Courtesy of HER
By Shalene Gupta
February 26, 2015

Robyn Exton wanted to help a gay girlfriend who had gone through a break-up get back on the market. But Exton found that dating apps for lesbians were few and akin to Grindr, a service for gay men that is infamous for flings.

So Exton, a former marketer, created Her, a free app for women looking to date other women. The idea is to create a community for lesbians looking to make friends, chat, and, of course, date.

There are plenty of general-purpose dating apps that gay woman can use. Match.com, OkCupid, Coffee Meets Bagel and Tinder are just some of them. But these were all originally created for straight audiences and tend to be riddled with men masquerading as women or couples looking for threesomes. Moreover, lesbians who use Tinder have occasionally complained about finding straight women or men in their searches.

Dating apps specifically for gay women are limited. The most prominent is Brenda, an app similar to Grindr that was created by a man.

During a recent happy hour for lesbians at a bar in Oakland, Calif., the phrase “online dating” elicited groans across the entire room. Most of the women mentioned using Tinder, but said they disliked how they had to base decisions about potential dates on a single photo and then swipe the screen to either like or reject them.

In general, the crowd favored OkCupid, which features wordy profiles that give users a better sense of individual personalities. But the service is aimed at heterosexual users. Only about half of the women in the room had heard of Exton’s app. No one had tried it, but everyone was excited by the prospect of a different type of dating app.

Angelique Naylor, an IT professional belonged in the part of the room that hadn’t heard about Exton’s dating app, but she’s irked by the current offerings on the market. “Coffee Meets Bagel only allows you one match a day,” she said, mentioning one of the dating services. “And with Tinder, you swipe and swipe and then, it’s like ‘Oh crap, she was cute. I just rejected her and she’s gone forever.’”

Nothing existed for lesbians designed by lesbians until Her came along in September of 2013. Exton says. Exton herself is gay, and says her San Francisco-based team is made up of four queer women and two straight guys.

Exton originally named the service Dattch, a blend of the words “date” and “catch.” But she decided to upgrade the app after sending out user feedback surveys last November. She got rid of the name—people find it hard to pronounce Dattch—and decided to make the app more community focused. “Everyone wanted to see the social aspect. What are the big events? What is everyone up to?”

Users of Her see one profile at a time. If both users “like” each other, they are matched and will be able to send messages to one another. The profiles are reminiscent of Pinterest, the virtual bulletin board where users can “pin” favorite pictures. On Her users can add multiple photographs with captions, or short descriptions and favorite quotes to their profile.

Exton said encouraging multiple photos opens a window into a user’s personality. It also eliminates the need for women to describe themselves. “They are terrible at it,” she explained. “They tend to undersell themselves.”

Originally, Exton’s product was aimed purely at dating. However, after a user survey late last year, she decided to refocus the product around creating a community of lesbians.

“Everyone wanted to the see the social aspect,” she said. “What are the big events? What is everyone up to?”

The new version of the app features news feeds for eight cities filled with articles written by locals and listings of area events. More articles about dating and gay life are available in a blog.

For Exton, one of the most challenging parts of creating Her was finding investors. Some said she didn’t think she fit their stereotype. “I got lots of reactions like ‘You can’t possibly be a lesbian, you’ve got long hair,'” Exton recalled. Others simply saw no need for the app because they had never considered lesbian dating as major problem to solve.

“We don’t have proof there’s a market,” Exton was told.

To that, Exton responds by saying user traffic is growing 30% per month. But she declined to disclose how many users that translates into or any other details.

Exton’s future plans include rolling the app out in more cities. A paid version is also a possibility. “This isn’t just about dating,” said Exton. “It’s about simplifying how to talk to girls.” A sentiment, straight men could probably agree with as well.

(This story was updated with revised information about when Her will be publicly available)

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