Outside is a community tasking application which provides micro earning opportunities and connects businesses to the untapped labour market. Individuals are able to take on small paying jobs in their spare time, whether from businesses or other individuals, such as running errands and participating in surveys. Nicholas Lim, Outside’s co-founder and CEO, shares that the company’s goal is to act as a decentralised bridge, connecting people and facilitating community support in a safe and seamless way.
How it all started
Outside’s founding team started their journey together over a decade ago, at the age of 13. As part of their school’s social entrepreneurship programme, the group of friends tried their hand at selling items, fundraising, and ideating for new businesses. The team stuck together throughout the years, trying ideas such as a T-shirt printing store, although each of these ended up falling though. Eager to improve and learn from their mistakes, the team upgraded their skills and taught themselves programming and app creation, building static apps and games as practice.
In 2015, Nicholas had the idea for an app which allowed people to better help one another. “I thought, since Airbnb and delivery apps exist, why not something similar that lets people carry out simple paid tasks, without all the barriers?”
By the time the team entered university in 2017, Outside Technologies was registered. Within the next year, they participated in various startup events and programmes. During this time, the team learnt more about the market, running a business, and managing a team. They explored various business models, trying new things to see what would add the most value.
Everything seemed to be going smoothly for Outside, until the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020. From there, things changed for both better and worse.
Overcoming challenges due to COVID-19
The first challenge arose during the circuit breaker period, which restricted people from going out for non-essential purposes. For a company named Outside which depends largely on people going out to run errands, this was a significant blow. However, the team quickly adapted by establishing safe distancing measures such as contactless delivery. Additionally, the whole team had to adjust to working from home and self-quarantining out of precaution. Amid global distress and uncertainty, some thought it would be the end of the company.
Nonetheless, their luck changed as home businesses began reaching out to the team, looking to advertise their sales on the app. Over time, Outside’s user base grew to over 15,000.
Recognising the struggles people were facing due to the pandemic, the team decided to put social welfare first and profits second. “We cut our fees close to zero, so we weren’t making any profits,” Nicholas explains. “We didn’t pay ourselves.”
They caught the attention of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, which listed Outside on their #SGUnited page as one of the recommended outlets for seeking support during the pandemic. Next, Outside was selected as an #SGStrong initiative by the Majurity Trust, which provided funding and publicity for initiatives responding to community needs. Outside was also nominated for the President’s Volunteerism and Philanthropy Awards 2020, receiving a letter of appreciation from President Halimah Yacob for their efforts in helping society during these troubled times.
Nicholas admits, “We were surprised about all the attention, because we were just trying to help people the best we could.”
Keeping up this momentum, the company then expanded their scope by offering quick paid surveys on the app. They connected with business friends and travel agencies who wished to do market research in light of changes in trends during the pandemic. Upon this, more businesses began reaching out to conduct market research on topics such as expenditure, in-store purchasing, and soft skills analysis.
Reflecting on the early days of the pandemic, Nicholas notes the importance of adaptation. “COVID-19 pushed us into a tight spot, but we got lucky and found a new angle to work from. We initially worked primarily on P2P, but now our focus is B2B. We don’t try to make money from P2P, because why create more barriers for individuals?”
Outside & NTUitive
Just last year, Outside connected with NTUitive through ideasinc 2020 – a nationwide startup challenge to groom promising ideas into viable businesses – where they made it into the Top 10.
Nicholas explains that they had attempted to join NTUitive in the past but were unable to as their aims were not aligned: NTUitive had initially focused on hardware and deep technology, rather than social enterprises.
Thus, the Outside team was pleased to discover that NTUitive had since branched out to a greater range of startups, providing more holistic aid including mentorship and guidance in soft skills, as well as greater exposure to the industry.
“There are some really experienced mentors, who are really in the game. Sometimes the advice they give sounds crazy, but it ends up working out.”
Beyond mentorship, NTUitive has also provided aid in the form of a rapid software prototyping programme and a couple of programming interns. In addition, the team will soon have access to the co-working space at the on-campus NTU Innovation Centre.
What’s next for Outside?
Moving forward, the company intends to become the bridge that connects various businesses and individuals, providing a secure one-stop platform for both finding paid opportunities and obtaining labour for services.
In about 8 months, the company will fundraise to scale up their operations, with a target amount of $500,000. The funds will mainly go into product development and marketing. Additionally, as part of their expansion plan, the company is in talks with stakeholders in Indonesia and Korea, exploring the possibility of joint ventures.
For a group of childhood friends who started out with just a shared dream, the team has come a long way in achieving their goals. And yet, with even more plans kept well under wraps, it is clear that much more lies ahead for this rising startup.
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