Embarking on an overseas exchange programmes seems to be the norm for university students these days. But kick starting a start-up as a result of such programmes sure does not sound too familiar.
Melvin Lee, recent graduate of Singapore Management University (SMU), defied the norm as the CEO of ‘The Flying Chalks’. As aptly exemplified by its name, ‘Flying’ and ‘Chalks’ interestingly represents the amalgamation of education and going global – except with a twist.
They are not doing the actual formal educating itself; they thrive on assisting students to achieve and make the most out of their enriching journey.
Still not too convinced about how they run? Melvin Lee, the pioneer of this 12 man team narrates his exciting story.
How did you come up with the idea of this start-up?
I was planning for my own exchange programme to Korea two years ago. However, my excitement was soon taken over by unfamiliarity and uncertainties.
There wasn’t anyone for me to turn to for guidance – no professors, no seniors or peers who are heading towards the same institution.
As such, my inefficient planning process undermined my exchange experience. And I couldn’t help but wonder if the other tens of millions of international students worldwide share similar sentiments as me.
This thought then made me realise that there is a market need for a platform that features an exchange community. And I, wanted to make this happen.
What is your business proposition?
In short, we hope to enhance the overseas study experience for all tertiary students worldwide.
This is facilitated through our one-stop platform where students can seamlessly PLAN their overseas education, benefit from SHARED experiences and CONNECT with others with ease.
We connect students with 3 main groups of people:
Peers who are heading to the same destination
Seniors who have returned from their overseas studies
Local students in each country
Tell us more about the journey of Flying Chalks thus far
We launched the basic version of our platform in January this year.
Since then, we have attracted about 2,000 students from more than 50 universities worldwide to join our Flying Chalks community in just six months.
Collaborations wise, we have been working with some established names. The Indonesian Embassy in Singapore is one of them – They featured us on their media sites and even endorsed an advisory platform on their official website.
Who are your competitors and how do you protect yourself from them?
Albeit the absence of direct competitors, we have identified the following three whom we think pose some degrees of threat towards us;
- Travel Planning Platforms
- The Schools’ Global Offices
- Social Networking Sites
They challenge our core competencies of Plan, Share and Connect as mentioned above.
That said, we are also confident of our comparative advantage. Our centralised platform can provide a relatively greater pool of user-generated and uncensored experience.
How do you plan to monetise?
Partnership. We are looking to partner with companies that provide products and services that are of interest and relevance to our user base.
Examples of such services include flight, accommodation, travel insurance and foreign exchange etc. Companies can either pay to list their services on our platform or offer us commissions for successful customer referrals.
On CEO – Tell us more about your background
Well, the entrepreneurial spirit has been residing in me since I was 13!
With ‘Runescape’ as a hot potato at that time, I bought game items from players and re-sold it at a higher price. These trades allowed me to accumulate game currencies, which of course were subsequently converted to real cash.
My friends and relatives saw this gifting in me and I was suddenly plagued with requests to help resell second hand items. This amplified my entrepreneurial dream and never did I expect to be greeted with this opportunity straight after my overseas exchange programme.
What values do you think you have as a founder that will help you set your start-up apart from others?
Fairness and Respect.
As simple as it sounds, it is my belief that these two do not only complement each other, but also paint a harmonious and meritocratic environment.
As a literally young startup driven by tertiary students in their early twenties, I sure do not want our energy and endless potential to be undermined by office politics!
“A chalk changes with the direction of the wind. But the hand, the man behind it, possesses the power to write beautiful stories, regardless of any circumstances”.
Many times, we read about interview series expecting to be greeted with crazy revolutionary ideas. But how many of these actually work in the long run?
Then there are times when we lament to ourselves that ‘following your dreams’ is not for us Singaporeans.
But today, Lee proved the above wrong with his humility and down to earth spirit.
His story is beautifully simple – embrace your own teenage dream, identify a market demand, provide a viable solution and give it your all.
This is his story. Where is yours?
Founder, CEO of Flying Chalks
(H/P) +65 9191 4370
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