Student app creator sets sight on international expansion

An app created by an 18-year-old is gaining traction among Maltese students and support from local businesses, proving successful entrepreneurship is not the sole domain of established businessmen

19-year-old Zach Ciappara developed his fiß√rst app when he was still in Form 4 at San Anton School
19-year-old Zach Ciappara developed his fiß√rst app when he was still in Form 4 at San Anton School

An app created by an 18-year-old is gaining traction among Maltese students and support from local businesses, proving successful entrepreneurship is not the sole domain of established businessmen.

Zach Ciappara, creator and founder of Free Hour, told MaltaToday that he started envisaging the app while he was attending Junior College.

“Back then, I saw a need for an app that could help me plan my day and see what time I could spend with my friends,” he said. “My first app, which I launched last year, made it possible to share timetables and plan accordingly.”

Zach says he has always dreamt of owning a company by the time he turned 18 and that he had immediately realised his idea could be successful, since there was nothing – bar an Australian app – that remotely resembled what he had in mind.

I run my company as though it’s the biggest company in the world

That is indeed one of the fundamental basic prerequisites for a successful business: identify a need, find a solution and provide a viable user-friendly platform.

Zach, who is now a first-year student pursuing Business Development at St Martin’s Institute, said that there was nothing stopping other students from taking the plunge – like he did – and becoming entrepreneurs.

He recognises the need for a solid commitment to the project, as well as to one’s studies, and says that being a student while pursuing his business dream had proven to be hard and annoying, but doable.

When he first decided to go ahead with his project, Zach raised €3,000 from family and friends and obtained a further €3,000 as a loan from a Maltese business.

He then submitted his project for consideration in MITA’s YouStartIt equity-free accelerator. After successfully pitching his plan to a panel of experts, Zach was awarded €22,000 in pre-seed investment - €15,000 cash and €7,000 worth of services.

He is, to date, the only student to have successfully pitched a project and been funding investment under the YouStartIt initiative and says it was invaluable to him.

Thanks to the investment, he developed his app further, and Free Hour is now much more than a timetable-sharing app, offering jobs notifications and even tools for teachers.

“It has become the go-to app for most students,” Zach said. And with 14,200 downloads to date, and all monetising avenues – like advertising space – presold up to October 2018, students and business seem to agree with him.

He now has three developers working on the app and is in the process of hiring a salesperson to further monetise on the app’s success.

“Free Hour has become my life and I hope it grows so much that it forces me to drop out of school,” Zach says somewhat jokingly.

And he is already working on taking the app international.

“Don’t get me wrong, I run my company as though it’s the biggest company in the world,” he said. “But I would like to see this – or something else I develop down the line – gain traction abroad and be as successful as Free Hour has already been, but on a much bigger level.”

Building business is what Zach now intends to do for the rest of his life and he thanks this process for confirming he can, indeed, be successful.

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