Touro Alumna Launches Timely New App
After Graduating in 2017 from Touro’s Graduate School of Technology, Yuan Qiu Shares How Her College Journey Prepped Her Startup
A passion project five years in the making turned into a tech startup for GST alumna and UX designer Yuan Qiu. Qiu launched "ReFree" a play on words meaning "reusing things for free"—in January 2020 with a goal “to reduce waste and promote a sustainable lifestyle."
"I've moved many times as an adult, and in the process, I've thrown away things that I then regretted. Selling items online is not always a good solution, and most stuff just went into the garbage. I wanted to reduce this wastefulness by building a platform that enables people to give away, get, and trade free stuff. By reusing each other's old and often unwanted things, we are helping the environment. The app provides users with credits for giving away free things. They can also reward others by giving them their earned credits and post requests for certain items they’re seeking directly on the platform," Qiu said.
Touted for being user-friendly, ReFree also offers a function enabling users to donate and trade free items locally and nationally. "Before we toss things away or keep them in the closet collecting dust, I wanted to give people an option to reuse and recycle and eliminate waste".
While developing the foundational elements of the app, Qiu was simultaneously pursuing her M.A. degree with a concentration in Web and Multimedia Design at Touro. Throughout the app creation process, she faced multiple challenges.
"The first challenge was to form a team to build the app. I was able to design the interfaces, yet it was difficult to find developers and marketing professionals that can seamlessly and efficiently work together," she said.
Yet, with Qiu’s intricate and carefully thought out strategy in place and her determination, she was able to get it done. Additionally, she was able to leverage key skills learned in the classroom like coding and marketing strategies, customer behavior analysis and social media targeting, which helped her to move her passion project forward.
"After working with a number of people in the first three years, I finally found an overseas development team and launched the first version of the app in a 15-month period. I attempted to get people to invest in my idea along the way, yet ultimately decided to utilize my own money to move it forward. While this is both risky and stressful, I strongly believe that I would have forever regretted not at least trying to get my app to market," Qiu said.
Qiu is currently in the process of developing an updated version of ReFree, which will add advanced features to enhance its current shipping and delivery services.
Aside from managing the day to day needs of the app such as fixing bugs and making ongoing improvements, she is also employed full-time as a digital designer for a retail company.
Qiu credits GST Professor Jesse Epstein for being a faculty member who truly cares about his students and one who made a lasting impression. "He helped me to become the best version of myself to advance my career over the long term. The lessons he taught me related to the advertising field highlighted practical perspectives as a designer in both a corporate environment and digital world, and I’m so thankful for all of the vital skills he taught me that I use on a daily basis," she said.
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