In this guest post, we chat with Paul Wickers, founder and CEO of huggg, an app that enables you to message coffees and cakes to friends who can then collect and enjoy the physical items in cafes across the country. We spoke about the way that digital economies and loneliness are having impacts on our world – and what huggg is doing to change that from within the digital landscape…


How has the digital economy changed in the last 10 years?

Ten years ago, doing something digital was a feature and now you might do something that isn’t digital as a feature. Everything is digital, and many of the things we take for granted actually contain AI and machine learning without people realising that – or how powerful it is. Every time you use predictive text, or an emoji is suggested for you, or an automated Gmail reply, that’s machine learning. But of course, it’s not all good news.

This digital landscape helps people to connect and disconnect

People who are no longer in the same location are able to be in the same digital location, but unfortunately people who are in the same location are simultaneously in a different digital location. This can lead to losing the face to face connection. What we do at huggg ironically is create a business which is entirely digital, but that is designed to get people to take a few seconds on a screen to facilitate someone spending an hour in a coffee shop.

That digital process to facilitate a physical process is the opposite of most digital apps, which seek to reward in-technology time.

The humanness of real world experiences will always prevail

I think as more digital time causes people to have issues with isolation, as even more data breaches start to come to light, people will realise that many digital things are actually just rubbish and addictive clickbait nonsense. The emotional connection of real world experiences and interactions will always prevail, and digital like many things will ebb and flow, so that digital has to enhance rather than replace real world experiences.

Humanity is very resilient, but the problem with digital is the speed of adoptions. If we take Moore’s Law to be true – that computer power and technological advancement will double every year, we need to start thinking about genuine human intelligence. Although for some this may seem frightening, in many situations it’s powerful, such as creating an MRI machine that can read 15,000 MRI scans in 30 minutes, each time more accurately than a consultant. That could save lives.

That’s why we seek to augment physical world experiences

If people insist on digital experiences, let’s give them the tools they need to also create traditional, real-world experiences in that digital manner. We don’t have the opportunity all the time to put an arm around a friend and take them to a coffee shop, but the next best thing is to give them a sign that you were thinking of them. And of course, this benefits cafes too, driving up their footfall during a time when footfall in towns and cities is decreasing due to online – digital – shopping.

It’s not always an easy concept to communicate

As a company, we’re in a scary phase right now, also known as the trough of despair – the transition from not having a live product when every decision you make is essentially correct because it’s made in a vacuum, to putting your product out in the wild and finding that it doesn’t hit the mark.
Although success stories can be inspirational, they can also lead to false expectations: AirBnB is tk, but was turned down by 20 VCs and went through 3 failed launches before it became the success it is today. Most success stories are actually preceded with decades of hard work. Almost no product is released correctly, and process of releasing will often tell you how wrong it was!

Because we focus on two types of audience, those who treat people and cafes who redeem the treats, our marketplace model of business is the epitome of chicken and egg. The more people send hugggs, the more cafes are likely to sign up to redeem them… and the more cafes that offer the redemption of hugggs, the more likely people are to use it. We’re determined to give both audiences the same positive experience, and create a digital platform for real world experiences that can transcend distance. That’s our vision for the digital person in the future.

You can download huggg from iTunes here and the Google Play store here.