Two Limerick sisters, who have combined the universal languages of hugs and music and created a platform where people can share them around the world, saw a 1,900pc increase in activity when Covid arrived last year.
Jacqui and Perry Meskell, the co-founders of Huggnote, filled a gap in the market when Jacqui hit upon the idea of a virtual hug long before the pandemic made them a necessity.
“I was working in Brussels, and on paper it was a great life, but I still missed people back home, and then a friend of mine was having a bad time and I wanted to show her some support so I searched online for a service that would send a song with a message, but there was no such service and it got me thinking,” said Jacqui.
“I ended up copying a link from Youtube and sending it to her, but it didn’t seem enough. I wanted it to be more than that, and that’s how the idea for Huggnote came about.”
That was 2018, and Jacqui’s sister Perry was working in the University of Limerick at the time, and she and Jacqui put their heads together and created the online service.
“We’re not typically tech people, and we went to different tech conferences and saw that they were dominated by men. We thought ‘we need more women in tech, and if not us then who?’,” said Jacqui.
Huggnote is now being used across five continents, with Ireland, the US, the UK, India and Sri Lanka being the top five countries using it. Other countries in the top 20 include Brazil, Ghana, Germany, Canada, Jamaica, Ethiopia, and Iraq.
Users sign up for free at huggnote.com, and can pick from a menu of songs to send to someone along with a personal message via messaging apps, email, or SMS.
“We are always so amazed to see the variety of countries from which Huggs are sent over Christmas, especially as we wouldn’t expect the holiday to be celebrated so widely,” said Jacqui.
Huggnote has been named one of Ireland’s top 100 most ambitious start-ups, and saw user sign-ups increase 700pc over the holidays.
It is now gearing up for a further spike in users over New Year’s Eve as revellers across the globe prepare for another midnight countdown separated from friends or loved ones.
“This is the second New Year’s Eve in which people are sadly unable to celebrate in the usual way,” said Perry. “And so we expect to see a huge surge in users as Huggnote is perhaps the only app that enables people to still feel that emotional connection to loved ones because music releases the same hormones as a physical hug like oxytocin and dopamine.”
“Music is a powerful re-kindler of memories, so when you combine that with a heartfelt message, it’s very special to receive,” said Jacqui.
“It’s such an easy way to make someone’s day – no matter how far away they are. And it’s so simple to use that we have users from age 18 to 80. It only takes seconds to send a Hugg, but the effect is truly long lasting. It’s so emotional to receive. Users write to tell us how their Hugg made them cry – in the best possible way.”
Huggnote is currently a ‘freemium’ service, but in 2022 will launch a full version which will offer additional services.
“There will always be the free service where you can choose a song and send a message which can be played twice. But we have found people want more song choice and to keep the Hugg, and several brands have asked us about providing a service too, so that will be launched in 2022,” said Jacqui.
The top song sent over Christmas was It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year by Andy Williams, followed by Merry Christmas Everyone by Shakin Stevens and then White Christmas by Bing Crosby.