Robyn Exton Talks About ‘HER,’ A Dating App For Queer Womxn
We sit down with the founder of a new dating app for womxn in the community…
Driven by her own frustration at a dismal lesbian dating websites that she was using, Robyn Exton decided to make a pivot from her career in branding, learned to code, and launched HER, a popular dating app for queer womxn. What makes HER unique is that it isn’t just about dating or hooking up; it’s about empowering queer womxn, creating community among people of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations, drawing people together over shared interests, creating buzz around local events and shows, and bringing online interactions into the real world.
Here, we talk about her inspiration behind HER, what it’s like being a woman in tech, and what she’s learned about love along the way.
To start, could you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
My name’s Robyn Exton and I’m the CEO and founder of HER. I was born in Toronto, but my parents moved to the UK when I was very young, so I grew up in Kent in England. I moved to London after uni, and after working in branding for a few years, I eventually started HER! We launched in the UK first and then eventually the USA, Canada, and Australia. We moved the company to San Francisco in 2015 and I’ve been based out here ever since.
Can you briefly walk us through your career path? How did you end up becoming the founder and CEO of an app?
As I mentioned I was working at a branding agency in London and one of my clients was a dating business. I learned a huge amount about the dating industry—the brands, the operations. At the same time, I was using a TERRIBLE lesbian dating website and so when I saw how much better other options were, it seemed crazy that no one was building for queer womxn. So, I took on extra jobs to save money, learned to code, and eventually quit my job to start the app full time.
What sort of gap or need did you notice that this app fills?
When we first started, no one had built a mobile product for queer womxn. Tha thought about the unique experiences of our dating, chatting, meeting, and connecting. We wanted to focus on the unique experience of queer womxn and make the best possible way for womxn to meet each other.
Tell us a bit more about HER. How does the app work?
HER has two core components.
1) Our dating experience where you can view profiles, send Likes, get matches, and chat. We have tried to build profiles that are super relevant to queer people (16 sexualities, 18 gender identities, identifiers that are unique to our community).
2) Then we have our social network—our communities and events listings. We showcase all the queer events taking place in your city. Our communities are a series of 23 communities around identity and interests where you can chat about what’s important to you.
Did your own dating experience inspire the way that this app functions?
Yes, for sure! I spoke to about 100 people before starting the app, but I think deep down I was still very biased by my own experience. But over time, the users of the app change, I’m older, and I’ve had to realise that what I want is not always representative of what the community wants. I’ll always have strong opinions, but we have to listen to the users more than ourselves now.
In what ways is this app, which specifically caters to queer womxn, different from popular dating apps like Tinder or Bumble?
In terms of product, we want queer folks to be able to express themselves in all the ways that make them feel seen. We use gaaaaay language and we have communities dedicated to specific identities. We see queer people and show them that this is their home. We care about connection above everything else, which is why we developed our whole events ecosystem. Meeting online doesn’t work for everyone, so we wanted to help develop ways for people to meet in person. Whatever works for you, we got you covered.
How has the app evolved over the last few years? Have there been changes as definitions of sexuality and gender have broader and more fluid?
Yes, a lot. I think we had three gender identities and five sexualities when we started, so that’s expanded a lot. The product is continually changing. We update it roughly every two weeks so there’s always something fixed, updated, added. Our community will continue to keep changing and evolving and we will keep responding to that to make the best possible products we can.
What have you learned about love and relationships that surprised you through creating and growing this app?
I think it shouldn’t be that surprising, but the most obvious thing is that more often than not, people don’t know what they’re looking for. They have a perception of a ‘type’ based on their exes, who they saw on TV recently, or a character they are attracted to in their mind.
What do you love about the work that you do?
The people and the stories are the most amazing thing about HER. We meet couples, people tag us in proposals, we hear coming out stories from people on the app… It’s incredible to hear every single time.
What’s a piece of dating advice you’ve picked up along the way working in this field?
SEND THE MESSAGE. Womxn in particular play dating apps very cautiously. It’s just an app and a message, take a risk, just send it.
As a woman in the tech industry, how do you see the state of the tech industry today in terms of inclusion and diversity? What do you want to still see shift or change?
Its abysmal. There’s a lot of chat and very little action. A couple of years ago it felt like there was real momentum for change and although there have been some small steps, it’s mainly lip service. Change does take time, but it takes someone making a shit ton of effort and structural reform to actually see that change happen.
For more on HER, visit weareher.com.