Two music-loving sisters have come up with a unique messaging app which allows users to send a virtual hug to anyone anywhere in the world.
The beta version of Huggnote has been used in 132 countries since its launch early this year.
Co-founder Jacqui Meskell had been working as a management consultant in Brussels a few years ago when the idea for Huggnote came to her.
Her friend was going through a tough time back in Ireland, and she wished she could be there for her to give her a hug.
A song came on the radio - Grant Lee Buffalo’s 'Fuzzy' - and it brought back memories of their time in college together.
"I thought if I could find a way to gift-wrap that song and send it to her, she’d get all those same feelings.
"So I went online thinking that surely some smart guy in Silicon Valley has figured this out already. But I couldn’t find any way to do it that was meaningful."
So she decided to team up with her sister - and fellow music obsessive – Perry, to create a messaging app to convey emotion through music.
Her research confirmed that music releases the same happy hormones, such as dopamine and oxytocin, as a physical hug.
"That explained why I was getting those warm fuzzy feelings when I heard that music."
The sisters from Co Limerick wanted to create an app that is quick and easy to use for a wide demographic to send a message via text or social media messaging in less than a minute.
"So, while you’re getting into a taxi or waiting for the bus, you can have a meaningful emotional connection."
There’s no need to download anything. Users choose a song from a selection of curated themes, including “I Love You”, “I’m Sorry”, “Happy Birthday”, “I Miss You”.
The app has an option of adding a personal message which appears like rolling credits on-screen as the music plays.
So having decided to develop the idea, the sisters had a prototype made and applied to the Collision conference in Las Vegas.
Ms Meskell describes feeling out of their depth among fellow attendees, but they were surprised when they had a queue of people lining up at our booth wanting to send hugs.
Someone celebrating a bday? Forgot to send a card? No worries - send them a HUGG! It's even better!! Your Hugg song, beautifully delivered, FREE, to anyone, anywhere, instantly! Go to https://t.co/iHp2MP73gx #birthday #happybirthday #bdaygreeting #celebrate #bdayhugg pic.twitter.com/BpK7WqzMum— huggnote (@huggnote) August 25, 2019
The enthusiastic response they received gave them the validation they needed to continue with the idea.
Returning home, they put together a business proposition, successfully applied for the Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund.
The €50,000 investment was “amazing,” she says. “We wouldn’t have had that sort of opportunity to get going on building a beta without it.”
Though neither of the sisters is a ‘techie’, Ms Meskell believes their lack of technical know-how has been an advantage.
“We didn’t know the typical way of doing things, and we built it from the outside in rather than the inside out.”
They decided to make Huggnote a web app, despite developers advising them to go with mobile.
“We wanted to be sure that anybody could get a hug. So you could send one to your mum, and she could open it up without having to download anything from a store.”
Huggnote is free to use with the recipient getting to streaming the song once.
Ms Meskell says they didn’t want to send a clip of a song to someone who would have to pay to hear the rest of it.
The company plans to add additional features including “special huggs” while maintaining a “freemium” version.
The team is working with its legal advisors to figure out the copyright challenges.
But Ms Meskell says it’s an opportune time to launch Huggnote as the music industry is now recognising the potential of streaming as a revenue generator.
The sisters participated in the Women in Stem course at the Rubicon Centre at Cork’s Institute of Technology and the NDRC’s Female Founders programme.
They also took part in DCU Ryan Academy’s High Fliers winning “Most Innovative Start-up”, and came in third place in Google’s Adopt a Startup in 2018.
Among its future plans, Huggnote will be piloting a discovery platform for singer-songwriters to help them to promote their music.
Having carried out beta testing, Huggnote is getting ready to launch its 1.0 product.