Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. I do it for an audience of real entrepreneurs.
Today’s guest, actually, I feel she’s a real entrepreneur and always has been, but for a while she was a reporter. She was a reporter who found herself at some point in her life wanting to make friends. She didn’t know how to do it. So she did something that was kind of, sort of against Tinder’s rules and she used Tinder’s app to do it. That turned into a business that we’re here to talk about today. The business is called GirlCrew. The founder is Pamela Newenham. GirlCrew is platform for women to make new friends.
This interview is sponsored by two companies you probably are so tired of hearing me talk about because I talk about them all the time, but it works, so they keep buying new ads. The first will host your website right. It’s called HostGator. The second will help you hire your next phenomenal developer. Oh, Pamela, if you only had this company back when you were hiring your first developers. The developer hiring platform is called Toptal. I’ll tell you about both of those later. First, Pamela, welcome.
Pamela: Thank you for having me on. It’s great to be here.
Andrew: You’re a reporter, so you know that I would ask this. Revenue, how much is GirlCrew producing?
Pamela: Not enough. We would definitely like a lot more. We make revenues right now from advertising, events, partnerships and premium subscriptions. However, right now, we are concentrating on membership growth. So while we’ve tested lots of revenue streams and we are running them in the background, we are focused on getting more members right now.
Andrew: So, when you say not enough, how much are we talking about? Are we talking about $100,000, $500,000?
Pamela: No. We’re talking about less than $100,000.
Andrew: Less than $100,000 a year or since the beginning?
Andrew: Oh, wow, since the beginning? How many members do you have?
Pamela: We have more than 100,000 members, and we are across more than 50 cities around the world, from Dublin to London, Vancouver to Sydney, Toronto, Melbourne, New York, Boston, L.A., you name it. We’re in lots of places. We have concentrated on English-speaking cities to start with, so mainly Canada, America, Australia, UK and Ireland.
Andrew: So how are you supporting yourself?
Pamela: We have raised almost $1 million in investment. We were very lucky to get some excellent investors on board. We have the LinkedIn Executive, Jeff Weiner. He’s one of our investors, so is the Chief Marketing Officer at Wrigley, Orla Mitchell, Director of Data at Reddit, Joe Gallagher, the CEO of PCH, Liam Casey, lots of excellent investors. They have a lot of experience in building global networks. They have scaled huge companies and networks around the world, be it Reddit or LinkedIn. We hope they can help us do the same.
Andrew: You know, Pamela, you’re really good at getting in front of hanging out with impressive people. What’s the thing you did with Mark Zuckerberg and how’d you get to do that?
Pamela: We were invited by Facebook to celebrate their 12th birthday with them, which was excellent. We got to meet Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg. There was a really small group of us there, I think around 25 people. So that was really exciting. We got a tour of Facebook headquarters. Then we got to meet with them and talk to them about our community and what we were doing.
It was really exciting because it was all unexpected. They contacted us because they wanted to feature us on Facebook Stories. They flew a team over to Ireland to go to various GirlCrew events and make a little video, which they put up on Facebook Stories. The next thing we knew, they were inviting us over and we got to meet them.
Andrew: The reason that they liked you and wanted to have you come over is that you created a community on the Facebook platform. Your whole business started as a set of groups on Facebook. Is that right?
Pamela: Yes. So we built a company without having our own platform to begin with. It was all purely accidental, and it just kept growing. We started initially on Tinder. It was my cofounder Elva Carri.
Andrew: You know what? Let’s go through it in chronological order because I do want to get to that Tinder story. It put a smile on my face when I saw how you did that. Let’s get to know you first. Then I want to know how you came up with this idea, how you went from being a journalist to being an entrepreneur. I know you’ve wanted to do this for a long time.
What I like about you and the reason that I wanted to have you on here is when we asked you in the pre-interview, “How did you get your users?” you didn’t just say, “It’s a great product and when you create a great product that people need, people show up.” That’s not the way it works and you got really clear about what you did and how things worked out for you.
So let’s just go back and get to know you a little bit. A statement that stood out in my producer’s notes about you is when you had a conversation with our producer, you said, “As a kid, I was always entrepreneurial. I was money mad.” What does it mean that you were money mad?
Pamela: That is very true. I wanted money all the time so I could buy whatever I wanted. If I was on a holiday with my family and I saw a giant blow-up crocodile or blow-up dolphin, I could buy both of them and I could be bouncing around in the swimming pool with my two giant floatables. If I wanted to go to an aquarium on holidays, my parents might say, “Oh, it’s too much money,” I’d be like, “I can pay for that. I have the money.” Anything I saw in the shop I wanted I could get.
It used to be the case when I was a kid, my mom would only let us get a treat on a Friday. If we wanted a chocolate bar, we could only get it on a Friday. So I’d start getting really interested and we’d go to the shop and she’d be like, “Oh, I don’t have any money. You have to wait until Friday.” My dad would be the same. I quickly learned I needed my own money if I wanted to get whatever I want. So I started coming up with lots of various business ideas so I could get money.
Andrew: For example?
Pamela: I would go to the country market where I lived. It was on every Friday. I used to make biscuits, cakes, and jams. My Gran taught me how to make them all, and I used to sell them at the country market. I also used to go and buy boxes of chocolates and go around to all of our neighbors and sell raffle tickets to win the box of chocolates, but I would sell more way more tickets than the box of chocolates cost. So I’d make money that way. I would also go around doing bob-a-job, where I would ask them for money and do jobs for them, be it cut their grass, polishing or cleaning.
Andrew: You had the guts to go to strangers and say, “Can I cut your grass today?”
Andrew: You didn’t have to stand outside their places, work up the energy and say, “You can do this, Pamela. You can do this.” You just go in and did it.
Pamela: No. I would always just go in and do it.
Andrew: Why? Where would you get the courage to do that and not be afraid that your friends would see you, that you would embarrass yourself, that this is not what’s done?
Pamela: Well, sometimes it was a little bit hard in that they might say, “No, I don’t have any jobs for you.” I would have to be like, “Okay, well, if you think of any, I’ll come by in a few days.” There were no mobile phones back then. There were no cellphones. It wasn’t as if I could have said, “Call me.” We had a landline, but I didn’t really want them ringing the landline of my parents’ home. So I would just have to suck it up and continue on. But most of the time it worked.
Probably the best thing I ever did with my sister and my cousin, my dad had a farm next to the golf course, and he had a very tall maze in the farm and corn and wheat and barley. The golfers were always hitting their golf balls over, but then they couldn’t find it. It was all so tall, so they couldn’t find any of their golf balls.
We would walk behind the combine harvester when everything was cut, and we’d collect all the golf balls and sell them back to the golfers. One day, this one golfer was really irate. He recognized these really expensive golf balls and he was like, “These are definitely my golf balls. I want to take them back.” We were having none of it. We were like, “Nope, you have to pay for them this much money.” it was really good.
I remember one particular day this golfer basically took 50 golf balls to him because we hadn’t realized how expensive golf balls were, so initially we were kind of underpriced. He took 50 golf balls, and he was like thrilled with himself. So, afterwards, we were like, “Ooh, we’d better up our prices.”
Andrew: I’m on The Irish Times website where I see posts that you wrote for your diary, “Family Values Drive Growth of Six Ireland Car Rental Businesses,” “32 Small Businesses Compete for National Enterprise Awards.” This is you writing this. How does somebody who wanted to be an entrepreneur so badly that she would go and get golf balls and sell them back to the owners become a journalist instead of an entrepreneur?
Pamela: Well, it all boils down to a movie starring Reese Witherspoon called “Legally Blonde.” I saw that when I was in high school and decided I was going to become a lawyer. I wanted to be exactly like Reese Witherspoon in “Legally Blonde.” I had really blonde hair at the time. I loved wearing colorful clothing, and I was very matchy-matchy, like all my outfits matched all the time. I went to university and I studied law at university both in Ireland and in the United States.
While at university, I fell into journalism. I got very involved in the student newspaper and I became their chief news reporter. Then I got involved in the student radio station and I had my own show. Then I set up Ireland’s first ever student television station. I recruited people from all over the university to take part in the television station, got it up and running. Actually, it’s still running to this day.
I just developed a passion for journalism, and I really wanted to work for a national newspaper. I applied to The Irish Times for an internship. It was weeks before I heard anything. Eventually, I got an interview. It became very clear that they didn’t do internships. They hadn’t taken on an intern in over 10 years.
They tended to only recruit people who had years and years’ experience in journalism. I begged them. I said, “Please, I really, really, really want to be a journalist.” I told them I had written more than 96 articles for the university newspaper. A lot of those articles would have been applicable to the national press. Some of them were even picked up by the national press.
They expressed major concerns that I was running a TV station where I had 150 people under me and how I would cope with being the bottom of the bottom in The Irish Times, like the lowest ranking journalist, having been the top of a TV station with 100 people under me, but I assured them I would survive. So they gave me an internship.
Very early on in the internship, I realized I was getting terrible stories. They were assigning me things they were never going to publish. It was basically, “Oh, we’ll just send her to this just to keep her distracted and busy, but we’re never going to write an article on it.” That really annoyed me. I remember once they sent me to a book launch and a few other journalists in the newspaper had said to me, “Oh, you may as well have fun at that because they don’t publish stories on book launches. That’s not national newspaper unless it was some humungous book.”
Andrew: You did something really gutsy to change the course of your career there. Talk about what that is.
Pamela: Is it leaving the newspaper? Yes. I was working as a legal correspondent for years, and I decided I really wanted to become a business journalist. I wanted to write all about startups, entrepreneurship, technology. I begged The Irish Times to let me change sections. They wouldn’t let me. They wanted me to continue to be down at the courts, reporting from the courts, and I handed in my notice. I left The Irish Times.
It was actually a very sad day because I’d been there a good few years. I had really good friends there. I really didn’t want to leave. It was an excellent salary, but I left. I went to another publication. I even got a card from everyone. I arranged a going away party and everything, but eventually I came back a week later and became a business journalist with The Irish Times a week later. That was a bit awkward.
Andrew: So you left. You said, “I’m leaving under protest. You guys are not taking me seriously. I’m out of here.” You got everyone to send you going away cards. Did you just walk back in a week later and say, “Actually, you should give me another job”?
Pamela: Well, no. A week later on the phone to me, they said I could move. I don’t think they really thought I was actually going to leave. When I did leave, I think then they realized actually they need me.
Andrew: I see. Once you left, they felt like you were more valuable than they realized and they called you back and they gave you the job that you wanted. Wow. All right. That makes sense.
Pamela: That was kind of awkward on the first day because people would say to me, “What are you doing here? I thought you left.” I was like, “I’m back.”
Andrew: All right. Nice protest.
Pamela: Then I carved out a niche for myself then in technology startups, entrepreneurship. I wanted to write about really positive things. I had been writing about a lot of negative stuff. That’s why I wanted to leave. I’d been in the courts every day. I was writing about murder cases or repossessions cases, bankruptcy cases, people losing their homes, their businesses, you name it. It was really negative the whole time. That’s why I really didn’t like it and didn’t want to do it anymore.
So I was determined, being a business journalist, I didn’t want to be caught up writing about the global financial crisis and other negative stuff like that, the banks collapsing, properties going bust. So I carved out a niche for myself in technology, innovation, entrepreneurship, and learned a lot interviewing lots of CEOs and writing about startups.
Andrew: And you knew that you wanted to be an entrepreneur. In fact, it seems like you were talking to them about how you could do it too.
Pamela: Yeah. So I was learning the whole time I was interviewing them. I was asking them always where did they go wrong, what mistakes did they make, what would they do differently, how they raised money, how they were hiring, what kind of investment terms. Everything and anything I could learn, I was trying to garner as much information as I possibly could.
Andrew: Pamela, this wasn’t necessarily for the articles. I don’t see this stuff in your articles. It’s for you to learn also about entrepreneurship and business because you felt like you wanted to do this. In fact, you would have . . . correct me if I’m wrong.
Pamela: No, you are wrong. It is in my articles. I’d say you just haven’t gone back far enough. There were several years there, in 2014, I won Technology Journalist of the Year and I brought out a book all about it and I’d interviewed a huge amount of companies and startups and I’d written a lot of pieces about how to set up a company, how to hire people for a startup, how you should structure your startup.
Andrew: That’s not showing up for me. I’m glad that you corrected me. That’s not showing up for me when I go back. In fact, when I hit the more articles on your profile page, it just sends me into a big search instead of showing more of your articles.
Andrew: I’m starting to see a little bit. The more I hunt in here, the more I see some of your other work. You’ve really published a lot there.
Pamela: Their search isn’t the best.
Andrew: One of your ideas was some kind of onesie. What was the onesie idea that you had?
Pamela: Oh yeah, onesies for your pets. So, at the time, onesies weren’t even fashionable. Actually, after I had that idea, onesies became really fashionable. But when I was a kid, obviously, lots of babies and kids wore onesies, and I thought it would be hilarious to have doggie onesies or onesies for your pet. So that was one business idea I had. I kept coming up with different business ideas, and I would go talk to very senior business people, entrepreneurs, company founders, people with exits and tell them about my various ideas, but they always told me they were terrible.
Andrew: And then somebody gave you advice—instead of you coming up with ideas, here’s a better way for you to start your business. What was a better way?
Pamela: They said I’m excellent at executing things and I have a lot of experience in executing things, so I should find someone else who has an idea and help them execute it, help them turn their idea into a business.
Andrew: And that . . . actually, that’s not what you ended up doing, though, is it?
Pamela: That is exactly what I did.
Andrew: You did?
Andrew: All right. Let’s talk a break here. I’m going to talk about my first sponsor, then I’m going to come back to this Tinder hack immediately, and then we’ll talk about this Tinder hack and the way you came up with your idea.
You were saying something that I think fits in really nicely with my sponsor, HostGator. You said for a long time, you basically just had a plain website. You might not have even had a developed, deep, rich website until what, a year or two ago?
Andrew: Because you were mostly published on Facebook. Then you have the app where most of the action happens, but you also have a website.
I think for a lot of people, we’re discovering that you don’t need a website to do a lot of things. You can publish on Medium. You can publish on Facebook. You can publish on Instagram. You can build your community on Facebook groups or frankly on Slack, etc. But we still need a website to let people know who search for us how to find all those things and, frankly, to also own a piece of our business that’s not dependent on Facebook allowing us to do this or that or Medium adding claps or removing claps or adding a title bar that we don’t like or whatever.
We want a page that lets people know where to go and also is fully in our control. That’s why when many people go to HostGator and just use the one-click install to install WordPress. WordPress is an easy way to publish any content online, lots of themes so you can make it look exactly as you want. If you go to HostGator.com/Mixergy, you’re going to get a super low price for all this. Whatever your idea is, bring it to HostGator, and if you don’t like your hosting company, bring that to HostGator too.
We signed up for it at Bot Academy, my second business, the one that I’ve been pursuing as a side project. We started out with an inexpensive plan, and then as we grew it up and grew it up, I kept calling up HostGator and saying, “Do you have a better plan? Do you have one that will accommodate more traffic, one that will allow us to speed up our load times?” They did.
They have lots of packages. You can start with the cheap ones and then move on up as your business grows. If you go to HostGator.com/Mixergy, they’ll tag you as a Mixergy person, which gives me credit, frankly, and also allows you to be part of my community. They’ll know to take super good care of you because I have a big freaking mouth and any time any of my listeners have a problem with any sponsor of mine, they know that they can count on me and my team to jump in there and help out.
Go to HostGator.com/Mixergy, start your website right or move yours over. They will make it super easy for you, and if you don’t love them, they even have a 45-day money-back guarantee. But you will, I do. We signed up, I think, for a three-year contract with them because we like them so much. All right. Thank you, HostGator.
The Tinder hack, tell me about that night when you did it. It’s not like a hack in that you broke into their system.
Pamela: It wasn’t me that did it. It was Elva.
Andrew: What happened that day?
Pamela: Elva was at home one Friday night. She is my cofounder.
Andrew: Oh, I see. I thought that was you who did it. It was Elva Friday night. Now I get it.
Andrew: You and Elva met how?
Pamela: We met at a surf [inaudible 00:20:21] for entrepreneurs. There were lots of entrepreneurs on this weekend away, over 200, all surfing, and Elva and I were there, but neither of us were very good at surfing. So we got to know each other chatting around the campfire on the beach at how bad we are at surfing.
Pamela: That’s how we met. We weren’t friends before GirlCrew, and we have our third cofounder, Onya, we weren’t friends with her either. The three of us all came together for business purposes only.
Andrew: Just because you met her at this event, you pinged her, you stayed in touch, and then she had an experience where what was she doing?
Pamela: Yes. So she had already come up with the idea for GirlCrew and done the Tinder hack when I met her.
Andrew: Tell me about the night that she used Tinder. What happened that night? What was the problem she was facing?
Pamela: She really wanted to go out one Friday night. There was a club night on, and she really wanted to go to it. All of her friends were busy. She texted, messaged everyone, and they were either working late, doing stuff with their boyfriends, or they were abroad or they were doing things with their family. No one was free. She was very frustrated by this. She felt she couldn’t be the only person who has friends but all her friends are busy and no one is available to do stuff with them when they wanted to do it.
Her sister had the idea that she should go on Tinder and see if anyone on Tinder would go on a club night with her. She wanted other women to go on the club night, as in she just wanted friends. She didn’t want to go on a date. So she set up a profile as man so she’d only appear to straight women on the app. She wrote on her profile that she wasn’t actually a man. She was really female and that she was just looking for some platonic dancing buddies to go out with and if anyone was interested, to let her know.
She thought maybe two or three people might get in touch. More than 100 did. It was very complicated trying to message them all individually to arrange plans, so she set up a secret Facebook group, added them all into it, and that’s how GirlCrew started. In fact, she had stepped away from her computer to just do some jobs around the house. When she came back, they had already planned the night out.
Andrew: Anyone who responded she added to the Facebook group, and then they just started chatting and they planned a night out?
Andrew: And it was how many people, 100?
Pamela: More than 100.
Andrew: More than 100 people who did this. Then they went out. Was it weird to have over 100 people all out together?
Pamela: Not that many ultimately went out. I think, as you probably know, often with events, lots of people say they’re going, but not everyone will go. So there was a much smaller group that went out ultimately when they did that.
Andrew: I remember when I moved to L.A., I would just post, “I want to go hang out. Who wants to hang out?” I would even do it on Craigslist to get a complete blind response. For people who would join me who aren’t as social and extroverted as I am, it was a little weird and awkward at first. For me, it was fine. I just move them along and we’d keep moving. Was it awkward for her? Was it awkward for the people who showed up?
Pamela: Initially, because you’re kind of like, “Hi, what do you do? How are you? What’s your name?” As it would be with any time you meet someone for a date or at a networking event, there is [inaudible 00:23:56], but you quickly get over it. Everyone was in the exact same boat. [inaudible 00:24:02] for everyone, it was their first time meeting someone. No one had an advantage, and that made it much easier. That’s actually one of the reasons why GirlCrew works very well. At all of our events when everyone goes and they are a bit nervous, everyone else is in the same boat.
Andrew: So everyone went out, had a positive experience. What’s the next evolution of this that led to GirlCrew the business?
Pamela: They continued growing. People started telling other people about this little secret Facebook group, where chat is happening, where events are happening. So more and more people started getting added to the group, and it started growing. Elva left that little profile on Tinder as well. So a lot of people who were joining were either from Tinder, so they were single, or their friends had added them in. The vast majority of people were single.
One day, someone had the idea that they should all change their profiles on Tinder to have the exact same profile, just for some fun, so when the men went on Tinder, every single profile would be the same. At this stage in Ireland, Tinder wasn’t massive. So it wasn’t as if loads of people were on it.
One girl had the idea that they should all change their profile to be that of the former President of Ireland, who is a woman, Mary Robinson. So they did that. They all put their photo, Mary Robinson as their profile photo, and they had their little bio, which was like former President of Ireland, all of that. When people messaged them, they talked back to them as if they were the former President of Ireland. Very quickly, men started ringing in to radio stations, started contacting online forums and news websites wondering why all the women on Tinder are Mary Robinson.
Pamela: There was a lot of discussion about it, and eventually it came out that was . . . it wasn’t called GirlCrew at the time, but that was what would become GirlCrew.
Andrew: What was it called at the time?
Pamela: Tinder Crew.
Andrew: Okay. So it just kind of came out that these women on Tinder Crew were having so much fun, partially at men’s expense, and then that drew a bigger crew of people to come and check out what is this Tinder Crew thing, a crowd of women.
Pamela: Yeah. It was actually around that the name changed to GirlCrew as well. So it was maybe the earlier news articles were Tinder Crew, but then it became GirlCrew in the later news articles, because some people didn’t want to tell people they were in this Tinder Crew, especially as it was getting media coverage, so the name got changed to GirlCrew.
There was a lot of national media coverage in newspapers, radio stations. After that, people started making contact from all over Ireland wanting GirlCrew groups in their city. Even people moving abroad, if they were Irish people moving to Sydney or London, they were wondering could GirlCrew be set up in their city, because they would say, “I’m moving to New York. I don’t know anyone there. Can you set up a GirlCrew there so I can have friends find it?”
Andrew: How many people would you’d say you need in a city for this to work out?
Pamela: It depends on the size of the city, but smaller cities can manage perfectly with a few hundred, and it does really well. Dublin, which has a population of 1.5 million, it took us to get to 2,000 members in Dublin for it to become really buzzy.
Andrew: And it was every group had to have its own Facebook group of people who were talking. So you were going to say something. I’ve got a follow-up question, but I want to let you finish if there was something more you wanted to say.
Pamela: I was only saying that 2,000 for Dublin was when it got really buzzy, but other groups, it got really buzzy after 200 people. It just depended on the size of the city, but it goes the other way as well. Ultimately, we got over 20,000 members in Dublin. So that was nearly too buzzy at times.
Andrew: The thing that I’m wondering is it’s hard enough to manage one Facebook group for one business to keep people talking, because if they don’t talk, then it becomes kind of dead and then Facebook doesn’t show it, but also people who show up on their own don’t see anything happening and everyone gives up on it, Facebook, the people who are in there and then the company that runs it. Frankly, I’ve had that happen to me. How do you then manage that many groups on Facebook and keep people engaged?
Pamela: We couldn’t. That’s why we had to come up with our own app. We had more than 50 groups in the world. Lots of groups had over 10,000 members. It was chaotic. We were getting hundreds of requests every single day to join the groups. We were obviously having to verify all the people before we could approve their request, and then we were also trying to maintain all the groups to make sure there was no bullying or horrible comments said or just even like [inaudible 00:29:26] news or anything like that.
We were having to monitor them all. It was proving extremely difficult to maintain more than 50 groups around the world. Also, we had issues with Facebook algorithms that when more than 500 people were in a group, you could no longer invite everyone to an event, which really upset lots of members because, for example, they might have gotten invited to the monthly book club every month and then the second it got over 500 members, they didn’t get invited to it anymore. They’d be wondering how come they don’t get invited anymore.
Even worse, they might have just invited a work colleague or a friend new to the city to join that group and, for some reason, that person would get invited and they wouldn’t. So they’d be very upset. So we realized we were going to have to move away from Facebook and create our own platform where it would be easier to manage them all in one area and that we wouldn’t have issues.
Andrew: You know, one of the things that I noticed as I was looking at your notes is how many times you refer to your cofounder as a girl and other people girls and I said, “Wait, this is wrong. We have to edit it. What’s wrong with my producer? We’re not calling women girls here.” I realized of course she is, it’s part of the name. So then that makes me wonder about the name. I know you guys at one point said GirlCrew, which was suggested by one of your members, maybe sounds a little bit too young. You considered LadyCrew. You decided not to do that, why not?
Pamela: It sounded too old.
Andrew: So you just said let’s embrace this thing that sounds fun and youthful, and we’ll accept it. It in some ways could have some pejorative connotations, but not in our world.
Pamela: The odd time some people ask us is it for like young children, like girls, but most people in their 20s, 30s would refer to their female friends as girls, like, “Hey, girls. What are you all up to girls?”
Andrew: You know what? I find that too. The only time that it feels weird is in business, when I see that there are some people who refer to the women they work with as girls, like, “Here’s the girl who does this.” In that case, it doesn’t sound right. So I get a sense of this thing and you say, “We need to create our own app.” Still, that became a problem. Who did you go to, to build your first app?
Pamela: We initially outsourced the development of our app, and that was really a big mistake, because we had no technical advisor, and no one on the founding team was a technical [inaudible 00:31:57].
Andrew: So you just went to some outsourced dev shop and you said, “We’re giving you money, build it for us.”
Pamela: Yes. We spec’d everything out, made it very clear what we wanted. But we can’t code and we didn’t know what good code looks like. So if they showed us a bit of code and would say, “This is what your thing looks like at the back end, and it’s going to be brilliant,” we were like, “Okay.” We knew no better. Very quickly, problems arose because we were supposed to have an app delivered and done in April of 2016, and we had told everyone we had an app coming out, our whole community. Our community had helped us even raise some investment money to get this app out. Our community had paid for us to fly to Silicon Valley to meet investors.
Pamela: All three of us. So we were feeling very embarrassed at this stage. They had helped us go there. They had given us the money to do that. We’d got the investment. We told them the app was coming out, and next thing there was no app ready and, in fact, it was nowhere near ready. Then we were told May, then we were told June, and then next thing, we discovered actually hardly any coding had been done at all, and it was all a big disaster. We learned that we were going to have to bring development in-house, and we were going to have to hire our own developers.
The problem with that is, because none of us know how to code or program, how were we going to interview these developers? They could tell us they were brilliant developers, but we wouldn’t know no better. How would we know if they were good or not? So we had to find a technical advisor, bring them on board, and then they could interview the developers, and we needed someone with a lot of experience with developing things and had some experience with developing social networks and likes so they could interview the developers for us.
Andrew: And that worked out?
Andrew: The outside person would interview the developers, tell you who the right people were. You then hired the people internally, they built out your software for you.
Andrew: How much money did you waste going the wrong way?
Pamela: More than €25,000.
Andrew: Wow. £25,000?
Andrew: That’s what I meant to say. That’s a lot of money for a new company. Basically, all the money you had at that point.
Pamela: Yes. We were all still in our jobs at that point. We hadn’t gone full-time in GirlCrew, and we were basically putting money from our jobs and various events and advertising things that we did towards this. So we lost all of our money.
Andrew: Speaking of money, let’s talk about revenue then. That’s super painful. I can’t get to use the app because you guys won’t let me because I’m a man. I realized later on I have a fake Facebook account that is a female, Asian female, which means that I get into a lot of stuff. For some reason, the bias works very favorably if you’re an Asian female if you’re trying to get into Facebook groups.
What you guys do is you screen out the people who come in. I use my real account. That meant that you guys were seeing that I’m a man, and you wouldn’t let me join in. What I saw those screenshots, it was pretty impressive of how your app is now. What I’m curious about is the revenue that you experimented with. You said that you guys tried advertising. There was something you didn’t like about ads. What was that?
Pamela: Well, all the ads we’ve done, we’ve been happy with. We made a decision that we didn’t ever to run ads that would make our members feel bad. We ourselves didn’t like to go online and see ads that go, “Lose your belly fat,” or, “Get slim quickly. Take these diet pills.” We were forever being bombarded with ads that made us feel bad about ourselves. We decided, as a company, we did not want to have any ads like that. Not only that, we wanted to have ads that would benefit our members.
When a company would approach us and say, “Can we run some ads?” we would say, “[inaudible 00:36:23] company that our members would be interested in, e.g., are you a makeup brand?” Oh yes, they would be interested in that. Then not only would we charge them to run the ads, but we would make them give our members a discount. We wanted the ads to benefit the members so when they saw it, it wouldn’t be so annoying. They’d be like, “Ooh, I can get 25% off here. This is not bad.”
Andrew: That doesn’t scale, really, when you need a lot of ads, but it does work really well at your scale. So you were able to generate some revenue from ads. You have to do it all yourself. Do you guys have an in-house ad person?
Andrew: That’s you.
Pamela: Yes, all of us, the team. We have a team of people.
Andrew: Everyone on the team. You also do events. How does events fit in with revenue?
Pamela: We charge for tickets for the event, but we also have some partners, such as Microsoft and Dell EMC, PayPal, various other partners that we’ve worked with. They give us money as well towards the event and towards being basically our partners. It’s effectively like sponsorship, but it’s on a year level.
Andrew: Why would Microsoft support you? I’m looking at the app in the description here. It’s saying, “Meet new friends.” Why would Microsoft care to help women make friends? What does that have to do with the tech company?
Pamela: Well, I think Microsoft are always trying to hire more women. So they would have access to women, because they come along to our events. We’ve had the head of Microsoft speak at our events, the head of Microsoft in Ireland. Actually, she’s speaking at one of our events coming up in May as well. They can come along to our events and meet lots of women who potentially they could hire. But they also want to be seen to support women in their careers and be backing women to get ahead and do well in their careers. So that’s why they want to be partners with them.
Andrew: Okay. So events. I can see that would scale if you eventually do some bigger events that people can come to, maybe like the surfing event that you went to from, what was it, Web Summit?
Andrew: Then the final thing that you guys tried was premium memberships. What do people get for premium memberships and how did that work out?
Pamela: It’s still going. We have premium memberships up and running, and it’s going very well. We organize four events per month, so one per week. We kind of sell it as we organize the events so you don’t have to. On the app, for all the free versions, all the members have to organize the events themselves, but in the premium version, we organize them.
So, every week, they will know there’s either a brunch on or a night out, a cinema trip, kayaking, a hike, you name it, and they know all the events four weeks in advance so they can see the calendar for the month ahead, know all the events coming up, and they also get lots of discounts. A lot of companies definitely want to get to know our premium members. They will offer very good things, be it like free drinks and food at a bar or restaurant, and that makes it very interesting.
Andrew: And so do people . . . they pay to be premium members to find out about the events and in some cases, they pay for the events too?
Pamela: They do, yeah.
Andrew: Okay. Yeah, you know what? When I was in New York and decided I was going to explore the social side of my life, I would find these small organizations that would do that. They would just take you outside of the city and go horseback riding or go to a winery or something, and inevitably these things would break up when the founder would find somebody, get in a relationship and just be in that relationship. Even if they didn’t get married, if they were serious, they just had no time for it because they couldn’t find a way for it to make money.
If it’s not going to make money and they found their relationship, what else do they need from it and they move on. I always thought somebody could do this on a bigger scale, and it sounds like you’re doing it. Do you find that happens with the participants, that when they’re in a relationship, they don’t need this anymore, whether it’s a relationship that’s a romantic relationship or they find a few friends locally that they signed up to meet and now they don’t have time to meet new people?
Pamela: Funnily, we do. But it’s not they don’t need the events anymore, but they still need the online chat. So, on our platform, people spend a lot of time chatting, looking for tips, recommendations, advice. They might say, “Hi, everyone, my parents are coming to visit. I need to bring them to a restaurant, but I don’t want anywhere too expensive. Where should I bring them?” Or they might say, “Has anyone ever used this website? Is it any good? Can I trust it?” They might say, “I’ve been dating a guy for two years and he’s gone abroad on a work trip for three weeks and I haven’t heard from him. Should I be worried?”
Andrew: Yes, you should.
Pamela: They ask [various 00:41:25] questions.
Andrew: I want to say yes. How do I answer that? Get me in the group. I will answer it. All right. Let me take a break to talk about my second sponsor, and then I want to come back and say there was something else you guys tried that didn’t work out. I read about it online. It wasn’t in my notes, but I want to bring it up here to you.
First, man, you probably need to know about this. There’s a company called Toptal where anyone can hire phenomenal developers. I’ve said this for so long that someone in my audience, a guy named Derek Johnson listened and said, “Do you know what? I know this guy, Andrew. I’ve seen him in person. He’s a good guy. Let’s try it.”
So he didn’t actually make the call himself. He asked his CTO, small organization, so he said, “Hey look, CTO, you go make this call.” The CTO called in to Toptal and said, “We’re having trouble. We’ve talked to 20 to 30 people. It’s a long process. We can’t find the right person to hire to be on our development team. What have you got?” I’m so skeptical, I think I send my audience into the world being skeptical, like, “What have you got?” So, “What have you got?”
They talk to the CTO. They understood what was going on at the company. They understood how the company worked and they said, “All right, we’ve got a couple of people for you to talk to.” Just 2, not 20 to 30 people, but, “We understand what you’re looking for. We’re matchmakers here in this space. We’ve been doing this for thousands and thousands and thousands of people. We’ll get you two people. We understand what you’re looking for. We do this well.”
So they introduced the CTO to two people. The CTO interviewed them, grilled them, understood who they were, hired one of the two, but basically said either one would be fine, hired the one and then came back to Derek Johnson and said, “You know what, Derek, this guy is so good he could be the CTO of our company.” The company name is Tatango. Derek contacted me. We talked and he said, “This Toptal is so phenomenal. We’re going to continue to hire from them.”
If anyone out there is listening to me, just like Derek was, and you’ve heard me say this and haven’t taken action, don’t wait to be in Derek’s situation where you’re talking to 20 or 30 people who are not the right fit. Just make a call to Toptal. There’s no obligation. You follow this URL that I’m about to give you. They’ll know you come from me. They’ll get on a call with you. They’ll understand your needs. Pamela, you and your team should do this too. They’ll set you up with two, maybe three people who would be the perfect fit. Don’t take it on faith. Have a conversation with them, go through, grill them, and if they’re the right fit, you can often start within days.
Here’s the URL. Pamela, you’re going to want to write this down after this interview is done because you’re going to get 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours, and that’s in addition to a no-risk trial period of up to two weeks. They want you to be 100% satisfied. When you hire people, there is no way to be 100% satisfied. Toptal found a way to make that happen.
Here’s the URL. It’s top as in top of your head, tal as in talent. That’s Toptal.com/Mixergy, not Mix Energy, people, Mixergy.
You know, Pamela, I put out an application to . . . I’m trying to find somebody who can be our VP of Operations. I went to Toptal. I said, “I’ve hired from you guys a lot. Will you do this?” They said, “No, we can’t do it.” They helped me put together a job listing for it. I put it out.
This one woman said, “I would love to work for Mix Energy because . . .” and then she wrote why. Then she said, “One potential guest could be Tim Ferris,” and she wrote Tim Ferriss with one S. I just stopped reading. I messaged her back and said, “You’re excluded, and because I would want feedback, I’m going to give you feedback. It’s not Mix Energy. Look at the top of the application form, it’s Mixergy. Just spend a second. It’s not Tim Ferris with one S, it’s Tim Ferriss with two S’s.” I didn’t say it like that. I said, “I’d want to know. I think this job actually can use a little more detail than you might have put into this application. I’m sorry.” But boy, that’s frustrating.
All right. What was it called? You did some kind of Wingman, Wing Crew, what was it called?
Pamela: It was called Wingman.
Andrew: So you put it out there. How did you put it out there, this Wingman thing?
Pamela: On Facebook. So this was when we had the Facebook groups and we were only on the Facebook groups, we had no app at this stage. We had been on various radio stations and various other things, and men had all said they would like a guy crew, basically. They would like to meet guys, especially if they moved to a new city, they would want to have guys to do things with or even in their own city, they might have drifted apart from some of their friends, maybe their friends were settling down, having kids and stuff and they weren’t.
We decided we would set this up. It didn’t work. It failed. We discovered that guys don’t like chatting online in the same way that women do. Women will chat about anything, guys won’t. Guys like talking in places where there’s specific topics, like soccer or rugby, that kind of stuff. They don’t like having general chats about anything.
Pamela: They also didn’t want to go meet like five strange men in a bar for a night out, whereas women would have no problem with that.
Andrew: I would love it. I don’t know that I’d want to five, maybe like one or two, and then go out and meet women, not that I need that now, I’m in a relationship. That totally makes sense. I’ve got to say I don’t know if I’d introduce it as a failure, but in my mind, that actually is a really interesting way to launch. There was no website, no app, no involved process. You just say, “We’re hearing people say they want this, let’s put it out there and see the feedback.” If you would have gotten any positive feedback that sent you in a promising direction, you could have explored it. Since you didn’t, you didn’t lose anything other than creating a Facebook group.
Andrew: I do think that there’s room for something like this for men, and I think you were right to find a niche. What I’ve found that works similar to you for men is the Nomad apps, Digital Nomad communities that are essentially for men, even though they come across as just for any kind of nomad. What they’re trying to say is say you’re a guy, you don’t know anyone, you’re not going to say I don’t know anyone. You’re going to have a hard time meeting people. We’ll help you meet people.
Pamela: We found it works when there’s a mixed group. So, in Dublin, we have one group that’s called GirlCrew Dublin: Guys and Girls. It’s the most ridiculous name ever, but we weren’t bothered about the name. That has over 10,000 people in it and has lots of men and lots of women, and they have no problem chatting online or going to events when there’s women, but they did when it was just men.
Andrew: Do you think . . .
Pamela: [inaudible 00:48:01]
Andrew: Oh, I see it, GirlCrew Dublin: Guys and Girls. I see it, 10,000 members, nine posts a day on average in that group.
Pamela: We didn’t expand it to any other cities because we didn’t want it to take from our original focus of being a platform for women to make new friends. Also, we thought at times it’s like leaning towards the dating element, which was hard to always combat. Like at events, people were going because they wanted to meet a potential partner, and we didn’t want to become a potential dating platform. We just left it in Dublin and never expanded it to any other city.
Andrew: It is a really interesting way to experiment, just Facebook groups as a way of seeing if people care about this. You have all the tools that you need for people to communicate, but not enough that it becomes a business on its own. So you’re forced to figure out where the breaking points are and then create an app that does it. The breaking points for you were invitations, people were losing out on that. Messaging, that I know becomes an issue when you’re in Facebook. What else? What was another pressing issue that you saw in the Facebook group that led you to create the app?
Pamela: The fact that there was no central reporting system. So, for example, we had so many groups all over the world, and if someone reported someone in one, there was no one area where we could see all of the people reported. Sometimes someone might get in trouble with one group and one of us would have dealt with it, but that same person could be getting in trouble with another group. If we had one central area, we could have seen that very easily.
Andrew: That makes sense.
Pamela: We don’t allow anyone to post any ads. We don’t want the groups to be spammed with ads. So no one is allowed to advertise at all, especially like multi-level marketing or anything like that. We didn’t want people to be posting things like that. What would happen is someone might post it in one group, they would get banned from that group, then they’d be doing it in another group.
Andrew: I thought you meant with reporting that Facebook doesn’t give you any data. They give you a little bit of data on the groups, but not enough. You want to know who’s super active, who’s not. You want to know what’s working and what’s not. They’re getting better at giving you that data, but I’m finding that it’s still not enough. What I miss is in the old days of WordPress Groups, where you could add plugins, there would be plugins where you could give people awards for doing certain things, like the person who got the most likes on his comments would get an award.
You could create leaderboards so that whatever action you’re encouraging people to take, there is a leaderboard of people who have taken it the most and encourage everybody to both appreciate the people who are on there, but also try to be there. Especially if you wipe it out each month, there’s a shot for everyone to get on that list.
I miss those little homegrown tools. One of the problems with using an off-the-shelf piece of software, like Facebook that’s so restrictive, is you just can’t do that.
Pamela: The funniest bit of feedback we got on our app is someone contacted us saying it’s not like Facebook.
Andrew: Like that’s a problem. You know, since we are talking about the story of how you got to 100,000 members, let’s talk a little bit more about how you got members. You said it was Tinder, then you did that whole Tinder thing where you guys all pretended to be what was her name?
Pamela: Mary Robinson.
Andrew: That helped you guys get a lot of promotion. When somebody leaves a city, you encourage them and enable them to create a new group in whatever city they’re in, so that helps a lot. It feels like when somebody — correct me if I’m wrong with this — when someone uses your app, there’s an incentive to get one or two friends of theirs to come in there too. Am I wrong about that?
Pamela: No. There’s no incentive, but we would . . .
Andrew: Not that you actively incentivize them, but it feels warmer if a friend of yours is also trying it with you.
Pamela: Yeah. They feel less shy about going to events for the first time. Word of mouth is massive for us, but a very specific type of word of mouth. I don’t want to be very general and just say word of mouth. What we have found is word of mouth works really well (a) in companies, when someone has started at a company and they’ve moved from another city or another country, the company will often tell them, “You should try GirlCrew to make new friends” or flat mates. People often look for flat mates on GirlCrew or advertise their apartments to find a flat mate on GirlCrew. Often when people move in to a new house from another country or city, their flat mates will tell them, “Oh, have you seen GirlCrew?”
Andrew: Do you work with real estate offices to tell them that they might want to pass the word out about you or with HR representatives?
Pamela: Not on a formal basis, but definitely at any event or any occasion where we would meet someone like that, we would be very conscious about telling them all about GirlCrew and telling them if they have new employees or new tenants going to the country to tell them all about GirlCrew.
Andrew: And then in the app, if someone is coming to an event, is there an invite a friend feature too?
Pamela: No, there isn’t, not yet.
Andrew: Okay. We will build that, but we don’t have that yet. But people can bring a friend and often they will tell. It depends on the event. Some events, they don’t want to tell their friends about. Like we chartered a yacht . . .
Andrew: What’s an event that you don’t want to tell a friend about?
Pamela: Chartering a yacht, because then you want to be able to tell your friends that you went out on this yacht trip with all these other people that they weren’t part of it. But the majority of the events they tell.
Andrew: One thing that struck me, you emailed me personally, I think, to come on. Was that you manually emailing me, or do you have someone on a team?
Andrew: You don’t have people on a team to do this, do you?
Andrew: When you did it, what struck me was you did something that very few people who want to be on podcasts do, which is you said, “Here are a few topic suggestions that I think would work with your audience.” I rejected three of them, but liked one and then we ended up focusing on that one and then I came back and I talked to you about it.
The responses made me understand that you understand my audience. You’re good at it because you were on the other side of the PR machine. You were someone who was trying to sift through this, write articles and so on. It strikes me that that’s partially what makes you guys good as promoters of GirlCrew, that you have that experience. Tell me a little bit about how you use that experience to get so much press for GirlCrew.
Pamela: When I was a journalist, I used to get 400 emails per day on average. I’m sure you can sympathize with that. I wouldn’t open lots of them. Unless it had a really good subject line, I didn’t open the email, or if I did open the email, I wanted to be able to scan really quickly and identify what the possible story was. I didn’t want to have to read like 10 paragraphs. If I had to do that all the time, I would have no time to actually write any articles.
So when we wanted to contact press and send out emails, we were really conscious of having a really brief email, no press release attached and just bullet points of what the potential story would be. The story changed depending on what the publication we were contacting. So if the publication was all about startups, we’d keep it all about creating a startup, planning a startup, the issues. If the publication was all about investment, we would keep it all about that. The lifestyle magazine, we would have beach things. So depending on what the publication was, it was tailored for them.
Andrew: I’m looking at your email now on that computer just to get a sense of what you did. So the subject line was, “Andrew,” and then the brackets people do when they’re introducing to each other, GirlCrew, and so in my head, it just . . .
Pamela: That wasn’t my idea, but it works well.
Andrew: I must have looked at that and said someone introduced me to this company, let’s see who the introduction was. It doesn’t explicitly say, “I’m a friend of yours. I’m introducing you to someone you should know,” but it feels that way.
Pamela: We used to try the subject line one, but it didn’t work as well.
Andrew: What was the other subject line?
Pamela: E.g. we might say exclusive or story or pitch, GirlCrew launches in America or GirlCrew making new friends. We’d try different ones. They didn’t work as well.
Andrew: You say, “Hi, Andrew, I’m Pamela, the co-CEO of GirlCrew, a platform for women.” In a short bit, you tell me what it is, and really short, I hate when people write long. I don’t read long emails. Then, “I’d love to share with your audience any of the following topics.” Then I skim the topics. I thought the Mark Zuckerberg birthday thing was interesting, but too cute for us. The how we got to 100,000 members in 46 countries, that made sense. I like big numbers. So I hit on that and I followed up with you, and then we made this happen.
Now that I’m going through this, it occurs to me that you’re using some software also to see who’s opening up your email and how many people are clicking and who they are. What software are you using for that?
Pamela: I actually don’t know the name of that, because we have a crowd helping us who actually have been on your show.
Andrew: Who is it?
Andrew: BAMF is doing this for you?
Andrew: So they set you up with this and you just have to let it roll.
Pamela: They help us identify always who has opened our emails, because then if they don’t open our emails, we will send a second email, and if they don’t open it again, we will send another email. One thing I definitely have learned from it all and I knew it myself as a journalist, sometimes it would take someone to contact me two or three times before I’d be like, “Oh yes, them.” I’m not afraid of doing that, whereas I think a lot of people are. They would feel like they’re harassing people, and they don’t want to send them more than one email.
Andrew: In some way, frankly it is a little bit of I wouldn’t call it harassment, but it is pushy and it is annoying, but frankly, you have to be pushy and annoying. If you’re not the kid who’s willing to knock on people’s doors and say, “Do you have a job for me?” you’re not going to get a job. If you’re not the kid who’s willing to go pick up the golf balls, you’re not going to be able to make the revenue to go buy the candy and the blow-up things that you want for the pool that your mom won’t get for you.
Andrew: So we’ve learned a lot in this interview. Congratulations on getting to 100,000 members. Congratulations on getting an app that actually works. If anyone out there wants to sign up and they’re a woman, they should go check out . . . it’s GirlCrew.com, right? You actually have the domain?
Pamela: That’s correct.
Andrew: I went back in time to see apparently you guys bought this from someone else asking $1,700 or so. What did you guys pay, do you remember?
Pamela: We paid around that, yeah. I actually think it was more like $1,900, but we paid them what they were asking because we were terrified. At that stage, we had had a good bit of media coverage and we were terrified they would look us up, see that we were taking off and boost up the price big time. So we just contacted them, not from a GirlCrew email address or anything like that, just contacted them and said, “Yeah, we want to buy it. We’ll pay that.”
Andrew: Nice move. It is a good domain, easy to spell, even for someone who’s typo prone like me and easy to remember. So, guys, go check out GirlCrew in the App Store. Frankly, just check out the website. I’m grateful for you for being here.
I also want to talk about, just to close this out, a friend of mine, the first person I ever hired in business, someone who I’ve been friends with going back to high school is working on this pitch competition with $25,000 in prizes. I want to tell anyone out there who’s got a business that’s interested to go check out NYHealthChallenge.com. It’s an entrepreneurial boot camp and pitch competition with $25,000 in prizes for products and services that strengthen the relationship between patients and healthcare providers. They want to strengthen relationships between patients and healthcare providers. So go Check them out at NYHealthChallenge.com or tell your friends about if you guys are interested in.
So many people who I’ve interviewed have started their financial, started raising money, or actually it’s not even raising money, got money for their businesses in the beginning from pitch competitions. This one seems like a good one if you are helping strengthen the relationship between patients and healthcare providers.
And since I’m pitching here, two final messages. HostGator.com/Mixergy and Toptal.com/Mixergy. Pamela, thanks so much for doing this interview.
Pamela: Thank you for having me on.
Andrew: Right on. Bye, everyone.