Chary On Top launched as a by-product of Smart Potato in 22 March 2019. It's now been over 3 years and the product is still not ready. It's only normal for you to ask, what the hell is taking so long? To answer that, I decided to share the story of how Chary On Top became a reality.
Let's start with my inspiring mother.
Growing up, I was lucky to be raised by my idol, my best friend, my mother. She would help any friend or stranger given the chance. She taught me to ask for only things I need and think of others as much as myself. She volunteered at an education for kids and women charity as a teacher for years, I sometimes had the privilege to sit at her classes and witness the miracle happening. After that she expanded her help by training volunteers to become teachers all around Turkey. During her work, her best friend was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. She dropped everything; work, family, friends, social life, to help her friend fight this battle.
After 8 years of several chemo sessions, reading books, hospital visits, doctor appointments, new medicine trails, researching about holistic treatments, exploring new diets, travels to different countries, they fought cancer side-by-side. Some days were filled with joy and fun, some were filled with devastation and tears, but they both gave everything they had to stay strong and carry on until one day her best friend took her last breath... We had all hoped for a happy ending after all that fight but life sometimes has different plans for us.
Witnessing my mother's strength and power to change so many lives, inspired me to do good. I knew I wanted to be as giving and inspiring as she is, so whatever I did in the future I knew it had to include giving back.
Great Green Wall Project, my first UX/UI design
I studied Graphic and Media Design in London College of Communication. I wanted to learn the tools to communicate with people through design. There was a specific project that inspired me the most. Great Green Wall!
I was on my first semester of my last year when we got a live project. This was a ongoing project in Africa. They were building a wall out of trees and vegetations across Africa. Becaue it was all locally managed; it created job opportunities, food supply, climate control and so many more benefits for over 15 countries in Africa, this was BIG! They wanted us students to come up with a digital design to share the progress of the project also they needed a creative campaign to connect more supporters.
I gave my all to this project, did a lot of research, shared my designs and ideas with everyone I know. I created a GGW app. It would show the whole transparency of the project in simple forms and also created a one click-tree-donation system, to make giving easy and fun. Every time you would donate to the project a cute little tree would pop up in your screen and to attract even more supporters, the donor's name in a green text would pop up at the big white empty screen in Piccadilly Circus. This way with each donation supporters would build the real green wall in Africa but also symbolically they would build a green digital wall in the middle of Central London with their names.
I was very proud of that project, until I found out that I was going to be marked by a different professor than the one I worked with. After that project, I found my calling and also saw the dark side of the designer world. That’s when I realised I wanted to use the power of digital design to promote and help causes that can do good.
Smart Visa leads to Smart Potato LTD
After graduating, I wanted to work for a creative agency that worked for charities or NGOs, but quickly realised that my options were very limiting because of my visa. Being a Turkish citizen, our only option to live in the UK was to apply for an entrepreneur visa, which meant I could only work as a contractor.
Being a recent graduate, junior graphic designer was already not the best desirable position and adding that "hey, by the way one small thing, I can work for you full time but only as a contractor" wasn't helping my interviews to shine. Few months later I realised that working for someone was going to be postponed until I got my permanent residency (for 5 years). That's when I started concentrating on our little start-up, Smart Potato Ltd. I did all the branding, website, and started promoting the agency to get some work. I enjoyed creating packaging, full branding, website design, logo design, content design for other start-ups or companies, but I must say dealing with clients and chasing the payments part wasn't that fun.
After almost 2 years of working as a creative director in my company, I was craving a work environment filled with inspiring and creative people, no matter what the pay was. So, I interned at Imagination London for 6 weeks. It wasn't much, but it was something. Working on cool projects with popular brands such as Ford, Henkel was really exciting. I worked alongside the senior graphic designer of the Ford team and was proud of the work I pulled off. But there was one tiny problem, I wasn't fulfilled or motivated to promote high-end brands, just so they could make some profits. That's when I realised, I'm a 25 year old with a dream and if I didn't chase my dreams now, I knew that I would always regret it.
I have a dream, but I'm gonna stop saying one day and start turning that into reality, today!
That GGW project was still back on my mind after years. I knew I needed to work on projects like that to pull out my best work. I was always indecisive when it came to choosing a cause to help. There were so many problems and they all needed my help, but there wasn't any specific cause that was calling me. One day, I was researching some charities to volunteer for a day or try to give my time or skills to any cause that could make use of them. The research took hours and at one point I lost my will and gave up. Same thing happen months later. This time I was trying to find a charity to donate to. There were so many options it was overwhelming, after 3 hours of deep research I gave up and didn't donate to any of them. I was stuck to monthly givings to big charities, which really didn't even make me feel like I was giving back, most of the time I wouldn't even remember that I was donating to them. It felt disconnected and out of my control.
I humoured a thought of creating a middleman platform for charities called Easy Peacy, just to be able to give the way I wanted to. But the reality hit and I dropped that idea to deal with the projects with deadlines. That's the thing about dreams, they don't have deadlines so it's so much easier to postpone them. After postponing this idea for some time, I found myself designing a banner for a cheep plastic accessory and I decided there and then that I should to start taking actions on my dream. I started with simple steps to have an idea of what this dream could become. I came up with the name Chary On Top, created the branding, mission and vision statement, and a tone of voice. Now it was more than a dream, it was becoming a reality. But creating a safe, flexible, transparent and easy charity marketing platform would take more than just a logo and a strong branding.
I was taught how to create a design but nothing about how to build or sustain a business. So, I attended CAS Business School to learn how to build a sustainable business model for this project. I was sure I wanted this to be more than a hobby or a passion project so I needed as many skills as possible. I carried on working for some of my clients, alongside built my business plan while I completed my studies in CAS and UAL. Now I had a vision that could work and actually help so many in return. From an idea to a logo to a business plan it took me a whole years, but I was getting closer everyday so I just kept on believing in it and kept on pushing.
Why can't I f*/<i>-g} code?
It was December 2019 when I finally found the right team to develop my platform. By then I had bought the trademark of the brand and the domains, finished the business plan, created social media accounts and designed content to gain some followers, designed the whole UX/UI of the platform... I had done everything in my skills to create this idea from scratch, but now everything was out of my control.
I know some basic html and css, but not enough to develop a whole damn app. If I knew then what I know now, I would have started to learn how to develop right there and then. Who knew it would have taken soo much time, energy and money to deal with developers? I did! I was warned by my brother to not get involved with apps, he was right, but he didn't warn me about COVID.
After a year of delay and many tests, we finally managed to create an active, functioning Chary On Top App in our hands. It was so exciting to share the app with my friends and family. The feedback was great, everyone was so excited to see the whole thing come together at the end. It was such a treat to track my friends and families donations through the dashboard. Even though I was so grateful for my grandmother to donate most of her savings through my platform, I really wanted to see a name that I didn't recognised there, then, it would all become a reality.
Almost there what could go wrong?
After months of testing, and reaching out to charities to add them to the platform, we were ready to launch the marketing and start spending some money to reach out to a wider audience. It was now June 2021, it had been a year and a half since the developing had started, we were so ready share our work!
We tested our campaigns for a month and had a great result with over 600 downloads and thousands of actions. After our second month of testing we realised that there was a marketing code missing in our platform. Therefore, we weren't able to track the actions taken in our app, which meant our ads weren't learning from our consumer behaviour, which concluded to wasting our money on marketing. All we needed to do was ask our developers to go back and add a small code to the whole thing, and everything was going to be back on track. Simple, right? That's what we thought...
I was working with a developer team in south of Turkey at that time, and things in Turkey wasn't in the greatest shape, still isn't to be fair. But I had no idea the state of bad economy would hit my project like this. There were no coders left in our developer team, they had all left to work abroad for a much better salary that no company in Turkey could match. I couldn't even get a single coder to place one little line of code to my app's backend. After months of research and phone calls with different coders I was left with no option but to start the whole development from scratch! (with a different software developer team) All that work for the last year and a half was flushed down the toilet and there was nothing I could do.
Here we go again! Can we go again? Should we go again...
It's September 2021, I'm in a meeting with the new developer team, I'm anxious but also excited. This new young team is motivated, inspired and much more talented, but they are telling me that the app was coded by so many different people in different styles it would be much faster to start the whole thing from scratch. This really wrecked me to be honest. All I needed was to add one single code to track our campaigns effect and here we are coding the whole thing from the very beginning. I was very close to giving up, but also a month ago I was soo close to make my dreams come true... I had a bite of achievement but before I could swallow it I spat it out, and I still had the taste left in my mouth. Giving up wasn't an option after working on this for so long. While the team worked on recreating the platform I went back to the charities we partnered up with and try to explain them the situation and asked for their patience...
The deadline was New Years, it's 7th of August right now. From my experience with the old developer team, 8 months delay is almost normal. I decided to not stress myself on something I have no control over and try to concentrate on other sides of the business. Today we are running the last tests of the app, and I'm trying to reach out to charities to grow partnerships. Once the platform is ready and live hopefully there will be nothing to stop us from reaching out to bigger audience and helping out many causes as a happy community.
The big question is when will the platform be live? Honestly I've been hearing few weeks for few months now, so I still can't promise a launch date. But what I can say is it will be definitely before Christmas and we will launch with a big launch party. So, please subscribe to our mail list and look out for your invitation! In the meantime, thank you so much for joining Chary On Top's journey and I’m positive with your support and our tools we will make a better world for us and next generations.