Stop Swiping and Start Connecting: Meet Huggle


Have you ever gone out with someone that you met through a social app and ended up disappointed because the connection didn’t go much further than physical attraction? If yes, that is the scenario that Valerie Stark and Stina Sanders were looking to overcome when creating the Huggle app.

Huggle is a social app that connects you with people based on places you go, rather than physical appearance. The app uses hyper local technology to check you into your favorite places, your current location or places nearby and allows you to see who else has been there and what other locations you share with them – say goodbye to swiping! According to the founders, it is a mix of Instagram and Foursquare and can be used to find platonic or romantic connections – or simply to be nosey. It is the perfect app to use if you are traveling or new to an area – which is exactly how the idea for the app came about.

Huggle – which suggests a friendly hug - emerged when Valerie moved from Moscow to London and was struggling to make friends so she would often search her own Instagram geo-tags to see who else had gone to the same places and would occasionally reach out to people and initiate conversation. According to her, she started to build a small network through her own geo-tags and one day discovered Stina through a mutual yoga location. Upon scanning Stina's Instagram page, Valerie discovered that the two had a lot of interests in common and both frequented at a lot of the same locations so she decided to message Stina and after a short while, the two met and became friends.

After meeting and establishing a friendship in 2014, the duo agreed that since social media apps at the time lacked depth and didn’t provide a good common ground for people to meet combined with their shared desire to meet people that they had things in common with, left a big white-space in the market. Ultimately leading to the start of Huggle in the beginning of 2015.

In a world of Tinders, Grindrs, Hinges, Bumbles and OKCupids, it is refreshing to learn of an experience provided by a social app where romantic or sexual relationships aren’t the assumed end result. "Huggle is a bespoke app and you can use it how you wish" offers Sanders. She explains that there is absolutely no bias when it comes to their target market – man, woman, single, taken, whether you're in search of platonic friendships or romance, all users are welcome.

Valerie Stark and Stina Sanders, founders of Huggle app

The app officially launched in the UK in June 2016 and the U.S. launch is in the works. Huggle has received investment by Andrey Andreev, a Russian entrepreneur who also invested in Bumble, reasserting the market's need for an unbias and platonic social media app.

When asked about challenges faced thus far, the duo share their favorite motivational quote "If it was easy, everybody would be doing it." Their shared interests and ideas brought them together and keep them going day to day but their very diverse backgrounds have also played a large part in the success of the app. Stark, a certified yoga instructor whose background includes a managerial position at one of the largest restaurant businesses in Moscow where she was a key player in their UK and European expansion, combined with Sanders, a model and social media personality who partakes in online TV documentaries and public speaking to highlight social media safety and expectations, make a great team. According to Sanders, "We have very different backgrounds in the tech world, which has been a blessing in disguise."



1. What app do you most use?

Huggle :) and Instagram.

2. Name a business mogul you admire.

Val: Victoria Beckham - she knows what she’s doing and I like how she moved away from her pop-star perception to a high brow fashion designer. She created the Beckham brand and I admire that.

Stina: Richard Branson. I’ve read all of his books and I personally think he is a PR genius.

3. What product do you wish you had invented?

V: Memes!

S: Any idea that is so simple and almost pointless - like the selfie stick.

4. What is your life motto?

V: Her success is not your failure.

S: The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has been before.

5. Desert island. Three things, go.

V: Resistance bands, book and intimate wash.

S: Music, coconut oil and a hair tie!


Why Whiskey Should No Longer Be Categorized As “A Man’s Drink”

I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"

I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.

In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.

Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.

For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.

Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.

The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.

It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.

While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.

What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.

While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.