What’s your backstory?
Sierra & Sally are in charge of marketing, strategy, PR, product development and user experience at Sweet Pea, a dating app designed in opposition to the “hot or not” swiping mentality of online dating. The app gives users social context, like being able to match with people who have similar interests like “Art”, “Business” and “Food”, and giving both men and women the opportunity to initiate conversation. The app now has real-life stories of people meeting and marrying thanks to Sweet Pea (www.sweetpea.co),, and it’s only been around since late 2016.
What’s your backstory?
I started my own marketing & PR agency in Australia and ran it for a couple of years before deciding I wanted a new challenge. I was tossing up between going back to university to study engineering, or relocating to the US. In late 2017 I made the decision to move to LA - I don’t think I have the patience to go back to the classroom at the moment! I now run my marketing agency in LA and work with Sweet Pea as head of Strategy. Moving to a new country without a network of support was challenging, and I was looking for ways to find like minded people and experience my new city. I connected with Sierra (Sweet Pea’s CMO) and Michael (Sweet Pea’s Founder) and realised we were both trying to solve the same problem in different ways - How can you recreate the experience of meeting people in real life, online, without it feeling like some kind of “hot or not” gamified interaction?
When we meet people in the “real world” we’re surrounded by context – if we’re at an art show, we can talk about the art. If we meet at work, we can have a conversation which isn’t immediately focused on courtship, if we meet in a social sports league we can bond over a common interest. When I learned about what Michael & Sierra were developing, I knew this was the kind of thing my friends and I were looking for.
I moved to LA from Arizona and was working in music after I graduated. I met Michael Bruch, Sweet Pea’s Founder, and we connected on a lot of the core values that help Sweet Pea differentiate itself. We both wanted to create something long-lasting, that helped social engineer dating in a different direction - less about endlessly swiping and feeling disconnected from human interaction, and more about creating a digital social space where it feels like meeting in real life. I was also new to LA, and had used different dating apps my friends had recommended.
While I’d had some good experiences, I was feeling fatigued at the endless swiping and I didn’t love the thought of dating in my 20’s and only using the currently available apps as my way of eventually meeting someone I liked. Meeting Michael and helping develop his idea was really exciting, because I’m working to create something my friends and I would actually use - not something owned by a big corporate monopoly which designs their experience profit off people’s frustration.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.
Get Experience I remember being at university and wondering if I’d ever succeed in the “real world” once I graduated. I was so nervous no one would hire me that I signed up for every available internship and volunteer opportunity I could, while I was studying. It helped me make stupid mistakes without getting fired (unpaid internships mean you probably won’t get fired, but you may get demoted to just getting coffee) and I learned out how to be useful at a company when they may not know what to instruct you to do and it helps you get a thick skin, fast. I work with startups now, and all my internship experience was great practice for putting in long hours and problem solving.
Use your existing network, or create a new one Working on a startup like Sweet Pea, talking to your friends and networks, it’s surprising and gratifying to learn how many people really want us to succeed. They’ve connected me with people who have helped us solve problems, and reach new audiences. Sally - Ask ‘stupid’ questions. Often, we’ll have a meeting and something will come up and I may not understand the reference.
I’ve trained myself to actually speak up and ask more, because I’ve realised I’m usually not the only one who doesn’t understand. In the beginning when I was working with Sweet Pea’s engineers I just tried to listen and learn, but now I’m asking questions like “how do we solve this?” “who is working on that?” “what’s a better way to do this?”. These can be important in making sure everyone is on the same page.
Apps aren’t easy. I quickly learned that this wasn’t going to be a straightforward process. Once upon a time people download any app they heard of - the app store charts told you what was new and popular. Today, people are picky about what they add to their phone. Reaching someone who has never used a dating app is extremely difficult. People who have used dating apps before typically don’t have a specific one, they have 2 or more. So our battle has been education getting first time app users as well as educating existing ones. 5. Sierra - Build a great team around you.
One of the things Michael had said to me was “in a startup, each person will wear the hat of many roles”. This is absolutely true. We tried to outsource certain things for Sweet Pea, but we’ve learned that no one is going to work harder for your in-house team. Which means the team are not just focusing on their specific role, but many different parts of the company, which has been a great learning experience.
Published by Asheer Raza