Sacha Schermerhorn and Marc Baghadjian are the co-founders of Lolly.
Courtesy of Lolly
If there are two ways people spend time in the pandemic, TikTok and online dating are top of the list. TikTok, the short form social video app, was one of the most downloaded apps of 2020. And dating apps saw a surge in users as virtual interactions became the norm. So it is almost inevitable that an entrepreneur will try to combine the two.
Lolly, a new dating app launched last month, wants to do just that. A cross between TikTok and Tinder, Lolly encourages users to upload short videos to their profiles so that potential matches can be displayed in a vertical feed that is strongly reminiscent of TikTok. The idea: With short videos, users can demonstrate their humor and creativity more than with normal dating profiles. Because users see videos based on their interests, they’re more likely to make connections based on more than just looks, founders Marc Baghadjian and Sacha Schermerhorn told Forbes.
“We saw this breakup where people couldn’t tell their story on Tinder. Gen-Z felt they weren’t being heard, ”says Baghadjian. “The world has changed since 2012 and the platforms that support us have not. Pictures are so old – it’s an old, outdated way of thinking. “
Baghadjian (21) and Schermerhorn (24) are relatively inexperienced founders, but they managed to make investments from well-known donors at an early stage. Former Ticketmaster CEO John Pleasants, who oversaw the ticketing company when it was briefly the parent company of Match.com, is a predetermined investor and active advisor. Former Apple CEO John Sculley is also an early shareholder. And on Friday, the company closed a $ 1.1 million startup round from SV Angel, So-Fi co-founder Daniel Macklin, Wired Ventures co-founder Jane Metcalfe, former SV Angel general partner Kevin Carter, Correlation Ventures and Next Coast Ventures.
A $ 1.1 million war chest naturally looks like peanuts when compared to Tinder and Bumble’s high ratings and budgets. But Lolly’s investors are betting that TikTok dating will be a huge hit at Gen-Z, and they say they are particularly impressed with Baghadjian and Schermerhorn.
Courtesy of Lolly
“They think deeply about this area and use their own experiences and vulnerabilities as users themselves to question every element of the product experience,” said Topher Conway, co-managing partner at SV Angel, in a statement.
The biggest difference between Lolly and other dating apps: the lack of a swipe left feature. Users can scroll past videos they don’t like, or they can “clap” a video up to 50 times, which is a “like” to the app. The clapping of a video feeds Lolly’s recommendation algorithm and guarantees that users will see videos of that person again. “On any other platform, you basically have the opportunity to say yes or no to another person before you get to know them,” says Schermerhorn.
Baghadjian started what would later become Lolly in 2018 from his Babson College dormitory. He was FaceTiming a girl he had a crush on when an idea struck him: Video is the future of dating. Soon after, Baghadjian developed plans for a video dating app called Skippit.
Baghadjian attributes his entrepreneurial mindset to a difficult upbringing, which he describes in New Jersey as a “tenement house”. His family immigrated to the United States from Lebanon when he was 4 years old. Baghadjian says his mother worked three jobs to support her. Baghadjian started his first business in high school after patenting a new design for airsoft ammunition cartridges. Before graduating, he sold the company and said he used his mother’s proceeds to buy a car.
Skippit never really started. It couldn’t compete with apps like Tinder and Hinge, which introduced their own video chat capabilities during the pandemic. Baghadjian abandoned his original idea and started thinking about what dating would look like in years. So he landed on TikTok.
“TikTok was getting a lot of hype right now. And I’ve seen people date on TikTok. I said, “Wow, people are already using this platform today.” We saw that this innovation alludes to the future, ”says Baghadjian.
Baghadjian brought Schermerhorn with him, who had just decided against a doctorate. in neuroscience to become an entrepreneur. With a new direction, the couple started an insane shot of getting in touch with previous mentors and connections and seeking advice. Schermerhorn reached out to the family’s longtime friend, Jane Metcalfe, the co-founder of Wired Ventures who eventually decided to invest, and to former Sequoia chief marketing officer, Blair Shane, who acts as a consultant.
“I think the North Star for Lolly is cultivating relationships that would otherwise not be seen in traditional dating. It also convinced me that it’s content and community based first, not just how you look or where you went to school, ”says Shane.
Next, Baghadjian went to John Pleasants, former Ticketmaster CEO, and former Apple CEO John Sculley. Baghadjian met Pleasants two years earlier during a Golden State Warriors guard party at the longtime tech manager’s home. Baghadjian wasn’t technically invited, but he was accompanying a friend of a friend who was. Once inside, Baghadjian threw pleasants at Skippit and they have stayed in touch ever since.
It is similar with Sculley. Baghadjian approached him at a recruiting event at Babson College. “I was intrigued by Marc because he had the chutzpah to introduce himself and tell me his story,” Sculley tells Forbes. While Sculley does not actively work with Lolly beyond his small investment, he considers Baghadjian to be a friend. “He’s riding the wave of short videos, focusing on Gen-Z. But timing is everything. And I think his timing is good here, ”says Sculley.
Even with star supporters, Baghadjian and Schermerhorn will face the same challenges that other social media companies pursue. Lolly’s videos don’t have comments that they hope will reduce trolling and harassment. There is also a risk that other dating apps or social networks, even TikTok, will copy your idea at some point. When it comes to content moderation, the duo say Lolly will have community guidelines similar to TikTok on nudity and hate speech. When videos are tagged, a human checks them out, even if Baghadjian and Schermerhorn have to sit down and do it themselves. But they’re still figuring out how to scale that effort.
“We hope this will be sufficient as a defense mechanism in the early days, but it will be a never-ending fight,” says Schermerhorn.