In the Pursuit of Transparency: An Interview with Darren Chait, Co-Founder of Hugo

by | Aug 26, 2021 | SaaS Founders

What if everyone at your company knew exactly what was going on without you having to repeat a single word?

There is no question that technology in the workplace has reshaped our understanding of collaboration and even what a “normal” team looks like. Communication no longer feels like a hurdle to bringing on remote talent, which means we are more comfortable than ever putting the roots of the company down all over the world. Developer in, say, Brazil? Sure. Marketing team in New York? Check. Toss in California-based-CEO? Why not?

Darren Chait and Josh Lowy were building a fantastic team in the early days of Hugo but could not pretend the gaps in understanding between departments did not impact the start-up’s momentum. Every growing company that employs a remote team or worker has experienced this. On top of this, it’s impossible to quantify the understanding gained from being in the room, overhearing conversations within meetings and thinking aloud. So, putting an end to meetings altogether—not an option. Sunk-time created by meetings, however, is a real loss to the company’s productivity.

Meetings should be productive, and as Lowy shares on the Hugo blog, this can be achieved if teams make sure to avoid recapping the same information, allow as many people as possible to participate and structure the time as necessary. Above all, meetings should be a positive investment for each attendee.

Hugo was developed to solve this very problem for, well, Hugo. Just as Tom Gonser, founder of DocuSign identified, the best businesses are the ones that have developed from the founder experiencing a specific pain point, and then working to fix it. We had a chance to speak directly with Darren about how he and Josh developed Hugo, his experience building a product that helps you spend less time distributing information and more time doing what you love, watching it transform his disconnected team into one powerful unit and ultimately developing a platform he would share with the world.

How did you develop the idea for Hugo?

My co-founder and I come from professional backgrounds (me a corporate lawyer and him a product manager). We’re both efficiency freaks and regularly discussed our frustration with meetings; their cost, overhead and poor return on investment. We built Hugo to solve this.

After moving to San Francisco from Sydney, Australia, and founding Hugo, Josh and I spent our days talking to customers, partners and investors while the team was working hard on building out the product. Very quickly, a gap grew between us and the team. Engineering, design and marketing couldn’t quite understand what we were hearing without being in one 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, Asana, or Salesforce for example.

“Having business-wide access to meeting knowledge provides a level playing field where anyone in the organization can contribute thoughts, ideas and feedback, irrespective of their title, gender, racial background or pay grade.”

So, we fixed the problem for ourselves. We added a feature to that version of Hugo for our own purposes—to 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—a common platform for your team to save and share meeting insights, in real-time. Following some success with beta customers, we formed partnerships with the likes of Atlassian, Freshworks and other leading software companies and today we power fast-moving tech companies, globally.

One of your company’s objectives is to create a “culture of transparency” for users of the platform. How exactly does Hugo contribute to or shift the culture of the businesses using the software?

There are some interesting trends occurring in the modern workplace that have enabled us to have a meaningful impact on In the Pursuit of Transparency business culture. Some are obvious—like remote workforces and the need they create for collaborative solutions to connect teams and foster the relationships enjoyed by co-located teams. Hugo is there to support these real-world trends and positively influence the culture of our customers in this way. The monumental changes, however, have come from emerging trends that Hugo can enable, like decentralized decision-making and true equality of voice.

Having business-wide access to meeting knowledge provides a level playing field wherein anyone in the organization can contribute thoughts, ideas and feedback, irrespective of their title, gender, racial background or pay grade. This truly transforms a company’s culture. We experienced this firsthand when we started using Hugo internally; suddenly some of our best marketing ideas came from engineering, and transformative suggestions were coming from the quietest members of our team who don’t normally speak up in meetings.

Hugo co-founders Darren Chait and Josh Lowey
Hugo co-founders Darren Chait and Josh Lowey

Does this marked shift in company culture contribute to improving the business itself, too?

Absolutely. Aside from leveling the playing field and creating a sense of transparency, we have seen a few other interesting areas where Hugo has helped customers improve their operations:

1. Creating truly customer-centric businesses: this has become somewhat of an overused buzzword, but the ability to expose non-customer-facing functions to customer conversations creates a new era of customer empathy. We now see engineers, marketers, lawyers and many others having real customer context, directly from the meetings that have historically only been attended by customer success or sales teams.

2. Reducing data fragmentation: part of the problem with the explosion of SaaS is the many places that business data is stored. This is a particularly severe problem for meetings, where notes are captured anywhere from notebooks to random documents to department-specific tools like CRMs. Many businesses report the discovery of new insights and ideas simply from centralizing this information in one place.

3. Efficiency through reduced meeting attendance: one of our first customers told us after a week that he attended 50% fewer meetings as he could be “looped in” to any meeting whether he was in the room or not. With time our most scarce resource, there’s a strong correlation between this benefit and the bottom line. 

Have you made any changes or product updates that you noticed have reduced churn? 

Yes—onboarding. For us, teams either get Hugo right away or they never get started. We’re selling a new way of doing things alongside a web application. Onboarding to us is therefore much more than sign-up flow; it’s the steps needed to educate businesses on the value of shareable, actionable meeting notes and driving corresponding new habits.

Early this year, we shipped an updated onboarding flow that was focused on this educational aspect. We’re already seeing results with improved activation and in turn, reduced churn.

As a founder so closely tied to the way companies use tools to communicate (and indeed function) on a daily basis, how do you think the use of SaaS tools has evolved over the last five years and where do you see this trend heading?

The explosion of SaaS is a trend that everyone’s talking about. This is a subject near and dear to us, particularly when you consider that more than 90% of the SaaS tools used by companies are department-specific. That’s a serious number when the average organization employs 129 distinct apps. And while this can make sense in terms of feature- and use-case specificity, department-specific tools naturally cause knowledge silos and make cross-functional collaboration difficult.

I think this trend will therefore take a bit of a fork in the road now to power a new wave of organization-wide solutions, which enable the whole business to be on the same page. Slack is a great example of this, and they’re on their way to be the first major tech IPO of 2019.

What would you say has been the most rewarding part of starting a SaaS company?

Building any business creates huge satisfaction for its founders by nature of solving a real problem for real people. B2B businesses, however, have an added layer to that because solving a real problem for a whole company means creating real, tangible value for each member of the organization. Watching the exponential impact of helping several people be able to do their job better is an incredibly rewarding experience.

Hugo specifically has added a third layer for me, in that we’re having a positive influence on the way teams work together, and contributing to emerging trends in teamwork. It’s really special to be directly involved in the future of work and changing ways that teams work.

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