April Johnson, Founder & CEO, Happied, Washington, D.C.
Being a D.C. lawyer is an ultimate dream for many, why the career change?
My motto is that you only have one life, so you should live it doing something that makes you happy. I wasn't miserable at my job as a corporate real estate attorney for a big-law firm, but knew it wasn’t my passion. I primarily represented banks and other financial institutions in commercial real estate finance transactions. At the time of my recent departure, I was considered a senior associate with an impressive annual salary and bonus.
I started Happied while still practicing law and after a few months, I felt confident enough to transition my law career to just part-time work. As Happied prepared to enter monetization, I knew that it required full-time attention and took the full leap.
I always asked my friends, "where should we go for happy hour?" The answer to that question depended on what type of happy hour spot we were looking for that day - did we want craft cocktails, quality cuisine, or just a quick beer? I then realized that there wasn't anything out there that allows people to search for happy hour locations based on metrics that actually matter to them, so I thought, I'm going to create it! By the time I decided to focus full-time on Happied, the monetization streams were clear with a fair amount of traction and users.
How did you feel empowered to start Happied?
Happied isn't my first business and it won't be my last. Shortly after college, my roommate and I started a profitable tutoring company in Los Angeles. At the age of 21, we had a team of tutors working for us all over LA county. This business taught me that if you have a great idea and the ability to execute it, you just have to go for it! Every great company started with an idea. My former business partner Stella Ashaolu, is also now running her own successful startup, WeSolv, out of Chicago.
What keeps you going?
I have the ability to learn anything that I put my mind to. Quite frankly, I always figure stuff out! No one has all the answers, but I take pride in surrounding myself with people that have complimentary skills and strengths to balance me out. If there’s something that I do not know, someone in my team does. I am also flexible and ready to learn and grow.
My mom gives me confidence and inspires me. She came from a relatively poor family in South Carolina in the 1950s, went on to become an attorney (a solo practitioner), and previously started two small businesses in Los Angeles - a beauty salon and a boutique. She taught me that it doesn't matter who you are and where you come from, but what matters is passion, your ability to learn, and commitment to consistently delivering excellence.
What challenges have you already faced as an early startup founder?
Happied is for any and everyone looking for happy hour. In pitching Happied to business owners, I've repeatedly encountered the question, "What is your demographic?," with the implication being, "Are you trying to fill our seats with a whole bunch of black folks?" I constantly defend the company as one that attracts a wide audience, showing photos of our diverse subscribers and user profiles. I can't imagine that a white woman with a happy hour app would repeatedly face the same demographic question, and I find it sad that even if our audience was all black, we’d have to defend it.