Andy McLoughlin – Huddle 2 of 2

“As a founder you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that ratio.” Huddle is a leader in cloud collaboration and content management for the enterprise.

Matthew: We know founders face new challenges when they start a company; what was the hardest part about starting Huddle, and how did you overcome those obstacles?
Andy: So both Alistair and I, you know, our backgrounds are kind of more on the business than on the technical side. Also, you know, I had the kind of front-end development skills, but, you know, as anyone can tell you, you know, front-end development skills does not a product make, and so finding a technical team to help us turn our vision to reality was always hard. So, you know, initially we worked with an outsourced team, which was great, you know, that allowed us to get our product to market very quickly, but then you have to go through the pain of taking that (unintelligible – 0:00:38.8) from a third party, bringing it in-house and finding people to help manage it. Of course, when you’re two guys who don’t have any money, you know, and have no social cachet at a time when nobody knows who you are, no (unintelligible – 0:00:50.7) funding, trying to convince somebody to kind of leave their perfectly good job, especially when the UK was going through economic (unintelligible – 0:00:56.2) was tough, so we ended up kind of finding somebody from abroad, bringing them over, and they joined us, and so as time went on I guess we were able to kind of build (unintelligible – 0:01:04.1) team, we found a great developer who was prepared to kind of bet on us and we built the team around him, so I guess the hardest part was not having that purely technical founder from the very beginning, the guy who would be able to, you know, you’d give him a job on Friday and by kind of Monday morning it would be built, you know, he would be living and breathing that code. I think if I could do this again that would be the one thing that I would change.
Matthew: Since you’ve been in operation, what have you learned about your business and your users that you didn’t realize prior to launching?
Andy: I think the… living in either London or in San Francisco, being kind of encapsulated inside this tech bubble, it’s easy to forget that not everybody thinks in the same way as we do. Not everybody is obsessed by Macs, not everybody, you know, in your eyes kind of the number one priority, it’s easy to forget that people don’t live inside email or live inside chat or live inside their browser every day, and having to build a product which both satisfies the critics in terms of, you know, it looks nice, it works well, and also it’s simple enough for, you know, your kind of Joe Average user is tough. And I think probably the biggest thing that we learned was to make that barrier to entry as low as possible; don’t go confusing users with new language, so when we first started out we had this idea, you know, we’ll accept the idea of a project workspace, but we thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we called it Huddle,” because it’s like, you know, you get people together, you know, we get the team, you know, and you work in a huddle, and of course the first users that came out, the first question that came out from users was like, you know, “What on earth is a huddle?” Right, well, it’s a project workspace. And they said, “Well, why don’t you just call it a project workspace then?” Oh, OK, well, yeah, that makes perfect sense, so, when you build a product just make sure that it’s drop-dead simple for people to understand; spend time working on not merely your (unintelligible – 0:02:49.0) message, but also, you know, that the terms and images you use inside to make sure that it’s simple to pick up.
Matthew: Lots of people admire entrepreneurs because they appear to make starting companies look easy. We know it can be very difficult; we want to dispel some myths, so my question to you is: What do you make look easy? And when I say that I mean what skill or talent do you possess that comes intuitively or easy for you and what has been difficult, and how do you manage that?
Andy: That’s a really tough question, I mean, I see myself as a, as somebody that can do lots of things reasonably well, although, you know, certainly nothing brilliantly. I guess if there’s one thing that I would say that I can do well it’s to get other people excited and motivated, so the ability to find great people and get them to buy into your vision, which, I guess, for a founder is probably one of the most important skills to have, because recognizing that you can’t do everything is the first challenge, and then the second challenge is, how on earth then do I find the people that can help me kind of patch up the areas that I’m not that good at?
Matthew: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned since launching Huddle?
Andy: I think that it is that as a founder you have two ears and one mouth, and you should use them in that ratio, but at the same time you shouldn’t, you know, if you have something you believe in you need to be strong enough with your convictions and follow them through. At the end of the day, you and your team are enacting your vision for your company and for your products, and it’s very easy, especially in the early days, if you haven’t done this before, to be swayed by people coming in, because, you know, that they’re kind of subject matter experts or they’ve done this before, but at the end of the… you know, they are here to work for you, and whilst you need to listen to them absolutely, at the end of the day you need to build what you think is right.
Matthew: What bit of advice do you wish you would have known before starting Huddle?
Andy: Wow. I think that when you meet sort of people who are, you know, they’re entrepreneurs, you know… a lot of people make a lot of fuss about how hard they work and, you know, they’re working crazy hours and nothing gets done, and I think the… it doesn’t have to be that hard. I think when you’re doing something that you love, you can put… you can even work nine hours a day and get a huge amount done, you don’t have to kill yourself, especially not, you know, one-plus years in to make this company a success, and especially I think when you’re working with other people you can’t expect, longer term, to get, you know, crazy, you know, 15-hour days out of everybody. I think it’s, you know, if you’re building a company for the long run you need to be prepared to invest in people (unintelligible – 0:05:35.9) means being realistic about what you, about the time you can expect out of them, you know, ’cause the mistakes we made in the past have been expecting people to work 15-hour days for a whole year and then wondering why on earth they’re burnt out and are unhappy at the end. Human skills are, I think, especially in the early days, something which people think you can put (unintelligible – 0:05:59.6) they’re incredibly important.
Matthew: What mentor has played an impact on your professional development, and has there been anybody in particular that’s helped you in building Huddle, as a mentor?
Andy: I think that… well, I would hope that both Alistair and I would say that we’ve probably mentored each other more than anybody else, so (unintelligible – 0:06:25.4) Charles, who is our chairman, has been a terrific mentor and I think the one thing we’ve realized from talking with him, you know, we see him every month, is that he would give us some advice and we’d say, “Well, you know, I’m not sure, maybe,” we’d go off and do what we wanted and then inevitably what he said would happen has ended up happening, because although, you know, his business isn’t our business, a lot of times it’s the same. I think with Alistair and I, you know, we talk three or four times a week, in fact we probably talk more now that I’m in San Francisco than we did when we were both in London, and just having somebody who is as passionate as you and perhaps sees the world in a very different way, because, you know, we… you know, as I said before, he’s the yin to my yang. We often kind of disagree about things initially, but then come to a position in the middle which has ended up to be the right place.
Matthew: What advice would you like to share with our audience about launching a start-up? If you had to distill it, what are the key elements?
Andy: I think that spending a good amount of time beforehand, but not too much time, researching your idea. I think that talking to as many people as you can, but the right people, is important, and then when you are ready to launch, having a team in place that covers, I think, the three or four main aspects… you know, if I was to found a company again I would want a product guy, a technical guy, a sales guy, and (unintelligible – 0:07:51.8). I think between those three you have an awesome team that you can do an awful lot with.
Matthew: Before we close, I would like for you to give our audience your vision for Huddle, and how you hope it will change the world.
Andy: So, I mean, the vision is that in the same way as when people search for something they Google it, we want to make sure that if people are working and collaborating on projects they’re Huddling it. And how we want to change the world, we want to do that by making it as simple for people to work together as it is to send an email.
Matthew: Excellent. Andy, it’s been a pleasure having you as a guest on Founderly. We’re rooting for your continued success at Huddle. For those in our audience who’d like to learn more and register for a free account and use their service, you can visit them at www.huddle.com. This is Matthew Wise at Founderly; thanks so much, Andy.
Andy: Thank you.

 
 

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