“Something that I’ve always really lived by is making sure that people have the opportunity and space [to feel] comfortable,” says Hella Awkward Co-Founder Britt Rowe.
“And encouraged to just tell about [their] own lives. And that’s what I think Hella Awkward is giving the space for… for people of color to really do that.”
Hella Awkward is a card game that serves to bring friends and families closer than they could have ever imagined. The game, through its prompts and questions, provides a space for loved ones to learn more about people that, in some cases, they have known for all of their lives.
The game’s mission is also intrinsically related to the experiences of immigrants and BIPOC. Conversations that are usually considered out of bounds, especially by older generations, are now encouraged. Hella Awkward, in its essence, is about being vulnerable and emotional with caring people around you.
“When it came down to designing our game, we knew early on that it was essential for our game to capture the right expression and vibe. Not only were we designing a card game, but we’re really crafting a space for people to embrace a shared, inclusive experience of vulnerability, reflection, and good laughs altogether.”Jane Lim, Co-Founder of Hella Awkward
Hella Awkward’s inception
During 2020’s quarantine, Brandon Rhodes and his partner Jane Lim were engaging in an activity that many of us found ourselves in: binge-watching.
In this case, it was Issa Rae’s Insecure, and the pair realized that the show was sparking important and intriguing conversations that subsequently brought them closer together.
They thought maybe they could “bottle up” certain conversations and create a way for everyone to have the experience. From relationships to dating to sex to anything that can be labeled “real talk,” Hella Awkward opens the floor for conversations that may be considered taboo, or just difficult to bring up.
Brandon quickly realized Hella Awkward could be a game-changer and called his sister Britt, who he knew also loved Insecure. The trio soon after got to work.
They realized in development that Hella Awkward established connections between groups that may not have always had the opportunity. It is well known that among certain demographics and immigrant groups, select conversations are implicitly off-limits.
“Some of my friends, other Black men, we talked about different topics of conversation that we didn’t generally talk about… you know, everything from dating to relationships and different things of that nature.”Brandon Rhodes
The group also saw the game as perfect for multicultural millennials. Too often are they rushing off to the next task or duty without stopping to reflect. And it is in those honest reflections, no matter how brief, that real answers are found.
Moving forward with lightning in a bottle
At first, the trio would sit down on a Zoom call and start developing questions.
But creating the questions was the easy part. Nailing down on the ones that deserved to stay proved harder.
“In order to gauge if we thought it was a good question or not, basically all three of us had to answer the question. And if it wasn’t a good conversation, then we didn’t use it.”Brandon Rhodes
The trio soon realized that they started to get even closer than they already were. And then they tried out the questions on their roommates and family members, and kept the ones that stuck.
The next steps were getting feedback and survey results. That helped them refine the game. It helped them nail down the categories they wanted, and it helped them understand that they had a hit.
“I played with some of my guy friends who I’ve known for 10 years and I learned new things. We actually cried on the call. So it just gave us a lot of confidence that this was something that could be something bigger. You want to play it with friends to get closer.”Brandon Rhodes
Brandon put it like this: “Our tagline is ‘People you know. Stories you don’t.‘”
Brilliance in newfound conversation
First dates or certain family dinners can be extremely uncomfortable. They can be hella awkward. But what about the conversations with friends of 10 or more years? Or significant others of half a decade?
Hella Awkward puts you back in those uncomfortable situations where at first you feel an embarrassing rush of heat, and then as your body cools down, you realize it was a rush. “How did I not know that about you?” you may find yourself asking your partner.
“I come from a theater background, so having people share their story and have it be received and acknowledged and heard is so important,” says Britt.
Speaking freely and starting a business as BIPOC/immigrants
“You know, when I was growing up, our grandparents didn’t have conversations about what their life was like growing up in the South or being sharecroppers. They didn’t talk about those sorts of things. So I think this is a great gateway to open up those ways of connecting and being able to express yourself and get to know each other in a fun way.”Britt Rowe
Tangents are encouraged in Hella Awkward. Stories are meant to go off-topic. And when wine is involved, that is often naturally the case.
As for starting the business itself, it was no easy feat. Britt specifically spent days upon days on YouTube learning about business accelerator programs and other ways she could spearhead the process from idea to product.
“It was so exciting and [now] crazy that I’m a business owner. I’m a Black young woman. It feels incredible… this was not possible for a previous generation. You weren’t able to have this business and be Black. And so I really feel connected to my own culture and able to really shape the lens. I want to say that I want to encourage these folks.”Britt Rowe
Britt explained that they have Black women who are starting their own companies send them DM’s, and she can help them out and give them advice and suggestions. Thus, not only is she connected to her culture, but she is able to give back and help the larger community win.
“It’s just incredible to see [that] the community has been so supportive. And connecting with other Black game-makers too,” says Britt. “To do it with my brother, it’s just so amazing.”
The feedback the group has gotten has also been incredibly inspiring and affirming. Brandon shared that someone commented that the game is like a cheaper couples therapy, and “it’s just a cool piece of feedback to get.”
Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs
Brandon says that their story started from just being inspired. They had a desire to make something happen. He put it in a way that most procrastinators should heed: “If you’re passionate about something, [if] you have an idea you believe in, go out and make something happen.”
He shared further advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
“My biggest piece of advice is that you just need to go and do it. Whatever your idea is, there’s a way to test it out. There’s a way to find if there’s a product-market fit and there’s a way to refine it. And that’s exactly what we did from the beginning.”Brandon Rhodes
Of course, a lot of Brandon and Britt’s advice is more literal and less abstract: Make it happen with the least amount of money possible. Speak about the idea with friends and family and try to refine it.
And if you are the one able to put the money towards the process, do it. That will show investors that you put in the work yourself to create something tangible. There is no bigger signal of being all-in.
Jane’s biggest takeaway from the creation of Hella Awkward was building a product through a labor of love.
“The team dynamic played a major role in inspiring us to start Hella Awkward in the first place. We’ve always had a strong understanding of how we each could contribute and complement each other with our strengths collectively. Ultimately, when you have the shared experience of working with people you love, the journey of building a business becomes way more rewarding.”Jane Lim
Finally, as Britt puts it, “Use your network to your advantage. You just never know who is going to be the resource that you need to push you in the right direction.”
Takeaways from Hella Awkward
“The biggest takeaway or the biggest hope that I have is that people just feel more comfortable sharing and being vulnerable. If we can do that for people, it’s going to be meaningful. They’re going to feel it. They’re going to feel the love and intention that we put into the game itself.”Brandon Rhodes
Britt echoed her brother’s sentiments.
“I just want people to feel like they are safe enough to be vulnerable with people and know that they can really dive into their emotional self and just connect. That’s what I want people to hear.”Britt Rowe
What sets Hella Awkward apart?
Think about Apples to Apples where you’re not trying to win an argument. Or Cards Against Humanity where you’re not trying to always be funny. What about a game that sparks memories, storytelling, and forges deeper bonds in relationships like fire against an iron blade.
The passion for connection was palpable in my phone conversation with siblings Brandon and Britt. Starting a business themselves was also a source of inspiration.
So the next time you think you know everything about your parent, your sibling, your spouse, or your best friend, take another look. Hella Awkward will give you the chance to meet them all over again. Get your game set here.