The old way of finding a tutor or selling a piece of furniture was to pin a message on a notice board at the local supermarket or in the management office of your building or housing estate. In the Internet age, online forums and discussion groups have almost completely wiped out that way of doing things. But Matthew Tam, who co-founded the start-up Around (website: aroundhub.com ) with Anthony Wong (not the writer), believes that the traditional style of message board can be revitalised with the use of information technology. How did you come up with the idea for Around? I live on a housing estate and, one day, wanted to put a message on the management office’s notice board to find people interested in playing basketball. I was asked to fill in some forms and, after that, had to wait a long time before my message was displayed. I thought there should be a more efficient way of doing things. Nowadays, there are many forums and discussion groups where people share information. We want people living in the same district or housing estate to share information about things like recruiting tutors and organising community activities. Anthony and I were formerly colleagues at an investment bank. He had always wanted to own a business and I am interested in technology, so we decided to quit our jobs to run start-ups. How can users get started? Unlike groups on social media, we have a high standard of security to verify if users live at a valid address. After registering their personal details and address on the website, we send an activation code by post. Users need to choose a district and if, for example, they live in the Yau Tsim Mong area, will only receive information about that district. They get information specific to the neighbourhood on things like special offers at shops or inquiries about renting a parking space or an apartment. What districts are covered? We have users in all of Hong Kong’s 18 districts and, so far, more than 4,000 people, living in both private and public housing estates, have registered with us. Discovery Bay, Tung Chung and Park Island have the most users to date, partly because many foreigners live in these areas and they seem to be more open-minded about using technology to enhance their lifestyle. Why did you visit Silicon Valley? We were one of the six teams chosen to visit Silicon Valley for five days as part of the Google-EYE programme. This is an initiative which helps students and young entrepreneurs in Hong Kong to innovate and connect with the global community. We noticed that the biggest difference between US start-ups and those set up locally is the willingness to share ideas. In Hong Kong, people tend to think that sharing ideas will allow others to copy them, but ideas alone are worthless without proper execution. In contrast, US start-ups are keen to share ideas and use collective efforts to execute them successfully. What is your business model? Our income is from advertising. Last year, businesses mailed 1.4 billion circulars to homes in Hong Kong, and we think of our website as an enhanced version of that. With our database of users, we can help businesses to target specific age groups living in a particular area. After launching the website in 2012 [as myflat.hk], we had a lot of inquiries from businesses asking to collaborate. They wanted to inform potential consumers in their area about the latest special offers or products and services. We charge them a fee to use our platform. What are your plans for the future? We are going to launch a mobile app for aroundhub.com by the end of the year. In the coming 12 months, we plan to introduce a number of new features for the website and the app. A buy-and-sell feature will be the first because user surveys show there is high demand to trade furniture or other items within the same district. One advantage is that it saves time and transportation costs. For example, in one case someone moving from a housing estate flat wanted to sell a set of cushions custom-made for a window seat. Logically, only people living on the same estate would be interested and our website was able to connect him with a buyer. We have used our own savings and investment from friends to support the business. At the Google-EYE event, we met some “incubates” from the Hong Kong Science Park. After learning about their experiences with that programme, we realised it matches our business model very well, so we are planning to apply.