Alex Kwan Is Concerned with Hong Kong's Sustainability
He founded FreeSth, an online platform that aims to reduce waste by making it easier for people to give away their second-hand items.
What’s the idea behind FreeSth? FreeSth is an online platform for people to give away belongings that they don’t want anymore. The idea behind it is to encourage people to make good use of their own items and reduce waste. Hong Kong is such a materialistic city, and the problem is we don’t realize that we have an abundance and we don’t really need to spend money on things. Most people just give in to what companies try to sell us. But there are so many things that we can reuse or pass on to people.
What did you do before starting FreeSth? I used to work for the MTR as a support engineer. Back then I always had this feeling that I wasn’t accomplishing anything and my work was not making a positive impact on the world. I quit my job in May 2014. I just felt like it was time for me to try something new and adventurous while I still could.
How did you start out? It all began from an idea I had to start an online business, but I was still unsure of what to do. I started by focusing on developing an Android app. I taught myself how to write an app and all that stuff, but the target audience was limited, so the app didn’t go far. But I knew that I wanted to target audiences on a virtual platform. So at the beginning of 2015 I learned how to create my own website, and that was how I started.
Who was your first member and what did they list? It was most probably me or my girlfriend. We shared some of our clothes. Now I have more than 7,000 users on the platform, and I’ve just released an iPhone app.
What is the weirdest thing that’s been listed? This happened quite recently: A man posted a fish he caught himself [pictured, below right], and wrote “freshly caught, same day pick-up.” I never thought people would want stuff like that, but eventually somebody did pick it up.
Is there anything you refuse to take? Pills and supermarket collection stamps. I ban people from giving away pills on the website for obvious reasons: I don’t want people to be giving out unauthorized medication. People might find it weird, but I don’t allow the sharing of supermarket collection stamps because I think it encourages wasteful consumer patterns. Collecting stamps itself is wasting paper, and supermarkets usually aren’t able to give away all the merchandise, which ends up in the dump. Discouraging this phenomenon is one of the things that inspired me to create this platform.
What memorable items have been listed? During Christmas, a member shared some homemade cookies on the website, which I thought was a really generous idea. There are also people who collect the bits and bobs that they have obtained from FreeSth and repackage them into something useful and share it back on the platform. I appreciate that in a way I have helped create communities among members of my platform.
Do people criticize you for using people’s cast-offs? No, I’m lucky enough to have never received such criticism. Even if I did I wouldn’t mind, because it means that I have a very different set of values from those people.
What business tips do you have? Perseverance is everything, and be prepared to be involved personally every step of the way. I started the business solely on my own, I did everything myself. It helps when you are more hands-on with your own business.