Clementine Lalande, CEO of Once, on Creating a Feminist Dating App
Clementine Lalande wanted to make a statement.
As a woman in finance, consulting, and tech, Clementine was well-acquainted with learning to succeed in a man’s world. But when she quit consulting to join a dating app company, she learned just how entrenched misogyny can be.
“Online dating is a market designed by men for men, and is governed in a very untransparent way,” said Clementine. “Tinder, for example, is designed to be a chess or tennis tournament where you play against everyone. It’s brutal.”
In 2016, Tinder revealed its “Elo score,” named after the ranking system for chess players. A Tinder analyst shared that a user’s “desirability” score goes up more when someone with a high rating gives them a swipe than when someone with a lower score does. This controls which profiles users see, and turns superficial characteristics like age and appearance into deterministic ranking factors that work against women.
“The algorithm is designed to create matches so that the woman is younger and earns less,” said Clementine. “If you as a woman are educated and likely to earn more than a guy, Tinder estimates your wealth and social position based on your school and job. You are less likely to meet a guy that is similar to you.”
Fed up with a market where who you love and raise children with has been decided by young men held unaccountable in Silicon Valley’s frat bro culture, Clementine struck out on her own. In 2018, she launched Pickable. Described as a feminist dating app, Pickable reverses gender power imbalances by requiring only men to create a profile. Women browse anonymously and send a photo only when they’ve found a profile they like. And unlike other apps, Pickable is built on prioritizing women’s privacy to protect them from stalking.
“I wanted to create an app where women are invisible,” said Clementine. “As a woman, all you need is a phone number. You don’t give me your name, age, picture, nothing at all. You just sign up in the app and go and look at the guys around you. You’re no longer the meat in the supermarket. You’re just looking. That was the concept for Pickable, and it came at a time when there was a big appetite for something different in dating.”
Clementine names launching her own app as one of the scariest moments of her life. In building an app from the ground up, she needed to make significant product and business decisions based on unproven assumptions.
Clementine cites that what helped her through the process was the clarity of her intention, which was to create an app that would truly appeal to women in a brutal hook-up culture. From her background in consulting, Clementine brought a higher level of analytical rigor than is found in even most startups claiming to be data-driven. She also credits her ability to implement process and apply Pareto’s principle, the 80/20 rule.
“The 80/20 rule is your guide in the dark when you have so much on your plate,” said Clementine. “I never end the day without making a list of all of the burning issues and putting them in order, so I can focus on what is essential. I usually classify issues into people and cash, because unfortunately cash will kill you before anything else, after people. Third on my list is product and customer issues, and fourth is revenue.”
After its launch, Pickable was quickly noticed by the press, and rapidly grew its first 1M organic users across Europe. Clementine eventually sold Pickable to Once, her prior company. She now leads Once as CEO, where she continues to focus on building dating apps with a greater level of sophistication than endless swiping.
When asked what needs to happen to increase the representation of women in finance, consulting, tech, and entrepreneurship, Clementine admitted it’s complex.
“It’s a difficult question because it’s systemic,” said Clementine. “We need more women who code. But from a young age, girls are discouraged from learning to code because it’s not presented in a way that would be attractive to them. Coding is presented as something for male nerds, or for boys playing video games in the basement.”
If a woman makes it as an engineer and has any ambitions for entrepreneurship, the bias doesn’t end there. “Investors decide to finance early-stage companies based on intuition, which is based in the brain but also in culture,” said Clementine. “The basic reality is, you invest in people who are like you. If a venture capital firm is 90% male, you’re just not going to see women-run businesses reflected in the portfolio.”
Clementine also points out that women get different questions from potential investors – and these questions do nothing to demonstrate skill or competence. “You get more questions about risk than potential. You get questions about your personal life, or your point of view on babies,” said Clementine. “You get questions about your ability to manage stress. Things that a male founder would never get.”
“I’ve interacted with a lot of great developers. There is nothing that makes being a man better than being a woman. In fact, it’s the opposite,” said Clementine. “Women can be fantastic iOS or Android developers, and fantastic CEOs or CTOs. We need to see more stories about cool women with cool projects.”
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