Making it Work: Tech start-up turns a virtual hug into a sweet-sounding business

The Meskell sisters’ platform to send a meaningful song to a loved one has already garnered 300,000 users in 205 countries

Jacqui and Perry Meskell, founders of Huggnoe: ‘One of the most gratifying things is when Huggnote users write to us telling us how it has made a difference in their lives’

Jacqui Meskell wants her business to be known as the “kindest place in tech”. Meskell is co-founder, along with her sister Perry Meskell, of Huggnote, a Limerick-based tech start-up.

The business turns songs into virtual hugs. Users log in, choose a theme, pick from a selection of songs, then add a personal message to send to whoever they wish.

“A few years ago I was living in Brussels,” Meskell told the Business Post. “I had a great life on paper, but in reality it was tough to be away from home. Things came to a head when one of my best friends was going through a really tough time. I felt bad that I couldn’t be there for her.

“A song came on the radio that brought back happy memories from when we were in college. I thought it would be perfect if I could digitally gift wrap that song and send it to her. It would say everything that words couldn’t.”

When Meskell found there was no service currently meeting that need, she set about developing Huggnote. Having first started research in 2015, the company launched the beta version of its offering in 2018.

“I was always interested in the tech space, particularly as there didn’t seem to be many women involved in it. We got our start with the competitive start fund from Enterprise Ireland. That helped us figure out how to launch a business,” she said.

Since launching its beta version, Huggnote has acquired 300,000 users in 205 countries.

“One of the most gratifying things is when users write to us telling us how it has made a difference in their lives. It’s super easy for the sender and gratifying for the receiver.

“The music amplifies the emotion. And there’s nothing to download. We wanted to make sure it was really easy to use.”

Meskell plans to roll out the first full version of the product, which will come with a premium version, next year.

“We have demand from our users for Huggnote to have additional bells and whistles, such as choosing whatever song they want. That’s what we’re really excited about now,” she said.

“Our long-term goal is to build a global brand. It will take a lot of funding, but we have opted to bootstrap the early stages. We have a lot of interest from potential investors.”

Huggnote has picked up several accolades, including a best emerging business award from Limerick Chamber of Commerce. The most useful, however, was probably the $50,000 the business won on a US TV show called Two Minute Drill. Hosted by David Meltzer, an entrepreneur, the Bloomberg show is a live pitch competition.

Meskell said the aim for next year was to raise at least €500,000 in an angel funding round.

“We will need to bring on some extra hands. We will hire at least three people early on, but it could quickly become a lot more. We expect to open another funding round next year, things are moving quickly.

“It’s a busy time of year for us. We have Christmas, leading to New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day. There’s also International Hugging Day on January 21. We’re going to own that holiday.”