Crisis turned opportunity

Last Updated on Thursday, 25 November, 2021 at 12:59 pm by Andre Camilleri

Zach Ciappara, Founder and CEO of FreeHour

My name is Zach Ciappara, and I started FreeHour at 18 years old back in 2017, whilst being a first-year student at the University of Malta. After raising funds via crowdfunding and launching the first version of the app, the initial feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with over 700 downloads on the first day and 10,000 in just a few months.

At its core, the app offers a timetable system that allows students to share their daily schedule with friends – facilitating the process of meeting each other on campus during common free slots, scheduling group study sessions, and promoting carpooling to and from school. Our app also offers features such as keeping track of assignments, browsing job opportunities, redeeming discounts, tracking stipends and more.

Fast forward to 2021, FreeHour has become Malta’s most prominent student community, based on a mobile app used by over 90% of students in Malta.

The company is also experiencing exponential growth as we’re now employing a team of 17 people, soon to be more, all whilst operating multiple large campaigns and partnerships amongst the local youth community.

Once the pandemic hit in early 2020, students stopped going to school, which meant the app’s timetable feature became less of a priority. We felt we had to react by changing gears and shifting perspective, which is when we moved to build our content platform on Instagram. This proved to be crucial, as it massively accelerated our growth on the back of a challenging year for businesses everywhere.

Thanks to this, we managed to get through the worst of the pandemic months without losing our employees. Not only that, but the revenue gained thanks to our new social media platform put us in a position where we were soon able to recruit people to join our team in just about every department once things slowly began to settle again.

Within a year, we went from having a single person handling our Instagram to a full-fledged content team of 9 people, still expanding to this day. We started by posting news curated for students (local and international) and daily Covid-19 updates, making us the go-to source for Covid-19 info for Malta’s Gen Z youths. As that took off and our content team grew, we began venturing into deeper content involving video, such as our fan-favourite, “FreeHour Spotlight” video series.

This has led to FreeHour having a very strong, engaged online following and community of 40,500+ students and youths aged anywhere between 13-27 years old, primarily on Instagram.

With all that said, whilst we were happy to make a shift to content amidst the pandemic, we felt the need to turn our attention back to the app once students began going back to school and normality returned to our lives – and that’s where FreeHour 2.0 comes in.

We’re always looking for fresh ways to make the lives of any student a little bit easier, so we developed FreeHour 2.0 as a new and improved version of our old app, with an upgraded timetable, new features and a fantastic user experience. Going back to school after a pandemic is difficult for everyone involved, so we wanted to do our part in helping out the community which has given us so much.

A considerable part of our app overhaul was adding the all-new Campus Map and Video Guides feature, which helps students get wherever they are going at the University of Malta and MCAST. Here, we offer helpful photos and videos which walk students step by step right to their lecture venue, saving them loads of time & hassle.

Finally, we added the all-new Student Dashboard, which compiles all the students’ needs in one convenient place, custom-made for every 6th Form and the University in Malta. Here, students can also find help with Assignments and Exams, exclusive Student Offers, Student Jobs, their much-loved Stipend Countdown, and plenty more.

This innovation has led to FreeHour Malta being named ‘Best App’ in 2021 TechMT eBusiness Awards, an extraordinary award for the entire team to accomplish and celebrate. A few days later, FreeHour also celebrated its 40,000 follower milestone on Instagram, officially making FreeHour the most significant student and youth community on the island.

Both of these achievements result from years of hard work, dedication & lots of innovation within both the app and content space by a super talented team of youths. We are now looking at many new opportunities in 2022 including continuing our internationalisation journey from 2019 to expand the app to Europe.

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