Interview with Myflat.hk, Hong Kong's neighborhood social network

Tell us about your start-up! MyFlatMyflat.hk is a neighborhood social network for Hong Kong that aims to better connect residents with their real neighbors, thereby creating a stronger community in which they live.

We often hear people say that Hong Kong is less friendly than before and that they hardly know any of their neighbors. While technology is great in many ways, it is also something that has moved us away from face-to-face contacts. Social networks connect people across cyberspace but don’t necessarily connect people across the hallway. This is where Myflat.hk differs; we want to connect people with their real neighbors.

Why do we want to do this? We believe there is practical value in connecting with your neighbors and being part of a stronger community. You can ask for recommendations for a good doctor or tutor nearby, you can seek information on local shops, you can share resources, you can plan bulk purchases to get discounts, you can buy or sell items, you can plan collective recycling or donation opportunities, you can inform your neighbors if you see anything suspicious downstairs, you can share taxis…the list goes on and on!

There are numerous ways to utilize a platform that connects people who live close to one another. Aside from opportunities to help and support each other, it creates a community of neighbors who are friendlier. And we believe that these are all good things for Hong Kong!

Who is the brains behind this business? How did you come up with the idea?

The idea evolved over time. There are three co-founders (Matt, Antony and Doug) who were initially interested in building value added tools and services for the property sector in Hong Kong. However, at an early stage, they realized that they wanted to create something that could benefit a wider segment of users and also be a more sticky application that users would visit regularly.

The idea for a neighborhood social network developed out of hearing common feedback from friends and associates that Hong Kong is less friendly than before. The Myflat.hk team have all spent time overseas for school and work, but we all call Hong Kong our home and agree that Hong Kong is a great city. So what is making people feel nostalgic for ‘times past’? The answer is a complicated mix of changes in technology, society’s tolerance levels, distribution of knowledge, and increased material consumption.

Through brainstorming, the co-founders recognized that a social group which has negatively been impacted by technology is the ‘neighbor group’. Everyone remembers times when we were friendlier with neighbors and people helped one another. Technology helps to connect us with people around the world but what about people who live next door or upstairs? This was when the idea of a neighborhood social network started to take shape. A social network is the ideal platform to start connecting real neighbors, through a modern channel that is familiar and embraced by a tech savvy society.

MyFlat team

Who are you hoping will be using this platform?

We hope that the majority of Hong Kong residents will sign up for this platform. By growing the user base and having more engagement between neighbors, we will see more benefits to the communities through information sharing and practical support.

Myflat.hk is available via mobile, tablet or PC. There are 17.1 million mobile service subscribers in Hong Kong, representing a 237% penetration rate (source: OFCA 2013). There is also an 83% household broadband penetration rate (source: OFCA 2013), which means that Hong Kong is a highly connected society. Given that most residential buildings contain hundreds of units, it is quite a statement that people on average know only about 3 neighbors*, and this is something Myflat.hk wants to improve. (*We conducted a Facebook survey recently.)

What about safety?

Myflat.hk verifies the identity of our users by requiring all users to register with their addresses. We understand that this may be a concern for some people but this is necessary for us to ensure that we are granting access to people who actually live in the neighborhood they say they live in. Most social networks only require you to register using an email address but this means that anyone can register from anywhere. The key point about a neighborhood social network is that it is a network of actual neighbors and as such, it is fundamental that our process integrates a verification process to confirm the identity of our users. We value the trust of our users, which means they have to be able to trust the integrity of the network.

The requirement of a user’s address is a one-off request to setup the user account. The address details will not be displayed to other users on Myflat.hk nor will they be shared with third party vendors or advertisers.

Myflat.hk places a high priority on data security and protection. From a technical perspective, the site is built with SSL 256-bit encryption to ensure we safeguard our clients’ information.

Is there anything similar in Hong Kong? What’s your greatest competition?

Currently, we are not aware of another neighborhood social network in Hong Kong. However, there are a few estate blog sites and Facebook district groups that exist, but these usually do not verify the addresses of their users which means that anyone can join. While the blog sites and Facebook groups do represent some competition for Myflat.hk, we also view them as positive confirmation that there is demand and interest from Hong Kong residents to have a communication platform connecting them with their local community. And this is where Myflat.hk is well positioned to offer this service for neighborhoods across Hong Kong.

How will you get the critical mass of users?

We are a start-up so we do not have a large budget for marketing and advertising. To date, we have been utilizing social media to increase the awareness of Myflat.hk on Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. We have been joining start-up events in Hong Kong, plus we have plans to contact various publications to generate media coverage. Furthermore, we will reach out to property management companies for partnership opportunities, as we also see Myflat.hk as a platform that can better connect residents with their property management companies and vice versa.

Are you working out of a co-working space?

No, we are renting a small office space in Kwun Tong.

MyFlat - having a laugh

Tell us about the experience of building this application?

One way to describe the experience of building this application is that it has been filled with ups and downs, and we know this is not unique to our start-up. To build something from scratch is exciting but the execution requires long-term commitment. When there are wins, we take pride in being part of a small team that is building something for Hong Kong. When there are setbacks, we try not to dwell on them and instead just move onto the next milestones.

In the beginning, one of the challenges was to grow the IT team with the right resources. As a start-up with a small team, there is greater emphasis on collaboration so hiring the right people has always been paramount. With some luck and patience, we now have a solid IT team that is committed to developing Myflat.hk’s platform and features.

Myflat.hk has already launched and we are continually working on further development and on increased market exposure. Each phase has brought challenges and rewards, but all of us (especially those from previous corporate backgrounds) would agree that the challenges are learning opportunities and the rewards are more personal. Overall, the experience has been positive for all of us.

What is your greatest challenge at the moment?

I think we are going through what many start-ups experience: different challenges for different phases. Currently, we are fundraising plus trying to grow our registered user base.

For more information, please contact:

Margaret Goodchild Vice President Marketing Communications margaret.goodchild@linkingsource.com

Matthew Tam Co-Founder & CEO matthew.tam@linkingsource.com

Antony Wong Co-Founder & COO antony.wong@linkingsource.com