If you’re one for dating online then I presume you’re already familiar with the premium hyperlocal dating service, Lovestruck. If not, then not to worry, I invite its co-founder and Managing Director, Brett Harding onto YHP to share his story starting the platform and what Lovestruck is all about.
In the interview, Brett also talks about the early days, getting investment, how he’s managed to build the company to its recent scale and advices for entrepreneurs.
Hi Brett, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
I’m fine, thank you. And how are you?
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I’m the Managing Director and co-founder of Lovestruck.com – a premium hyperlocal dating service operating in London, Hong Kong and Singapore. In a previous life I held various client services positions at some of London’s top direct and digital agencies, working on accounts including Barclays, Molton Brown, RAC, Boots and Swarovski.
When did you get the entrepreneurial bug?
The dotcom boom in 1999 inspired me as I realised that the paradigm shift to online meant that a well-executed start-up could challenge an established ‘bricks and mortar’ competitor.
How did the idea for Lovestruck come about?
I was spending a lot of time at my client’s Canary Wharf office and felt that this densely populated are of 120,000 attractive like-minded workers with similar aspirations would benefit from a site where they could meet someone for a quick coffee, lunch or after-work drink.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
Holding down two jobs was the hardest part, without a doubt. Lovestruck wasn’t going to provide an income for me initially, so I continued to work full-time. I hired a team of leafleters and bombarded Central London morning, noon and night, which meant that I had to sleep in the office a lot.
What is Lovestruck? And what are you trying to solve with it?
We spend 51.4 of our 168-hour weeks at or around work. Spending a vast proportion of our life in or around work makes it no coincidence that a third of all relationships begin in the workplace. Like-minded people, similar aspirations – put simply, birds of a feather flocking together. But office romances are often considered taboo. A case of ‘right idea, wrong office’, perhaps. That’s when we had our Lovestruck Epiphany….
The solution was a site that introduced people who live or work near each other, to each other, for quick coffee, lunchtime or after-work dates. Imagine networking the 300,000 in the Square Mile, the 120,000 in Canary Wharf, the 9 million in Tokyo or the 13 million in Mumbai. In a nutshell, this type of 1-hour dating saves and optimises time, saves money and is arguably safer. It’s also less of a commitment. After all, it’s only lunch or a quick drink.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
It was an incredibly euphoric wave, watching hundreds of new users a day using a product that you had painstakingly designed in Powerpoint a few months before, and Laurence subsequently spending months meticulously realising it. This dissipated as I began to realise that a dating site’s incredibly high churn rate and lack of in-built ‘virality’ meant that it was effectively an exercise in marketing. This was the moment that I realised that my bootstrapping was insufficient and investment was essential.
How have you been able to fund the company so far?
We took on a £260,000 investment round from 8 angels and 1 early growth VC in 2010.
What advices can you give to entrepreneurs looking to raise investments for their start-ups especially in the UK?
Show potential investors that you truly believe in your idea by bootstrapping it first, or at least commit to some level of investment in the initial round. Most investors invest in the ‘people first, product second’. You are entering into relationship so build social capital and make them believe in you. Network furiously, execute flawlessly. Persistence and tenacity are admirable traits.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow it?
The best thing I ever did was ask someone who I'd been told was a good developer – Laurence Holloway – to build Lovestruck (instead of me choosing an agency or buying an off the shelf package) and become my co-founder. He was responsibly for building Lovestruck single-handedly and now manages both in-house and external developers. The chances of a business succeeding dramatically improves when you have two co-founders instead of a sole founder. Aside from complementary skills, a similar work ethic/application, it's said that a startup makes five business critical decisions per day - getting the majority of these right increases likelihood of business success exponentially.
The second best thing I did was to go for investment, as this not only provided us with a financial springboard but an invaluable source of business mentoring from high profile and extremely involved investors such as Hugh Chappell and Alistair Ramsay. The Lovestruck Non-Exec team comprises 5 highly capable and eclectic individuals hell–bent on making Lovestruck a success. It helped me to understand why they're called 'angels', as they have your back.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
There are so many, from emails from recently engaged ‘Lovestruckers’ to assembling my ‘Dream team’ of Lovestruck colleagues. But being shortlisted twice for ‘Online Business of the Year’ at The National Business Awards probably pips them to the post.
What should we be expecting from Lovestruck in the coming months?
Lovestruck 3.0 launches simultaneously on web, mobile web and apps in July 2013 – a far more interactive, immersive tablet-designed experience, enabling members to 'discover' like-minded singles in a variety of ways – including date suggestions. It will harness all of the positive elements that they are familiar with on social networking sites, too.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1. Your idea is not original: There are perhaps 10 others with exactly the same idea as you. Only three will do something about it, and one will succeed. So don't fret about telling everyone your idea as execution is everything! And each time you tell someone, your idea naturally becomes more honed.
2. Find a co-founder with complementary skills – you will validate each other’s thinking and be together through the highs and lows (of which there are many).
3. In the beginning, it’s ok to validate your assumptions with a half-baked product. Once validated, iterate furiously to make it a world-class one.