Checking in with Happied
April Johnson describes how the company she co-founded continues to meet the moment and build community.
When we interviewed April Johnson in August 2021 for our Change of Plans issue, she and co-founder Sharon Cao had a pandemic pivot story to tell that reflected the pair’s talent for innovating in the face of challenge. Having initially developed Happied as an app to help folks gather for in-person happy hours around the greater Washington D.C. area, they pivoted in the early weeks of the pandemic to develop online events and experiences to serve corporate clients and other groups who wanted to gather virtually.
Today, a little over a year since we featured Happied, the co-founders’ ability to continue to evolve the company around their mission and meet the changing needs of their customers is serving them well. With new funding and a new service model, a growing team, and big plans to expand Happied internationally, April fills us in on the latest chapter in this fast-moving story. Read on to catch the highlights of her learning, the company’s evolution, and her hopes for the future of Happied.
It's been a little over a year since we interviewed you for The Change of Plans issue. How has Happied grown and changed since then?
Wow! I can’t believe that was a year ago. So much has changed since then. For starters, we completed the Techstars Minnesota Twins Accelerator in February 2022 and closed our first venture capital round — a pre-seed of $1.6M — in July 2022. The Techstars accelerator was key for us in refining how we would scale Happied beyond our initial success.
We had a few scale models going into Techstars, and we used that time to start executing and testing what resonated with customers and investors. Our core mission remains the same — to build community around incredible experiences — but we’ve expanded our reach beyond food and drink experiences to encompass wellness, community service, entertainment, games, and other social experiences.
The way we fulfill our mission has also grown and evolved. When we last chatted, Happied was still in MVP mode, where we worked one-on-one with our customers in a service capacity to learn their pain points and create experiences that would meet their needs, while also identifying what aspects of the service could be automated. After working with over 150 customers, we learned that most companies do not have dedicated personnel to organize events, and they instead task busy program managers or team leads with this work — generally folks without the time, skills, or tools necessary to properly plan, execute, solicit feedback, or measure impact. That’s where Happied comes in.
We have now developed a software platform that essentially serves as an outsourced team and client engagement tool and streamlines the entire team and client event planning process (from ideation to feedback). This is the same service we were providing one-to-one for our clients in 2021 during our MVP phase, but the software automates many of these processes.
Additionally, now that most in-person COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, we’ve returned to the in-person experience space. We’re revolutionizing the way companies of all shapes and sizes think about the administrative function of planning team and client events. In the same way companies wouldn’t execute HR or accounting functions without their trusted software platforms, we hope that soon they won’t imagine planning team engagement, client development, or community building events without Happied. It’s an exciting time.
What are some of the most significant milestones you and Sharon, and Happied as a whole, have reached since then? What's been most exciting?
Most exciting has been seeing our team continue to grow and launching our custom-built tech platform. We are now a team of 10 full-time employees, and we’re currently hiring. We’ll be a full-time team of 13 by year’s end. It’s still a bit wild to think about that growth — from just me and Sharon to our current team. It has also been super exciting to see our new software platform come to life and work so well, especially after being burned by a bad tech build with the 2019 happy hour app.
What have been some of the biggest challenges or struggles you've faced, individually or as co-founders?
One of the biggest challenges has been the adjustment of moving from being intensely focused on a one-to-one service model to allowing our platform to facilitate a lot of the tasks for our customers. We care deeply about each experience that is created through Happied, and our software now allows these experiences to happen more efficiently and seamlessly, but we miss the deeper connections we formed with our customers when we interacted with them more regularly. As a positive, this has only strengthened our commitment to ensuring our clients feel the same level of care and support through our platform as they felt through our MVP service model.
What are some things you've learned about yourselves as founders since we spoke a year ago?
I’ve learned that it’s harder to delegate than I previously thought. I think Sharon and I are both executors. We are really good at getting things done. It’s really hard to let go of the reins and fully trust other people to execute your vision. We’ve learned that it’s incredibly important to document everything to make it as easy as possible for others to hop in and understand your thinking and expectations. We’ve both been very guilty of thinking that we did a better job of explaining something than we actually did.
I’m also not good at delivering bad news. I don’t like hurting people’s feelings, and that’s something that happens more often than I thought it would. Telling someone they aren’t meeting expectations or letting someone go is tough. It doesn’t mean you don’t respect them as a person, but it still feels hard. I’m learning to grow into a kind but firm leader.
Do you have any advice to offer other founders who are in the early stages of their journeys?
My biggest advice is to be ready for both the ups and the downs. While we’ve been fortunate to find success, it has definitely not been easy. There are many points in the founder journey where you will question yourself, what you’re doing, and what you gave up to get there. When that happens, I think it’s important to remember your “why” and that you don’t have to do this. No one is forcing you to be a founder — this is your dream, your life, and your journey, so embrace it. And, I’d add, if it stops being fun and fulfilling (it will always be hard), take a moment to re-evaluate yourself and your journey.
I can’t think of many other situations that literally force you to figure everything out. As a founder, the buck stops with you. You learn to meet and beat the challenge daily, and I say be open and soak it all in, and be ready to grow beyond your wildest dreams. If you’re going to do it, give it your all and go for the win.
What's the current state of Happied, and what's next for the company — immediately and down the road?
We just launched our new platform! You can check it out at app.happied.co. We’re excited to be in the midst of onboarding new and current customers into their Happied portal and showing them how to use the platform to plan meaningful events for their teams, clients, and community. And we’re hiring!
We’re focused on continuing to expand our footprint at companies from growth stage to enterprise across the country, starting with taking over the team engagement space. Then within the next 3-5 years, we’ll expand internationally. Ultimately, Happied will be akin to a HubSpot or Salesforce, in the same way you depend on these platforms for CRM, companies will rely on Happied to manage their team engagement, client development, and community-building functions.