Jean Meyer is the CEO and founder of Once, a dating app that selects one match a day for its users, focusing on quality over quantity. He studied Computer Science and Engineering at at the Université de Technologie in Paris and then went on to attain an MBA from Columbia Business School in Upper Manhattan, New York. Today, he runs an international digital business that has operations in 32 countries and over 100 staff. He is widely regarded as the ‘one to watch’ within the dating industry.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was studying at Columbia Business School in New York. Whilst there, I decided I wanted to start a company but wasn’t sure what. I was sharing drinks and networking with friends and made a website my best friend called ‘Date My School’ for people to connect from different schools. It was huge and I became a dating entrepreneur overnight! I had my photo in the New York Times, which was a proud moment. Naturally, dating apps became the next big thing and with the launch of Tinder it killed our proposition. So, I decided to return to Europe and get creative and get revenge! So, I decided to go back to Europe and get revenge and focus on creating a new style of dating app.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When I was trying to raise money to launch Once, and I got in touch with a private banker who had a wealthy client who was interested in investing in me. It was exciting and the investor agreed to meet with me in the South of France. I went to Nice and took a cab to his property and ended up in a meeting with a mob guy! That was scary!
The time I met Mark Zuckerberg, by complete chance, was also pretty interesting. Back in 2011, I decided to go to San Francisco for the first time. I was curious to see what was there and what all the fuss was about. I wanted to visit the Google Campus and Facebook Campus. Whilst there, I rented a convertible and drove to the Facebook Campus. It was only a three-storey building back then. I pulled up in my car at about 3pm in the afternoon and it was quiet — there was nothing there, apart from one guy. I got out my car and ran up to him and gave him a quick pitch but he wasn’t interested. I walked away. He shouted after me to apologise and I gave him my card. It was Mark Zuckerberg!
Another funny moment was right at the beginning of setting up my company, and I wanted to raise money. I only had two employees so I wanted us to look bigger than we were. I hired actors to look like my employees, so when investors visited the office we looked bigger. It worked, look where we are now.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve made so many over the years but that’s how you grow and learn! I rented a huge branded truck for the WWW DC conference as I wanted Apple to notice us. We had it painted with one simple sentence — “Tired of the sausage party? Once. Looking for great love? Once”. It took days to prepare and cost a lot of money but no one cared!
In the UK we commissioned a counter Brexit bus — the bus was based on the leave campaign’s bus that pledged to use money to fund the NHS. Our bus said “There are 350 million singles in the EU. Get married, get a passport. Nigel did.” To us it seemed like a great idea but it cost a lot of money and there was no press coverage.
Despite these mistakes, I would do them all again. The Brexit bus in particular brought so much joy to the team. We could have used the money more efficiently, but we’re in this life to have fun.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Once is different from any other dating app — that is the only thing that matters. Once champions slow dating. Its clever algorithm “learns your type” by who you interact with, to continue to select and suggest a perfect match, rather than you spend endless hours swiping. This is a slower, quality over quantity approach to dating. To succeed in business, you have to find the right angle, the right message to the consumer, and communicate how you are different from the competitor. There is being different — then there is being different. Once isn’t a “swiping app with a marketing twist”, it is different. You can have the best idea you want but you need the right people to make the idea a reality — ultimately, I have the best team around every day making Once a reality and grow.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I wish I could share with you, but it is under embargo for now — watch this space. The only way to keep people and your employees excited is to keep things interesting with new projects lined up. That way employees feel like they are part of something that will have an impact.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Ownership: give people ownership. Trust them and delegate tasks accordingly. To me, a good CEO is someone who could disappear tomorrow and company would still thrive.
How do you define “Leadership”?
Three words: sharing, trust and work.
What advice would you give to other CEOs about the best way to manage a large team?
You cannot possibly have a spread of management. You can’t manage more than five people. Create smaller teams within the company who have direct reports. Direct management of a big team never works. Also try to break down your project into smaller projects and give employees ownership of them — this way they feel they are part of something bigger. Take risk for the team and work harder than anyone else. This is what you want them to do. You’re showing the team, “I’m taking risks so follow me”.
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 about that?
If anything helped me to get to where I am today, it is my team I have built around me. I don’t believe in mentorship as such — I don’t think you should look to people like that. But my team have helped make Once the success that it is. The people I hired are smarter than me and I owe everything to them. I made a very big mistake with my first company — I hired my team too fast. I would always advise people to take the time to hire the right people to build a strong team in the long-term.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m creating love and babies every day with Once! The inherent concept makes the world go round!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
First — it’s going to be much, much harder than you think. Being a CEO is not for everyone — it is a rollercoaster of emotions. You need to be extremely strong in your head to deal with the pressures that come with being a CEO.
Second — be careful with who you bet with. Working with an investor or partner is bigger than marriage! You can’t get divorced!
Third — Take the time you need to hire your team, especially the first person.
Fourth — Do first and think after; try lots of things and make mistakes. This is how you learn.
Fifth — Work more. You think you’re working but you’re not! The only difference between you and the guy next to you is how many hours you’re willing to put in. You’re not the smartest person in the room and we all have the same ideas. The difference is how many hours a week you’re willing to put in!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂
Global warming is the number one problem of humanity right now. As soon as I’m done with this, I am devoting 100% of my energy and time into fighting global warming and cleaning up the oceans, as it can kill humanity.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
J F Kennedy, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” I love this quote because the harder the problem, the less competition there is!
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
The French entrepreneur Xavier Niel — he had an amazing life. He doesn’t have a degree but he’s an entrepreneur. He created the first free internet connection in France and the most affordable cell phone. He changed how people communicate.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Once FB/Twitter/Instagram: @oncetheapp
Jean Meyer Twitter/Instagram: @oncejean
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.