“Listen to your instincts.” With Mitch Russo & Heather Hopkins

Burn out is very real, and it’s also OKAY. If I am feeling burnt out, I stop in my tracks immediately and do whatever I want in that moment. If that means sitting on the couch doing nothing with my homemade warm matcha latte and some goldfish (the snack of champions), so be it. Good […]

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Burn out is very real, and it’s also OKAY. If I am feeling burnt out, I stop in my tracks immediately and do whatever I want in that moment. If that means sitting on the couch doing nothing with my homemade warm matcha latte and some goldfish (the snack of champions), so be it. Good work isn’t accomplished when you’re burnt out. Knowing how hard I work, I don’t feel guilty when I need to refresh my mind and start again when I’m ready because that just leads to more productivity, creativity, and positivity. My tip would be right when you feel it, stop, refresh, and go again with a clear head.

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Heather Hopkins.

Heather Hopkins is currently the Founder and CEO of GOATdate, the Video Based Dating App. In 2018, a 22 year old Heather Hopkins conceived the idea for GOATdate after spending time chatting with app matches for days or months, then finally meeting in person and knowing that it wouldn’t be a good fit within the first 5 minutes of conversation. She ran randomized focus groups in Uber Pools to figure out what real people wanted from dating apps, and found out that many of their complaints were similar: wasted resources, catfishing issues, awkward or unsafe first meetings, and endless texting. Hopkins was also able to draw inspiration from audience input on her popular dating podcast “The Hookup”. She quickly realized that implementing a required video date at the onset of “matching” is the most effective and fun way to address their concerns. Hopkins has a background in TV/film and is an actress known for roles in Criminal Minds, Freeform’s Grown-ish, and True Blood. Now, she is disrupting the online dating industry by changing the way people connect.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Igrew up working in theatre, television and film. In the downtimes of entertainment, I started a podcast called “Tea Talks” where I sat down with my favorite people and had great conversations over a cup of hot tea. A couple episodes in, I decided to bring on my boy-crazy college roommate and give her dating advice. That particular episode garnered thousands of listeners; based on how much fun I had and the feedback I received, I decided to do more dating centered episodes. As time went on, I became a “dating therapist” amongst my peers. In 2017, I decided to rebrand my show to be a dating podcast called, “The Hookup with Heather Hopkins,” hooking listeners up with non-sugar coated dating advice. Hearing the experiences of others with online dating and having my own disaster dates, led to creating GOATdate.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

I was working five different jobs at the time, and I would rarely have a night off. After messaging with people on dating apps for days, weeks, months, even years, when I finally had a free night and would go on a date, I knew within the first five minutes that we were not compatible. Having that experience several times, I became fed up and made a pledge to myself that before agreeing to go on any date, I would FaceTime with that person beforehand. I experienced some hesitancy from matches because this is not a standard process, but once meeting face-to-face like this first, my matches would say, “Why don’t all people do this before meeting someone online?” I found that after FaceTiming and hitting it off with the person, I was actually excited for our upcoming date, instead of worrying that it would be another letdown. I walked into dates feeling confident that the person was who their pictures portrayed them to be, and most of all comfortable, because we already had an established real chemistry.

Here was the downside though: not only did I have to chat back and forth for a while and deal with the awkwardness of asking to FaceTime first, when I didn’t feel the chemistry with that person they then had my phone number, which gave them access to reach me 24/7. I wondered why there wasn’t an app out there that just went straight to meeting face-to-face first after matching, while also protecting my phone number. I didn’t like wasting my time messaging with someone I didn’t have chemistry with.

The final straw was when my neighbor came over extremely frustrated from a date, after he spent $150 only to find out that the girl was in it for the free dinner and didn’t care to get to know him at all. It was the third time it happened to him that week — $450 dollars of pure letdown. I realized again, that with my video-based approach, I could have saved him money, time, and energy. I had to create this app, not just for myself, but for everyone dealing with similar issues I was having. Video date first with your match, then invest energy when you know you have real chemistry.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Being an entrepreneur is HARD. When I first started, it was a big adjustment. I had to make the decision to step away from the safety of my blooming career and other jobs, to jump in wholeheartedly to the uncertainty of being an entrepreneur. I knew I had to go all in, but my bank account didn’t exactly support that need. I ended up taking the risk and blasting through my savings. Despite my drained bank account, I never considered giving up, but I absolutely had days where the adjustment was too overwhelming. The stress triggered many health problems for me. I got horrible acne (so bad I had to go on Accutane), was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and experienced an unprecedented level of pressure in my life. Even though I learned later, all these health issues were linked to something else (which thankfully after discovering, I have since recovered from), I was tested a lot during that time and had to keep reminding myself to work through it and what I am doing is bigger than myself.

GOATdate was never about me. It is about rewriting the way the world connects — bringing back connecting face-to-face first and seeing the real smiles on each other’s faces, not the smiley emoji. I believe that connecting people this way first is the best, most honest foundation, to the beginning of something great. There is no game aspect to it, whereas with other apps you’re figuring out what to message to stand out, pretending to be someone you’re not, or having your friends send back what to say, etc. With GOATdate, it’s the raw and real you, which is ultimately what everyone wants to see, and how they want to be seen. As I always tell my team, we want every person to experience “that GOATdate feeling” of giddiness, and the excitement of connecting with someone through a simple five minute interaction.

Being a video-based dating app is an entirely different, fulfilling and beautiful experience for our users. I want my friends to be excited for their in-person dates since they already have real chemistry with the person, and to take chances meeting new people since it’s only five minutes. We have so many users who are finding more success on GOATdate than anywhere else, because on GOATdate your heart and personality actually play a factor. Even if you’re the most attractive person, if you are not genuine on your GOATdate, your matches most likely won’t last; additionally, GOATdate might help connect those who have amazing personalities, but have not gotten a chance using traditional apps.The GOATdate community is encouraged to be open to meeting new people. With that culture instilled in our users, we have seen a lot of feedback on how they are shocked at the chemistry they found with someone, had it not been a five minute risk. This is what drives me: changing the way people connect online and bringing the world back to connecting face-to-face first.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Things are going great, we’ve been live in the iOS & Google Play store for almost a month and we’ve been getting amazing feedback from our users. I can see GOATdate is already extremely effective, resulting in more meaningful relationships, and people say that after GOATdating, they can’t imagine going back to messaging. I started building GOATdate nearly 2 years ago, and to see it out in the world, watching thousands of users benefit from the technology and come together, is such an amazing feeling. Seeing that giddy energy create a ripple effect in society is why I do what I do. I believe the world always needed this product, and I’m so honored and grateful that I can be the person to pioneer it.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Well, one of my first investor calls took place at my angel investor’s office. I was already off to a bad start because I could not find his office for the life of me, despite being 15-minutes early. I ran around the building frantically and the second I found it, my angel investor was already dialing the potential investors in. I could barely catch a breath, and the first thing they said was, “So tell us more about GOATdate.” In that moment I had a full blown panic attack on top of being completely out of breath from running around, which was a first for me. I acted like I was pulling up a document and then asked for a moment while I figured out some technical difficulties. Not very smooth, but I was able to find my composure. This taught me, life happens. Although it was horrible to go through, we are all human and things happen. Just because I was dealing with anxiety at the time due to health complications, it didn’t make me any less of a business woman and it was surely not going to hinder me. To anyone who deals with this — it might feel like the end of the world to you, but good people can see your core. Don’t let one hiccup define you.

Oh and by the way, every person on that phone call invested.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

GOATdate is the first true, video-based dating app. Through our patented approach, users connect face-to-face first after matching, eliminating common online dating frustrations like: endless texting, cat-fishing, wasted time/energy/money on meeting someone only to find out there’s no real chemistry.

GOATdate uses technology to mirror the same way people meet in the real world, how my parents met.

• They see each other.

• Talk face-to-face first.

• Exchange phone numbers & set up a date to further their connection.

Upon matching, users can click the big blue “video date” button to call their match when they feel ready. Once the date initiates, it is a timed five-minute GOATdate with conversation starters. We provide the most fun and comfortable video dating experience, while also prioritizing the safety of users. We require video verification, a strict Zero Tolerance Policy and don’t need phone numbers to connect matches. After meeting face-to-face with your match and determining the chemistry, users have the option to chat and further the connection.

GOATdate combines traditional interaction with modern technology. It’s simple: match, GOATdate, and then chat or meet when you know there’s chemistry. While others are text-based, we are video-based. GOATdate stands out because it is disrupting the online dating industry by changing the way people connect and is bringing the world back to meeting face-to-face first.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Burn out is very real, and it’s also OKAY. If I am feeling burnt out, I stop in my tracks immediately and do whatever I want in that moment. If that means sitting on the couch doing nothing with my homemade warm matcha latte and some goldfish (the snack of champions), so be it. Good work isn’t accomplished when you’re burnt out. Knowing how hard I work, I don’t feel guilty when I need to refresh my mind and start again when I’m ready because that just leads to more productivity, creativity, and positivity. My tip would be right when you feel it, stop, refresh, and go again with a clear head.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My dad was an entrepreneur, so he was really the one who taught me so much, especially through his work ethic. He taught me that you have to work hard to get what you want. Growing up, I watched him be so resilient, time and time again. I watched him go through the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur; having both successes and failures. Even when he failed, I always watched him pick himself back up. He never played it safe. He always took big risks and held our family together no matter the outcome. He taught me that the most important thing is my character. Whatever happens is merely elements, but my character is what stands. Just like how I can’t control when it rains, I can still control how I respond to it.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

We launched nearly a month ago, and we currently have thousands of users. I am a big believer in the power of word of mouth. I had so many plans to effectively market GOATdate this way, but with COVID-19, we had to pivot our approach due to social distancing.

  1. Focus on giving our users the best experience EVER! We are an experience-focused company. I created GOATdate to feel like everyone’s friend. Even though we are an app, I think of us like a store. I want new users to walk in and feel supported, welcomed, and excited. If they have questions, I want them to get answers ASAP. Customer service and safety is huge for us. We have a Member Service team available around the clock, making sure our Community Rules are being followed and our users getting immediate attention on any issues or questions. Any way the GOATdate team can make a user happier or help them, we do our best. I’ve found that once users get the GOATdate experience, they have a tendency to tell their friends about their dates. This is my favorite way that the GOATdate word gets out.
  2. Personally talking to our users. I take time almost every day to personally GOATdate with at least one user. I ask them how their experience is, why they downloaded GOATdate and what would make their experience even better! This helps me know where we can improve and get even more people to have that GOATdate experience and tell their friends about like I mentioned in the first tip.
  3. Facebook groups, sororities, fraternities, workplaces– any setting where I can tell the GOATdate mission and let it be heard by many, I take it. We got our first 1,000 users after two days of word of mouth marketing before the pandemic was announced.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

I realize the concept of going “Face to Face first” with matches may sound a little nerve-wracking initially. Many of our current active users felt similar when they signed up, and now our curated group of Video First Daters users can’t imagine online dating any other way. We want “Face to Face first” interactions to be the new normal for anyone who meets online, and we know it will take some time to do that.

At this time, we are free because I want as many people as possible to experience the “GOATdate feeling” and spread that excitement to their friends, colleagues, etc. Down the line, I intend to create a monetization model that is more feature-based rather than function-based, like others.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. First and foremost, choose the right people. My team knows I am extremely protective and selective about who comes in. I am a strong believer in each individual member of the team being a crucial ingredient, and one moldy ingredient can spoil the rest. I don’t stop searching until I feel completely at peace about a decision. After finishing pre-development for GOATdate, I interviewed and met with around 50+ different tech developers, and I still didn’t find the right fit. Although it took me about 1 ½ months to find the right group, I was not going to settle. I remember meeting “the one” in Downtown Los Angeles, and I was so thankful I waited for the best fit. They are brilliant, communicative, positive, and the hardest working people I know; this is also where I found GOATdate’s incredible CTO. Just like when you know you found “the one” in your love life, you have to apply that same feeling throughout your business. I have so many “the one’s” on the GOATdate team and I can’t imagine doing this with anyone else.
  2. Listen to your instincts because they’re almost always right. Your instincts are what made you a founder. They are your secret weapon. Make every decision listening to your instincts. If you are hiring a new vendor and you feel any hesitancy, dive into why and don’t be afraid to wait for the right one.
  3. Listen to your users and team members. Never be set or stuck on an idea; always be ready to adapt and evolve. I am amazed to hear from colleagues in my industry, that many founders have a tendency to have a “my way or the highway” attitude. It is important to be an approachable leader who is open to feedback. I see every bit of feedback from our users and team members as a gift. My goal is to give users the best, most comfortable, and secure video dating experience and feedback helps me do this. Even if I feel good about a new feature, sometimes I learn from users that they feel differently, so I pivot. Never be a founder set in their ways. Of course let your instincts guide you, but be open to suggestions, and willing to pivot if need be.
  4. If you’re a young entrepreneur, expect everything to take twice as long, and that you’ll have to work twice as hard. Though I may not be rich with experience, I never let my age hinder me. I actively look and connect with seniors in my industry so I can learn from them. What’s the only thing better than making a mistake and learning from it? NOT making that mistake and learning from other’s mistakes. It may take twice as long since I am always having to seek out answers, but my job as CEO is to make the most educated decisions for the long term of GOATdate. I always try to get 2–3 opinions from wiser people in my industry.
  5. Don’t let competition distract you. I love this quote by female Founder Jamie Kern Lima, “Our biggest threat isn’t what the competition is doing, it’s if we ever get distracted or influenced by it and risk diluting our own secret sauce.” If your drive is rooted in your passion of making the best product to help others, you will be successful. Don’t dilute your secret sauce. EVER! Stay focused on your mission and your users.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

GOATdate is a movement in itself. The future of online interactions is face-to-face first. I always say, “Walk into a coffee shop and what is everyone doing?” They are using technology. With more and more time being spent with technology, it is SO important for people to not lose human interaction. GOATdate is bridging that gap by merging technology and true face-to-face connection. It’s the “Face to Face first” movement!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow GOATdate on Instagram at @GOATdate, and you can follow me at @heatherahopkins!

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