‘Appily Ever After: Valerie Stark and Stina Sanders
New to the big city and feeling lonely, Valerie Stark initially reached out to Stina Sanders through Instagram after discovering they frequented the same yoga studio. Sanders, a former model, reciprocated, and the newly minted BFFs joined forces to create Huggle, an app that connects people based on the places they hang out most. Not your average meet-up app, Huggle offers users the opportunity to connect – for friendship or dating – on a deeper level, built on shared interests and geographic proximity. No left-swiping required.
Val, how did your experience of moving to a new city influence the creation of Huggle?
When I first moved to London I didn’t know anyone or have any friends. It was a really lonely time and although I was going to busy places with lots of people, I would never initiate conversations with strangers. I would go on Instagram and see all the people who had checked in at the same places I’d been to. It was comforting to know these people shared the same interests as me. I met a few people I had a lot of places in common with, and that’s when I realized there wasn’t a platform that connected people who share the same lifestyle and interests.
Stina, how has your background in modeling and social media shaped your priorities for developing Huggle?
I’ve always felt social apps lacked depth, especially platforms that connect people based on their appearance. Honestly, the majority of connections I’ve met through networking apps have resulted in nothing but an initial fleeting attraction. I knew there was a gap in the market for a social app that could help build lasting relationships, whether it’s friendship or romance. And that’s exactly what Huggle does; it gives people instant common ground and a reason to connect.
Tell us more about how the two of you met and formed your friendship/partnership.
Val: I was going through recent geolocations on Instagram, just being nosy, and clicked on my favorite yoga class location, where I discovered a photo of Stina. I checked out her Instagram and could see she liked a lot of things I liked and frequented many of the places I did. I started to follow and like her photos, and she reciprocated by messaging me back. We joked it was strange that we had never met before because we pretty much had been going to all of the same places. After taking our favorite yoga class and grabbing a matcha latte at our favorite cafe, we became good friends. I eventually told her about my social app idea.
In what has become a concentrated market, how do you think Huggle positions itself differently; how is Huggle unique?
Stina: Huggle connects people who go to the same places. It’s not your typical face-swiping app. Our users connect through places they have in common. Unlike appearance-matching apps, our users can relate to one another because they share a similar lifestyle and not just because they find each other physically attractive. It’s a totally unbiased and bespoke app – you can use it to find a friend, date or just to be curious. Huggle is pro-equality and that’s what makes it different from anything else in the market.
How do you balance running a business and making room for a personal life?
Val: I always try to spend quality time with my boyfriend, but even on weekends when it comes to work, I still put Huggle first. What is crucial is always having “you time” at least ten minutes a day.
Stina: You don’t. Your business needs to be your life. I honestly believe you have to love your job. That way you don’t have to worry about balancing anything.
What has been the biggest challenge in starting your own business and entering into the tech space?
Val: The biggest challenge is not being on the same wavelength as people from different areas in your business. It can be difficult to persuade people to believe in your idea and stay motivated at times.
Stina: Business is challenging every day and I think the biggest challenge is keeping yourself motivated. We have a motto we tell each other when times get tough, “If it were easy, everybody would be doing it.”
What is your advice to young women with aspirations of working in tech?
Val: Join a start-up – it’s a stressful environment but you learn so much along the way, including how to learn from your mistakes. Sometimes at an established brand it can feel like a factory, where you have your tasks and there’s no real room for growth or creativity.
Stina: If you want something – go get it. If you don’t know anything about tech, just jump in and learn later.
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