Drinks On Her: Why One Woman Was Happy To Leave Behind A Law Career To Launch An App

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Written by Ann Brown
Happy Hour
Photo: Happied

Happy Hour is magic hour for bars restaurants as well as for their patrons. Happy Hour, which usually happens between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., helps U.S. bars and restaurants generate 60.5 percent of their average weekly revenue, according to Nielsen.

A new app called Happied helps users in D.C. locate happy hours, and it helps area bars and restaurants lure in customers. Happied vets all the bars listed with a proprietary rating system allowing users to leave reviews on service, ambiance, and the actual value.

Happied, which launched on both IOS and Google Play app stores, uses a paid subscription model through which users are able to go to five select bars and restaurants for an extended happy hour each month.  

April Johnson is the woman behind the app and she gave up her career making nearly a quarter of a million dollars a year as an attorney to start Happied.

Johnson told Moguldom why she wanted to run a tech startup.

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 17: Boyce Watkins Jamarlin talks with Dr. Boyce Watkins about building The Black Business School, and how he deals with his negro critics and their victimology teachings. They also discuss the #MeToo movement, racial bias in Facebook’s content policing, and Boyce‘s successful marketing strategy.

Moguldom: How did you come up with the idea for Happied?

April Johnson: For years, I was always the friend that folks came to for advice when it was time to find a good happy hour spot. People ask the same question every day, “where should we go for happy hour.” As we all know, the answer to that question depends on what we want on a particular day — tacos, margaritas, with a turn up vibe one day, beer and burgers at a chill spot the next.

And, all happy hours are not created equal. So many of us have experienced the annoyance of showing up to a happy hour just to find out it’s a dollar off of a beer. I was tired of the frustration of finding good HH spots, and instead of waiting for someone else to build a solution, I knew I was the best person to help answer this daily dilemma. I also realized that if consumers are having a hard time finding happy hours, restaurants and bars must be having a hard time attracting consumers with their happy hours.

Happied bridges the gap and connects consumers to the best spots for them, positioning happy hour as a way to try new and more venues while unwinding after a long day.

Moguldom: How does it work?

April Johnson: On the Happied app, users can search for happy hours by day, time, and location and then filter by food, booze, vibe, and experience (like rooftop HH) to find the type of spot that they’re in the mood for. App users can also explore by categories such as date night, cocktail focused, bar games, and types of cuisine to find new favorites.

The Happied app also responds to the biggest issue that a lot of professionals have with happy hour…that it ends too early! We understand that many of us are working until 7pm and can’t make the traditional happy hour times. After we miss out on happy hour, many of us go home and go out less often resulting in missed revenue for restaurants and bars. In response to this, we created our Work Hard, Play Harder program — where we partner with select restaurants and bars to extend their happy hour until 9pm just for our subscribers. App users can upgrade to the subscription program for $8 per month, where they receive access to extended happy hour at five really good spots each month.

For restaurants and bars, it’s an analytics and advertising platform. Venues can claim their listing and update their HH days, times and specials on a web portal that updates to the app in real time. They can also access a growing set of analytics about how users are interacting with their HH and purchase ads and run offers through the app.

Moguldom: How did you fund the startup?

April Johnson: We’re currently 100% bootstrapped. I used my savings from the law firm to support Happied. We also won a pitch competition from New Voices Fund which went towards our app development costs. We are exploring our first fundraising round to take on outside investment this quarter. It was important for me to have an actual product and customers before seeking funding.

As an African-American female founder, I knew I couldn’t just walk into an investor’s office with an “idea,” and wanted to spare myself the likely wasted time of going on a fundraising circuit pre-mobile app launch. We are now at the point where we are ready to raise.

Moguldom: Why DC only?

April Johnson:  DC is the perfect first market for Happied as it’s small geographically (allowing us to penetrate it and gather the needed data relatively easily), yet extremely powerful influence wise. It also has an exceptional food and beverage scene, being named as Bon Appetit’s 2016 Restaurant City of the Year and also getting a Michelin guide the same year. Several top-rated venues have happy hour and some are partners on our Work Hard, Play Harder program. And, I live in DC so it just made sense.

Moguldom: When will it be available elsewhere?

April Johnson: We will be in the larger DC, Maryland, Virginia area by the end of 2019 and then will strategically scale nationally, expanding to at least 2 new markets in 2020. We have identified a short list for our next markets, and will announce them later this year.

Moguldom: Is this your first venture into tech?

April Johnson:  Yes. While I had a previous startup in Los Angeles in 2008, it wasn’t tech-focused. It was a tutoring company called Westside Student Tutors where we hired university students to go on in-home tutoring jobs throughout the city.

Moguldom: How did you get interested in tech?

April Johnson:  I’m actually not a tech person myself, but I knew that a tech solution for finding happy hours was long overdue. A non-tech solution wouldn’t make sense to solve the problem I set out to answer, so I started researching and asking literally everyone I encountered how to build it. I put together our minimum viable product web-app by stringing together a few WordPress templates and learned enough code to keep it functional. When it was time to build the actual mobile app, I was fortunate to meet my co-founder and CTO, Frank Goodman, who is an engineer and has over 8 years of experience building apps with his development company, Bleeding Bulb. He ensures our tech is top-notch.

Moguldom: In the sea of apps, how do you plan to make your app stand out?

April Johnson:  We stand out by focusing on one thing and doing it extremely well. There is no other app solely dedicated to connecting consumers to the best happy hours. We tap into an existing daily habit — that of looking for a good happy hour. The thought of that daily dilemma then becomes a trigger, where whenever you think where should we go for happy hour, you check your Happied app.

Similarly, restaurants, bars, and spirit brands know that consumers come to our app solely to find the best places to eat and drink through a happy hour experience — making us a go-to source for them to reach their target customers. More importantly, Happied is more than an app. It’s a community of people who love to connect, explore and engage — all through the shared joy of happy hour. We build community beyond the tech and bring the brand to life through curated events and our ambassador program.

Moguldom: What has your biggest lesson is starting your own business?

April Johnson: A strong team makes all of the difference. I’ve always believed that no one builds great things alone, but experiencing growing a business from a brainchild to an actual company makes it take on a whole new meaning. Finding and keeping a team while not being able to pay them salaries is one of the hardest aspects of starting a company. They’re basically believing in your vision and that you have the capacity to lead the company to a point where it can be a career win for them as well. It’s humbling to think about, but a motivator to be the best leader you can be as getting and keeping the right people on board is the key to success. I love my team and definitely couldn’t do it without them.

Moguldom: Will you still practice law?

April Johnson: I’m running Happied full time! I quit my job in July 2018 to make the leap into full time entrepreneurship. It’s been a crazy whirlwind of a journey, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to live my dream. And, I still get to flex my lawyer skills while working on Happied. I draft and negotiate all of our contracts and handle any other legal issues that arise. I’m basically our general counsel in addition to serving as CEO. I do still want to practice law in a larger capacity again at some point though.


About Ann Brown

Ann Brown has been a freelance writer for more than two decades. Her work has appeared in CocoaFab, Black Enterprise, Essence, MadameNoire.com, New York Trend, Upscale, Moguldom, AFKInsider, The Network Journal, Playboy, Africa Strictly Business, For Harriet, Pathfinders, Black Meetings & Tourism, Frequent Flier, Girl, Honey, Source Sports, The Source, Black Radio Exclusive, and Launch. She studied journalism at New York University and has her B.A. Born in New York, Ann lived in Praia, Cabo Verde, for nearly a decade. She created “An American In Cabo Verde,” a Facebook community.