Make time off part of your regular schedule. When I started, I worked 7 days a week, 16 hours a day, with no breaks, weekends or vacations. With no boss or corporate framework, I felt guilty if I wasn’t working all the time. After almost a year this, I started feeling lethargic and losing both energy and motivation. I would never have called this ‘burnout’ as I always had energy, but eventually realized it was just a different form of it. Once time off was taken, I became far more productive on my on-days — and working far fewer hours. A lot of things will sort themselves out!
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lizz Warner.
Lizz is the founder and CEO of Gleam (gleamdating.com) — a video based dating app that sets matches up on short, timed video dates according to their schedules. She is a former director, executive supervising producer, and innovation lead at BuzzFeed. She created and led the Bring Me! travel franchise, which became the #1 travel publisher on the internet in under a year with 4.3 billion views and counting, making it the second most profitable franchise at the company. Lizz’s work on Bring Me! received a Shorty Award, a Lovie finalist award, and earned her a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in media. She advised the sales team as the innovation lead, working directly with prominent brands to create viral content, events and marketing stunts. A content producer for the NBC Snapchat channel for the Rio 2016 and PyeongChang 2018 Olympics, Lizz created the highest watch-time piece of content: “I went on a Tinder date with an Olympian.” She’s best known for fusing data science with creative ideation, and is credited with videos she’s directed, shot, and edited in entirety amassing over 1.6 billion views.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I attended a highly competitive high school called New Trier. Sports were a huge part of my life, including soccer, field hockey, track and field, and most of all, the hip hop dance team. The aggressive team sports prepared me well for the rest of my life at work, because nothing was more humbling than hours of sprints after a day tests and classes. I was a bit of a math nerd, and loved learning new things, challenging myself, and exploring. Being outside my comfort zone is my comfort zone. I also started a cheese club.
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
A book called Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli had a profound impact on me as a kid. It followed a quirky girl named Stargirl who was seen has having ‘strange behavior,’ mainly because she wouldn’t conform to societal norms. I was deeply struck by her living her own life the way she wanted to, and decided right then and there that I’m going to do the same. To this day, I do things differently that might be seen as bizarre; however, I find routine extremely boring. A small example of this is doing handstands in the middle of the workday at my old corporate office to get my blood flowing. After getting some stares, my colleagues eventually started to join in, and all of a sudden it became a regular 3pm thing we had on our calendars.
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Making a difference means changing at least one other person’s life for the better. It could be as small as getting groceries for someone who’s elderly during a pandemic, to launching a worldwide shopping service through an app. No matter the scale of the endeavor, both can make a world of difference to someone.
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
Gleam is a video based dating app where users set their availability, match, and get set up on a timed 10-minute video date with pop-up icebreaker questions. They can only text (or call back) after they’ve had the initial video call. While our goal with this was efficiency and safety, we also learned that going straight to video encourages people to give others more of a chance, and diminishes judgement based on an artificial set of characteristics (height, profile picture, etc.). We’ve found it solves a lot of issues present on regular dating apps, but overall, I’d boil it down to three things:
- Connecting people in a time of isolation and loneliness in a way that is much more human, and much less artificial.
- Making online dating efficient, in a way that mimics real life, but from the comfort of your own home.
- Making it safer for everyone to online date.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
As someone fiercely dedicated to a job in video production (with a lot of travel) — I had to seriously manage my time just to get basic things done, like going to the gym, or cooking dinner — dating was almost impossible. Countless of my hardworking friends dealt with the same issue, dealing with the extreme fatigue of their 10+ hour workdays.
Dating apps themselves require a lot of time — endless swiping and texting, which rarely results in an in-person date. They are built to keep you on there as long as possible — not to find love. When you DO meet in person, the additional energy spent on meeting a stranger usually ends up as a waste of effort (particularly if you’re someone who wears makeup — that’s a lot of time and money wasted!)
Many women have told me they feel unsafe on dates that were setup through apps, or that the person is not who they say they are (I have personally been stalked before). I wanted to build something where you could at least get a vibe of the other person right away, that gave users a bit of a screening process. The answer to so many of these problems, is video.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
There’s nothing worse than the dreadful feeling of getting back on dating apps after a recent breakup. I was on a trip with my girlfriends, talking to them about how bleak it felt to get back in the game.
Additionally, I had the realization that a corporate job is like paying rent, whereas working for yourself is like owning a house, and renting part of it out — the former loses money, the latter generates lasting income. I wanted to build something entirely new and of my own.
After doing some experimentation, it became obvious that video calling dates prior to meeting in person saves time, effort and money, is more secure, and delivers the ability to immediately figure out if the potential date has the right vibe. My girlfriends loved the idea, and some started doing it themselves. It was right then that I realized — okay, I’m sick of waiting around for another app to build this, I’m going to do it myself!
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
When starting this project, I had absolutely no idea how to build an app. But I was so passionate about it that I was determined to figure it out, and found the learning experience fascinating. I did a lot of early user beta-testing for validation — trying various methods of setting people up manually on dates, vs. them scheduling it themselves, etc.
In the early days, it was tough to find people who had launched an app before — I overpaid someone for consulting, which I regret. I discovered tons of helpful YouTube videos, and joined a free online startup school through YCombinator — it’s amazing how many amazing resources are online, completely free. Something about the online classes ignited a spark in me, as it created a path for forward traction on the idea. I became obsessive about learning more — I’d work a regular 9–6, then work on the app from about 7–2am. I was constantly studying and learning as I was building. This became my new work schedule.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
The whole process has been fascinating. What blew my mind the most is how many screens go into a single app. You’d look at Gleam and think — oh, maybe that’s what — 4 screens? NOPE — it’s over 100 screens and over 1000 elements, with each element having its own individual function. Sounds obvious, but when you really have to map it out, it’s like re-working a giant logic puzzle every night. Each time you look at each element you have to think — does this button make sense here? Is it obvious what it does? Could it be more clear? Also due to COVID, we’ve had to observe user behavior over zoom, which is definitely weird.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
I paired two friends randomly on a beta test that had already dated before — and it didn’t go well. Oops. It was awkward, to say the least. After that I made sure to reveal the other person’s name to make sure they hadn’t met before.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Honestly, I was blown away from the amazing response from my friends, and even friends of friends. People would randomly reach out who just wanted to help. I couldn’t believe it. Entrepreneurship is such a lonely journey, and it was incredibly validating to know people believed in the concept enough to help work on it for free just to see it succeed. My friends have been my biggest cheerleaders, and I truly would not be as sane today without them.
Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Yes — we now have two official Gleam couples, which is crazy! One user said he had never had luck on dating apps, and is now going on a trip with the second girl he met on Gleam. He was so pleased that he’s now part of the team. A woman who has shied away from apps said Gleam has helped her re-enter the dating scene because it feels like a much more genuine way to connect. People have reached out (from hearing about us on press or podcasts) — who love the idea so much they just want to help promote it in any way they can. Stories like this are so inspiring and really keep me going when times get tough!
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Get comfortable with video dating! It’s definitely a shift from how the most popular apps work today, but every dating coach we’ve talked to is an avid supporter of getting straight to video — it prevents you from painting a false picture of the other person in your head, and will save you so much time, money, and unnecessary energy.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).
- Never stop networking, even if you think you don’t have time for it. As a business owner with a never-ending list of urgent things to do, talking to strangers goes farther and farther down the totem pole. But knock it right back up to the top — it’s not only a good way to get feedback and new customers, but a crucial way to get amazing players to join your team. We have some real all-stars at the top of their fields now working on Gleam, that I met through random online networking events. On top of that, it’s a lonely journey, so staying social and talking about what you do is good for your mental health. I aim to meet anywhere from 2–5 new people a week. With video now a common form of networking due to the pandemic, it’s become much easier to meet talented people all over the world.
- Make time off part of your regular schedule. When I started, I worked 7 days a week, 16 hours a day, with no breaks, weekends or vacations. With no boss or corporate framework, I felt guilty if I wasn’t working all the time. After almost a year this, I started feeling lethargic and losing both energy and motivation. I would never have called this ‘burnout’ as I always had energy, but eventually realized it was just a different form of it. Once time off was taken, I became far more productive on my on-days — and working far fewer hours. A lot of things will sort themselves out!
- Don’t get lost in the small things — focus on growing your core metric. There are a million important things to do each day, so it’s important to take a step back and prioritize which of them will help your company grow. Set 3–5 overall goals for the week, write them out on a piece of paper in front of your computer — then you can always refer back to it throughout the day, checking to make sure that each task you’re doing fits into your overall goals.
- Focus on quick inputs, and be patient with output — everything takes longer than you think. All you can control is how fast you are to get something started — and it’s best to do it as fast as you can, because results will take 10x as long as you think they will. So start early on anything that might be pressing later on.
- Get management experience first, if you can. I was fortunate to have a lot of management experience under my belt, and would not be the same CEO I was without it. Management is a key part of motivating and growing a team — crucial to an early stage startup when you don’t yet have funding or users.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Think about what you enjoy doing and the difference you’d like to make in the world. Even though the two may seem unrelated, there’s always a way to merge them. Start doing what you love, talk to a lot of people, and trust that it will lead you to where you want to be. There is an insane amount of pressure we put on ourselves to have everything figured out all the time– that’s like trying to see the end of the hiking trail before you’ve started walking. You have no idea where it will lead until you start doing it.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Whitney Wolfe Herd! She has been my inspiration throughout all of this. Her story is incredible, and all the times she dealt with hardships, lawsuits and attacks but continued to come out ahead is truly inspirational.
How can our readers follow you online?
Shoot me a DM on Instagram @wanderlizz!
The app is live in Los Angeles, message me if you’d like to be a beta tester (and don’t live in LA!) The new dating coach feature is available to anyone in the US, which you can download on our website.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!