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Fresh Conversations: How Mia Pokriefka is Reimagining the Content Experience

The Crunchbase “Female Founder Series,” is a series of stories, Q&As, and thought-leadership pieces from glass-ceiling-smashers who overcame the odds, raised funding, and are now leading successful companies.


 

Mia Pokriefka, CEO and Co-Founder of Huxly, is empowering consumer brands to increase engagement with customers through a reimagined chat experience.

While working on one of the most viral digital experiences of the decade, Mia realized the potential of personalized online engagement. She then set out to create Huxly in order to reimagine the way digital interactions take place. Now, her company helps brands build relationships with their audience through one-on-one, interactive educational content delivered over chat.

We asked Mia about the challenges she has faced in building her company—from fundraising to acquiring customers to branding—and the lessons she has learned as a two-time founder.

 

Q: Tell us the story behind your company’s founding: What led you to start this business?

A: My co-founder, Elissa O’Dell, and I started Huxly because we had content fatigue (raise your hand if you have too) and wanted to create a better experience. We started our careers together at a company that “broke the internet” —for better or for worse—with Kony2012, a digital experience that rallied people to take action. We generated more views and money than a video ever had before: 120M views and $14M in just 6 short days. For all of its faults, the takeaway was that people want to do more than just watch, so why not create content experiences with them at the helm? 

 

Q: In what ways do you think differently about your industry than others do? In what ways are you disrupting your industry?

A: Chat has primarily been used for customer service, but there are so many other possibilities for the technology. How we see it is that brands love to create IRL personalized experiences for their audiences, for example, the By Invitation Only program by American Express. However, they aren’t creating personalized experiences for their audiences online. Online, brands have their website and some social accounts that are for everybody. With COVID-19 looking like it isn’t leaving any time soon, it is time to start creating personalized experiences online. At Huxly we are building the next evolution of content. Rather than skimming another article or reading surface level posts on Instagram, you can now go deep with the brands you already love.

 

Q: What was your biggest challenge during the fundraising process, and how did you mitigate it? 

A: We should all know by now that fundraising as a female is no walk in the park. Women get less than 5% of VC funding. Because of this disparity between how men and women are treated, my co-founder and I found ourselves molding our pitches to what we thought investors wanted to hear, which left us building a different company than what we initially set off to do. There is a fine line between shaping your pitch for the investor you’re talking to vs. saying whatever you need to say to get a check. We mitigated by taking a step back and evaluating, “is this what we actually want to be building?” This type of checking in should be done often between partners to ensure everyone’s on the same page and heading in the right direction. 

 

Q: What has worked for you in terms of customer acquisition? What hasn’t worked?

A: As a female founded team, we knew we’d have to show more proof to investors and clients that we were a viable business. We had no money for paid advertising, so we used Facebook groups to get our first 10,000 customers for free. If you want to know how we did it exactly, reach out at mia@huxly.co.

 

Q: How have you been able to differentiate yourself in terms of product offerings, marketing, positioning or leadership?

A: More content is being created than ever and more time is being spent online than ever. People want to do more than just consume. So why not create experiences that can facilitate engaging learning experiences and enable more human connection, which is incredibly important right now as connection is something people are desperate for during this unprecedented time of loneliness.

 

Q: How important have you found branding to be for the success of your company? What are the most important branding lessons you’ve learned along the way?

A: Branding is the most important and, very confusingly, the least important. Let me explain. We didn’t need any branding, let alone a landing page, when we started Huxly and we still managed to acquire thousands of users. But as we started to grow, we needed an identity, not necessarily for investors or clients (although that helped), but for us. Branding helps you put your flag in the ground and define who you are and what you stand for. For example, if you look at our logo on www.huxly.co the h and the y in Huxly turn into quotations, which symbolize that someone is speaking. At Huxly all of our users’ voices are important; from the brand’s content to the person experiencing the content, everyone’s voice is heard. 

 

Q: Which books, podcasts, educational programs, or other resources have been most helpful to you since starting your company?

A: Knowing yourself is one of the most important things when starting a company. Somewhere along the line I learned that men are on a 24-hour cycle and women are on a 28-day cycle. As I observed changes throughout the month, it became clear that there were times when I was more productive and creative. What if I could harness that and apply it to my business? For example, when I am more creative that is when we should be doing sprints. A great entry point into managing your cycle is Alisa Vitti, author of Woman Code.  

 

Q: What advice would you give someone starting out on the journey you’re on?

A: When I started my first company, Elm, I was told I could pick only two out of the following: sleep, health, family, or friends. Needless to say that didn’t go well. Instead of productivity, I burned out. My advice to my younger self and anyone starting out on this journey is that if you wish to succeed, then you must put your oxygen mask on first. You have to have balance: sleep 8+ hours, move your body, and spend time with your family and friends. I guarantee you’ll find that you are more productive and creative and make the right decisions quicker and better. 


Dreamers & Doers is a private collective which amplifies the entrepreneurial pursuits of extraordinary womxn through high-impact resources, community and mutual support. It is supported by a global ecosystem of 30,000 womxn. Learn more about Dreamers & Doers and sign up for their monthly carefully curated list of top career and entrepreneurial resources.