Alumni Startup Star

Happy hunting ground

Freehunter and its CEO Harris Cheng are on a mission to help freelancers navigate the pain of finding clients.

Freelancing can be a labouring process where creatives, lacking the weight and protection of a company, often get a raw deal from clients. Anyone who has tried being a freelancer will know finding and keeping work is the key to sustaining a living, and that can be very hard. Harris Cheng (BEcon&Fin 2017), Co-Founder & CEO at Freehunter, has experienced all these pains, having been a freelance photographer before his life as startup head.

We are sitting in iDeodron, HKU’s ultra-sleek co-working space, where Freehunter has been based for two and a half years. “It’s like my second home right here, and I’m in on weekends as well. I breathe and eat this startup, but I squeeze every minute out of it, work hard and play hard,” Harris says. The Freehunter team, a collection of seven young tech-savvy enthusiasts (six from Hong Kong, one from Vietnam), have the purpose of helping freelancers sustain their businesses. From economics to photography and head of a tech company – how did Harris’ adventure pan out in such a fascinating way?

The hunt starts at HKU

As with many entrepreneurs, the path to starting-up begins in the halls of a university. Living in St John’s College, Harris was elected to its executive committee, where he became known as the guy who had a million jobs to do. “I learnt everything about design, arts, photography and I was even the DJ,” he laughs. Realising he had a passion for many of these things, Harris developed his photography career and started earning corporate jobs, but discovered challenging issues. “I would have assignments where the pay rate was very low, because 80 to 90 percent of fees would go to the middle men. There is a huge inequality and it simply is not fair on the freelancer,” says Harris.

Free Hunter
Harris is grateful to Mr. Baniel Cheung, Adjunct Assistant Professor who has played a crucial role during his startup journey by guiding and supporting him.

Supporting the underdog

The best ideas come from solving a problem, and passion for egalitarianism as well. Harris set about addressing this by creating Freehunter, helping freelancers and small business owners attain career opportunities. The first part of the business, launched two years ago, is about matching clients and freelancers. “Supply and demand in the market is very imbalanced, there are relatively few jobs to the available talent in the market, so we help people who are passionate and serious about their freelance career to source high quality jobs,” says Harris.

Freehunter runs on a subscription model in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore – rather than taking a cut of the fees from the programmers, photographers, videographers, interior designers, writers and other creatives on its platform. Jobs are posted, and clients can directly approach freelancers. Has it been hard? “Entrepreneurship is a chain of challenges, you are always falling down and getting up. Expanding our market to Taiwan was difficult, and we found that we couldn’t simply replicate the Hong Kong model because the communities have differences from cost of living to copyright policies,” says Harris.

Creatives and companies on Freehunter are vetted, eliminating many problems faced by freelancers, including non-payment and ‘scope creep’, where suddenly the brief gets substantially bigger while the fee remains the same. While Freehunter received some angel funding, along with support from Cyberport and other awards, the business is growing on a shoestring. The survival skills Harris learnt as a freelancer are relevant as he leads his startup. “We need to be very conscious about budgeting, expenses and cash flow, I give up my blood, sweat and tears for this,” he says. The company, which currently has thousands of people in its community, also intends to develop a networking side of the business going forward.

Ambitions to go worldwide

The Freehunter team combined humility with a determination to do something big. “I want to see us in countries all over the world, and we are a virtual business partner for every freelancer and business owner so they can find projects, collaborators and mentors. I would like to have millions of users in five years,” Harris says.

While Covid-19 has delayed events globally, Freehunter is thriving with subscribers increasing rapidly. “People need to work remotely so lots of people with full time jobs have started freelancing, and those who have been laid off can discover a new career path, and even the meaning of life… Although I still have friends who still spend all days on Netflix!”

Free Hunter

Harris and his tech-savvy team are ambitious to achieve a greater impact.

Freehunter is continuing its determination to be results oriented, wise with the budget, and problem solvers. Their over-arching philosophy is ‘dare to challenge’. “This means bringing good ideas, having the courage to challenge the boss, and finding problems and solutions. If we don’t have this mentality we can’t improve, think out of the box, or understand our users’ perspectives,” Harris says.