Meet The Woman Behind Trays, Architect Jude Fulton

Some say that the best ideas arise from a moment of inconvenience. When you’re stuck in a frustrating situation without any options, you’re forced to create the solution—this is exactly how Trays was born. Trays is an intuitive tool for designers, bloggers, social media managers, and others alike to whip up a beautiful moodboard in minutes. Communicating your ideas through a visual medium has never been easier. You can ditch your scrappy screenshots and expensive editing tools to save more time for the important things.

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We sat down with Jude Fulton, the woman behind Trays, to talk about everything from being a woman in leadership to some of her biggest lessons learned along the way.

Tell us about yourself and how you were drawn to architecture.

My name is Jude, and I am a designer from New York. Growing up, I was into art and design, and kind of always thought I’d do it professionally somehow. I started considering architecture seriously when my husband and I began a huge project to renovate a 19th century brownstone in Connecticut.

I went to the Harvard Graduate School of Design for my Masters in Architecture, thinking I might go into teaching and have a small practice on the side. But in my last year I started doing design work for Harvard startups, and one thing led to another. Our team of four won the Harvard Dean’s Challenge, a campus-wide competition for startups, and I loved the pace of building digital products (as opposed to physical products). When our startup was accepted into an accelerator in San Francisco, I left Boston with 2 suitcases, expecting to be here for 4 months. 18 months later, I’m still here, and building Trays with our team.

What is your vision for Trays and how do you hope users will find it beneficial?

After receiving our first round of funding, we decided to stay in San Francisco. We took the ‘lab approach’ of building various ideas for apps and websites before stumbling upon the Trays idea. By that point, I had become the team’s blogger, and I was frustrated by paying for Photoshop and screenshot-ing my Keynotes to make moodboards. So we created a simple, intelligent tool for making moodboards. Soon we’ll be launching a new feature, our ‘smart color’ algorithm, which will recommend products and images for your moodboards.

The MVP (minimum viable product) basically came to life over a weekend hackathon and it surprised me with how quickly it has grown! It was embraced by the creative community and social media managers even when it was such a simple product.

We named our product ‘Trays’ because it’s what we called the studios at the Harvard GSD. The building is made of these ‘tiers’ or  levels that cascade down such that you can see the work of every student as you walk the Trays. I love the idea that as you browse the Trays, you get a glimpse into everyone’s work and you get a literal picture of the visual inspiration behind their project.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned through starting a new company?

I think it’s pretty important and valuable to work with people who have shared values, but different backgrounds (education, expertise), strengths and abilities.

I studied architecture, but I see so many parallels between designing a physical product and a digital one. I end up thinking a lot about analogies between my past work and what I’m working on now, even if the end product is pretty different.

If you could give your younger self one advice what would it be?

Ooh, that’s a great, hard question. One thing I’ve realized is that there is no such thing as a magical age where you’ve suddenly figured it all out. Sure, you learn and figure out a few things as you get older, but you’ll never have the complete picture or the ‘right’ answers. Each day will pose new challenges and questions. So just go for it and lean into it, knowing that you are going off of a best-guess from where you are now.

How do you deal with stress and stay positive when you’re faced with a challenge?

I go running as often as I can during the week. On weekends, I love hiking at all the beautiful spots around the city with my dog George. I try to take at least 1 day off from digital stuff and email, although it’s really hard because I love thinking about my work and my brain seems to “slow cook” ideas even when I’m not at the office.

I also love interior design and architecture projects, and I recently collaborated with Bryr Studio on the renovation of their new space, which is now a hybrid workshop / retail shop. You can find photos of the interior on my Instagram.

Tell us about one of the hardest things you had to do and how you worked through it. What did you learn from that experience?

Working on a startup definitely has its ups and downs, sometimes all in the same day. I think fundraising for creatives is always a challenge; especially when you’re a young team. I can find myself pitching to investors, customers and the press all on the same day, so it means a lot of switching back and forth and staying empathetic to the audience you’re writing or building for.  

Head on over to Trays and create a moodboard for yourself! Share your creation using #MakeTrays on Instagram for a chance to be featured.

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