Meet Archer and Davin, two uni students revolutionising the way we communicate on campus.

Holly Brooks
February 27, 2024
Student Fellowship, Founder, Startmate, Startup
From left to right: Archer, Dhruv and Davin

We sat down with Archer Simmonds and Davin Karunanayake, Summer’24 Student Fellows and co-founders (alongside Dhruv Verma) of Huddled (previously Grouptag) a student-first communication platform centralising class discussions, assignments and social messaging all in one place. Archer and Davin share their experience of the Student Fellowship, the evolution of their startup and why they have chosen to pursue the founder pathway.

Ready to launch your career in startups? Apply for the Student Fellowship. 

Startmate: Tell me a bit about yourself

Archer: I am the COO and co-founder of Huddled. I'm currently studying at RMIT University doing a Bachelor of Entrepreneurship and this year will be my third year and probably final year of university. 

Since I was 14, I've been weirdly obsessed with startups and the business ecosystem. I loved reading books about tech leaders, especially the Steve Jobs biography. 

Before Huddled, I'd worked in two startups as a business developer and launched a few side hustles. 

I joined Huddled about a year and a half ago. At that stage, Huddled was designed to be the LinkedIn for Gen Z. It's pivoted since, but I really liked the concept of a LinkedIn for Gen Z. I thought it was important to have a space for young people to build a network with like-minded people and share skills, interests, education and experience.

Davin: I am an international student from Sri Lanka, currently studying at Swinburne University. I'm doing a Bachelor of Computer Science with a minor in Philosophy, and I am the CTO and co-founder of Huddled.

I found my passion for technology in Sri Lanka. For me, technology is a means to an end. It's always been my vessel to make some kind of social impact. We had companies and organisations come to Sri Lanka to do social projects so that’s what kickstarted my interest. 

When I arrived in Australia for my second year of university, I noticed a clear divide between the international/out-of-state students and local students.

The idea of building a space where you could support students to build friendships and their network on campus was something that really spoke to me. Huddled, to me, is being able to level the playing field, regardless of background, for students to realise their university dreams.

Startmate: How did you meet?

Archer: Our other founder Dhruv had launched an MVP and I started using it so I could meet other young people with big dreams. I loved the concept so I reached out to him asking how I could get involved and then it evolved from there.

Not long after this, we realised we needed a CTO. We found Davin on LinkedIn and reached out to him. And that’s that!

Startmate: Tell me about Huddled, the startup you are founding

Davin: Huddled is a centralised communications platform for university students. You can think of it as what your Canvas LMS does for learning delivery, we do for student communication and connection on campus. 

Archer: Huddled is directly embedded into the uni ecosystem. People will often say, “What is, the difference between Huddled and Messenger or WhatsApp?” The key is its integration into the ecosystem so that the students and teachers and the university itself have constant and direct access. 

Davin: From a product perspective, Huddled includes three separate platforms. 

The first is an LMS-integrated web application where students can see their units of study for the semester. Within each of those units, they have a social media-esque feed for making announcements and engaging in discussions. A big focus for us has been taking user experiences that students are used to and bringing it into an educational context to supercharge engagement and collaboration.

Our profiles are another good example of this, where we allow students to showcase themselves through their skills, interests, education and professional experiences. We are then able to leverage these unique profiles to empower students to network and connect with their peers.  

Essentially what we're doing is creating communities and facilitating connections between students. 

We also provide an educator dashboard, which provides universities with engagement analytics and moderation capabilities. 

Student information is private, but we are able to provide the universities with cohort analysis such as what interests or skills a Bachelor of Computer Science student has.

This is information that they previously had to do surveys for, but we can auto-generate it for them on the fly. And we can show how it changes across the course of a degree. It allows educators to take external data points and curate their courses to fit each of their student cohorts better.

Startmate: What problem are you solving?

Archer: Roughly half the student dropout rate can be attributed to the isolation and disconnection a student feels in their first year on campus. With poor access to student-dedicated social channels, they struggle to meet people and build relationships. 

This is a huge pain point for international students who come from overseas, and instantly feel disconnected. While local students usually have a solid foundation of high school friends to lean on. 

Huddled facilitates student connection and community. That way more students feel a sense of belonging, increasing retention rates for universities. On top of that, the data we collect through the platform allows educators to tailor and improve the learning experience for their students.

Startmate: What’s been the biggest milestone? 

Davin: There have been so many milestones along the way. Most recently, we secured funding from Antler. 

Archer: Another pretty cool milestone was our beta launch to a hundred students at RMIT. We worked with one of the classes and got direct feedback about our product and marketing. That trial helped majorly improve our product as we head to proper trials this year.

Davin: Another milestone has been the level of interest we have had from universities and investors. People are resonating with the problem and interested in the solution.

Startmate: What do you love about being a founder?

Archer: Coming together as co-founders. When you are a solo founder all the responsibility lies on your shoulders, it's a lot harder to do and you can only do so much because you only know so much.

But coming together as co-founders, was amazing. We all have complementary skills that enable us to do more as a collective. We teach each other things along the way. A year ago, I didn't know how to code. Now, a year later, I’m coding and building products. 

The highlight of start-ups is that we continue to grow ourselves and become better people. 

Startmate: How did you hear about the Student Fellowship?

Davin: We knew about Startmate and had been coming to your monthly drinks for some time. I think it was through immersing ourselves in the network and ecosystem that the Student Fellowship came up in conversation and we decided to apply. 

Startmate: What did you love about the Student Fellowship?

Archer: I loved the speed coaching sessions the most. I met people with diverse backgrounds who were able to give advice and feedback on what we were building. 

Davin: I loved being able to meet other students. Specifically, I loved meeting people who had gone through the same international student struggles but are also pursuing entrepreneurship.

Startmate: What did you pitch for the SF Founders Challenge?

Davin: We pitched Huddled and won the People’s Choice award! It was awesome to pitch to all the judges. Meg Williams from Blackbird’s Giants program gave us some great feedback. 

Startmate: Anything else you’d like to share?

Davin: This year we're launching across 10 universities. A total of 5,500 students will begin using Huddled. In semester two of this year, we will have paying customers. 

We’re very excited about how Huddled is unfolding and we’ll be looking to apply for some Accelerators this year. 

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