Hi, I’m Darren and co-founder of Hugo.
Hugo is connected meeting notes software, which means your meeting notes are connected with the people and tools in your organization. We do this using over 20 integrations with work apps, including your calendar. You can easily pull up meeting notes by searching by contact or company, collaborate on agendas and notes in real-time, @mention teammates, create tasks in Asana, see the discussion thread in Slack, and sync to Salesforce — all from within your meeting notes.
Today, we’re powering thousands of fast-moving teams all over the world.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
I’m originally from Sydney, Australia where I worked as a corporate lawyer for four years after college. I’ve always had the entrepreneurial bug. During high school and college, I built a mobile DJ business with a friend. We ended up playing at many hundreds of parties in just a few years and built a great business just in our spare time.
There’s no book out there that serves as a handbook to building a business, but there are many full of great ideas for you to consider, test and either adopt or ignore.
I was studying Law at college, so ended up pursuing that path for a few years before the itch to build something hit me again. As a lawyer, I was intellectually challenged and enjoyed the experience but there was something incredibly frustrating about watching inefficiency and opportunity for improvement present itself but being unable to do anything about it.
Meetings, in particular, blew my mind. So much had changed about the way we work (think remote teams, so many tools, decentralization in decision making), but there had been little innovation in how we meet. If you weren’t in the room, you weren’t in the know, attendees were rarely prepared, notes and takeaways went nowhere and you’re lucky if half the actions didn’t fall between the cracks! It seemed so antiquated.
Sharing these concerns with a close friend who was working in product management in San Francisco led to us create Hugo. We set out on a mission to connect the way we work to the way we meet.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
Like most, we have learned many hard lessons!
We actually started out solving the problem in a completely different way with a mobile app that helped you with meeting preparation. We built out a team, developed a great app and acquired a couple of thousand users, but quickly things started to fall apart.
My co-founder and I spent much time out of the office – talking to customers, partners, and investors, learning about the market and what we needed to build next. We would return and try to transfer everything we heard to our team of engineers, designers, and marketers, but there was always a gap. They couldn’t relate to the decisions we were making and consistently had a different understanding of us from the meetings we were attending. Team alignment was at an all-time low, and I felt like it was on us, as founders, to solve every problem.
So we built a hack. A quick Slack plugin that would ping us after every meeting (based on our calendar data) and ask for some notes. We would simply reply with the notes we’d taken which would then automatically be shared with the team. Within days our business transformed. It was as if every team member was in every meeting. We would come back to the office and everyone was already making decisions and responding to what we had heard. Then, as the volume of meetings increased, we realized that work didn’t just get done in Slack, it got done in Trello, Jira and our CRM and our notes and agendas should be organized by the contacts and companies we met. So, we kept building… and the rest was history. Hugo turned our business around – aligning our team around meeting workflow and insights.
Ironically, our customers at the time were more excited about what we had built for our team than the product we were selling them, so Hugo became the Connected Meeting Notes software that powered Hugo!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today, we’re a team of 7 headquartered in San Francisco with part of the team distributed. We’re focused on 10x growth and positioning Hugo as the category leader for meeting notes.
We’re about to release a mobile app, some new collaboration features to allow our users to share meeting workflows with people outside their company and a bunch of other improvements. It’s an exciting time at Hugo!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
They say first-time founders consume themselves with the product and second-time founders are more concerned with distribution, first. This has absolutely been true for us.
When you’re building a ‘new way of doing things’, as is the case for Hugo, creating and educating the market is no small feat. We definitely started thinking about this later than we should have. Only recently have we realized how best to position Hugo and introduce connected meeting notes into a business’ workflow. I wish we thought about distribution earlier on.
Focusing on your team from day one is also an important lesson. We’re very proud of the team and culture we’ve built today. It’s our biggest asset, remembering as a software company that almost all of your value is in the software you produce. Like any critical asset, your team needs focus, attention, and maintenance to keep it running in great shape. Fortunately, there’s so much great content and advice out there to turn inexperienced founders into amazing leaders.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
In our marketing and customer-facing stack, we use:
- Slack for team chat
- Superhuman for email
- Intercom for customer communication
- Customer.io for user email campaigns
- Autopilot for marketing automation
- Pendo for product analytics
- Chartio for dashboards and reporting
- Webflow for our marketing website and CMS
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
- Principles by Ray Dalio: His Idea Meritocracy in particular informs many of the practices and strategies that we use with our team today.
- Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by Gen Stanley McChrystal - amazing stories from the frontline on building incredible teams.
- The Knowledge Project podcast by Shane Parrish full of great mental models, ideas and stories from amazing people.
We were actually inspired by many of the stories we read and learned from our customers and are shortly releasing our own book - 10X Culture. 10X Culture tells the stories of hundreds of great teams and how they’ve been able to hack culture to achieve disproportionate wins over their competition. Check it out here!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
- Surround yourself with great people. There are so many communities (online or in-person) full of people who have done it before. Build genuine relationships and mentally tag everyone in your network with a topic or area where they might ultimately be helpful to you. You’re then able to start miles ahead of everyone else, as if you’ve done it before, by leveraging these relationships – provided you offer value back to them too of course.
- Don’t stop reading. There’s no book out there that serves as a handbook to building a business, but there are many full of great ideas for you to consider, test and either adopt or ignore. It’s the fastest way in your control, to expose yourself to advise and diversity of perspective.
- In 2019, differentiation is as much about how you’re going to get your product into customers’ hands as it is about building that product. Think about distribution from day one.
Where can we go to learn more?
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