Pictured above, from left: Fletcher Richman with Halp co-founders Tristan Rubadeau and Komran Rashidov.
CU Engineering alum’s startup success grew from a passion for productivity tools.
Entrepreneur Fletcher Richman (ElCompEngr’14) still remembers the revelation of switching from a physical day planner to a digital calendar during his first year at CU Boulder.
Suddenly, he wasn’t missing classes or meetings with project teams. Since then, he’s been hooked on productivity software.
“After that, I was like, ‘What else can I automate?’” Richman said. “Tools that allowed my day to be more productive and easier were a passion of mine.”
One of those tools, Slack, was the inspiration for his latest venture, Halp. Earlier this year, Halp joined forces with Atlassian, the parent company of well-known productivity tools like Trello and Jira.
The Halp Story
Richman started working on Halp with co-founders Komran Rashidov (CompSci’14) and Tristan Rubadeau in 2017. Their basic premise was that it would be fun to build something using Slack’s API.
“We also had this larger thesis that Slack was more than just a productivity tool,” Richman said. “Actually, it was an entirely new way for people to communicate in the workplace.”
They spent the first six to nine months building things on top of Slack, showing them to users and iterating based on feedback. They found their sweet spot in internal help-desk ticketing, both for IT and things like legal or human resources questions. They also built integrations with tools like Jira and Zendesk so that Halp became the “glue” that held together a company’s internal workflow.
They launched Halp in April 2019 and soon gained some big customers like Strava, Adobe and GitHub. Because some of those customers were also Jira users, they caught the attention of Atlassian.
“They reached out to us in the beginning of this year and said, ‘Hey, we're hearing great things from our customers. We really like what you're doing, and we want to see if there's sort of a deeper partnership,’” Richman said.
Now, most of Halp’s 14-member staff – including Richman – have relocated to Austin, Texas, where Atlassian has an office. Richman said he and his team are excited about how Atlassian’s vision for Halp aligns with theirs and look forward to learning from them.
“They see Halp as this way for any team inside of an organization to request and manage help from other teams,” he said. “They want to take that vision and that early success that we've had and really expand it out to hundreds of thousands or even millions of users, and they have the experience doing that.”
Maintaining Startup Momentum
Halp isn’t the first time Richman has been part of a trend in the way people work. In 2014, he started Spark Boulder, a nonprofit “co-working meets incubator space” on the Hill.
Richman said Spark, which operated for three years, taught him a lot about sound business models and unit economics. He also learned that building something people want and getting them to pay for it is really just “phase one” when it comes to creating a successful startup.
“Then you need to be able to build something people want, get them to pay for it and actually grow and have something scalable,” he said.
He now realizes the importance of continuous growth in launching a startup.
“The startup is all about maintaining momentum,” he said. “Every month, everyone has to feel like you're making some progress.”
He said that’s one of the things that has made Halp so rewarding for both the founders and staff members.
“Every week we would get at least one new customer, and every month we would report growth in our revenue,” he said. “Even if it's growing from $500 a month in revenue to $700, at the very beginning that feels like a lot!”
The Buff Effect
Richman said he’s also enjoyed watching the continuous growth in the entrepreneurship programs at CU Boulder, which often are centered around activities in the College of Engineering and Applied Science.
As he was graduating, the Catalyze CU business accelerator was starting, and the first team from engineering was accepted to Techstars after winning the New Venture Challenge. Now, engineers are consistently part of NVC and Techstars teams, the college has a full-time staff member focused on entrepreneurship, and a soon-to-be-completed addition will officially connect the engineering and business buildings.
Richman said he’s glad to see entrepreneurship so closely tied to the college and loves serving as a mentor for students.
“Engineers oftentimes think entrepreneurship isn’t for them – that it’s something MBAs do,” he said. “If you put entrepreneurship closer to engineers, you can actually inspire a bunch of engineers to realize, ‘wait a minute, I like building stuff.’ Realistically, entrepreneurship is just building stuff that people want to use.”
He added that being a Buff has helped him make connections that benefited his business, and he looks for those ties wherever he goes. In fact, he recently started a #SkoBuffs channel in the Atlassian Slack – it now has more than 30 members.
“It's a cool shared tribe thing that I somewhat took for granted but that continues to pay dividends,” Richman said.