Shaper: Robyn Exton

Show aired on 28th February 2015

Transcript

Elliot Moss
It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) from Diane Schuur. Interesting version I think. Good morning, it’s me, Elliot Moss, here on Jazz FM’s Jazz Shapers. The place where you can hear the very best of the people who are shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul alongside their equivalents in the world of business. My Business Shaper today is Robyn Exton; she is the founder of an app, a lesbian app no less called – well it was called Dattch and now it is called Her. You will be hearing all about the trials and tribulations of how Robyn has got that amazing business off the ground. In addition to hearing from Robyn, you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mischon De Reya some words of advice for your burgeoning business and on top of all of that of course, some fabulous music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul, including Nitin Sawhney, new music from Emily Saunders and this from Gilberto Gil.

The melodic sound of Gilberto Gil with Toda Menina Biaina. This is Jazz Shapers, I am Elliot Moss and you are listening to another edition of this wonderful place where I get to meet a shaper from the world of business and my Business Shaper today, as I said earlier, is Robyn Exton. She is the founder of the lesbian app called Her, it was previously called Dattch until about five days ago actually, give or take and it’s a fantastic innovation and I am going to now ask you Robyn before we get going with your history, your interesting history, what is Her? Tell me a little bit about what Her actually does?

Robyn Exton
Yeah so Her is a mobile app, it’s available for iPhones and Android and it’s basically a community of women. So it is women who are interested in other women in some capacity. So however you identify, if you are a lesbian, bisexual, bi-curious, not so straight, pansexual, flexisexual, queer – however you identify but you know that you are attracted to women and want to meet other women with that similar attraction, we’re the place where you go to do that.

Elliott Moss
And – look we are going to come on to technology and investment and its come of age and all those other things – you obviously, this idea had been brewing for a while. I believe you kicked off the business in 2012. Before that, what qualified you to be the person that was going to get involved in creating their own app? Did you think when you were at University, I think you were a science graduate from Bristol – did you think ‘I’m going to go and create my own business?’

Robyn Exton
Absolutely not. So I always think, you always hear these amazing entrepreneurs tell these stories of how they were like selling lemonade at the side of the road or working in a shop night and day learning the like tricks of the trade and learning business skills.

Elliot Moss
You’ve been listening to my previous guests. They all say that.

Robyn Exton
Yeah. I was not that person. I didn’t think particularly about running a business, I used to work at a creative agency and one of our clients was a dating business and it was a fantastic business, I was really fascinated by it and I think it just really captured my interest in how – it was a very young guy that ran the company and he’s an incredible entrepreneur and it just piqued my interest in it and a friend of mine who was also working on the project was using Grindr which is an app for gay men. He was using that quite frequently and we were both kind of blown away with the opportunities I guess that Grindr opened up for the male community and a little bit down the line I was with some friends and we were talking about what we were using to meet other women and everything kind of shuffled into place that I had the ingenious idea that maybe I could create something that would work better for women – that was actually built for women. So I didn’t come from the right place but kind of started learning very quickly from that point onwards.

Elliot Moss
Although some would argue you came from a place that there was a problem to be solved or an opportunity to be exploited I guess and here you are three years later now just on the precipice of something new and big and wonderful and we are going to hear lots more from Robyn Exton my Business Shaper about what happens next. Time for some music though in the meantime, this is Nitin Sawhney and Breathing Light.

The exquisite energy of Nitin Sawhney with Breathing Light. Robyn Exton is my Business Shaper today and she is the founder of Her which is the iteration of Dattch which is the app serving the lesbian and bisexual and bi-curious and you did all sorts of other derivations of all sorts of degrees of different sorts of sexuality a couple of minutes ago Robyn. You said you kind of saw an opportunity that the female community wasn’t being very well served when it came to matching people up. When you began that journey of going ‘Oh I’ve actually decided I am going to do it’; what did you encounter at first? Because I imagine you didn’t have any money, I imagine you had some friends and some know how but what were the first couple of steps to get things going?

Robyn Exton
I think I didn’t know a huge amount about technology or about product design or about running a business at that point so the first thing I think that I guess jumped to my mind was how am I going to get this built. So apps were starting to kind of grow rapidly at that point in 2012 and so I had an idea of how I wanted it to feel and look but I had no idea how to get it built so I just started getting in touch with almost everyone that I knew seeing if anyone knew any app developers. That was kind of the first stage. At the same time I then moved back home in with my father for a bit so I could start saving money and save up a fund that would help support it and then I started learning to code. So I had found some people that could in theory build it and I realised that I was asking them to build something that I had no understanding of. When they would send back quotes I had no idea if that was reasonable, not reasonable, like I had no perception of it so I started learning just some basic front end development skills so I could at least feel that I had some competency to understand it. And then, yeah the next six months was spent developing the first version of the product, saving up as much money as possible and then at the end of 2012 I quit my job and started working on it full time.

Elliot Moss
Now in that story as well I believe that you joined the entrepreneurial community called Wayra? Which I think Simon Devonshire who was one of my previous guests is kind of the key guy over there. This is a start-up accelerator business, there are lots of other like-minded people all going through the same thing, looking for funding, looking to find the right expert to help them. Was being in that community incredibly important to the development of the business?

Robyn Exton
It was really pivotal for me. So after I quit my job the money that I had saved lasted about four months and I just run out of money at that point so I started working in a pub evenings and weekends and still working on Dattch or Her as it now is, during the day. And when I got into Wayra it was, it completely changed that I was able to just throw myself and fully commit everything into building and growing the business. It allowed me to hire our first full-time team members who are still with the business now. So it was a huge gear shift in terms of like stability and structure but then there is the kind of value add that sits on top of it. So you are in an environment where there are like twelve other start-up teams going through exactly the same thing as you. You’ve got amazing people coming in to the building just sharing advice and input and its just a sounding board to run through your ideas with people that have done it all multiple times before so it was, it was brilliant for me. Kind of, it was definitely like a changing point that got us to where we are now.

Elliot Moss
And I believe it helped you get towards raising that extra hundred thousand was it pounds at that point?

Robyn Exton
Yeah. So we raised hundred thousand pounds yeah. Just before we left Wayra.

Elliot Moss
So if you are thinking of building your own app then maybe you should be googling Wayra right now, W.A.Y.R.A. Lots more coming up from my Business Shaper, Robyn Exton today. Latest travel though in a couple of minutes but before that some words of advice for your business from our program partners at Mishcon De Reya.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss every Saturday morning you can catch me talking to hopefully an inspirational entrepreneur. Someone who has made it or someone who is in the process of making it. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to all the previous shows over the last few years, go to iTunes, put in the words Jazz and Shapers and you can find pretty much everybody there. Cityam is another destination for you if you want to catch some of the programmes, FT.com and even British Airways Highlife. I’ve given you lots of choices, no excuses. Robyn Exton is my Business Shaper today and she is actually in the technology world. She has set up a business called Her, it’s a lesbian app. It was called Dattch, much better now Her though I think we both agreed on that just before we started talking and now we were talking before Robyn about where you were… the help of Wayra, this community of other entrepreneurs, the funding that you were getting. It must have been pretty lonely before you got yourself into that gang of people. Were there, even in the early days before things have happened, were you thinking ‘I think I’ve made a mistake?’

Robyn Exton
When I started working going back to work at the pub, my first reaction to that was maybe I have made a mistake here but at the same time it was like this hugely like liberating feeling of suddenly realising I think a lot of people like go to school, go to University, graduate and feel like they are on this track and like you are just going to the next step and the next step and the next step at that time when I was working in the pub I was making enough money to pay my rent and to be able to eat noodles and pasta like every day but I was like that was enough and I could live and I could do it and I was actually really, like it was a free feeling of realising you can kind of do what you want if you can make enough money to get by and to cover all your costs. You can actually have the time to work on something that you really care about so although I had kind of got nervous about it, it actually felt really exciting that I was kind of in control of deciding what I wanted to do.

Elliot Moss
In that period of time around the beginning of 2012 all the way through to when you were working in the pub, you are putting you know, literally pennies in the pot to ensure you can eat and all those other things and you are running this business, or creating the business. Do you think there were some skills that were much more useful than others? So putting aside your education for a minute, what, as you look back now a couple of years on and more money has come and things are getting much… about to get very big hopefully. What was it that really enabled you to do the things you have been able to do to this point beyond everything else do you think?

Robyn Exton
I think it is probably a popular word in the start-up world at the moment but being a hustler; like when you are trying to get things off the ground you are trying to convince people to join your team, you are trying to convince people to believe in you, believe in your story, to possibly give you funding later down the line. You are hustling like every day trying to meet those people, trying to get introductions to those people, trying to build a network and I think just having extreme tenacity, working incredibly long hours, being relentless with everything that you do, I think those are the kind of things that help push me forwards and keep it going. But I also think that everyone that runs a business has their own like personality and their own attributes and I think you have to fall on the ones that are your strongest so if I were an engineer mine would be you know, writing incredible code that was so scalable and reliable that some investors that loved the technology side would be blown away by it. For me it’s, it’s I guess, it was just me and what I was able to pull together as a founder and so for me that was hustling, building relationships and building a network.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from the hustler, Robyn Exton, my Business Shaper today. Time for some great music, this is Emily Saunders and Summer Days.

That was Emily Saunders with Summer Days. Robyn Exton my business shaping hustler is here today with me. We have been talking about all sorts of stuff and as you said, you have got to find the talent the skill you have within and get on with it. You have obviously, you seem like a very capable person beyond that. You seem, you know, the way you talk about what you needed to do and the fact well I didn’t understand coding how could I look at a quote until I knew that. You’ve picked up pieces, nuggets along the way. What’s the most important nugget when it comes to raising money? Is it the colour of your hair? She has pink hair by the way, I had to say it. She has pink hair today but in the photos I have seen earlier the serious Robyn had proper blonde hair. But seriously, beyond looking the part, what else enabled them to look into your eyes and go ‘I’m going to give you some money’?

Robyn Exton
I think it is a very fine balance of multiple different things. I think it has been very different raising money in the UK to the US. The round that we have just closed now is mainly American investors and that has been a very very different experience so I think it all depends on the stage of business that you are at. For us it is our seed round so really it’s about painting a picture of what it is you are going to change in the world and how big that opportunity is combined with the proof that you are already doing a pretty ace job of smashing it already. So those two things, if they can see that you’ve got the great start for it and you’ve got huge ambitions. Those two will hopefully meet in the middle to create a very successful business.

Elliot Moss
And the bit you have taken out probably because it hasn’t occurred to you, is you, is the person they look and say Robyn will deliver the synthesis of those two things, the ambition, the vision that we’ve been doing it already.

Robyn Exton
Yeah I think it is mainly angel investors that have come in on this round so I think particularly in that case it is about believing in the team. So I am the founder of the team but we have an incredible team that I work with so it is very much a kind of equal effort by everyone so we have an incredible CTO, great marketing teams, fantastic designer, brilliant mobile engineer and its the combination of all of us that is going to make this work.

Elliot Moss
Now you’ve backed yourself and obviously many other people I meet do and that’s fantastic. There’s confidence in that. How have you squared that off with the amount of equity you’ve allowed to be diluted? Is there a line where you go no more or are you quite flexible on that front?

Robyn Exton
I am pretty flexible about it. I think I started off with one hundred percent and you know gradually that comes down. I think ultimately I want this to work more than anything that I want in life and in this world right now and so if it means giving up equity to make that happen I am okay with that. I am not going to make a stupid business decision along the route but if it means you know, I am happy to give someone like a small amount of equity to get their advice to come in and change the future of this business, all I want is for this to be omnipotent for all women in the world, everywhere. So I’ll do what it takes to get there.

Elliot Moss
So there’s the lesson, make sure that you make it happen and don’t worry about the equity so much. Final chat coming up with Robyn and we will play some music from Roy Ayers. That’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was Roy Ayers, one of my favourite artists with Everybody Loves The Sunshine. Just for a few more precious minutes Robyn Exton is my Business Shaper. If you have been listening earlier you will know that she is the founder of what was called Dattch and now is called Her, literally hot off the press and it is a lesbian app and we were talking about raising money, we’ve been talking about diluting equity, talking about what it takes to really keep on going. You’ve now raised a bunch of money, you have a great team around you, you’ve rebranded, there’s some scale. What do you want to make happen in the next twelve to twenty four months?

Robyn Exton
In two years’ time I want our app to be on the phone of every woman that is looking to meet another woman. So I want it to be in every single market, I want there to be the level of awareness that there is for apps like Grindr and I want every woman by not knowing her sexuality, having known her sexuality for forty years, kind of starting to figure out her sexuality, I want them to know that whatever she is, this is the app for her.

Elliot Moss
You talked about your own sense of liberation even though you were working hard in the pub but the sense that you had this future which you could map out. Do you have a kind of quiet zealotry mission behind it as well, the thing about allowing a woman to explore her own sexuality as well. Do you see the app as a catalyst or are you really going ‘if you’re like that, here it is’ or is it a bit of both?

Robyn Exton
I think my personal experience is being amongst my generation, I see it in myself and in my friends, like female sexuality is a very fluid thing and there needs to be spaces where its easy and accessible for women to discover that, decide that. I think a lot of women know their sexuality, a lot of women don’t and I think I care a lot about creating a space for that. I think one of the best stories I ever heard from one of our users was this girl that I met at an event and she said she had started a kind of casual relationship with her roommate and she had no idea what it meant and it kind of terrified her because she was like ‘Am I gay? I don’t know if I am gay? I haven’t thought about whether I might be gay?’ and pretty soon afterwards, like two weeks afterwards she discovered Dattch, as it was and she said suddenly it just didn’t matter. She was with a whole community of other women where no one was asking her about like what she identified as, if she was gay, if she was going to a gay bar, it was just women that she could chat to and meet up with and it completely changed her perspective on herself and her kind of opportunities. So I would love that to be the case for every woman that wants to use it.

Elliot Moss
And when you were raising money did you articulate that sense of look the opportunity isn’t just numerical, the opportunity is actually as I see it, I am on a bit of a mission, I would like it to be easy for women to discover their sexuality if that is what they want to do? Do you think that was a key part because I imagine some of the investors you were talking to would have looked at you and gone ‘well I am sure that’s true’ but do you think they care that there was something more than just the financial motive or rather what you were thinking about would drive huge amounts of pick up if it actually caught on?

Robyn Exton
Yeah I think so. I think there has been a growing awareness and understanding of lesbians in the first place. Like lesbians tend to be about ten years behind gay men in terms of awareness in the public sphere so I think people are becoming more aware of lesbians and it is not these kind of like dungaree wearing, cat loving women that people used to think once.

Elliot Moss
There isn’t a cat in here and there are definitely no dungarees.

Robyn Exton
There are a few cats. But the changing numbers in women who are bisexual, like there was a huge survey that came out in 2013 and the number of women that identified as lesbian, the number of women that had a same sex experience had tripled in the space of the past ten years. It is a hugely growing space but I think even beyond that, like right now, we create a product that helps women looking for other women, probably for like sexual love, friendship, romantic purposes but in the future we have a product that helps women meet each other and there is no reason why that will be limited just to the lesbian and queer space when there are woman that are looking to meet other women for all different intents and purposes. Our ambition would be to apply that technology and use it in spaces where other women want to meet each other.

Elliot Moss
So if anyone does want the app it is called Her. H.E.R. What would your advice be to anyone else who is listening, thinking I’ve got this idea I want to make it happen. What’s the first step they should be taking?

Robyn Exton
Take a first step, that’s always like the biggest barrier but actually doing something. It is so easy for people to pay lip service to an idea, to say they have got this great like name for an app or to say they have got this great idea for an app. Actually taking the first step of doing something is probably one of the biggest hurdles and I think just if you are going to do this, acknowledging that there is stuff that you have to give up to do this – like taking a Saturday where you want to be out with your friends in the pub and doing stuff. That’s the time when you have to go and you work on your business. Like start doing stuff.

Elliot Moss
Brilliant. That’s fantastic advice. Robyn just before I let you go, thank you so much for being my Business Shaper today. What’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Robyn Exton
My song choice is Erykah Badu, Bag Lady. It was like my favourite album when I was thirteen and I used to always like pick albums and listen to them on loop so I think Erykah Badu had about a kind of seven month run and I didn’t listen to anyone else. I think my sister introduced her to me and so my poor family were like traumatised by listening to the same album but this was, yeah, one of my favour songs from it.

Elliot Moss
Well fantastic. Here it is for you, thank you so much again for being my Business Shaper.

That was Erykah Badu and Bag Lady, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Robyn Exton; talk about hard work, she was prepared to give up those Saturdays when other people were in the pub and also prepared to work in the pub to make enough money to keep going. A hustler. You’ve got to be a hustler she said if you are going to make this thing happen and in terms of making it happen, someone who is prepared to give up equity if it meant that her vision could become a reality. Fantastic stuff. Join me again, same time, same place, that’s next Saturday, 9.00am here on Jazz FM for another edition of Jazz Shapers. Stay with us now though because coming up next, it’s Nigel Williams.

Robyn Exton

Robyn is the founder of Dattch, the first app created specifically to help lesbian and bisexual women connect. Dattch has been designed and optimised around female specific user behaviour with a core focus on gender based interaction.

In her spare time Robyn also co-organises the London division of Geek Girl Meetup.

Follow Robyn on Twitter @robynexton

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

I used to work at a creative agency and one of our clients was a dating business and it was fantastic, it really captured my interest.

With Wayra, you are in an environment where there are about twelve other start-up teams going through exactly the same thing as you.  You’ve got amazing people coming in to the building just sharing advice and it was brilliant for me.

You can do what you want if you can make enough money to get by and to cover all your costs. You can actually have the time to work on something that you really care about.

Being a hustler, building relationships and building a network is what has helped me.

In two years’ time I want our app to be on the phone of every woman that is looking to meet another woman. I want every woman who doesn’t know her sexuality, has known her sexuality for forty years or has just starting to figure out her sexuality, to know that whatever she is, this is the app for her.

I am happy to give someone like a small amount of equity to get their advice to come in and change the future of this business.

A lot of women know their sexuality, a lot of women don’t and I think I care a lot about creating a space for that.

A survey came out in 2013 showing that the number of women that identified as lesbian and the number of women that had a same sex experience had tripled in the space of the past ten years.  It is a growing space.

It is so easy for people to pay lip service to an idea. Actually taking the first step of doing something is probably one of the biggest hurdles.