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From NUS To Silicon Valley, These 3 S'poreans Are Now Championing Safe Travels For Women With Their App

Chirpey is a social app exclusive to women, that lets users initiate discussions, exchange tips, and arrange meet-ups with other travellers.Co-founders Karyn Lim, Ngin Yun Chuan, and Ong Qi Yong developed the app together after their experience in Silicon Valley under a programme offered by NUS.

Women today are empowered and unashamed to experience the world through travel. But that doesn’t mean the world is forgiving when it comes to dangers that females might be more vulnerable to.

Ideally, respect would make it safe for anyone, regardless of gender, to set out on their own adventures.

However, knowing this doesn’t give us any control over the actions of others, and women still have to take extra precaution when travelling.

This struggle was what 23-year-old Karyn Lim explained to her two male friends to get them on board her cause.

With the safety of their sisters, friends and loved ones in mind, Ngin Yun Chuan (24) and Ong Qi Yong (25) were convinced to join Karyn’s mission of building an online support community to help women fulfil their wanderlust without fear.

Helping (Travelling) Birds Of The Same Feather Flock Together

In her own experiences, Karyn has had difficulties getting advice and information she needed as a female traveller.

She once had to cancel a trip after her friend pulled out of the plans, as she was afraid to go alone, and received plenty of dissuasion that it was too “dangerous for a young girl”.

Small setbacks eventually accumulated into something bigger, and led Karyn to wonder how like-minded women could possibly help each other change the travel experience.

Her team has set out to meet this need with a travel app exclusive to women, which they call “Chirpey”.

These ideas aren’t entirely revolutionary, since we already have an abundance of methods, like forums and social media, that let us connect with others to get advice and meet travel buddies.

What makes all the difference is that Chirpey carries out a verification process on each member, and restricts access to users who are not verified.

Their approach to security is serious—unverified users cannot join or create Chatters to talk to other users.

More importantly, they won’t be able to view the locations where Flocks are planning to gather, and see who’s in the Flock.

The team also has plans in the pipeline to develop a function that lets users notify others in the vicinity if they’re in an emergency situation and need help.

Ultimately, the three young founders aim to foster a support system and resource pool that gives female travellers a greater peace of mind to set out for unfamiliar lands.

Meeting On The Path To Entrepreneurship

All in their early-to-mid 20s, Karyn, Yun Chuan, and Qi Yong are each performing demanding roles to develop their product from scratch and run a new startup as young entrepreneurs.

Despite their age, they’ve been equipped for the endeavour.

Three of them met as they were all undertaking the National University Overseas College (NOC) programme in 2017, offered by National University of Singapore (NUS).

Over the course of a year, they attended entrepreneurship-focused classes at Stanford University, and took on internships with Silicon Valley companies.

Karyn gained experience in marketing and business operations during her time with Pod Foods and Verlocal, while Yun Chuan and Qi Yong practiced in software engineering with companies like VISA, StratiFi, and OCBC under their belts.

Students on exchange usually share memories of road trips and hanging out at local bars, but this trio did all that and more.

Beyond leisure and entertainment, they bonded by participating in hackathons together, and even emerged as winners of the API World Hackathon 2017 over 60 other teams.

“The time that we spent together in Silicon Valley helped to strengthen our friendship, even though we come from different [fields]. If not for this experience we shared, we would never have thought of starting our own business together,” Karyn says.

When they returned to Singapore at the end of the programme, they brought new ambitions home with them.

They pitched “Chirpey” to NUS Enterprise, and successfully became one of three groups to receive a grant of $10,000 to kickstart their business.

200 Users In 3 Months, And A Long Road Ahead

With that, they propelled themselves from interns to founders, even while the men of the group were still in their last year of university.

The team spent the bulk of their 2018 developing their app under Yun Chuan’s charge as Chief Technical Officer, and completed their first version in August.

“We developed Chirpey with a focus on providing a smooth and reliable in-app search and live chat experience, backed by secure, proven cloud services: Amazon Web Services and Google’s Firebase.”

They had also been fostering a Facebook community of female travellers and sharing “Chirp Hacks” (travel tips) to gather interest before their launch in September.

Having a Facebook group of over 700 members, and growing, helped Chirpey welcome its first 200 users by November.

It was also easy for them to begin conversations on the app, just picking up from where they left off the way they’d already been interacting.

In a short 3 months, users initiated Chatters to seek advice, give recommendations, and even talk about pre-trip anxiety. It wasn’t one-way either, as other users were more than willing to chime in with their own experiences.

The Team Verifies Every New Member Themselves

Before heading off for a company retreat to Bali last month, I decided it would be a good opportunity to download Chirpey and understand how it works.

After setting up an account and checking out the tabs and navigations, I left the app aside for a couple of weeks.

Embarrassingly, I’d forgotten to submit materials for verification as procrastination got the better of me, but was surprised to see that I was already a verified user the next time I opened the app.

As I asked about this, Karyn explained that their team had a process to retrieve information about new users and confirm their identity, but providing supporting documents would, of course, speed things up.

“Our team goes through each new member’s verification ourselves,” she says.

And what happens if they come across a user that seems suspicious?

“If we feel that a member is suspicious or can’t be verified, we ask them for additional information. In the event that it’s still not [sufficient to confirm their identity], we will not verify them.”

This doesn’t mean that once verified, users are free to abuse the system either, as the Chirpey team monitors activity and enforces bans if necessary.

A Social App Is Only As Strong As Its Community

While I was hoping to glean some recommendations on activities to do in Bali, I was a little disappointed to find that no one had started a discussion about it yet.

This was when Karyn reminded me that as a user, I was totally free to start a topic myself if it didn’t yet exist.

That way, discussions would bloom from actual interests and needs of Chirpey’s users, instead of having conversations “forced” by its administrators.

With about 200 users currently, of which 90% are verified, it’s only natural that the topics or destinations that have been brought up so far don’t cover an extensive range yet.

Chirpey would need to build its community over time in order to keep adding value to their “resource pool” for female travellers.

As such, one of their goals is to hit 1,000 users in the first quarter of 2019, before they carry on expanding into Southeast Asia and eventually other parts of the world.

Growing their community is top priority, and the team is ready to bootstrap through their early days before working towards monetisation, which could then come through integrating travel booking and products on the app.

Looking back on their work, the three young entrepreneurs share that starting out has been intimidating and challenging, but seeing users extend themselves to others always affirms that they’re heading in the right direction.

Find out more about Chirpey and join their travelling community here.

Featured Image Credit: Chirpey

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