News, Insights and Stories from the Australian and New Zealand tech ecosystem.

One app making a difference oneHug at a time

oneHug is an app for change, where users can send hugs around the world to not only brighten someone’s day, but help charitable organisations reach their goals.

How does it work? You send one hug to a person, who will pass it onto the next, and so forth. You can choose how many people your hug reaches; and it stops when the hug is returned to the original sender.

The main idea is ‘How far can one hug go? How much of a difference can one hug make?’

“It’s about sending positivity and good will to as many people across the world as possible,” says Edmond Lee, Founder of oneHug.

“There’s a fun element to the app as well. You can track where your hug goes. You will see your avatar leaving a trail across the places the hug travelled.”

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But that’s not all the app does. As a profit-for-purpose product, oneHug has bigger social objectives.

oneHug lifecycle: Genesis, development, product

In June last year, Lee was struck with ill health. He was shocked to be diagnosed with Bells Palsy. But the doctor pointed out that it could’ve been much worse.

At the time of his diagnosis, Lee had a stressful career in finance, two sons, and one on the way. But even before that, he was questioning whether he was climbing the ladder of a career that was wrong for him.

Lee felt he could be doing something more transformational, more fulfilling.

“After I came up with the initial idea for the app, I realised there needed to be more to it than just sending positivity, there needed to be something in it that has never been done before,” he says.

“I entertained the idea of adding a charity component to the app, but if I was just donating to charity through the app, how would that be any different to me just donating money directly to the charity? There is no difference.”

Lee started engaging with a variety of different Australian charities, and presented them the proposition: “If the oneHug community were able to provide you with donations, would you be willing to change how you give our information?”

Many charities were hesitant about distributing information about how they use the donations due to privacy reasons. But three charities agreed to come on board – Pink Hope, Autism Spectrum and Child Fund Australia.

“I’m honoured that the charities that have come on board, share my vision. They’ve shown their faith in my vision and it has been a humbling experience,” says Lee.

When the votes have been counted, oneHug will make public via its social media accounts which charity won the vote. The winner will receive a cheque; and as part of the agreement, they will have to be completely transparent about where the money has gone.

“If it’s a domestic charity, we will send a camera crew to them, vlog the experience and share what the oneHug community has helped achieve via YouTube, Facebook and Twitter,” says Lee.

The cost of developing the app was “well over the six-figure mark”, but 13 of Lee’s friends helped fund the project due to sheer belief in the idea.

The goal is to get everybody to use the app, though Lee believes the charity component appeals more to the female demographic.

The app has been downloaded around 200 times by people from all corners of the world.

“We were getting quite a lot of downloads that weren’t prompted. Interestingly, they weren’t domestic either. We had downloads from Brazil, Mexico, the US, Canada, the UK, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Libya, China, Thailand, India, just so many countries,” says Lee.

Business model: Non-for-profit vs. Profit-for-purpose

screen568x568 (1)While Lee investigated turning oneHug into a charitable foundation, he couldn’t do it straight away. He says it’s because oneHug doesn’t help a cause directly; rather, it helps other charities achieve their goals.

“But what I’m hoping is that oneHug gets enough traction so I can go back and reinvestigate that option. I do want this to become the oneHug foundation,” says Lee.

At the moment, the app is free to download and has a full version, as well as in-app purchases.

“We limited the number of hugs you can send out in the free version, and the voting feature can only be accessed if you purchase the full version of the app. But you can always pass on hugs if you receive one,” says Lee.

In the in-app purchase section, users can buy stamps to improve their avatar for their ‘oneHug Passport’. They can also earn stamps by sending hugs.

“It’s all about how far one hug can go around the world. Once a connection has been completed, for instance if you’re hug reaches 20 people, you receive 20 stamps which can be redeemed to make your avatar look better,” says Lee.

He adds that oneHug can be seen as a form of crowdfunding – with the difference being that users get to see what happens with their money and understand what difference they’ve helped make. 

The future

Lee says that while building the app has been a real achievement, the journey is only just beginning and he hopes to “kick some real goals”.

“The real achievements are to come. When we can build that first pump for clean water, when we can sponsor our first child, when we can put that first child into an autism education program, when we can help that first woman reduce her chances of getting breast cancer or ovarian cancer; that’s when we could say we’ve fulfilled our purpose,” says Lee.

Part of Lee’s mission is to create a social media movement where socially responsible acts go viral.

“The easiest way to communicate today is via social media. And silly things go viral so easily on these channels – a politician saying something stupid, a cat making a funny face. Why can’t the socially responsible stuff do the same thing?” he says.

Lee gets emotional when he explains he wants his three sons to be proud of their father for making a difference in the world.

“At school, kids ask all kinds of things like ‘What does your dad do?’ I don’t want my sons to say ‘my dad’s a banker’. What I would love is if they could say ‘my dad sent sick children to Disney Land, my dad helps kids get clean water’. If that happens I can tick the box that says ‘my son sees me in a positive light’.”

The app is available to download via iTunes.

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