Name: Robyn Exton
Job title: CEO and founder, HER
Currently lives in: San Francisco
Education: BSc in geography, University of Bristol
First job out of school: Account manager at marketing firm Williams Lea Tag
In the woeful world of dating apps like Tinder and Bumble, Robyn Exton is reinventing the wheel as CEO and founder of HER. It’s a dating app for queer womxn that’s less about finding romantic relationships or hookups and more about creating communities. Users can join groups based on interests or identity and post, comment and chat, as well as filter potential matches using a Tinder-esque swipe function. Some people use HER exclusively to make friends or professional contacts, and it has 3 million users across 55 countries. If it wasn’t already clear, this isn’t just any dating app.
So how did Exton go from studying geography in Bristol, U.K., to running a tech company in San Francisco? After she graduated, a friend got her a job at an ad post-production agency in London, and this led to a role at a brand-strategy agency, where one of her clients had a dating business. As she brainstormed branding ideas for the client, looking extensively into the online dating industry and available platforms, she realized there was a huge gap—something she’d experienced first-hand, having used lacklustre lesbian-dating apps—and decided to fill it herself.
Exton was about 26 and still working her day job when she started to explore London’s small startup community, meeting founders and other “tech people” she could ask for advice. She took coding classes over the course of six months until she felt comfortable enough to communicate what she wanted to coders as well as understand what they were telling her.
As “incredible” as the London tech scene was in supporting her, fundraising was a challenge. Already pressured to quickly explain how the app would work, Exton was doubly tasked with communicating why HER needed to exist in the first place, usually to rooms of straight white men. “There were a hell of a lot of people who said if it hadn’t been done before, there clearly wasn’t a market,” she says. After launching as Dattch on the App Store in 2013, the company went through such rapid growth that it moved to San Francisco in 2015 to be in the world’s tech hub and relaunched as HER (because it’s easier to remember).
Meeting users at HER events and hearing how they use the app is a highlight for Exton. “People get married and have babies, and it’s crazy,” she says. Feedback is important for app updates as well. “We evolve the app based on what people ask us to do. We’re able to hear problems that people are experiencing and change what we’re doing to address them.”
One thing Exton wants to see change is the mentality that the biggest companies are the best, and she wants investors to put more venture dollars toward smaller businesses. That’s what allows apps like HER to exist. She also believes that more funding needs to go toward women-owned companies, and she supports initiatives like Apple Entrepreneur Camp, a lab that nurtures women developers. “The dials are shifting, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to make people believe in female founders and heavily invest in them,” she says. Exton is exhibit A for why that needs to happen.