What do you do when the city you love and live within doesn’t offer the sense of community you crave? For Saf Nazeer and Simon Hills, you go out and create it yourself. The friends from Bristol, UK, were so discouraged by the increasingly insular way in which we all live, they felt compelled to take drastic action.
“It was becoming apparent that there was a lack of a sense of community in most cities these days, and I felt that there was a need for us to find security through strength and trust in the communities we live in rather than finding security through wealth accumulation,” Saf, who has a background in economics and marketing, explains. “I also felt that as a society we were becoming too focused on money, to the extent that we were starting to measure value purely in terms of financial currency.”
It was this epiphany that lead to the idea of Helpfulpeeps, an online community where members are encouraged to both seek and offer help from strangers without any financial incentive. But what began as a “crazy dream”-turned-social experiment was then given validation from Bristol based tech incubator Webstart in late 2014.
“We received a small pre-seed investment as well as free office space and mentoring for six months,” says Saf, who promptly resigned from his sales leadership position in order to throw himself into Helpfulpeeps alongside Simon. “We used that time to go from an initial idea to an MVP (minimum viable product) so that we could actually test whether there was a demand for a platform like Helpfulpeeps, where people would ask for help from or help others, people they didn’t know, for free.”
While finding someone to actually help build an MVP was a struggle (“Simon and I can’t write a line of code between us”), Saf and Simon were then faced with yet another hurdle – how could they raise awareness of Helpfulpeeps without a marketing budget? But they needn’t have worried; the concept of Helpfulpeeps resonated with its audience and, through a mixture of social media and dogged perseverance, it slowly began attracting members.
“Once we had a few thousand users and had proved the concept, we had a whole new set of challenges – raising funding, building a team, growing the community,” says Saf. “It’s been a really steep learning curve with many challenges and no doubt more to come but we trust that with the help of our community we’ll manage to overcome it.”
Today, Helpfulpeeps is a thriving online community with over 800 members. Users sign up via email and can either post a request or browse their feed to see if there’s anything they can lend a hand with in their neighbourhood. Members can even personalise their experience by specifying which skills they want to share with the community as well as causes they care about and are notified of any relevant opportunities. To date, there have been over 1,100 requests for help (which can be anything from cat sitting, moving a sofa or learning a language), with 800 offers of help posted in response.
“We’ve gamified it so that each time you help someone you earn karma, which acts as your reputation score on the network. We call it the karma economy!” says Saf, who hopes to remove the stigma around asking for help. “I wanted to highlight the value of ‘human capital’ – our time and energy – because every individual has something to offer to each other and society at large based on their skills and passions.”
Now that the Bristol-based pilot has been a proven success, Saf and Simon are ready to roll out Helpfulpeeps to the rest of the world. “We have global ambitions and we want to use Helpfulpeeps as a vehicle to impact positive change,” Saf concludes. “We want to encourage people to volunteer more and to help out in the community. Our vision is to create a global community with millions of people helping each other everyday.”