Photo credit: JERRY NEO


Jerry Neo, 26, was a final year student from Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) when he started “Scratchbac”, a Telegram Bot that connects people within 1km radius, in June last year during Singapore’s circuit breaker period.

Stories of hardship caused by COVID-19 inspired Jerry to create the Bot, what he calls the “Uber of Classified Ads”, which connects people who need assistance to those who can offer help. Today, he answers some questions about his cause.

Tell us more about Scratchbac – how it works and the purpose it serves.

Scratchbac is a Telegram chatbot – essentially a geosocial media platform – where users can send and receive messages requesting or offering help.

For example, a user might need to print a document but not own a printer at home. By sending a request through Scratchbac, other users in the vicinity who own a printer can respond to the request for help.

Scratchbac connects people hyperlocally. It helps people living in the same geographical community share and exchange resources, and even find like-minded individuals who share the same interests.

What sparked your inspiration to start Scratchbac?

The core idea behind Scratchbac is the “sharing economy”. Many things can be shared in our community, especially in a densely populated city like Singapore. We can achieve and do more when neighbours come together to help one another.

Scratchbac started as a resource sharing platform inspired by my own experience. During the COVID-19 circuit breaker, my family decided to limit our interaction with my grandmother to not put her in any unnecessary risk. However, she needed help with grocery shopping, especially when she buys a 10kg sack of rice. Normally, one of us would help to carry it but due to the restrictions, we could not.

I thought, “What if one of her neighbours could help her to buy the groceries and leave them at her doorstep?” And that first gave me the idea for a community platform like Scratchbac.

I started researching possible ways to make this a reality, and reached out to like-minded people to work together in early June 2021. Within two weeks, I managed to form a team with my schoolmates, and Scratchbac was brought to life.

What was the greatest struggle you faced when trying to get Scratchbac off the ground, and how did you work around it?

Building an app is not easy. It requires thousands of hours and teams of people to understand the problem and the users, and to design and develop it. Companies hire hundreds of talents and pay them top dollar to develop their apps.

What can one student with no money do? It was really a struggle to assemble a team of like-minded people fueled by passion. Passion in a team is how we work around limited resources.

How has it been running Scratchbac during the pandemic? And what motivates you to keep pressing on?

I think COVID-19 brought people together as much as it brought about a certain divide. People came together for mutual support, but deep social issues such as racism triggered by the fear of the virus also made people more insensitive.

On Scratchbac, we had to moderate racist comments that blamed certain racial groups for breaching safe distancing measures. But largely, our community is a positive one, since it cultivates community building and offline interactions between people.

It’s motivating to see people helping one another on the platform. When I worry about the sustainability of Scratchbac, the stories from our users keep me going.

If you had one chance to share something with your fellow youth, what would you share?

Just do it. It’s never too early. Take a gap year, try something new. Take the path less travelled. If you never try, you’ll never know.

Moving forward, what are the plans for the future for Scratchbac? Any new initiatives in the works?

We are building our Scratchbac standalone app that will have many exciting features such as our “live” on-the-go feature that allows you to interact with others on the move. Our kickstarter will launch in November this year, so keep a lookout and support us! Sign up here to be notified of more information.

This article was published on Oct 15, 2021

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