanbase to market your app in Italy.
Yes, we used a mix of online and physical promotion, we had gone to Italy for a week and a half of physical promotion, stands and promos on campus, and apart from the collaboration with Emma Muscat, we worked with a lot of influencers that had a similar following. It was a very nice one to do, very nice.
What would you say was the biggest obstacle to move FreeHour forward?
I think the biggest problem when starting a business is financial capital. I speak to a lot of people with a great idea, but they have no idea where to start from and generally the problem would be money, as it’s very expensive to start.
Now I’d like to introduce Dana Farrugia to the conversation, the CEO of TechMT.
Thank you Rachel. I feel proud to see a student get an idea from his head, believe in it, and convince other people to develop it locally. Not only that, but pushed his idea overseas as well. I encourage people to act on and believe in their ideas and get the necessary help. The difficulty to get the financial help for your idea, is real. It’s difficult to get a person or the bank itself to believe in the idea and lend you the money to try, because there’s no guarantee of success. In Zach’s case, he kept insisting on his proposition, believing in himself to get what he needs to even take his idea to other countries.
Thank you Dana. I know that this topic is one that’s close to your heart. Zach what is the future of FreeHour?
FreeHour Malta has the potential to go through new avenues, so we’re not neglecting it, we give it a lot of attention since it has great potential in the student market. Obviously, internationalisation is constantly ongoing. I don’t know, in 10 years maybe we could see FreeHour in many different countries operating on the same level that Malta is on which means a high percentage of students using it everyday.
The company’s growth, we’re currently ten people, we started with 3 years ago, so hopefully we’ll keep expanding the team, and the app as well to see ourselves as you said yourself, playing with these big international players. We’re really excited about this, about our international journey and we’d like to thank TechMT specifically for all the help they had provided, I really enjoyed having the interview and I thank you very much once again.
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