Is it true that social media makes us more unsociable and we do not know our neighbours anymore? Less app, More Hellow, says Yonas Alizadeh, a 26 years old entrepreneur behind the Hellow app. I have visited the freshly painted office, curious to know more about his entrepreneurship journey. Follow me, let's meet Yonas!
Yonas, what is your story and what brought you to Odense?
My parents are originally from Afghanistan, we moved to Denmark in 1995, when I was 4 years old. When I was a child I always liked to modify my toys, so they would be faster and more fun to play with. I always knew that I wanted to study something related to electronics, programming or robotics. I moved to Odense from Kolding, to study. I got to know about the engineering programme at the University of Southern Denmark and chose it with no doubt.
I always wonder about the after graduation experience, what is your like?
I graduated with my master’s degree in summer 2016. Everybody from my study programme were looking for full time jobs, but I was not in a rush to take the first job or have a job in general. It is rather difficult to explain why, but it did not feel right to me to work for a company. It is perfectly fine to do so, it just was not for me.
I started to think about what I would like to do, maybe I should start a company, what would its purpose be… For my final master's degree project I developed an intelligent measurement tape, which would remember the measurements taken and would draw the figure on a phone. However, I decided that it was not something I was passionate enough to work further on.
How was the idea to develop an app born?
At the time I was about to graduate, I talked with my study friends about different ideas. One of the things we realised is that there are so many dating apps, but there are no apps just for socializing - what if you move to a new city or you are just bored and want to meet other people, what do you do then?
One and a half years ago I went on a road trip in Europe and then backpacked for two and a half months in south Asia. I wondered if this is just a local, Danish issue, that we do not communicate much with people around us, or is it like that in other countries too.
I talked with people from all around the world and everybody told me they could recognize the issue. It is not a Danish problem, it is a human problem. It is a paradox that social media makes us more unsociable. It is easy to think that we are social - we have a chat online and we think we are connected. When you go on a subway in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, everyone looks down to their phones… I think that was the moment when I decided to do something about this.
So what happened next?
I came back from my backpacking trip in September last year and that is when I started really working on Hellow. For me it was a big personal challenge. I have never developed an app before…
I know it is a paradox, but I wanted to develop an app that people would use in order to be less online, to meet people. Back in the days we used to talk to other people - you would chat with people in a queue at a shop, you would talk with your neighbours. Now I barely know if it is a family or a single man or a woman living next to me, because we do not talk to each other.
What about the name, why Hellow?
To be honest I do not remember the moment I got an idea about Hellow. For me it always has been Hellow. The name came to me at some point and I just stuck with it. When you meet someone you say, hello, as simple as that.
Was it a complicated process to start a company all by yourself?
Yes and no. The difficult part was that there was no handbook or blog post that you can look up and have a step by step guide of what to do. There are so many things you need to think of: the software, the law, the company… There is so much to do, but you have to do it in steps. My first step was to take a decision, then start creating a prototype, then a website and a Facebook page. I did it all slowly, step by step.
Is it difficult to let other people into work on your project?
Not at all. For me it was what I was really looking for. Throughout the project, almost from the first day, I wanted to have someone to share the mission with, someone who would motivate me when I am down and could share the ideas. It was a relief when the team started to grow.
How does your day look like in the office? Do people call you a CEO?
They do call me the CEO, but more for fun - I am not the typical boss, I am not frightening. My day at the office depends on if we have changes to programme in the app. Currently I am the only developer, which means that if we have an update then my day is really busy and I have to focus on the coding. If not, then I am more involved in marketing and other tasks. Now it is easier to look back and think it was a good idea to become an entrepreneur, but there is still a lot of things to do.
And so we stop there, as Yonas has to go back to work, make more updates on the app.
If you also want to meet new people or maybe invite others to your event, find out more about Hellow app on the web, or Facebook page. For me it is always fun to follow what is happening behind the scenes, for that Hellow team uses Instagram, where they show more of their startup life. You can also say Hello(w) to Yonas on LinkedIn.