The following article was written by Jacqui Meskell, co-founder of Huggnote, as part of our #TheTakeover series.
Our Founder Story…(and why you can do it too!)
Our journey to tech-preneurship has been an unlikely one. In fact, it was never part of the plan – or maybe the plan just hadn’t revealed itself yet. Either way, the loss of our Dad at a time when he himself had so many dreams to fulfill played a part. Because that awareness of how short life is and how important it is to live fearlessly and without regret became a guiding tenet for us – and still is.
That Light-Bulb Moment
When the idea for Huggnote came about – I was working as a senior management consultant – with a great income, spending a lot of time traveling and generally enjoying a great stress-free life. Then a friend of mine at home in Ireland went through a difficult time and I so badly wanted to give her hug and be there for her! Except I couldn’t and I wasn’t!
Then a song on the radio – Grant Lee Buffalo’s ‘Fuzzy’ to be exact – inspired the perfect solution, ultimately becoming the catalyst for throwing my perfectly planned life off course. Because the memories that song evoked me of and my friend just stopped me and I found myself sitting on my bed lost in reverie: the 1990’s, DCU, us trawling thrift stores for cool buys… and Fibber McGees for cool boys! Life was complicated and simple; crazy and mundane; fun and frightening – but more than anything else, what defined this time in our lives was how many possibilities lay ahead of us! And I found myself utterly transported by that song back to that time – that feeling! I realised that what I wanted to convey to her could only be expressed with that song, delivered from my heart to her ears so she could experience that same emotional boost. But there was no meaningful way to do it.
Chatting about it days later with my equally music-obsessed sister and co-founder Perry, we wondered what those tech peeps in Silicon Valley were making exactly, if none of them had made this?? Both of us felt this was not only something the world needed but also felt strongly that we were the ones to do it. Because unlike many other music start-ups – we were about the why – not the how – and ultimately we believe that’s what sets us apart. So imbued with the courage of our convictions and also thankfully oblivious to what we didn’t know – we didn’t know – we decided to take the leap!
Author and Huggnote Founder Jacqui (left) and co-founder Perry (right) at Collision Conference in Las Vegas
Feeling the Fear…
Someone once described founding a startup like jumping out of a plane and building your parachute on the way down. We jumped – without even knowing for sure how to build our parachute. We knew nothing about start-ups. For us tech was always a means to an end, not an end in itself. We had no connections in the industry and not one tech person in our network. Our friends were writers and journalists and teachers and stay-at-home-Mums. None were entrepreneurs. None had founded a start-up. There was no ecosystem to plug into or support network to rely on that we were privy to. But we also knew we could figure it out. We’d always excelled academically with five degrees between us and successfully built careers that might otherwise have set us up for life. But more than anything else it’s the hurdles we’d already overcome in life that gave us the confidence to sideline any fears or doubts and go for it.
…But Doing it Anyway
The name Huggnote – came easily – because we understood (as science proves) that music has an emotional effect on listeners, even releasing ‘hugging hormones’ like oxytocin and serotonin and our company officially took its first tentative steps when we bought the domain name and designed its brand identity. Then six weeks later, having commissioned a functional prototype for our vision – and armed with some pink pants from M&S, ‘huggy’ (our mascot) t-shirts and two big boxes of Huggnote lollipops (budget constraints should never be an excuse) – we found ourselves on a red-eye to exhibit at a tech conference in Las Vegas. We were officially start-up founders!
When of course the inevitable happened and the tech let us down, we found a way to demo Huggnote anyway. And despite being in the minority in a mass of male (highly technical) founders with (highly technical) apps – ours was the one stand with a queue forming! Because as it turns out huggs are a real life-saver when you’re a guy in Vegas who forgot to text his girlfriend at home! That event was expensive but so worth it because more than anything it proved to ourselves, not only that we could make something the world needed – we were already doing it! And we’d even found a market that seemed willing to pay for it!
The Journey is as Important as the Destination…
Since we began we’ve been awarded the Competitive Start-Fund from Enterprise Ireland and are well established in the Irish tech/start-up ecosystem (shout out to Enterprise Ireland, Dogpatch Labs, and Dublin/Cork BIC). We’re building out our team and have an ambitious five-year plan. Every single decision we make is strategic, with our ultimate goal always in mind – becoming the market-defining brand for meaningful communication in a digital age. As a consumer-facing company that’s all about scale – one of those decisions has been to remain in private BETA and bootstrap as long as possible until we’re ready for a global launch. Taking this route is not for every founder and not for every startup – but it was best for Huggnote. Our last release saw thousands of huggs travel organically (with no marketing investment) to 24 countries around the world and we’re now ready to raise our Seed Round, a process made easier by keeping potential investors in the loop along the way, something we can’t recommend enough. But by far the most heartening thing for us has been the feedback from users – stories of people crying when they received their hugg – just make all the hard work and sacrifice worth it. As does Huggnote’s potential to add real value to the music industry itself – because after all that’s how it all began – through a love of music.
We’re well out of the plane now and haven’t hit the ground yet. There are days when we seem to get entangled in that parachute and the ground seems way too near! But then there are those other days… when some gust of wind gives us wings and we’re soaring – navigating new frontiers and challenges on a trajectory that is uniquely ours. And you’ll have to be ok with that if you want to follow suit. Because the truth is not having all the answers is the only place to start – or you’re not really innovating at all. So go for it! We need more women up here in these silicon skies!
PS: #thetakeover readers are invited to subscribe to HuggnoteBETA for free to say ‘Happy Paddys’ with a hugg! Go to www.huggnote.com to subscribe – FREE!
About the Author
Jacqui Meskell is a former journalist/management consultant who is now founder/CEO of Huggnote Ltd. Huggnote is a multi-platform application whereby users can communicate emotion through music rather than words. Currently, in private BETA, Huggnote is about to raise its Seed Round and will officially launch in 2018. To become an early user visit www.huggnote.com. Employment/investor enquiries to Jacqui@huggnote.com/Perry@huggnote.com.