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Alumna starts non-profit tech startup to help people

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Alumna starts non-profit tech startup to help people

See what a potato means for Master of Guidance and Counselling graduate, Felicia Hong, as she finds inspiration from her internship to start non-profit tech startup which helps to connect with people to help one another with real life issues.

What are you up to right now?
I am a social entrepreneur who started a nonprofit organisation and currently working full-time at TripAdvisor.

We are excited to hear about your new startup, Chat to a Potato. So tell us what is Chat to a Potato and what prompted you to start this?
Chat to a Potato is an instant chat website that allows you to connect with other people who can help in real life issues - such as depression, anxiety, sexuality, relationships/break-ups etc. With our online search tool, you can find someone around your age and gender to have a live chat with.



The motivation behind the idea arose during my Master of Guidance and Counselling (MGC) internship. Whilst I was an intern psychotherapist for teenagers, I realised that there were many people who needed basic support and I was motivated to contribute further.

Why potato? As the target audience is around the ages of 13 to 22, I chose the name "Potato" because I wanted to create a brand name that would spark curiosity and be introduced as something approachable and non-threatening. I wanted it to represent values integral to a therapeutic relationship. For example, a potato could be viewed as approachable, non-judgemental and receptive.

Why a Potato
Image courtesy of chattoapotato.com

How has the experience been for you so far?
The whole experience has taught me that empathy and taking action is a very valuable combination. It has been a steep learning curve as I have built it from scratch, which involves many aspects such as marketing, design, government legislation, negotiation, conflict resolution and general administration.

The best part is knowing that I am able to help so many people from all over the world. Everyday I receive thank you messages from users, telling me that they can get through their day with more happiness.

If you could highlight one memorable encounter/experience with the startup, what would it be?
The most memorable experience is when I receive feedbacks from users about how Chat to a Potato has made a difference to their lives. The whole purpose of this start-up is to help others, to know that it is accomplishing the goal that I had in mind is a very fulfilling experience.

What would be some of the lessons learned or challenges faced?
One of the most important lessons I have learnt from building a start-up is to always plan ahead and learn to prioritise. There is nothing more crucial than proper planning- as my father always said, "prepare for the worst and plan for the best!". As this experience has been entirely new to me, I've had no reassurance that the decisions I am making are the correct ones. I've had to take many risks and most of the time they have paid off, but other times I make many mistakes and have to learn from them.

How do you feel studying at JCU Singapore has helped you?
I am grateful for the well structured MGC programs that facilitated a lot of self exploration and independent learning. More importantly, I had the privilege of being taught by senior lecturer, Dr Geoff McNulty. He is able to interact with students in a way that allows them to search for new answers instead of spoon feeding. Even after I had graduated, he has always made himself available to mentor and offer his intelligent insights.

What's next for your start up and for yourself?
Launched in November 2015, Chat to a Potato now has over 4,300 users and over 11,200 supporters on our Facebook page. Whilst we steadily increase in value and user base, many of our current users have given feedback that they find mobile apps more convenient as they hope to gain easy access to our platform. Hence, we are currently looking to raise funds to convert this into an app.

As for myself, I devote most of my time to running Chat to a Potato, and in future I hope to venture further into building other start-ups that make a difference in people's lives.

Any career advice?
I feel that I am not apt to give any career advice. But if you are like me and constantly wondering "what am I meant to do in life?", all you need to know is that you are not alone and that it is alright to not know your "calling". I think the best thing to do is to get very comfortable in not knowing, and just try your best everyday. Be positive and the opportunities will present themselves.