What’s the inspiration behind Huddle?
Steph: For the last seven years, Mike and I have been working inside early-stage startups and alongside founders at startup studios. We’ve seen over and over again how hard it is to find talent, and what a blocker it can be for entrepreneurs. We’ve also both been independent creators, plugging into startups and observing more and more of our network taking this path.
It dawned on us that there’s no real place for these high-skilled startup creators and founders to meet and make things together; so, we decided to build it.
Michael: You've been deeply embedded in the entrepreneur and venture finance community for the past 7 years. How has that experience shaped your approach as a founder?
Mike: I’ve learned that it’s all about the founders and their commitment. I don’t think there’s any amount of help—coaching, mentorship, great investors, etc.—that can make a difference if the founders aren’t ready and willing to put in the work, including the self work, that entrepreneurship really takes. Especially those who want to build big companies. The founders I’ve seen succeed have an almost ruthless commitment to what they’re building.
So, at Huddle, we focus a lot on holding ourselves and our teammates accountable. Steph and I are both visionary, futurist people. When we hire, we’re looking for people who are executors above all else—the ones who will do what they say they’ll do and call themselves out when something’s up.
This also shaped the concept for Huddle itself. We aren’t a cofounder dating platform or networking community. Founders get enough thought leadership and advice. What startups need are people who can turn ideas into tangible reality, and fast.
Stephanie: What’s your experience been like as a female founder? Any advice for women looking to start their own company?
Steph: In my founder experience, particularly in leading our fundraise, there were moments where I wondered if certain behaviors had a bias behind them. At some point though, I realized that it’s not my job to change minds. The only thing I, or really anyone, can do is: be authentically me, pitch our true vision for the company, and see who’s into it.
Connecting with female investors and the amazing tech community in Miami also made a massive difference. Having a circle of supporters branched into so many great conversations, investors, customers, and creators.
I’d highly recommend connecting with other women in tech early on, finding your tribe of advocates, and combating bias by being authentically yourself.
How did you meet your co-founder? How do you work together?
We met back in 2015, at a studio called Luminary in NYC. Luminary helped startups get to market and raise money with design and development support. We collaborated well together, and ended up leaving that studio together to another called Jakt.
For the years that followed, we continued to be friends and found ways to work together, through working on startup projects together and helping founder friends. We both prioritize clear, honest-as-possible communication, and just generally have a ton of respect for one another.
How do you handle risk and competition?
The biggest risk is getting distracted from the commitment we have to building the future we see clearly and believe in. Looking over our shoulder at what others are doing is not how we think we’ll build a disruptive company. Instead, we think the greatest way to de-risk and win is to simply listen to our users, founders, and creators, and build things they want.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
The first challenge was deciding which side of the marketplace to focus on. This was unclear early on, which led to our priorities being spread too thin. About six months in, we had learned enough to realize the supply side of Huddle (creators) is the priority. Since then, we’ve been able to move quicker and with more purpose.
Second, structuring equity payment options for founders and freelancers is broadly under-explained, and has been a huge learning experience for us. We’ve iterated many times, and worked with lawyers and accountants, to make sure we were completely educated and passing that education along to the people transacting on Huddle.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
Steph: I’ve learned so much about myself through this process. Building a company and raising money—there’s really nowhere to pass the buck, you have to just own it. It’s been a deeply personal journey for me, learning how to truly take ownership while also to not let the no’s and lows of the process to weigh heavier than the wins. I’ve learned that what brings me back to energy and progress is being grateful that I get to do this work and grow everyday.
Why did you decide to raise from the crowd via Republic?
Steph: When we set out to raise our seed, we were intentional about setting aside a pool for independent creators—the ones designing, building, shipping and making up the Huddle community—to become owners too. It was important to us that they'd get the same terms as the VCs in the round, and that anyone, accredited or not, could get involved. I have a thread on that here.
What’s your team culture like?
Everyone on the team is empowered with ownership and trust. Trust is a big one because we’re an all-remote team. We check in at the start and finish of each week, hold each other accountable, and get our work done. We also promote being fully aware of reality in the business, which is sometimes lost when building a startup with a big vision. We each report weekly on our individual metrics, and are honest about what’s actually happening and what we can do about it.
Everyone’s also encouraged to bring their whole selves to work. We recently spent a few days in Montauk for our last team offsite. When we weren’t whiteboarding and planning the future, we stayed up late and watched South Park and talked about the universe.
What is your superpower?
Steph: Empowering others to get creative; and, making the complex simple.
Mike: Holding people accountable to building the future they believe in.
What’s your kryptonite?
Steph: My kryptonite is that I’m pretty competitive and sometimes forget it. I find myself worked up over something I shouldn’t be and realize I’m turning it into a competition in my head. The book Courage to be Disliked (highly recommend, by the way) talks about creating horizontal relationships with people, rather than vertical ones where there’s a one-upping game. It’s been a really helpful framework for me.
Mike: I think my kryptonite is people who say “you” and “should” too much—based on what they’ve seen other people do, or perhaps on their own insecurities about the situation. Dogma drives me absolutely crazy.
Deep down, I know everyone means well—most people are only trying to help. But to me, there’s this lack of curiosity that happens when people start giving unsolicited advice. I’m not here to do what others do, or what you think I should do. I wholeheartedly believe I’m here to do things my own way, so long as it’s in service to the grander good.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
Mike: Wow, where do we start? I’m extremely habitual. I’m one of those weird “win the morning” people that’s up at like 5am meditating, etc. The weirdest one? My leadership coach got me on this routine where I write down ALL of my negative thoughts first thing in the morning. I then, line by line, cross them out and “talk back” to them with the voice of my higher self that knows anything is possible.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Steph: When not working on Huddle, I enjoy spending time reading, sketching, painting and playing piano. I also love tennis and soccer, and picked up golf in the last year, too.
Mike: Exercise, new restaurants in BK and Miami, reading, writing, making design tweaks to my apartment. I come from a big family of musicians, and recently I’ve been learning music production. I have long-term ambitions of winning a Grammy. People think I’m crazy. And it’s like...yeah, I am.
Are there any apps or gadgets that you can’t live without?
Steph: I really love my Sonos speakers hooked up around the house. I love that I can create a vibe in multiple rooms with a tap. Also, not sure if this counts as a gadget, but: my Peloton bike. It really saved my sanity during the pandemic.
Mike: My Fellow kettle! In trying to purchase a coffee maker, I learned truly great coffee is about the right temperature water poured evenly over freshly ground coffee beans. Fellow gets me that perfect water temp, and it looks dope.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
Mike: Start replacing the word “but” with “and.” Like…“I want to start a blog, BUT I don’t have a following” becomes “I want to start a blog, AND I don’t have a following.” The latter creates an opportunity, while the “but” is like a death sentence to creativity.
I wasted a lot of cycles on fear disguised as perfection. Just do whatever it is you want to do and accept what’s next. The consequences are likely better than you imagined, and far, far superior to being trapped by the “but.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Mike: On the day my father dropped me off at my Freshman year college orientation, I made a comment that “I wished I could be more outgoing like that”—referring to my roommate, who seemed to have like 20 friends in the first 8 minutes we were there.
At the end of the closing orientation speeches, my dad stood up, looked at me, and said: “Stop wishing. If there’s something in this world you really want, just go get it.” He then hugged me goodbye and left. It was a really bizarre moment! He, nor my mom, ever went to college, so I think it was his way of telling me to go for it. I hadn’t ever heard him say anything like that. It made a really big impact on me.
Do you have any mentors? If so, what have they taught you?
We have an awesome group of investors and advisors. The lead investors of our seed round, Leura and Paige Craig of Outlander VC, have given us incredibly helpful advice along the way on how to maintain focus and prioritize the right things at different stages of company building.