Sierra & Sally are in charge of marketing, strategy, PR, product development and user experience at Sweet Pea, a dating app designed in opposition to the “hot or not” swiping mentality of online dating. The app gives users social context, like being able to match with people who have similar interests like “Art”, “Business” and “Food”, and giving both men and women the opportunity to initiate conversation. The app now has real-life stories of people meeting and marrying thanks to Sweet Pea, and it’s only been around since late 2016.
What’s your backstory?
Sally I started my own marketing & PR agency in Australia and ran it for a couple of years before deciding I wanted a new challenge. I was tossing up between going back to university to study engineering, or relocating to the US. In late 2017 I made the decision to move to LA – I don’t think I have the patience to go back to the classroom at the moment! I now run my marketing agency in LA and work with Sweet Pea as head of Strategy. Moving to a new country without a network of support was challenging, and I was looking for ways to find like minded people and experience my new city.
I connected with Sierra (Sweet Pea’s CMO) and Michael (Sweet Pea’s Founder) and realised we were both trying to solve the same problem in different ways – How can you recreate the experience of meeting people in real life, online, without it feeling like some kind of “hot or not” gamified interaction? When we meet people in the “real world” we’re surrounded by context – if we’re at an art show, we can talk about the art. If we meet at work, we can have a conversation which isn’t immediately focused on courtship, if we meet in a social sports league we can bond over a common interest. When I learned about what Michael & Sierra were developing, I knew this was the kind of thing my friends and I were looking for.
I moved to LA from Arizona and was working in music after I graduated. I met Michael Bruch, Sweet Pea’s Founder, and we connected on a lot of the core values that help Sweet Pea differentiate itself. We both wanted to create something long-lasting, that helped social engineer dating in a different direction – less about endlessly swiping and feeling disconnected from human interaction, and more about creating a digital social space where it feels like meeting in real life. I was also new to LA, and had used different dating apps my friends had recommended. While I’d had some good experiences, I was feeling fatigued at the endless swiping and I didn’t love the thought of dating in my 20’s and only using the currently available apps as my way of eventually meeting someone I liked. Meeting Michael and helping develop his idea was really exciting, because I’m working to create something my friends and I would actually use – not something owned by a big corporate monopoly which designs their experience profit off people’s frustration.
Can you tell me the story of your prior successes, challenges, and major responsibilities?
Sweet Pea has held some incredibly cool experiential events at places like South by Southwest, Coachella and Sundance, and we had a great College Marketing strategy in 2018. Michael, Sweet Pea’s Founder has encouraged Sierra and I to deep dive into the product side of things, and we work really closely with the engineers on product and user experience – we’ve been challenged to learn quickly and it’s develop an entirely different skill set. Working with a tech client in a male dominated industry, Sierra and I have definitely been met with skepticism. We’ve been (kindly) advised by men who work in tech and finance on several occasions that we should leave this space to people more experienced, who ‘understand’ teach better, and that we’re in a very competitive space so we should consider focusing on something else. As the company grows, we’ve definitely had some challenges.
Sweet Pea are looking to raise funding in 2019 which will definitely be the next challenge for us, especially hearing about the bias that exists with founding teams that have both men and women receiving only about 12% of overall funding. What keeps us inspired is hearing feedback from people using the app in real life and working with the apps engineers to make sure we’re designing an experience that reflects what people really want. We did a re-skinning of the app experience late last year and got thrown a few curveballs which our engineers worked around the clock to correct. We feel a responsibility to create something original which we actually want and we don’t plan on stopping until everyone is using it.
We’ve had a strong success rate with events and experiential marketing, supported by digital marketing and it’s been awesome to see that reflected in the growth. A major challenge we face is when competitors take our original ideas as their own. We’ve seen our horoscope & wingmate features be adopted by competitors and while it’s somewhat flattering, it’s also frustrating as we are still growing. We don’t have the might of a giant umbrella company behind us to push a huge advertising strategy, but we do have a deeper intrinsic purpose than many of our competitors. We develop the app’s unique features from a place of creating a better social environment – rather than looking for ways to monetize dating. The thing is, everyone we know who is single is looking for something better than what they currently are using to meet people. We know there’s a need for this, and we’re not the type to wait for somebody else to create it.
Can you tell me about a time when you almost gave up, how you felt about that, and what you did instead of giving up?
I think most people are afraid of failure, and we’re no different. Especially being under the lense of being a ‘woman’ in tech, I’ve felt added pressure as I know people aren’t necessarily expecting us to succeed. A recent article by U.S. News & World Report shows women are
judged more harshly for their mistakes, so it’s hard not to be risk averse, especially in male- dominated domains. Seeing competitors adopt our Zodiac matching and Wingmate features
was defeating and frustrating. But we’re lucky that we check in with each other and that we have Michael and a handful of mentors who can give us sound advice based on experience. We’re figuring things out as we go and if we make mistakes we know we just have to own up, take responsibility, and put something in place to try and ensure it doesn’t happen again. We don’t have time to slow down.
Working in a start-up is always going to be challenging. You don’t just do the designated role you signed up for, you end up wearing so many hats. If the app is experiencing a glitch or if you get an email from someone in a remote place who is annoyed they don’t have matches in their area, it’s hard not to let it consume you. I use it to drive me to keep making sure the product is improving, and making sure more and more people are learning about us – so that even those in small towns and faraway places hear about us and can find someone like minded.