Founder  of  MamaHelpers  Uses  Metaphor  of  Motherhood  to  Describe  Entrepreneurship

Barely in her early twenties, Amanda Tsz-yan So repeatedly used the metaphor of bearing and raising children to describe the experience of co-founding MamaHelpers, a mobile app-based start-up to match domestic helpers and agencies with employers. Amanda and Yan Yat-yin Leung, both second-year students of HKUST’s MPhil Program in Technology Leadership and Entrepreneurship (TLE), came up with the idea the first day they met at the University. Using Amanda’s own words, they have been closer than soul-mates and seeing each other more often than families and lovers since then to make this start-up a success.

Just two and a half months after its soft launch, MamaHelpers has already attracted close to 30,000 members, maintained a database with more than 20,000 foreign domestic helper profiles, and attracted 9,000 active users daily. The company has grown from having only two co-founders to engaging a team of 16 in two office locations.

The team includes a female user of the platform who is so happy with the service that she decided to join the company herself. With upcoming partnerships in Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines already confirmed, the company is now expanding to the Southeast Asian market in early 2018.

A Perfect Match

Shortly after graduation from the engineering schools of the University of Warwick and the Chinese University of Hong Kong respectively, Amanda and Yan joined HKUST’s TLE Program to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. “The first day we met at HKUST, we were thrilled to learn about our similar experience and passion: during our undergraduate years, we had both founded start-ups which later failed due to issues with working partners,” said Amanda.

Coincidentally Amanda was encountering problems hiring foreign domestic helpers at the time, while Yan had been volunteering at non-profit organizations to assist helpers for years. Finding this a perfect match, they decided to introduce innovations to the industry to help solve problems ranging from over-charge, unreliable personnel to tedious procedures.

Knowing that 97% of start-ups fail, and among them 70% failed because of team issues, Amanda and Yan treasure their working relationship and have been communicating about their start-up on a 24/7 basis ever since.

It took only one day for the business concept to be borne, but one whole year for thorough social research to be conducted. “Every Sunday we went to hubs where domestic helpers meet to chat with them throughout the day. We became close friends with the helpers; it was with them that we celebrated our birthdays.”

The duo gave so much attention to details and preparation that they actually applied for an agency license with the Labour Department to experience how a real-world agency is run.Thanks to this two-pronged, down-to-earth approach, they soon discovered another facet of the industry on top of the nuts-and-bolts. “We learned to see things from different perspectives: some employers could be mean, and some helpers could be unreliable; agencies have their challenges too,” noted Amanda.

The discovery became a turning-point which led to their decision that the platform should be for all three kinds of stakeholders: employers, helpers, and agencies. After another few months to build and test out the platform, MamaHelpers has now become Hong Kong’s first free, open helper database. It has the following features: it includes agencies in the system, enables user feedback, and charges no fee for employers to contact helpers. And the two founders-engineers certainly pay special attention to cyber-security.

One-of-a-kind Entrepreneurial Program

“Engineers love solving problems, and entrepreneurs are intrigued by interesting ideas,” said Amanda. Having met her start-up partner at HKUST, Amanda finds TLE a one-of-a-kind program in Hong Kong combining entrepreneurship with technology. After taking courses related to MBA and start-up in the first year, participants spend substantial time doing actual start-up work, to be concluded with a thesis consisting of a business part and a technical part. Students choose their supervisors. Amanda and Yan chose Prof Wilfred Ng, an expert in data and information management, and Prof Wang Tao, a cyber-security guru respectively. Both supervisors have helped them substantially to materialize their dreams.

“I am glad to have met a lot of like-minded people at HKUST’s TLE Program. Among fellow students-entrepreneurs here, we are excited to share new ideas as well as issues such as hiring. Friends and families on the other hand, usually do not understand why you have such passion, or what you are trying to achieve,” Amanda noted.

“Most importantly, we learn from each other through sharing of mistakes made and lessons learned to minimize recurring problems.” For instance, the two have experienced first-hand obstacles in outsourcing technical work, and have thus taken others’ advice to hire a Chief Technology Officer in the end.

She speaks positively about fellow students-entrepreneurs, saying that each of them has a special profile and character but a common entrepreneurial drive. Within the small and elitist class of 15, participants are either seasoned or first-time entrepreneurs. They have come from various academic disciplines and territories near and far including France, Russia and the Middle East. Although the students take fewer classes during the second year, frequent social gatherings and their entrepreneurial spirits continue to draw them together.

Amanda (left) and Yan (middle)

Attracted to HKUST’s Science and Technological Acumen

First attracted by HKUST as a high-school student because of the University’s robust robotics as well as environment favorable to science and technology, Amanda continues to find HKUST’s international faculty, business and technological strengths most impressive. Members of the alumni often return to the campus to share their entrepreneurial experience and exciting career paths, demonstrating real synergies and dynamism. She will highly recommend the University and its programs to other people.

Apart from work and studies, Amanda was an enthusiast of drama who had been active as a director, actress and specialist in lighting and backstage. “Theatrical directors have tasks similar to those of founders and CEOs of start-ups: we are responsible for everything.”

Nevertheless, she now has little time for leisurely activities as she and Yan are fully dedicated to their entrepreneurial pursuit.

“Just as a mother has to meet all needs of her baby and play roles varying from a chef to a driver, we are now busy to such an extent that we have no time for friends and families. We look forward to seeing our ‘baby’ grow up quickly and healthily,” said the young entrepreneur.