There’s no mincing of words to be done with Robyn Exton, founder of Her. The app for lesbian dating is flying off the virtual shelves thanks to it’s social approach to female dating in a more dynamic package than the flagging predecessors and competitors. The app focuses on a social approach to dating for women as the website claims, ’Finally. You can start dating a lesbian that hasn’t slept with any of your friends’, it seems to be a solution to a problem that most lesbians would nod their head in agreement about. Already throughout the UK, Ireland and six cities in America, Robyn and Her have now moved over to San Francisco with plans for her team soon to join her and continue their world domination in the world of lesbian dating.
Tell me about your background…
I used to work in a marketing agency with a brand consultancy, working on strategy and identity for different brands, I ended up here because one of my clients has a dating business and I got really interested in the space and learnt about it. I found the whole thing interesting and ended up quitting and running Her.
What was the journey for Her from the beginning to now?
I started working on it in my spare time. I went and did a GA coding course. We hired some freelancers and then we were just working on the evenings and weekends and it kind of got more interesting to me and the opportunities got better. I quit my job and we released it, then from the first 6-8 months was just running it in the UK. It was very much a dating app at the time, and then we released it in America, in San Francisco only, and it went down really well. Then we launched it in LA and New York, over time we realised dating didn’t address the needs of women in the way that women really wanted to meet each other. The way we want to meet each other is really different, it has a much more social dynamic to it, we often need something to start talking about so we put a lot of the social elements into the product. Now we are live in six cities in America, we’re in the UK. It’s a way to help women meet each other.
How long has that all taken?
In total two and a half years.
How have you spread the word about it?
Up until recently it’s grown organically. We release it city by city and we’ll do a marketing push in each city so we’ll probably spend about $5,000 on marketing in total. That’s kind of been more like brand stuff and working with good partners. Getting T shirts printed so it’s not like acquisition marketing as much.
What was your approach to building the business and what’s your general approach when you want to make things happen? Are you a planner or do you go more with the flow?
I definitely don’t plan stuff as much as I should. It’s starting to change slightly, before it would literally be like jump of a cliff and figure out how to build an aeroplane on the way down. Now however, you start hiring other people that do your job better than you in specific areas, so your job is to plan for them and I kind of see what they’re planning to create an build so I’m getting better at planning.
3 months ago you moved to San Francisco, why?
A lot of our investors are there. There’s just a really incredible community for what we do, which is effectively a social network. There aren’t that many big social networks that have been founded and run out of London and the best ones, all of them, are based in San Francisco, so there’s people we can get advice from and who’ve done it all before. One of our investors is somebody who ran all the community building for Yelp and for AirBnb we can talk to her about how we do this city based stuff, she’s incredibly smart, she knows exactly what works and what doesn’t, it’s that kind of advice we can’t get in the same volumes over here.
Have you found it more difficult to raise funds in the UK? Why?
We did an angel round here, I don’t think it’s ever particularly easy to raise funds unless you’re really hyped up and things are going really incredibly. It was when we went to America that people started to offer us money so that seemed to be working pretty well so we just focused on investors over there. We did it as soon as we started getting offered money over there, I still spoke to a few people over here but I didn’t really pursue, I just focused on America.
I think it really depends on what your product is, what stage you’re at. I think there is undoubtedly a lot more money in San Francisco, but there’s also a lot more startups. So I think it’s relatively important, but the thing that I found works well is that it has a much bigger band of angel investors. A lot of people who are just senior engineers or really senior in their companies, they’ll have great salaries and they reinvest their money into the tech industry. That level doesn’t happen quite as prevalently in the UK as it does over there. They invest in different things, over here tech and things in advertising and media, there’s a lot more investors in those kind of industries over here.
What’s your personal connection to the brand?
To Her? Everything! (Laughs).
Our brand is everything that we think the world should be like. Helping women be the people that they were born to be and not being told who they could be, giving them pride and ownership and an amazing community and something that they feel really happy to be a part of.
What have you found most difficult about making Her a reality and what have you learnt about yourself along the way?
(Laughs) Everything is hard about making Her a reality! I think it’s always the hardest at different points in times. Historically the hardest was building the team and getting the right people to do it, because you don’t have money, you don’t know people in the tech industry, you’re figuring stuff out while trying to convince other people to join you. I think that was quite tough. Getting our first thousand users, that’s pretty tough. I think just making the right decision on a daily basis!
If I’ve learnt something about myself it’s how far I can push myself. It’s much, much further than I thought I possibly could. There were moments where I think I’ve seen the edge of what I can personally handle and that’s been like three and a half days of working all the way through the night, pitching at conferences, flying to other countries, moving countries, all in the same period of time and the whole app crashing and breaking and still going on a stage a day later and saying ‘everything is fantastic!’ This is more than I thought I could handle.
When did you realise that this is what you wanted to do?
I think probably two or three months into working on it, I started doing it just for fun because I wanted an outside interest and was like that’s interesting, let’s see what happens and then I started getting addicted to it and was like actually I was talking to potential users and I was like at least you really want this, I really want this, this is the big opportunity. This is what I want to do .
Why is it important to you to put this into the world?
Because lesbians need it! It is literally needed, it’s a hugely underserved market because no one that’s part of the gay community thinks about creating it and it’s hard for women to meet each other.
Why isn’t there anything like this out already that’s successful on a big scale?
Because everyone approaches it in the wrong way everyone approaches it in a way they would approach it for men and don’t think about how it would be different if you’re a female user.
What have been your biggest successes?
Raising money in America has really helped, it’s a great landmark. I think when we hit 10,000 users that was a really key moment for us.
What about your biggest failures?
We called the app Dattch to start off with an no one could spell it, that was a mistake. We were really restrictive when we first started like only certain locations, only certain criterias, really difficult sign up process, that was just silly.
How do you approach your failures?
You just think, oh you idiot! I don’t hold it. I know that any point in time I’m making the best decision I can, I can of course regret those decisions later but I can’t change them that they were made.
Was there any point you nearly walked away from it?
Not yet! (Laughs)
What’s the future look like?
I’m going to San Francisco, we carry on growing it across America. We’ll start looking at Canada and Australia. Yep, get lesbians! (Laughs)