Darren Chait: an architect building a “one-team” culture
We are adapting to a changing workplace – the emerging trend of remote offices and teammates across different time zones - and with this, there is a growing need to use multiple tools and platforms to assist with communication. At the same time, in any workplace, knowledge silos exist that make it hard for individuals to stay on the same page with the rest of the team.
Darren Chait - co-founder of Hugo- connected meeting note software for teams to share and action insights - has come across the same experience. But unlike many of us who would scratch our heads about the communication confusion, he and his team are on the way to cracking the code by developing a platform to centralize team meeting notes and integrate with calendars and all the other apps used by teams to share and action those insights in real time.
Moving from Australia to San Francisco, Darren has turned his vision into reality with his mate Josh Lowy, who’s the co-founder of the company.
And he’s excited about the future of Hugo as the startup has secured a number of partnerships with big names, including Atlassian, Slack and Zoom.
Darren speaks to Advance and talks about how Hugo is fast tracking other tech companies through its innovations.
Interview by Tammy Lee, Marketing & Communications & Digital Manager, Advance.
How long have you been living in San Francisco?
I’ve been living in San Francisco since mid 2016 - almost three years!
What’s your first impression? What surprised you most?
Just below the surface, there is an unbelievable sense of drive, hustle and innovation going on every day in this city. Everyone you meet is working on something amazing, and is incredibly focused on success. It’s not uncommon to meet people in a social setting who also happen to be working on flying cars, space discovery or world-changing biomedical innovation.
What I found most surprising is the normality that somehow still continues. San Francisco-natives like the outdoors, their coffee and food and the arts like many Sydney-siders. This mix of drive, innovation and lifestyle is totally unique in my view.
You have a legal background, what made you decide to make a career change?
I really enjoyed practicing law and attribute many of my skills, discipline and life experience to the years I was at Minter Ellison. However, I’ve always been tech-savvy and absolutely had the entrepreneurial bug. The opportunity to have an impact while I sleep is something that fascinated me and drove me to explore building a business with a close friend, that ultimately became Hugo.
How did the concept of Hugo come about?
Meetings were always a source of bewilderment for me and my co-founder as they are one of the most expensive activities we undertake as professionals, but we regularly write them off as time-wasting, onerous and of limited value once they end. We originally tried to solve this problem in a different way, focused on meeting preparation but very quickly, a gap grew between us and the team. Our engineering, design and marketing colleagues couldn’t quite understand what we were hearing without having been in the meeting room. Back-end teams never heard from a customer; they didn’t have time to attend our meetings. Even when we did relay customer feedback, the outcome was still disconnected from their workflow; be it Jira, Slack or Salesforce for example.
So, we fixed the problem for ourselves. We added a feature to that version of Hugo for our own purposes—to connect to our calendars, share meeting notes with the team via Slack, and then to turn those insights into Trello cards. What followed was the transformation of our fractured team into a cohesive, aligned and empathetic unit, where ideas came from everywhere and every team member was directly plugged in.
The irony was that we discovered our customers’ pain was actually more closely aligned with ours than with the solution we had started building, so we productized the solution that had transformed our team and the rest was history. Hugo was the first team meeting note solution - which led to partnerships with the likes of Atlassian, Freshworks and other leading software companies - and today we power fast-moving tech companies globally.
Is there any particular reason for naming your meeting note platform “Hugo”? What does it mean?
We didn’t want to name our business something tied to a feature set or a particular product incarnation, as we knew that this evolves but our vision shouldn’t. Hugo was my co-founder Josh’s great grandfather’s name, who had an inspiring story himself so provided a good name for us to aspire to.
What were the biggest challenges during the start of Hugo?
There are too many to name! One interesting challenge that we didn’t quite expect came after we released our product and found our first paying customers. We always expected that getting our first paying customers and proving real value would be the most significant challenge but it turned out that positioning Hugo and marketing the product in a repeatable way was far more difficult. Selling B2B software in 2019 is as much about marketing as it is engineering. There are so many solutions in the market so discovery, comprehension and differentiation is harder than ever and if you can’t crack that, no one will even know about or understand your amazing software product.
Hugo has established an impressive lineup of partnerships with some of the leading technology companies including Atlassian, Slack and Salesforce. What’s next for the company?
We still have a long way to go! We’re about to release research that we’ve been doing into the state of gender equity in tech. We have a unique perspective on this important issue and have partnered with some big tech companies to put together a white paper on the topic which has some promising takeaways. We also have some significant product releases lined up for later this quarter which we’re very excited about.
What's your advice for other startups who want to expand to the U.S. market?
My views on this answer have changed as I’ve spent more time in the U.S.. For many businesses, expanding to the U.S. opens up a tremendous market opportunity, access to new skill sets and an environment that encourages success. I’m also really enjoying the diversity of perspectives and different types of people that I’m interacting with on a daily basis, which may be a function of previously growing up, going to university and starting my career in one place.
I would encourage other startups to make the move, which couldn’t be easier in 2019 based on the availability of visas for Australians, support from government (such as the Austrade Landing Pad) and other communities here. Having said that, you should be intentional about what you’re looking to achieve in the U.S.. It’s no longer necessarily the best place to hire technical talent, the cost of living is significant and there is an overhead associated with operating a business across the globe. We now have a good sense of where being in the U.S. gives us an advantage, and where having roots elsewhere puts us ahead.
What do you miss most about Australia?
I miss the laid back Aussie lifestyle, light-heartedness and easy going nature. I’ve got myself in trouble a few times with my ‘sense of humour’ in talking to Americans :)
Outside work, it’s hard to compete with the Australian way of life!