“Don’t over think the swipe,” advises Robyn Exton, founder and CEO of HER – a dating app for the lesbian, bi, queer, non-binary, trans and gender non-conforming community.
She continues, “it’s ok to swipe right, send a ‘hi’ and see where it goes.” With 12 million HER users across 114 countries, Robyn’s message appears to be getting through.
Our newest column, The Female Gaze, is a place to elevate female empowerment and to listen to those changing the world.
In our second edition, Robyn tells us about the first time she used dating apps (and how the experience inspired HER), how she made the professional move from advertising to tech founder and – most importantly – how HER is designed to centre and help the community it’s designed for, and why it has been so important in showing the world the value of queer women.
What is your first memory of using online dating apps?
My first use of online dating apps was in the web 1.0 era. I remember signing up to mysinglefriend.com as my first online dating trial. After that I tried using a website called GaydarGirls which was really the only website supposedly built for LGBTQ+ women.
Tell us about the inspiration behind HER?
Grindr was really the first time I saw a dating app create an incredible experience for their users. It was a huge inspiration for starting HER, which launched in 2015. Before that we had an app called Dattch which ran really similarly to Grindr – it was very hookup focussed and it didn’t really work. We learnt that the experience on so many dating apps was designed to serve men, including all the straight apps. Men are the main source of revenue for most dating apps so they build the user experience to optimise for their behaviours. We get to focus exclusively on women’s interests, behaviours and desires; that was the founding principle of HER.
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How did you take the idea from inspiration to reality?
I used to work in advertising and branding so moving to tech was a complete career shift. I went to a coding bootcamp and started going to as many tech meet-ups as I could. I tried to find ones where I had no idea even what the title of the event meant, so I could learn as much as possible. I also took online courses and messaged as many people as possible for advice sessions to learn more about startups and tech.
What sets HER aside from other dating apps?
We are the only dating app truly building for Flinta (female, lesbian, intersex, trans and agender) audiences which means our whole experience – from first thought to every update – is centred around how we can make this the best experience for queer women, non-binary and trans folks. Many mainstream dating apps run marketing campaigns aimed at our community and while it’s great that they recognise us as an audience, there’s little behind it. On HER your profiles feature queer interests and queer expression, such as Pride Pins. We have community spaces that can be used to connect with folks outside of swiping, as well as guides on how to ask someone out or how to have queer sex for the first time. Everything is designed around a queer woman’s experience.
How have things changed since you first launched?
It never stops changing! We ship a new update every two weeks so we’ll always be evolving to improve the app and meet the needs of our users. So little time and money has been spent truly trying to understand the way women want to connect – romantically and sexually – so we’re uncovering totally new territory and updating the app to support our users as best we can. A big challenge for our users is sending that first message to start the conversation; just last week we updated our Message Openers with new content so you can tap one button to easily send your first message and kick off the conversation.
Tell us the biggest lesson you’ve learnt as a founder in the tech industry:
Fall in love with your users’ problem, not your solution. Problems will always change and if you’re focussed on that, you’ll always be creating value for your audience.
Tell us the biggest lesson you’ve learnt about dating since you launched:
Don’t over think the swipe and the message. Women in particular can be very high intent with every yes, but it’s ok to swipe right, send a ‘hi’ and see where it goes.
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What difference do you believe the app has made to the lives of the community using it?
Helping hundreds of thousands of people fall in love, find their person and figure out their own identity is probably one of the greatest ways we could help our community. But beyond that I’m super proud of the scale of the community that we’ve built. For a long time people didn’t truly believe there were this many queer women in the world and our scale starts to really show the value and size of our audience.
How has the experience changed you?
I definitely feel like I’ve grown as a person and as a leader. In 2015 both the company and I moved to be based out of the USA – we were seeing huge growth in the region and realised that to understand it better we needed to be part of the queer community here. Moving to the USA has had a really big impact on how I see and understand myself as a Brit, which in turn has influenced my communication style. I used to think I had to have all the answers to show up as a confident leader for the company, now I’m really focused on sharing my vulnerabilities to connect with my team – and to leaning on them for answering our problems together.