Walking the walk and finding meaning through innovation
By Alyn Watkins
It was 3 pm on March 23, 2017. Our Hong Kong team was on a conference call with our startup’s headquarters almost 10,000 kilometers away in Dublin. The call was short and emotional. After five years, US$50 million in venture capital, and expanding to more than 10 countries, the company was going into liquidation. We were told to pack up immediately and leave everything behind.
At 5 pm the following day, I was holding my daughter for the first time. I was a new dad, filled with a combination of awe, love, and fear. I was also someone who didn’t have an income while living in the world’s most expensive city. Something clicked. I felt clarity and drive like I never had before. What mattered from that moment onward was my baby girl and the world she will inherit.
For a decade, I was working in various startups focusing on promotion and loyalty software solutions for some of the largest fast-moving consumer goods companies. They were effectively encouraging people in emerging markets to consume unhealthy drinks and snacks in single-use packaging, contributing to an increasingly unhealthy and polluted world. How did this happen?
Growing up, I was an idealist. I was interested in the world outside the small valley where I grew up in South Wales. Two weeks after finishing my undergraduate degree, I was on a flight to teach English in a small town in China, where I was one of only three foreigners in the entire city. Watching China’s development on the ground made me realize there were more opportunities than back home, and it pushed me to pursue a career in the innovation sector.
I worked in a range of industries as a tech consultant. It all became routine, and I realized–in my moment of clarity–that a change was needed. So, I decided to seize an idea that had been brewing for some time and see if I could take it somewhere.
When training for my first marathon, I realized that we create activity data all the time, but it isn’t being used. I decided to create a platform that converts walking and running data into points and rewards. By working with local reward partners and causes, we contribute to and strengthen the economy, and users can select to upgrade their account where a portion of their subscription is given to a cause.
Users can also reduce their carbon footprint if they decide to walk or run instead of getting into a form of transport. Where possible, we collaborate with green partners to increase the company’s impact even more.
I knew that just because I had worked for startups, it didn’t mean I knew ‘how’ to start one myself (Side note: it is as hard as people say, even harder, and you soon understand why 95% of startups fail). I graduated from the Founder Institute in Autumn 2017, built a prototype in Winter, and got accepted into the Cyberport Incubation Program in Spring 2018.
Fast forward to Wednesday, November 20, 2019. It was 8 am, and I was holding my second daughter. By the time this issue is published, the latest version of the app will have launched. It’s been a tough journey over the past two and a half years, working full-time while building a startup (luckily, with an employer who supported me) plus having a family. In a way, you could say that since 2017, I’ve had three babies. I hope they all grow and contribute to a better world.
About the Author
Alyn is the Founder of Bravera, an app that converts your walk and run data into points and rewards with local partners. The company is a graduate of Silicon Valley’s Founder Institute and listed as one of the top ten Hong Kong startups to watch. He’s worked in startups for almost a decade launching products and services throughout Asia.