AfriclickDayo Akinrinade | 2020-05-16
Could you give us a quick introduction to Africlick?
I’m the CEO and founder of Africlick. The name is a play on words. Africlick is where Africans click. We are a new dating app for ambitious professionals and creatives of African heritage. Our vision is to be the number one choice of dating app for 1.2 billion Africans globally. Much like Muzmatch, which targets Muslims globally, and Jdate which targets Jewish people, there’s really a gap in the market around a product where the design is tailored specifically for African culture.
We won some initial funding via pitch competitions, which can be a great way to do it for early-stage startups. We are currently in closed Beta. Our user numbers are in the thousands and we are at the beginning of our journey to raise a pre-seed round.
What was your career journey prior to starting Africlick?
I always liked Maths and logic. After doing Maths and Science A-Levels, that led me to choose a Computer Science degree. While doing my degree, I realised that I enjoyed the intersection of technology and business. This is why I joined Accenture for a number of years, after graduating, and then went on to Deloitte. In total, I did about 10 years of IT management consulting. I focussed on the financial services sector. I specialised in data analytics. I worked on lots of projects for banks, helping them to turn data into actionable insights. I was always very attracted to data and patterns, which is how I went into the analytics area.
How did you come across the idea?
I initially became aware of the problem because I, personally, was having a poor user experience when using mainstream dating apps. There were a number of incidents where, after matching with and meeting people, I was fetishized. That’s where someone would lead with my race as their first comment. Conversations were very much leading with race as opposed to getting to know me as a person. Then there were actually a number of incidents where I was encountering insensitive comments based on my race – in essence, racial abuse. I spoke to friends and a lot of them echoed these sentiments.
I started doing more research into it. Generally, the research within the dating industry indicates that black people do have poorer experiences on dating apps, in comparison to other ethnic groups. There was a study done by an app called OkCupid – who have, I believe, around 50 million members worldwide. They did two studies on race and attraction. Some of the outcomes were that their black users would get, on average, fewer responses, would be given the lowest attractiveness ratings and were getting the lowest quality of responses. It was a case of my personal experiences, and those of my friends, being reflected in the data. I thought that there has to be a better way to do this.
And then I could see friends from other backgrounds going on sites like Shaadi.com, some of my Jewish friends were going on Jdate, etc. I could see that, in other cultures, they had products which allowed them to date in a safe space within their culture. I couldn’t find anything like that for Africans.
Were there any other ideas that you were considering when you were starting out?
When I was starting out, I started to get immersed in London’s startup ecosystem. Through that process, I noticed a lack of diversity within London’s startup ecosystem. That was by gender, ethnicity, but also socio-economic background.
Through my networking, I ended up co-founding a business advisory consultancy. The main thing we provided advice on was diversity in tech. I found myself working with a number of tech accelerators. I was advising on business strategy and enabling organisations to achieve what I call sustainable diversity. Organisations can restructure aspects of their branding and their recruitment process – how does an accelerator find startups to participate? – and also things like employee policy to encourage diversity. That was an idea but it ended up developing into a business, which I ran concurrently with Africlick. I’ve now exited the business to focus on Africlick.
How did your previous experience prepare you for your current venture? In what ways were you unprepared?
Working in technology consulting gave me a really broad base and a strong understanding of technology. What’s unique about working in consulting is that I had the opportunity to work across various stages of the software development life cycle. I had done coding roles, testing roles, project management, I.T strategy. Which meant that I had experience in the full 360, all of the skills it takes to release a technical product. Which I see as quite different to, maybe, non-technical founders who sometimes struggle with the technical side. This is why I think that in the space of African dating apps, there are a lot of white-label produced apps out there. Meaning that the founder has purchased some software off the shelf and has not been able to customize it. Also, within consulting, I got trained in having a problem-solving attitude and a can-do attitude.
I wasn’t prepared, when speaking to tech ecosystem stakeholders, for the need to convince people that the space of Africa tech was a viable tech market. And that tech users who were African or of African heritage were a distinctive customer group. I was surprised that I was often in conversations where I was explaining to people that Africa has around 17% of the world’s population and is a young, growing market.
After you had the idea what were the next steps?
After I had the idea, the next stage was to validate the problem and make sure I was building something that people actually wanted. Before we built anything or wrote a line of code, I started throwing events targeting black professionals in the city of London. We structured the events around black professionals but also, single people, with the hypothesis that if an individual will take time after work to attend an event targeting singles, then it is a “real problem”. We also partnered to run speed-dating events. We used these events as a chance to validate the app design, at this stage just the UX and the sketches. We engaged as much as possible with users, before actually starting to build.
With a dating app, you need a critical mass of users to get it going. How does one do that?
I think so far that’s worked well for Africlick because we are tapping into the needs of an established, very identifiable community, who are having poor experiences when trying to use mainstream products. Social media has been great for organically pushing the word out. Social media has its own level of sharing. Social media and word of mouth are the primary ways that people are hearing about this.
How do you feel about carving out a niche in a space as competitive as dating apps? How do you feel about having ideas in competitive spaces in general?
It’s currently a great time for dating apps. I have been able to learn a lot from great products like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge. Where the competitive element works for us, a lot of users that end up on Africlick have had poor experiences on the mainstream products. Even when they see those websites or their marketing, products often don’t depict people of colour. Ethnic minorities can usually gauge quite quickly, when using a product, whether they have been considered. The competition hasn’t been too much of a factor in that regard. There are aspects of the design of Africlick that our users are very attracted to. To give one example, the inclusion of religion or the particular African country a user is from. These are pieces of data that are very important to an individual’s identity, but if they make a profile on a mainstream platform, there is no opportunity to share this information. You can’t tell the app that I’m in London, but I also want to reflect the fact that I am Nigerian and I’m Christian or Muslim, and that this is quite important for me when I’m looking for the person I want to date.
In general, I would say that the founder needs to be very sure that they are building something that people want. That’s why I would advise spending as much time as possible in the ideation stage and in the validation stage. Founders need to ensure that your end customer is validating your product. I think it’s fine, because there is always room, even in a crowded space, to innovate.
Do you have any advice for female founders specifically?
I do find that advice for female founders tends to focus on, what I consider to be, quite gendered clichés e.g. imposter syndrome. The advice I would give to founders – irrespective of gender- would be to focus on their vision. For example, for Africlick my vision is to change the way Africans are connecting globally. It’s important for founders to be very firm in holding true to their vision, even when a lot of people around them don’t understand it. Founders also need to be very strong on selling their vision. Founders are constantly, on a daily basis, selling their vision. Whether you’re speaking to investors, users, or potential team members, you are always selling your vision. You need to be very agile in terms of which aspect of the vision you want to play up, depending on the party that you are speaking to.
Were there any low points that you can think of, along your journey so far? How did you get through them?
There was a low point last summer. I was overworked and wearing too many hats. At this time, I was doing a part-time MSc in Technology at UCL, I was co-founding a diversity in tech consultancy, and I was working on Africlick. I was working six days a week for a period of time. There were advisors who would tell me things like “Well I was working 20 hours a day on my startup and you should be doing the same”. I was maybe taking the wrong advice. That was a low period and it was interesting, because, I was overworking myself. I got into an unhealthy pattern where I was working flat out for weeks on end but then there was a five- day period where I couldn’t do a thing. I realised that this was inefficient, because I was so unproductive in my down-time when I burned out.
Any funny or most memorable stories along the way?
I’d been invited to come on a daytime talk show, to talk about dating topics. I was really excited. I’d never been on TV before. I was driving to the studios in Chiswick (West London) and my car stopped in the middle of Chiswick High Street. When I say stopped – the clutch had worn all the way down - the car just wouldn’t move. We were on a tight schedule. I was there with my colleague who takes care of social media and my friend who is a make-up artist. Between, the three of us, we worked out what we were going to sacrifice. We decided that the social media person should stay with the car because we felt make-up was more important! We got in an uber and made it to the station. It was exciting, but it was a case of having highs and lows at the same time.
If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
I really had to train myself, when transitioning from the corporate world to startups, to have a mindset shift. When working in financial services management consulting, there was no room for mistakes. Particularly when we were working on things like banking systems, there could be no errors. This was other people’s money. There were several layers of checks and protocols. If I had to give myself one piece of advice, it would be to switch into the mode where I work faster and make more mistakes, when building the startup. As they say, you should be embarrassed about the first version of the product that you release. It’s more important to put something out there, let people tear it apart, and keep iterating quickly. Whereas some corporate jobs train you to be a perfectionist.
What are your favourite books?
The book explores the intersection between human behaviour and the tech products that we use every day.