Can you introduce your start-up? What is it, and how did it come about?
Huggg is a platform that enables a little slice of the real world to be sent in a message. So, for example, imagine a loved one is having a bad day at work, you’re able to send them a coffee cup emoji which is actually exchangeable for real coffee at a nearby café.
Our vision is to make real world things available in all communications, be that friend to friend or business to customer and everything in between.
Where are you in your start-up journey?
It’s taken 4 years to get to this stage.
We raised angel, built a product, launched a beta trial, gathered early data, raised seed VC, built a team and now we’re motoring on many fronts.
To date, what has been your businesses biggest triumph?
Building a team of dedicated and performant people, who love coming to work, getting stuff done and having fun all at the same time.
It’s honestly more rewarding than anything to just watch that flourish.
How have you found being a sole founder? And do you have any advice for other sole founders?
I am viewed as a sole founder but actually, it’s not accurate. My sister-in-law Alice came with me on day 1 and was totally key to getting this off the ground. She recently had her first baby and therefore hasn’t been around in the same way for a few months, so I have had a taste of solo life.
All businesses are unique and all are a complete roller coaster. Being at the top means that it’s all on your shoulders and every angle has to be considered simultaneously because you’re the only one who can see the whole picture.
It’s also true that you need to absorb and deal with this whilst sheltering the team from it, so you’re a soaking sponge full of the stressful bits. It’s a battle and you can’t switch off – ever.
Exercise helps, as does a stable relationship and family.
Pro tip, before you try and start a business, get your closest people on side with the fact you might disappear for a few years and they will need to get used to piecing you back together. Genuinely, you need them and it will kill weak relationships.
How do you manage to balance growing a start-up with having a personal life?
I have a large family and am therefore forced to find some degree of balance. If I didn’t, I would just work 100% of the time like many younger founders are able to do.
So I fit it all in by elongating the days during the week, to keep the weekends free.
Monday to Friday I have very early starts (0530 out of bed) and late nights (12-1am) and that’s enough for me – it means I can get 12 hours in the office, go home for 3-4 bedtimes when I’m not in London, and then work on until bed time. My wife is a saint for putting up with me not being there enough.
I then replenish at the weekends by doing very little work and just being a dad, which is the best thing in the world.
How do you cope with the pressures that come with building a business?
We have 4 beautiful children and there is just no option but to escape into that at the weekends. It means that each week I am grounded right back into the wonderful innocence of childhood – a stress buster like no other. Saturdays start with football practice and end in a swimming pool.
I’ve also started to practise yoga, which I was very skeptical about until I tried it and now wished I’d done so 10 years ago when I could still bend.
Did you pursue investment? If so what advice would you give on pitching? What was your secret weapon?
I did, from angels and VCs.
Your entire job as a founder is a series of telling stories about the future, with absolute clarity and conviction. They get you your first hires, your first customers, your first suppliers and your investments. Get good at telling a story that is clear and coherent – less is more.
If you could name one thing that you wish you knew when you started, what would it be?
Getting started is possible with almost no cash at all, and in almost no time at all. You shouldn’t make the best version of something, just the version that’s better than the alternative so that you can start validating the idea quickly.
To date, what has been your most important lesson?
That everything takes longer and is harder than you first thought.
Do you have any tips or advice for anyone thinking about starting up their own business, or who have just started their journey?
Get into validating quickly and just start talking lots about what you are doing so that you start getting feedback. And listen to all of it – nobody is smart enough to think their way to what everybody needs out of a product.
Also, recognise that this will get very hard, very fast, and you’re more likely than not to give up. So you need to do something that saves you from your future self at that stage, and really commit. Don’t toe-dip.
What has been the most challenging part of your start-up journey so far?
Making the first hires and getting the technology in-house when it was in a real mess. That was a stressful few months of it feeling like we weren’t getting anywhere.
What’s next for your business?
We are launching our national supply base, meaning that we can start getting into large-scale integrations, partnerships and B2B volume.
It’s time to get bigger, better and then look overseas.