Taly Matiteyahu of Blink: “Get creative”

Get creative. Building a user base is hard and can be expensive if you focus on paid marketing or engage a publicity company. Get creative with marketing and take advantage of free tools to reach people — it will save you a lot of money and help you build a more engaged audience. We’ve done this by […]

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Get creative. Building a user base is hard and can be expensive if you focus on paid marketing or engage a publicity company. Get creative with marketing and take advantage of free tools to reach people — it will save you a lot of money and help you build a more engaged audience. We’ve done this by creating content for our blog, building a podcast about online dating, and hosting virtual events for local groups. None of these avenues carries any direct monetary cost beyond time investment, and each allows us to connect with potential users.

As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Taly Matiteyahu, founder and CEO of Blink, a new audio-only blind speed dating app whose objective is to build a dating space where a person’s personality, values, sense of humor, passions, and quirks are what set them apart — not their looks, race, ethnicity, name, or fashion choices.

Taly obtained her Bachelor’s degree from New York University before earning her Juris Doctorate from Columbia Law School in 2015. After working at a big law firm in NYC, Taly left legal practice for a more dynamic and innovative role in legal operations, first at Datadog and then at Netflix, before transitioning to work as a Product Manager at Evisort, an AI-powered legal tech solution.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, 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?

As a first-generation American, I grew up watching my parents work hard and overcome challenges. They each balanced multiple jobs (for some time, my mom balanced grad school on top of multiple jobs) while raising my brother and me without help from family or friends. They instilled in me the sense that hard work begets success, but it doesn’t always guarantee it.

At a young age, I decided to become a lawyer. I worked hard throughout high school and undergrad to reach that goal, but soon after graduating from law school and starting a job at a law firm in 2015, I found myself craving a more dynamic and innovative environment. In 2017, I left the stable career path that lay ahead of me as an attorney for a career in legal operations. Over the years in legal operations, I grew passionate about product development and eventually transitioned to work as a Product Manager at a legal tech company.

In my spare time, I’m constantly working on personal projects. In early 2020, I began working on Blink. When I first envisioned Blink, I planned to host live speed dating events where participants couldn’t see the other party during the dates and physical attraction would be accounted for via rating by email after the event. Come March, COVID-19 hit and everyone was working from home, so I pivoted to audio-only, virtual blind speed dating… and the rest evolved from there!

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

Blink has been a long time coming. I’ve had the idea for Blink since 2012, when I ate at a blackout restaurant and befriended a couple I dined with. Making connections with strangers based on conversation alone, free of looks-driven assumptions, sparked the thought: would people date a wider variety of people and find more satisfying relationships if they were able to make an emotional connection with someone before swiping left? In 2020, I finally began turning the vision into reality and hope to change online dating’s looks-first paradigm and, one day, move the concept beyond the dating world.

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?

Getting Blink off the ground as a non-technical founder with a limited budget was the first hurdle. As I couldn’t build the app on my own, I had to invest the majority of the budget into app development. Now, as we focus on user acquisition, we have a much smaller budget to work with. It’s been a perennial challenge — we need money to acquire users (as we need to spend money marketing), but we need users in order to prove the concept and raise money.

Sometimes I wonder if I should have explored the concept behind Blink in a less-crowded vertical where user acquisition is less competitive, but in those moments I remind myself that had I pursued those other paths first, I likely would have wondered whether I should have started in the dating vertical.

At the end of the day, I know that any entrepreneurial journey is difficult at times, particularly for a woman without a background of privilege or wealth. I imagine it’s a combination of passion, excitement, and determination that keep me going in those hard moments… because when I think about how beautiful the world could be when we stop making assumptions about other people based on race, ethnicity, looks, name, and demographics, I can’t help but want to be an integral part of building and shaping that world.

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

Right now, we’re building the beta group for Blink and preparing for a launch in Los Angeles. Our goal for expansion is currently geographically focused, so we plan to expand city by city across the United States.

We’re working hard on user acquisition through organic marketing, including direct engagement with potential members, participation in online communities, and blog content creation. While organic marketing yields a more engaged and authentic following, it is also time-consuming and requires consistency, patience, and resilience. The payoff is getting to hear people’s excitement about a new way to date.

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

There are millions of people who use dating apps and who-knows-how-many dating apps out there for them to use. We focus on attracting folks who are looking to make real connections and build meaningful relationships. Our target customers are tired of swipe culture and games and are ready to take the time to connect on a deeper level, understanding that judging someone off of a curated set of photos eliminates a huge pool of potentially great matches.

Ultimately, Blink is deeply mission-driven. We’re not only working to build a dating app that allows people to find real connections, but we’re working to create spaces free of biases based on physical appearance, name, race, ethnicity, and demographics. While we can’t account for attraction between people, we know we can help people overcome implicit biases they unintentionally harbor. In doing so, we hope currently-underserved communities, such as black women, Asian men, and people who don’t look like Idris Elba or Gal Gadot, can find partners they’re otherwise unable to connect with due to algorithms that under-rank their profiles.

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

In the high-demand, high-expectations dating market, branding can make or break a company. When I first founded the company, I didn’t have a name for the concept. One evening, it struck me — BLINK! The closed eye is a great metaphor for a blind date, and speed dates go by in the blink of an eye. How perfect, right? I moved full steam ahead, forming the LLC, purchasing a domain, designing our branding, among other things. It wasn’t until months later when I was Googling “Blink dating app” that I discovered there were at least two other, now-defunct dating apps called Blink. Lesson to other founders? Google your potential name before going full steam ahead!

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

Tracy Chou, the founder and CEO of Block Party, recently wrote an article about the problematic nature of Silicon Valley’s co-founder mantra. In it, she talks about how the mantra is one structural reason why less than 2.7% of VC funding goes to all-female teams. The expectation undermines and prevents female and other minority entrepreneurs from being successful as they tend to have a smaller network of contacts for potential co-founders (for a number of reasons, including not being respected by male peers, being in industries dominated by men, and having to “prove” oneself in a way that white men do not).

Forcing myself into a co-founder relationship just to “check the box” or feel like I needed to be taken seriously was a mistake. I’ve previously said that one of the most important things you can do to create a successful tech company is to find the right people to create your company with, which I still believe. With that said, I wish I hadn’t followed the common advice of having a cofounder just for the sake of it. It’s far more important to find the right person than to find a person. In that way, it isn’t much different from dating!

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

The three character traits that are instrumental to my success are being a rational visionary, having a bias towards action, and possessing an immense amount of determination.

A few years ago, I took a psychometric personality test as part of a team offsite that identified me as an analytical and logical thinker balanced by a strong preference for conceptual, imaginative, and visionary thinking. “I see the forest” was the motto for my profile. The conceptual part of me churns out ideas while the analytical part of me grounds them in reality and develops step-by-step plans to reach my lofty visions. Blink was born of my vision for a dating app where people could make connections free of looks-driven assumptions and without a superficial filter keeping potentially amazing matches from connecting. The analytical thinker in me dissected the vision (over eight years!), plotted out how it could work, talked it over with friends, and ruminated on long-term possibilities. That process of vision and rationalization was the first, very long step in actualizing my idea.

A rationalized idea is only so useful, though. My bias towards action and getting things done is instrumental to my success. Many business leaders talk about what needs to happen and what they want to build, but get caught up talking about it instead of actually doing it. I am action-driven and execution-oriented. Even as I contemplate what needs to happen and what I want to build, my brain dissects the goals into actionable tasks. I try to be realistic about timelines and map out the individual tasks for completion using a task management tool like monday.com or Asana, ultimately creating an actionable and comprehensive roadmap to reach goals. Every day, I open up my to do list, triage based on importance, and get to work, crossing items out one by one.

With all that said, developing an app as a non-technical founder, especially in a crowded space such as dating, is hard. Working on a startup while holding down a day job is hard. Self-funding a business in the middle of a pandemic when your partner works at a live-event ticketing company is hard. Having your development schedule extended by months due to COVID-related complications is hard. If the theme isn’t obvious yet — let me make clear: building a company is hard. But my determination has helped me through these challenges. Rather than be overwhelmed by the countless challenges I know we’ll inevitably encounter, I focus on the vision and keep moving forward.

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

Ask for and accept help. Starting a company is challenging, time consuming, and requires a lot of knowledge. If you’re self-funded or bootstrapped, you might not be able to afford hiring people until months or even years after you start your company. Don’t be prideful and don’t be embarrassed to leverage your network and the communities you’re part of. I’ve gotten help from friends, friends of friends, people I connected with through Slack workspaces and other communities, and even people I met through my dogs’ Instagram account. It’s ok if you don’t know something or need to lean on others for help. It will help you thrive and avoid burnout.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Beyond just CEOs and founders, there are many people who view mistakes as failures. They won’t acknowledge when things aren’t working or when they’ve made bad decisions out of an aversion to admitting error. This creates two problems: first, it leads to continued investment in the wrong projects and, second, it makes it impossible to find what might work.

In order to avoid this, founders need to be willing to examine their choices objectively, seek other perspectives, and reframe failure as just another data point on the path towards success. It not only gets you closer to success, but it also shows your team that you’re open to feedback and can create a more collaborative space.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Most companies talk about the importance of their customers, but few of them seem to proactively engage in conversations with them. Indeed, it can be hard to connect with customers — small startups are wrapped up in the day to day while large companies have so many cogs in the wheel that customer feedback gets lost. But connecting with customers cannot be underestimated.

In our case, we’ve found that soliciting user feedback generates the highest single-day sign up for our app. Customers not only like to feel like their voice is being heard, but they like to feel like they’re part of shaping the products they use. Ensuring that your line of communication with customers remains open is crucial to that engagement and customer investment.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.

Starting a company is a lot like having a baby — a lot of the times you have no idea what you’re doing, it keeps you up at night, and everyone will have an opinion on the right way to do something. But despite all of the uncertainty, stress, and unsolicited advice, you should trust your gut.

Trust your instincts. As a first-time, female founder, I regularly questioned myself and my decisions when I first started my company. Early on, I found myself doing things that didn’t feel right because I thought they were necessary in order to be taken seriously. Over time, I’ve learned to trust my instincts. If something feels wrong, it’s probably because it is. Don’t let external pressure push you into doing something you’re uncomfortable with, whether it’s accepting investment from a VC that you have concerns about, making hard product decisions, or deciding who to hire. And if you do fall into this trap and regret your choices later, don’t see those choices as failures, but as learning opportunities to grow from.

Get creative. Building a user base is hard and can be expensive if you focus on paid marketing or engage a publicity company. Get creative with marketing and take advantage of free tools to reach people — it will save you a lot of money and help you build a more engaged audience. We’ve done this by creating content for our blog, building a podcast about online dating, and hosting virtual events for local groups. None of these avenues carries any direct monetary cost beyond time investment, and each allows us to connect with potential users.

Join communities. As much as the introvert in me doesn’t want to admit it, networks matter. Having connections and access to people with experience founding companies are huge advantages. Traditionally, access to these resources has been limited for women and minorities. Luckily, I’ve found a variety of online communities to connect with other founders, ask questions, and generally find support. Elpha’s online community and the Friends of Lenny Slack workspace have been particularly great places for me to learn, connect with people, and brainstorm ideas. Whether it’s a question about user testing, social media management, or data measurement tools, these communities have been incredible resources for me as I’ve navigated countless issues.

Engage a lawyer. Building a business is complicated. While it may seem easier to throw some paperwork together at first and worry about the details later, kicking the can down the road can be risky and you shouldn’t leave the legal security of your business to chance. As much as it may hurt your wallet upfront, it’s worth it to find a good lawyer to help you get your corporate structure in order from the beginning. It will ultimately save you a ton of time, money, and headache down the road. I personally learned this lesson the hard way, thinking I didn’t need to worry too much about paperwork for a sapling of a company. Within months, upon separating with my initial cofounder, I learned how important each provision and word of my operating agreement was.

Start on your own terms. While some may think it’s necessary for you to leave your job and invest all of your time into your startup in order for it to succeed, you can absolutely develop and test your idea without sacrificing your day job. Balancing your startup with a full-time day job may mean a slightly longer ramp up to launch, but it will give you the security and a longer personal runaway to explore your concept. You can also use no-code tools to affordably build a prototype before investing substantial money in developing your concept.

I am still balancing a day job with Blink, working at a legal tech company by day and working on Blink in the evenings and on the weekends. It does mean a lot of screen time and little downtime, but it works far better for me than leaving my day job would have.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you start.

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. 🙂

As I mentioned earlier, my goal in building Blink is to build a dating space where a person’s personality, values, sense of humor, passions, and quirks are what set them apart — not their looks, race, ethnicity, name, or fashion choices. But our vision is much bigger. Every day, we see people at the grocery store, in meetings (virtual ones, these days), in our building elevators, and passing on the street. And every time we see someone, we’re unconsciously making assumptions about who they are and what they’re like based on nothing more than their appearance — their race, their outfit, their haircut, their accessories, their age, the way they walk, their tattoos and piercings. These assumptions are not only usually mistaken, but they can be dangerous — they keep us from truly getting to know people and prevent us from understanding who they are and what they bring to the table.

We dream of expanding Blink to other verticals and building a world where we can move past these assumptions, where a person’s personality, skillset, accomplishments, and merit are what sets them apart — not their race, ethnicity, wealth, family connections, or demographic background.

How can our readers further follow you online?

People can check out our website, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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