11 min read
Meet the founder of HER, the dating app for womxn & queer people
After trying all the major players, Robyn Exton, realized that dating apps just weren’t made for queer womxn. So she created HER Social App, the first dating app that was made with the ingrained and cultural insights, behaviors and experiences of queer womxn in mind.
Robyn Exton, founder of HER Social App
People can go to HER to find love, make connections, or just talk about topics they care about. And for womxn within the queer community, it’s a breath of fresh air.
We’ve been watching HER’s community go from strength to strength, so we caught up with Robyn, CEO and founder for a chat.
How did HER start out?
“Around 2012 I was working at a branding agency and one of my clients was a dating business. I started to look at all the different types of dating companies that existed for different types of people. At the same time I was using a really shit platform. It was filled with fake profiles and it was crazy that nothing actually has properly been built for womxn yet. And so I was like, “How hard can this be?!” Turns out a lot harder than I anticipated!
“I didn’t really understand product or tech. I was like, “cool, Grindr’s doing a great job. And everyone loves that. Let’s just make that for womxn.” So we made Dattch which was very much like Grindr and it did not work. Womxn don’t want casual sex at the same frequency. The behavior and experience that womxn are looking for is based on so many different behaviors and traits and insights and patterns. So I kind of started everything from scratch and built HER in 2015.”
When did things start to move in the right direction for HER?
“When we first started doing HER it was definitely a positive step, the product experience was much better. We had built some audience from Dattch, so we had a starting point to kick off from. But a big point in the chain around HER was we focused on the US and had a much stronger response. I started the company in London and then around the start of HER moved over to the US. We were getting way more people signing up. We got into an accelerator program in the US called YCombinator. That was a huge growth period for the company.”
Why was it important for you to specifically target womxn and queer communities?
“Because of those behaviors – I think I understood it better once we actually saw it. We have a big problem with users saying yes to each other. Womxn don’t say yes as frequently as guys do. We used to have the grid structure and you could browse through profiles. But we decided to move to the ‘one profile – take an action – move to the next one’ model, to encourage people to say yes.
“Also, when they match they were really poor at starting conversation. Generally, womxn aren’t socialized to make the first move. So we built features that start the conversation for our users if they haven’t messaged after 24 hours.
“Then there’s our community side of the platform. A lot of our users come to the app looking for romance, but they are also really happy with an outcome of friendship, if that’s how the connection goes. And so we built this whole community space that allowed conversation around topics and around event listings within a local area.”
And do the other platforms still have completely different behaviors?
“Tinder and Bumble allow you to select different gender identities and sexualities, so they’ve done a lot more since we first started. But they’re never going to make stuff that feels like a home to queer people. We’ve just released pride pins in the app. You can say if you’re butch, femme or andro, you can say if you’re a daddy or a pillow princess.”
"We’ve just released pride pins in the app. You can say if you’re butch, femme or andro, you can say if you’re a daddy or a pillow princess.”
Can you tell me a little bit about the HER team? How big is it now?
“We are 10 people, seven of us based in San Francisco and then a few remote folks. We’re in that kind of position of figuring out what we do in our go back to work plan.”
What impact does the HER community have on the direction of the business?
“They speak very loudly. Dana, who is our head of community, is a really great advocate for them and is always very clear about what the most burning issues are like at the top of the funnel.
“I think there was a time a couple of years ago when we were trying to monetize the business and become profitable. There was a window where we kind of focused on the business components. I think now we’re pretty balanced. There’s a combination of improving the experience, increasing revenue, and fixing bugs and issues that people are reporting.”
On monetization – are you able to tell us a little bit more about your business model?
“We have two main revenue streams. The primary one is app subscriptions and micro payments. Everything you need to do on the app to meet someone, you can do for free. But if you want the bells and whistles, you pay a monthly subscription. We then have brand partnerships where we work with cool organizations to create content in-app or ads in-app for online events.
“That used to be in person, but it’s now online events. We worked with Adobe to do an event about online activism. We’re working with like Durex and KY where we do ‘ask me anything’ sessions with sex therapists.”
With a lot of dating apps, success is people leaving the app. Are you always trying to reach new customers?
We’re always trying to find customers. I think dating products have quite a high churn and there are a multitude of options – you really have to prove your value for people to stick around.
The events listings are often for people who are couples. On any profile, you can ‘like’ someone, but you can also add them as a friend. I think generally across dating tech the mantra is – it’s churn, but it’s good churn if it’s successful. They’ll tell their friends that they met their partner through the platform. Plus, the vast majority of our users are 18 to 24. So they’re often looking for new relationships again, and if they met their last partner through us, they’re going to come back.
In the past few months, have there been any shifts that you’ve noticed in your community?
Yes, the COVID shifts. It was interesting to watch the change in behavior based on lockdown patterns. So when people first went into lockdown, we had this huge spike, everyone was messaging so much that the community kicked off and everyone was attending so many online events. And then the online fatigue kicked in at around month two. Now we’re seeing this little uptick again.
We also tracked behavior based on different countries to look at how the level of lockdown impacted user behavior. For example, in Sweden, we saw very little change.
"I've been a queer for 12 years. I don't have perfect knowledge on all queer identities and all queer experiences. It's an ongoing educational piece."
We’ve been really enjoying your social content. Which feels like the most organic connection to the community?
We’ve learned through the history of the company that we have actually very different audiences on our different social channels compared to within the app. I think it took us a while to realize that.
Which do we think is the most analogous? I think our Facebook community has probably the greatest overlap to the actual HER community and HER behavior. I think our Instagram audience is the most aspirational. There’s a lot of activism happening on Instagram now. A lot of aspirational, directional messaging and engagement. And I really like that.
What’s your strategy for raising awareness for certain causes on Instagram?
“There was a change in the strategy. There was a lot of strategy that was pulled together around COVID and this belief still stays the same. Pride started as a riot. It started as a way to fight for rights and to correct injustice. Over time it’s evolved into celebration. But there is still huge inequality within the LGBTIQ community, so our whole plan for this year was about taking Pride back to being a riot.
“Then with George Floyd’s death driving the huge Black Lives Matter movement one of our areas of focus was about the experience for people of color within the queer community, particularly black trans folks. Black trans womxn experience a level of violence that is unprecedented.”
I want to touch on the infamous rainbow logo that happens a lot with brands during Pride. How would you say brands could authentically support the LGBTQIA+ community during pride month and beyond?
“I think one of the strongest messages coming out, especially in this time, is that money makes things happen. So donations to causes and organizations that you back is always one of the best ways to start.
“I’ve been a queer for 10 or 12 years. I’ve been running a queer company for a long time. I don’t have perfect knowledge on all queer identities and all queer experiences. It’s an ongoing educational piece.
“It’s a reminder for you to think about learning about just one of the other letters in LGBTQIAP etc. Like, f**k it, do it. Learn one of them, be a little bit better. From a company perspective ask questions about what it’s like to be queer in your company, what it feels like to be a queer user of your product and how that can be made better.
“So many companies just want to capitalize on it and they want to show it. I’m not against that. Especially if you’re a company like Walgreens or like Asda or Tesco. It’s huge just to show your stance. You have a lot of people who are customers who will see what your stance is. But you also have this ability to actually do shit.”
You have a podcast, Bad Queers. What role does it play in your content mix?
“It launched in March, so it’s fairly new for us. It came from Shana who is one of the hosts. It was absolutely her brain child and her baby. She was really interested in the format of podcasts.
“The genesis of it was there are so many expectations that come about from identifying as queer and we hear all the time whenever we’re doing user interviews. They say “I’m actually a really bad queer.”
"What are these insane stereotypes? We have these feelings of shame like we’re not doing it right and not fitting the mold."
“What are these insane stereotypes? We have these feelings of shame like we’re not doing it right and not fitting the mold. Which is hilarious because the whole point is we’re in these different molds. What’s been really wonderful is that Shana and Chris, who produce the show, are both queer womxn of color and it’s evolved to talk quite specifically about the experience of being queer womxn of color.”
Can you tell us a little bit about how you use Linktree?
“We initially started using Linktree when we were running our in-person events. We always found it really hard to work out how to use our social channels to share those, because we ran them in 12 different cities. As a very global audience, we can’t be posting like, “Here’s Seattle, here’s Portland, here’s London, here’s Melbourne.” We first started using Linktree to be able to link out to all the events that were currently listed at that time.
And then since then, our vision and goal for HER as a company is to be a brand that connects queer womxn. And so because of that, we have multiple touch points. We have the app, we have merchandise that we’ve made. We have the events, we have the podcasts, There are so many different ways that we want to play a role in our community’s world and life. Having that place helps people discover all the things that we’re doing.”
HER Social App on Linktree
As Robyn mentioned, HER uses Linktree to connect queer womxn in various ways. Online events, news, fundraisers, merchandise and the Bad Queers podcast are all available via their Linktree. They’re using the Free version of Linktree and one of the preset basic themes that’s available to all users, along with unlimited links.
If you’d like to connect with your community, HER Social App is well worth a look!