Meet PE Finalist Xyla Foxlin, Founder & CEO of Parihug

We sat down with #PEIntensive17 finalist Xyla Foxlin, Founder & CEO of Parihug, an app that connects individuals through digitally controlled hugging plush toys. Xyla discusses her passion behind Parihug, the importance of touch, and how children can benefit from her creation.

Tell us about your company.
Parihug unites virtual and emotional experiences to bring the human touch back to digital communication. Meet Pari, the internet-connected pairable plush pal that allows you to hug loved ones from anywhere in the world. When one Pari is hugged, it’s paired pal gently vibrates out the hug in real time.

What is the mission of your company and what is it attempting to change in the world?
Our mission is to unite emotion and technology in a way that allows us to truly feel when those we love are not present. It doesn’t matter how quickly we can transmit data over the internet if that data carries no meaning to us as human beings. By allowing loved ones to transmit touch over distance in a huggable, cuddly way, we are letting families truly empathize, sympathize, and share excitement with each other.

Where does your passion for this business stem from?
Parihug started when I found myself in a long distance relationship– there are so many emotions a hug can convey that words cannot. As soon as the idea of distance hugs crossed my mind, though, I knew I had to build it for kids. My [former] partner and I are adults and knew why we couldn’t be together, but children have so much less of an understanding of why Mommy is constantly away for work or why Daddy doesn’t live at home anymore. Hearing families and especially little ones tell us why they need Parihug so badly can be absolutely heartbreaking, and is enough motivation to fuel an army.

When did you know you had a good idea on your hands?
I first built Parihug as a hackathon project not thinking much of it, but it immediately got a lot of attention from other hackers and an SF-based VC firm who gave us $1000 grant to turn it into a startup. I still wasn’t convinced it would be a great startup idea, but shortly after that my university had an alumni event where they wanted to showcase recent student projects. I brought Parihug, and immediately was surrounded by grandparents telling me about how difficult it was to be so far from their grandchildren, adults who wanted to stay connected to their parents in elderly care, and countless traveling parents who felt a huge amount of guilt for being away from home so often. The genuinity in their stories made me sure this was something that someone had to pursue.

What has been the most difficult thing you’ve faced on this journey so far and what’s been the greatest reward?
Starting a company feels like being pushed out of an airplane with some nylon and a sewing kit; losing your cofounder is like being in the same situation except losing one of your hands on the way down, and now you have to learn to construct, sew, and attach a parachute with only one hand. Navigating a cofounder split, then feeling the weight of the entire company now solely on your shoulders all at once is incredibly difficult and taxing– then throw college midterms into the mix. Luckily, for me, it was an amicable split and everything was resolved well.

The greatest reward is definitely getting to share what we do with loved ones who need it most. The first time we got to show Parihug to hundreds of kids was at SXSW last year, and the response was overwhelming. Everyone wanted to share their personal stories and each one was touching and inspiring. From parents who served in the military still feeling the weight of those years, to kids missing their traveling business parent, to cancer patients- everyone had a story, and each story solidified why we must get Pari in their hands as soon as we can.

What has motivated you most throughout your entrepreneurship journey?
I think every entrepreneur has to have a little crazy person living in their head telling them to keep going even when things get really rough. I have no idea who’s giving that crazy person coffee, but she’s always fired up and ready to work.

In seriousness, though– I truly believe that Parihug is going to make countless lives better, and that’s enough for me.

What words of wisdom would you share with other new entrepreneurs?
Embrace your failures. We are shaped by our failures and our responses to failure, not our successes. Think of it like the bumper walls on a bowling alley– when we hit the wall we can cling to it or try to keep going through it and not knock any pins down, or we can bounce right off of it and get that strike.