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When April Johnson got the idea to launch Happied, a company using tech to build community through food and drink experiences, she knew she just had to go for it.
Happied started in 2016 as a simple blog where Johnson would share insight on happy hours in the Washington, D.C., area. That idea quickly grew into a mobile application featuring a database of more than 450 happy hours you can find in D.C. But when COVID-19 forced people to stay at home, Happied pivoted to hosting virtual community happy hours and social experiences online via a platform for organizations to tap into. Despite much success with the changes this year, Johnson said there are still some stigmas as a minority founder that seem to haunt her.
“There’s been an interesting shift in the last few months. Generally, minority founders are given less benefit of the doubt,” Johnson shared in an email interview. “We don’t have the luxury to fail like our white counterparts. It goes back to the old adage that as a Black person ‘you have to work twice as hard.'”
“The day I knew I moved from founder to CEO was a few months ago when we closed our first deal that I didn’t have to touch. It was a magical moment.”
A New Shift, But Will It Last?
In the last few months, given the public outcry against racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd, there’s been an increase in support for Black-owned companies, but Johnson said she isn’t too sure if this will be sustained or if it is a reaction to circumstances.
“I’m from Inglewood, California, which most people know from Dr. Dre, Snoop, and Ice Cube’s iconic song, ‘The Next Episode’, and more recently the setting for Issa Rae’s popular HBO series Insecure,” Johnson shared. “I grew up across the street from what was, at the time, the Great Western Forum—where the Lakers played prior to moving downtown to the Staples Center.”
From Lawyer to Entrepreneur
This is the image Johnson paints of her hometown, an area she said is becoming gentrified now. She grew up in a primarily Black and Latino neighborhood with a mix of lower and middle class households. But with her hometown roots on the West Coast, it’s no surprise that she eventually ventured into technology. Johnson is actually a lawyer by trade and was working on Happied part-time while still practicing law before she decided to dive headfirst into entrepreneurship.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the ability of tech to connect people and make things more efficient,” Johnson said. “I knew that I wanted to build solutions that were driven by technology.”
She said from the day she started conceptualizing Happied, she knew it would be a tech-focused business, but just had to find the right people to build it. After starting as a team of one with Johnson, Happied has grown to nine employees working across sales, marketing, and fulfillment. There’s a big shift in going from doing everything yourself to having other people on your team to help grow and scale your vision, Johnson told Lifewire.
“The dynamic is actually really fun,” she said. “We love what we do. Everyone works really hard, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We remind ourselves every day that we have one of the best jobs in the world: to make people happy.”
Keeping People Connected
While Johnson is on a mission to make people happy, her focus area with Happied above all is helping remote teams connect virtually. The Happied platform offers immersive team-building experiences with custom experience kits shipped to all attendees. The company currently offers virtual mixology, charcuterie board making, bubble tea making, and wine tasting experiences.
“We solve the problem of keeping teams and groups engaged remotely. We believe good food and drink is a joy of life and believe in its power to bring people together,” she shared. “We use technology to create team building experiences people love—no matter where they are.”
The Struggle Is (Still) Real
Johnson created Happied with pure and good intentions, yet she’s been met with much doubt.
“I’ve been asked questions that reek of unconscious bias like ‘do you have a business plan?’,” Johnson explained. “The discrepancies in funding for minority-owned companies are widely known, so I don’t need to recount them here, but it’s outrageous.”
“It goes back to the old adage that as a Black person ‘you have to work twice as hard.'”
Despite the discrepancies, Johnson is still on a high from Happied closing its first major funding deal this year, a moment she said transformed how she views her role in the company. Happied had been bootstrapped and supported only by internal funding up until that point.
“The day I knew I moved from founder to CEO was a few months ago when we closed our first deal that I didn’t have to touch,” she shared. “It was a magical moment. I now spend way less time in executing the day-to-day tasks and a lot more time working on vision and scaling.”
With the support of her team, Johnson is beating the odds and pushing past those who are betting against her. She expects Happied to grow and thrive far past the challenges it has been met with this year.