Charly Lester is the Co-Founder and CMO of Lumen, the first app-only dating platform for over 50s. Fresh from raising £3.5m from Andrey Andreev, the Founder of Badoo, Charly shares her story and motivation to make 50 the new 30.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
On Lumen … Lumen is the first ever dating app for over 50s. While dating sites for over 50s do exist, no site has ever launched solely as an app – because dating sites for over 50s have always been more targeted at those in their 70s than those in their 50s and 60s. Lumen was my co-founder’s (Antoine Argouges) idea – but the minute he told me about it I knew it needed to be done, because for the last 5 years people had been asking me which app their divorced parents should try, and I had never had an answer for them. The over 50s have been a forgotten generation in tech, and yet they are the fastest growing demographic for tech use.
On motivation … Firstly because none of the mainstream dating apps were designed for over 50s. Until recently you couldn’t even create a Tinder account if you were over 50, and now if you’re over 55 it doesn’t even show your age on the filter, it’s just ‘55+’. Secondly, women in their 50s and 60s have long complained about issues where men their age ignore them on dating apps, and only look for younger women. By making Lumen as space for over 50s only, the women on the app know that any men registered on Lumen are interested in dating women their age.
Over 50s are too often the target of scammers and catfish online, so Lumen is the first mainstream dating app to insist on 100% photo-verification. Every user takes a selfie of him or herself on registration, and this is cross-referenced with the photos on their dating profile. The artificial intelligence also moderates for age. We also have features which encourage better quality profiles (every user must have at least 3 photos) and better conversation (your ice-breaker has to be at least 50 characters long, so you can’t just say ‘hi’).
On investment … My co-founder Antoine was formerly Head of Revenue for Badoo, so he had worked directly for Andrey Andreev, CEO of Badoo and Active Partner and Investor in Bumble and Chappy. It made sense to approach Andrey for investment first because he has over 15 years of experience and success in the dating industry, and he was able to provide a tech infrastructure for us, as well as financial investment. We did look at alternative venture capital options, but for us, Andrey’s reputation and experience were deal-breakers.
On the journey … My career in dating began when I wrote a dating blog called ’30 Dates’. The blog itself started with a Facebook joke. I was single, 29 and working in banking. I suggested on Facebook that I would go on 30 blind dates before my 30th birthday if my friends sent me on them. My friends encouraged me to write a blog, and 2000 people read the first post on the first day. 30 Dates was quickly picked up by The Guardian, and I went to work for them as a dating editor. I then went to Time Out as Global Head of Dating and set up industry awards for the online and offline dating industries, based on questions I kept being asked on the blog.
I ran the UK, US, and European Dating Awards, and corresponding industry conferences for 4 years traveling all over the world and assessing different dating apps, websites, experts and matchmakers. I became known as one of the leading dating industry experts in the world, and appeared on TVs shows like BBC Watchdog, Newsnight and the final of The Apprentice, advising Lord Sugar when a finalist designed a dating app.
On lessons learned … There is no such thing as personal limitations. I’m not a runner. I don’t have a runner’s build, and never ran at school, and yet I am a triathlete, and recently completed my first Ironman triathlon (in a pretty competitive 13 hours 50). I just set my mind to it and trained for it. The same applies to all areas of life. I am an orphan, whose mother was a ‘Romanian immigrant’ and yet I studied Law at Cambridge, and have gone on to be one of the most successful graduates in my year group. You set your own goals and your own limitations. And something I have definitely found was that the more I achieve, the higher I push those next goal posts.
Best advice … To own my niche. When I left my role at Time Out, I was looking for more general roles in tech, and the Head of Innovation, Ellie Ford, encouraged me to stick to my guns and make the most of all the knowledge I had acquired about the dating industry. A few months later I appeared on the Apprentice and Newsnight, and the next year I launched the Dating Awards internationally.
On success factors …
- Tenacity – I won’t give up on something. Being an entrepreneur is never just plain sailing, and there may be days, weeks or months, where things just don’t go to plan. You have to be able to stick it out and keep driving forward, even when your steps forward feel tiny.
- Self-belief – I give a lot of dating advice, and I always tell people that you need to love yourself before others can love you. Well, the same applies to self-belief. You can’t expect others to believe in you, and your ideas, if you don’t believe in them yourself.
- Agility – No matter how much I love an idea, I’ve learned to be agile with my business decisions and to recognize when I need to pivot. I think one of the biggest lessons an entrepreneur can learn, is when to put away the ego. Sometimes you need to admit your idea was wrong, shrug it off, and work out what the right answer is.
- An interest in people – this is vital for dating. I love people and I love hearing their stories. I can remember, when I interviewed for Law at Cambridge, doubting myself because the law professor was looking for someone interested in the macrocosm, and I was definitely always about the microcosm. I have set interests, and I am super interested in those things. People and relationships have always been something which fascinates me.
On brand … Lumen is a measure of light – and the reason behind this is because we are an app with no grey areas or dark corners. Honesty and clarity are fundamental to our brand. We also like the idea of shining a light on over 50s and letting them have their own time to shine. Many of them will have just come out of long relationships, or many years raising kids, and now is the time to shine the spotlight on them.
In terms of marketing, we have two avenues. Marketing to over 50s with collaborations with brands which they resonate with – National Trust Magazine, Royal Albert Hall, Marie Claire magazine, Woman & Home magazine, British Airways, Waitrose, and then marketing to their kids, because we know that adult children are the biggest influencer when it comes to over 50s choosing dating apps and sites. Our recent Tube ads had a cheeky campaign to ‘Get your Mum off Tinder!’ which went down really well with both under 50s and their parents.
On inspiration …
- Whitney Wolfe Herd. What she has done for female empowerment with Bumble is immense.
- Alix Fox (BBC Radio 1 journalist). She is a great friend who is changing the way a nation talks about sex and dating.
- Susie Chan. An ultra-marathoner. I completed my first Ironman triathlon this summer and am signed up to Marathon des Sables next year.
On what success looks like … We don’t want to just be the biggest app or site for over 50s, we want to be one of the biggest and most well-known dating apps in the world. We are already the fifth most popular dating app in the UK, in terms of daily downloads, behind Bumble, Tinder, Plenty of Fish and Badoo. If we can be in that top 5, worldwide, we will be ecstatic. ‘Tinder’ has too long become the colloquial noun for a dating app, let’s make Lumen a household name.
Reception since launch … Phenomenal! We already have over 1000 downloads every day in the UK, and we will be launching internationally very soon. We’ve already had success stories, which is amazing after just 8 weeks. This is a product which people have been waiting for for a long time.