Robyn Exton

Headshot_RobynExton

Robyn Exton
Born: England
Lives: San Francisco, USA

Robyn Exton is a British entrepreneur living in California. As founder and CEO of the lesbian dating app HER, she’s more equipped than most to comment on what women want.

I spoke with Robyn from her home in Palo Alto, where she currently lives with the entire HER team while they participate in an accelerator program. Yes, that’s right, this girl lives with her colleagues. And guess what? She loves it. Well, everything except the arguments over dishes.

Robyn believes we have to stop waiting for opportunities to come up. The time to do something is right now. This is her story on getting shit done, the surprisingly unsurprising truth about women and how love alters with age.


Right now you’re heading up a team as CEO of lesbian dating app HER. Do you feel like a natural leader?

I don’t know! I’ve definitely always liked bossing people around but being a leader is a very different thing. It’s about being a leader by helping your team be leaders. It’s something I’m learning along the way.

How is it going living with your team in the same house? I think lots of people couldn’t quite fathom going home and being with their colleagues!

There are pros and cons. The cons are exactly as you imagine: you end up having arguments about house things, which you wouldn’t normally have.

Otherwise, the pros are invaluable. The effectiveness, the cohesiveness, how much we can produce and get done, it’s incredible. I’ve never known a team to be so productive and the only way everyone can handle it is by knowing there is an end point. It’s not sustainable.


The most surprising but also unsurprising thing is that women are very complicated. I feel like I should have known this having dated women for a while!


As the founder of a dating app for women, what have you learnt so far about what women want out of relationships with one another?

The main thing we’re realising is that women don’t often have a goal in mind of what they’re looking for in a relationship. Often they’ll come into the community thinking, Oh I just want to meet some people. There’s a lot of chitchat before they figure out who they actually like. So it’s about making an environment that reflects how women would meet in real life.

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What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learnt?

The most surprising but also unsurprising thing is that women are very complicated. I feel like I should have known this having dated women for a while!

Suddenly, when you’re looking at the behaviour of hundreds of thousands women and you’re like, oh wow! We think about so many different things at so many different points in time, there isn’t a very clear journey that you are mapping out. It’s a more complex thing to distil.
The other thing is how much women want to talk. They just want to message and communicate so frequently with one another that it blows me away a lot.


I’m definitely part of the school of thinking: ‘Just get shit done’. Things won’t happen if you don’t just start doing them.


How has it changed, if at all, your perspective on love?

Honestly, no. I think your opinion of love just changes as you get older. How I viewed love when I was younger, to how I view love now, to probably how my parents would talk about love, you’re able to see all those different stages through our users. It’s just age and experience.

What’s your perspective on love right now?

Now is a very interesting time! I’ve moved to California. There are a lot of discussions about open relationships and the role that can play. I find that very interesting.

There’s this awesome woman called Esther Perez and she does a lot of talks about modern relationships.  She talks about how people have grown up with this deluded fantasy about what love and relationships should be; that you should know this person better than they know themselves.

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I think the idea behind relationships is that you’re never going to know that person. They’re someone you choose to be with every single day and it’s someone that you build something with because you love and respect them and they make you happy. That concept, whether it’s open or monogamous, I think is how I view love.

What philosophies do you come back to in your life?

I’m definitely part of the school of thinking ‘Just get shit done’. Things won’t happen if you don’t just start doing them. We spend a lot of energy thinking about the things that we would rather be doing and you’re the only person that can change if that happens or not. We apply the same thing with the team. We look at problems, the solution and then implement it. We break it down into small problems and just get shit done.


Your success criteria is completely down to what you want to make and build.


Do you feel like you need to be outside of a hierarchical structure to begin making the work you really want to create?

One of the most valuable things I’ve started to learn is a sense of my own skills and worth. Now, if I were to go back into a framework like that, it would be just as much about me thinking, Right, what can I contribute, what would I be adding to this role? And it’s not about going up some career ladder.

What are your biggest accomplishments so far?

I think I’m most proud that it’s still going. We’re still alive! I remember it was a huge thing when we hit 1000 users. Now we get thousands of users a day. The fact that we’ve built something this big is incredible.

There are also the emotional sides of it. There are women who don’t feel the pressure to have to identify their sexuality and they have a space where they feel excited and safe to go and meet other women. There are also people who get married. That’s amazing! Getting something right that people use; that feels the biggest success.


Everyone here wants to meet each other, learn from each other and possibly help each other…I hope that I take that openness with me for the rest of my life.


What are you most afraid of as you keep going along this path?

There’s always that fear that someone else will get a market before us. You lose the fear a lot as you start doing this stuff. Decisions that used to scare you, you suddenly realise are inconsequential. Every day is do or die! You keep growing it because if not it will end.

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What decisions used to scare you that now don’t?

Things like doing any kind of release. I used to be terrified before hitting a new update in case it screwed something up. And now we release things, we do screw things up and we fix them. Making mistakes used to scare me a lot because coming from the agency side you wouldn’t ever make mistakes in front of people. Now, you mistakes in public. You deal with it and that’s how you learn faster.

What else do you think you’ve learnt in startup life that can be applied to  everyday life?

The power of relationships and people is the biggest thing that I’ve learnt. Everyone here wants to meet each other, learn from each other and possibly help each other. The value of that is so high.

It’s a very un-British trait. British people are much more reserved. They absolutely want to be successful but they won’t talk about it. Whereas over here people talk about dreaming of success and what it takes to get there. It’s a very different way of handling it. I hope that I take that openness with me for the rest of my life.


Stop waiting for an opportunity to come up. Today is the day that you start doing something.


What do you feel is the best advice you’ve received?

The best advice–it’s a very British piece of advice–there are reasons and there are results, and at the end of the day no one gives a shit about the reasons. You can say you don’t have this many users, all they care about is the results you’re able to demonstrate, which probably just ties in with ‘Get shit done!’

Love it. Was there anything else you wanted to add in before we wrap up?

Another big thing I think about is that no one is going to give you the time or the opportunity to go and do something that you’ve always wanted to do. You’re the only person that can make that happen. So stop waiting for an opportunity to come up. Today is the day that you start doing something.

I couldn’t agree more.

Thanks, Robyn.

 

Find out more about lesbian dating app HER right here.


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