“We never thought that we’d be doing this as a registered charity. In the beginning, it was just a hobby.”
5 years ago, Fion Leung, the Co-Founder and CEO of Time Auction, was working at a bank, while volunteering on the side. At the time, her story was similar to a lot of her friends’: they’d just started out in the workplace, and were trying to find more purpose in their lives.
“Basically we were all trying to figure out how to create a career out of something we were passionate about,” she said. “Some people wanted to be artists, some people wanted to be in the restaurant business.”
Some way or another, however, people weren’t taking the first steps.
The thing holding a lot of people back, Fion explained, was that they didn’t really know where or how to get started pursuing their dreams. Being fresh out of school, and still in the process of building their own networks, they didn’t have mentors they could ask, or people they could go to for guidance.
It was out of this growing awareness that Time Auction was born.
Time Auction: Connect with today’s leaders through charity work
Time Auction is a tech-enabled charity that connects people with inspiring leaders – all the while encouraging volunteerism.
The organisation hosts events where people can have the chance to meet and interact with featured guests – from Michelin starred chefs to entrepreneurs – typically over lunch or dinner. However, you don’t just simply purchase a ticket; instead, people exchange volunteer hours in order to become eligible to sign up for an event.
“Anyone can join, they just have to volunteer at least 10 hours to a charity of their choice,” said Fion.
Fion adds that from day one Time Auction has had a clear focus on how they select their featured guests. “It’s someone who has crafted a career path about something they’re very passionate about, and are very respected and successful in that field.”
They’ve hosted speakers like Angie Lau, former Lead Anchor for Bloomberg Television, Ray Chan, the CEO and Co-Founder of 9GAG, Peter Cornthwaite, the CEO of WWF, Hong Kong and Michelle Sun, the Founder of First Code Academy.
“The maximum size is 15 people, so it’s always intimate and casual,” said Fion. “Our model is that a speaker donates 1-2 hours of their time and they meet 15 people. Indirectly each event can contribute 150 hours to charity.”
As for the people who sign up for these events, the crowd varies. “We don’t have an age limit but the majority of people are students or working professionals. There are some retirees and some high school students as well,” explained Fion. “They’re quite a diverse crowd, but they all have something in common which is the desire to give back and learn and better themselves.”
Starting side project and turning it into a full-time reality
The idea for Time Auction had already been brewing for a while. Finally one night over wonton noodles, Fion and Suet Yi, her co-founder, decided to make this happen.
“Within the first 2 weeks, 7 guests we had approached agreed to do it,” said Fion. “And at this point everything became real. There was no backing out now.”
While they were both working full-time, Fion explained that when they first started out they sent a lot of cold emails to invite guests. “Surprisingly, the majority of people they reached out to said yes to us which was a pleasant surprise.”
The guests would explain afterwards that they readily accepted because Time Auction was simply asking for their time. A lot of them enjoyed speaking with young people anyway (students and young professionals make up the bulk of the people who sign up), and it was even better when their conversations could be catalysts for social impact.
“We thought it’d be a hobby, but I think we serendipitously jumped in with a model that has a great product-market fit,” said Fion.
Two years in, after officially registering as a charity and being approached by two angel investors, Fion decided to quit her day job and go all in.
Time Auction was now officially her full-time job.
The journey to global expansion
While Time Auction started out as a side project, today, they have chapters all over the world. In addition to Hong Kong, Time Auction has teams of dedicated volunteers in Singapore, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sydney, Melbourne, and Kuala Lumpur, who host and facilitate regular events.
When scaling the organisation, one of the biggest challenges they faced initially was finding the right people to join them.
“Because we’re a charity, we’re not motivating someone with money. For a charity (and for startups too) you really have to find people who are personally motivated and believe that what the company is doing is their personal mission too.”
To recruit the right people to lead local chapters outside of Hong Kong, Fion describes the ideal profile they now know to look for. “We’re looking for people who have a full-time job or are studying, but are passionate enough to want to take this on on the side,” she said. “Basically people who are where Suet Yi and I were 5 years ago.”
What’s more, for the longest time Time Auction was using Fion’s personal credit card for company expenses. As a fast-expanding charity, they needed a better way to make purchases online and offline, and keep track of the organisation’s growing expenses.
“We didn’t get a credit card from a bank,” said Fion. Instead, the team heard about Neat’s corporate expense card solution through an ad and decided to sign up a year ago. “Neat has been super helpful. We have a lot of expenses for all our events and advertising. We use the Neat Cards for all our expenses right now and it’s just easier.”
With 50,000 hours donated to charity already, the team isn’t slowing down
5 years ago, Time Auction was a side project for two young professionals, who had a passion for giving back and helping others get closer to their dreams.
Today, it’s a fully operational registered charity in Hong Kong, with chapters in 7 cities (and growing).
“We grew from 30 events a year to 100+ events a year in Hong Kong,” said Fion. “We just started international expansion last summer and are working on fine-tuning our process.”
As of March 2019, over 50,000 volunteer hours were logged on Time Auction and the team has hosted over 320 events.
As for the outlook of Time Auction, Fion and the team have an ambitious vision. “Ultimately we want to be like a TEDx or Creative Mornings and have a presence in the major cities around the world,” said Fion.
With their track history of successfully launching, scaling, and making a real impact in society, this is yet another dream that is no doubt well within their reach.