Frustrated by her own experience as a busy person giving up precious weekdays for unsuccessful dates, Forbes 30 Under 30 winner Lizz Warner founded Gleam in 2019. In a billion-dollar dating app industry, Warner was trying to create a more productive experience for her create users by leaning into video chats.
With Gleam, users have uploaded their availability for appointments to the app. Upon receiving a match, the algorithm automatically schedules a 10-minute video chat when both parties are available, to get straight to the most meaningful human connection as quickly as possible. If they matched, the app unblocked texting, avoiding the unsavory experience of texting a stranger for days, weeks, or even months before the conversation died without a meeting.
“I wanted to build a real dating app, not a texting app,” Warner said.
In just a few years, Warner built Gleam from the ground up, saw couples who met through the app get engaged, and sold their company to an up-and-coming app with a similar mission called FROME, launched in July 2022 by Joe Feminella Founded. Gleam was previously available in Los Angeles and New York but is currently offline while merging with FROME, available for iOS and Android.
Warner has already founded their next startup, the video editing software PopCut. But before she leaves the dating industry, she gave us a glimpse into how dating apps work and what the secret ingredient is to finding a successful match in the seemingly endless online dating game.
PCMag: What do you think the most successful dates have done in your app? What did their profiles look like, how many dates did they go on per week, etc.?
warner: The most successful profiles had very clear photos. The dating coaches we worked with told me that your profile should tell a story. It should have an arc and tell about your life. There should only be one photo of you, one with some friends, one doing an activity you enjoy – show yourself as well-rounded. You would be surprised how many people upload blurry photos or all group photos.
But to be clear, a common misconception is that as the founder of a dating app, I was a master puppeteer who could see every conversation and every action someone was making on the app. In reality, to be approved by Apple and to be in the App Store, you must have many privacy protections. You gotta get your shit together. Our Chief Technical Officer and Principal Engineer who developed the app, Graham Wood, has put a lot of thought into security and privacy. So most of the feedback I get from users comes from personal conversations and surveys.
What else did the dating coach tell you?
Many dating coaches have actually come forward and supported… by letting clients go straight to a video call. There’s even this video by [dating coach] Matthew Hussey saying exactly the same thing. My friends texted me and joked that it was an ad for Gleam.
I’ve also learned how many people need advice on dating in general. We built in a dating coach feature that allows for a 10 minute chat with a dating coach and we’ve made revenue from it. Each coach had their own specialty – some focused on raising our profile, others worked specifically with men or women. If people liked the coach, they could move on. I think it helped people figure out what they like and patterns they need to change. I would recommend that to everyone.
Was there any user behavior that surprised you once you built the app and reached a critical mass of users?
The tail pics. You hear about it, but it always surprises me. We made it so that your profile needs to be approved before it goes live on the app. And thank god we did that because people were uploading their dick pics and we had to remove them. Why does anyone think this is a good idea? I do not understand. And every dating app has this problem. I was watching a TikTok from a guy who works on a dating app and he was like, “Yeah, I wake up every morning and look at 200 dick pics.” It’s very upsetting.
Are there software-related reasons why many people find it difficult to find successful matches on dating apps?
If you’re having trouble with the apps, don’t take it personally. Apps like Hinge, Bumble, Tinder – all the big ones – make more money if you stay there. Once you are in a relationship, they lose you as a user. Tinder is one of the top-grossing apps for a reason.
They do all sorts of tricks with their algorithm to show you people in a lower desirability bucket than you to make you swipe longer. Or maybe you say yes to someone, but the app never shows them your profile. I haven’t worked there myself, but I’ve spoken to people who work there… and that’s what they said. [From] From what I’ve heard, this is the industry in general.
So are you an incentive to pay for premium plans? Are they intentionally degrading the experience so that you pay to get the base experience you thought you were getting from the start?
What I heard is that they try to do whatever they can to put you in the payment funnel. Once you pay to boost your profile, you’ll get a lot more matches. They prioritize the experience for people who pay, and they want to encourage you to continue doing so.
How do you think people can protect their mental health when using dating apps?
Everyone has to set their own limits and boundaries. I knew someone who only went on dates the first five days of the week and left the other two open. Other people only use the apps for 10 minutes a day. Something like that. If you don’t set limits, you will be sucked into this hole of constant swiping, messaging, and message threads dying. It’s just draining, tiring and tedious, so you need to find what actually works for you.
Dating apps was a $7 billion market in 2021 and is projected to be a $11 billion market by 2028 an estimatean estimate. Would you recommend dating apps as a good startup business idea to all the entrepreneurs out there?
I’d say if you’ve worked at another dating app before, held a very senior position and understand what that entails, then yes, it may be a good business opportunity for you. Because then you know what is important – the advantages and disadvantages and the complications of building something like this. But if you’re just saying, “Oh, I use dating apps” and you want to create your own, then it’s a lot harder. Above all, collect money and learn everything from scratch. It just takes so long.
However, their journey seemed to be quick. They founded Gleam in 2019 and sold it in 2022.
TRUE. And although we started in 2019, we didn’t really start until 2021. So it was about a year and a half. But other companies can build and launch an app in five or six months. Also, I was working 12 to 16 hour days just staring at my computer in the middle of the pandemic. I learned everything and it was really intense. Yes, we were lucky enough to be taken on. But it was still a very long and tedious process.
Well it’s great to see your success, especially as an entrepreneur.
Many Thanks. That’s one thing I’ve learned: we really need more women entrepreneurs, more women out there building businesses. There are so many problems that we of women have to solve.
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