20VC Why VCs Are Wrong About Single Founders, The Benefits of Party Rounds At Seed and How To PreGame Your Launch To Have Customers From Day 1 with Amanda Bradford, Founder & CEO @ The League

Summary Notes


In the latest episode of "20 Minutes VC," host Harry Stebbings interviews Amanda Bradford, the founder and CEO of The League, an exclusive dating app aimed at making online matchmaking more efficient. Bradford, who has a background at Evernote, Sequoia Capital, and Google, shares her journey from being "Internet Amanda," using early social networks to connect with people, to launching a dating app that leverages selectivity and technology to improve the user experience. She discusses the importance of pre-launch user engagement, the challenges of being a solo founder, and the strategies for city-by-city expansion. Bradford also touches on the complexities of marketplace dynamics in dating apps, the nuances of monetization, and the value of investor relationships. Looking ahead, she envisions integrating online and offline experiences to enhance real-world connections.

Summary Notes

Introduction to The League and Amanda Bradford

  • Harry Stebbings introduces Amanda Bradford, founder and CEO of The League, an exclusive dating app.
  • The League aims to help users find their perfect match online more intelligently.
  • Amanda has a background with Evernote, Sequoia Capital, and Google.
  • Funding for The League has come from Cowboy Ventures, Sherpa Ventures, and Ridge Ventures.

"And naturally I use all the products from founders that appear on the show, but some let's just say I have a natural affinity to more than others. And that might be the case today as I'm thrilled to welcome Amanda Bradford, founder and CEO at the league, the exclusive dating app that wants you to spend your time a little more intelligently when it comes to finding your perfect match online."

This quote explains Harry's personal connection to the products from founders on his show and introduces Amanda Bradford as the CEO of The League, highlighting the app's goal of efficient online matchmaking.

Early Internet Influence

  • Amanda was nicknamed "Internet Amanda" for her early use of the internet to make connections.
  • She utilized AOL instant messenger and BuddyChat to find friends.
  • Amanda sourced her best friend through the internet before moving to a new school.

"I was actually known as Internet Amanda as a girl because I was sort of crawling the social networks before there were social networks."

Amanda Bradford describes her early engagement with the internet and social networks, which earned her the nickname "Internet Amanda" and foreshadowed her future involvement in digital connection platforms.

The League's Genesis

  • Amanda's interest in digital connections from a young age influenced her creation of The League.
  • Her experiences with AOL and Facebook showed her the value of connecting people across distances.
  • Amanda did not initially intend to create a dating or matchmaking site but was always interested in social networking.

"I think I recognized the efficiency of being able to talk to someone across the country when that was what I was excited and focused on."

This quote highlights Amanda's recognition of the internet's potential to connect people efficiently, which is a foundational concept for The League.

Solo Foundership

  • Amanda Bradford disagrees with the conventional wisdom of always having a co-founder.
  • She compares starting a company to entering a relationship, emphasizing the importance of understanding oneself and one's business first.
  • Being a solo founder allows for full control over the company's direction and avoids co-founder conflicts.

"I totally disagree with it. I mean, I say it's the same advice I give to single people when they're struggling with the dating game."

Amanda Bradford expresses her disagreement with the need for a co-founder and compares the process to dating, suggesting that both require self-understanding before partnering with others.

Challenges as a Solo Founder

  • Hiring the first few team members, especially in technical roles, was challenging for Amanda as a solo founder.
  • Convincing others to believe in and join a one-person team can be difficult.

"Trying to find people to bring onto the team that believed this was going somewhere when you only have one person on the team is pretty hard for anyone to take that jump."

This quote explains the difficulty Amanda faced in recruiting her initial team members due to the challenge of instilling belief in the company's potential when starting as a solo founder.## Hiring Strategies

  • Amanda Bradford discusses the initial hiring challenges and the decision to hire contractor A-players over full-time B-players due to the inability to attract top talent to a new company.
  • The company was built on the back of A-player contractors who charged high rates but delivered quality work.
  • In-house engineers who were hired later appreciate the strong foundation built by these contractors.
  • There is a learning curve when it comes to understanding the right time to transition from contractors to full-time employees.
  • It's difficult to convert contractors to employees due to their fundamental mindset focused on funding other passions.

"You can hire b players or you can contract out a players and pay a hefty price tag. And so I chose the latter and really built the company on the back of a player contractors."

This quote underlines the strategic choice to prioritize quality over cost in the early stages of company development by hiring expensive but highly skilled contractors.

"I think you need to be in the right stage before you can kind of expect people to leap from their googles and their facebooks and their dropboxes to join your team."

Amanda suggests that attracting top talent from established companies requires the startup to reach a certain level of maturity and stability.

"You just can't convert contractors to employees. It's their DNA. It's fundamental."

This quote emphasizes the inherent difference in mentality between contractors and potential full-time employees, highlighting the challenge of conversion.

Pre-Launch Strategy

  • Amanda Bradford discusses the importance of creating buzz and building a user base before the official product launch.
  • The pre-launch phase involved engaging with users and hosting events to stir interest and ensure a successful launch day.
  • Leveraging early users to spread the word and attract more users was a key strategy.
  • The "pregame" period lasted five months, during which the prototype was being built and the user base cultivated.

"If you can get people buzzing about your product before you launch, you can almost guarantee yourself your launch is going to be at least medium success."

This quote highlights the value of building anticipation and word-of-mouth marketing to ensure a minimum level of success upon launch.

Launch Success Metrics

  • Amanda Bradford shares her approach to measuring the success of a product launch, likening it to a college's yield rate.
  • Metrics such as the number of accepted users logging in on launch day, messaging activity, 7-day retention, and friend invitations are used to gauge success.
  • A successful launch in San Francisco saw a high yield rate, indicating that the pre-launch strategy was effective.
  • The company also distinguishes between good churn (users taking a break for positive reasons) and bad churn (users leaving due to lack of engagement).

"We accepted 300 people in Minneapolis. How many actually logged in on opening day?"

This quote explains how user engagement on launch day serves as a key indicator of the launch's success.

"50% of the users actually invited friends after they used the app, and that was a huge number."

The high rate of user referrals post-launch is presented as evidence of a successful product that users are eager to share with others.

Retention Strategy

  • Amanda clarifies that while 7-day retention is important for launches, it is not the core metric for overall retention.
  • The company focuses on preventing bad churn by improving the algorithm to ensure users receive messages and matches.
  • Good churn, where users pay to take a break while staying in the community, is seen as a positive sign.

"What's not good churn is if someone's on the app and they haven't gotten messages, they haven't had matches, and you can kind of see from the data that they're falling out because they had a bad experience."

This quote explains the importance of ensuring user satisfaction and engagement to minimize negative churn.

Monetization Strategy

  • Amanda discusses the classic startup playbook of delaying monetization to focus on the core value proposition of the product.
  • The company launched without monetization but included tests for future monetization strategies.

"Monetization is interesting. I think the kind of classic playbook, at least when we were launching was in 2014, was don't worry about monetization."

This quote reflects the common startup approach of prioritizing product development and user growth over early monetization efforts.## Early Monetization Strategy

  • Amanda Bradford discusses the decision to delay focusing on revenue and building a billing system.
  • A fake HTML page was created to simulate an upgrade process, providing advanced features without charging.
  • This strategy was used to gather conversion rate data for budgeting and risk mitigation.

"I created an HTML fake page where I said, hey, do you want to upgrade for $15? If so, click this button. And then we just said, great, you're upgraded. And we gave them the advanced features without charging their card."

The quote explains the unconventional method used to estimate potential revenue and user willingness to pay, which helped in financial planning and risk assessment without an actual billing system.

Decision to Monetize

  • The right time to monetize was influenced by the need to rebuild their tech stack and financial pressure.
  • Monetization was integrated into the new backend system, known as "league 2.0".
  • A small bridge round of funding was secured as a safety net in case monetization failed.

"We were actually behind the gun... we were running out of money. I was looking at the end of our Runway and pretty freaking out about it, and so I wanted to launch it."

This quote highlights the urgency of monetizing due to financial constraints and the strategic approach of securing additional funds to mitigate risks associated with the monetization launch.

Growth and Scaling

  • The growth strategy involved addressing technical issues and responding to high demand in new cities.
  • The league faced scaling problems with their MVP, which informed their city-by-city launch strategy.
  • They capitalized on a built-up waitlist in the app for expansion decisions.

"We had over 10,000 people on the waitlist... we're going to kind of band aid this infrastructure up until we can."

Amanda Bradford describes the pragmatic approach to expansion by prioritizing technical stability and leveraging existing demand in new cities.

Marketplace Dynamics

  • The league, as a dating app, manages marketplace dynamics, particularly the gender ratio.
  • Unlike other dating apps, The League maintains a 50/50 gender ratio, impacting user experience.
  • The curated community allows for control over the gender balance, which is unique to The League.

"We keep the ratio 50 50, so the women feel like they're kind of doing less. Well... it's literally that we're keeping the ratio balanced and we're doing this as a service to both women and men."

This quote illustrates the deliberate management of gender ratios to create a balanced dating experience, which differs from typical dating app dynamics.

Fundraising Challenges

  • Amanda Bradford reflects on the difficulty of fundraising, especially after the initial $75,000.
  • A "party round" strategy was adopted, with a mix of venture capitalists and angels providing credibility.
  • The decision to price the round herself was a strategic move due to the challenges of the dating market and the company's technical backend.

"The next three hundred k was quite the uphill battle... we kind of had an uphill battle as far as trying to get kind of a classically led vc round."

The quote conveys the challenges faced in securing funding and the strategic decisions made to overcome these obstacles, including pricing the funding round independently.

Party Rounds

  • Party rounds are discussed, with a focus on the potential lack of a lead investor to champion the company.
  • Amanda Bradford's experience with a party round was positive, contrary to common criticisms.

"I haven't really"

Unfortunately, the transcript cuts off before Amanda Bradford can fully articulate her response to the question about party rounds, leaving her full perspective on the matter unknown.## Investor Support and Value

  • Amanda Bradford has not often needed her investors to go to bat for her company.
  • She believes that investor responsiveness and willingness to help are not necessarily tied to the amount they have invested.
  • The importance of the cap table composition is emphasized, highlighting the value of having supportive individuals rather than just funds.
  • Investors with connections can leverage those to provide value to the company, but the personal relationship with investors is key.

"I don't know if that's just because I like to fight and I like to go to battle, but I guess I can't comment on that. In particular, I've commented that when I do need help from my investors, I think they help me just like they would if they had put in $2 million or $5 million, even if they've only put in, haven't noticed a difference based on their responsiveness or their willingness to take a phone call or give me advice."

This quote explains Amanda's experience with her investors, illustrating that the level of investment does not affect their willingness to provide support and advice.

The Most Valuable Contribution from Investors

  • Amanda values investors who can provide access to talented engineers, as recruiting in Silicon Valley is challenging.
  • She finds the dating industry is often dismissed by high-caliber engineers due to misconceptions.
  • Beyond recruiting, investors add value by sharing experiences from their portfolio companies, which can guide a single founder in decision-making.
  • This exchange of knowledge helps Amanda evaluate new ideas and strategies for her company.

"Awesome engineers, which is, again, one of the hardest things to be able to provide value to, even as a, you know, I would say sourcing engineers in Silicon Valley is probably one of the most difficult projects I've had."

Amanda identifies the recruitment of exceptional engineers as a critical area where investors can add value, noting the difficulty of attracting such talent in Silicon Valley.

Personal and Professional Growth

  • Amanda cites the end of relationships, both professional and personal, as moments of significant personal growth.
  • These experiences force self-reflection and clarify life goals and personal values.
  • She emphasizes the importance of understanding what one wants from life and the type of person they want to be.

"I think really understanding what you want out of life and who you want to spend it with and what kind of person you want to be."

This quote reflects Amanda's belief that the conclusion of relationships is a catalyst for self-discovery and personal development.

Coping with Challenging Moments

  • Amanda deals with difficult times by keeping busy and taking on more work.
  • She acknowledges that while this may not be the healthiest approach, it helps her to focus and move through tough situations.

"I just get busy, man. I love taking on projects. I always have 1000 things going on in my life."

Amanda describes her strategy for handling stress and difficult moments by immersing herself in work and projects as a coping mechanism.

Future Plans for The League

  • Amanda is excited about integrating online and offline experiences to increase the efficiency of meeting new people.
  • The League aims to provide a "heat map" or "compass" to guide users to places where they are more likely to meet someone interesting.
  • This tool is designed to enhance users' real-life experiences without being intrusive or altering their lifestyle.

"So I think really merging that so that we're not keeping our users online. We want to be sending our users offline."

The quote reveals Amanda's vision for The League, which involves creating tools that encourage users to engage in the real world, thus enhancing their chances of making meaningful connections.

Company Culture and Values

  • Amanda and her team emphasize the value of "doing the work" as a core principle.
  • This motto encourages action and problem-solving over mere discussion, fostering a culture of persistence and hands-on engagement within the company.

"Do the work."

The quote succinctly captures the company's ethos of actively engaging with challenges and finding solutions through direct action.

Personal Influences

  • Amanda's childhood favorite book, "The Giver," has had a lasting impact on her perspective on self-discovery and understanding the world.
  • Quotes and mottos serve as reminders and guiding principles in her professional life.

"The reason I would say that book resonates with me. It's just always stayed with me as I guess I've gone through my life journey just because it was such a book of self discovery."

Amanda shares how "The Giver" has influenced her throughout her life, highlighting the book's theme of self-discovery as particularly resonant with her personal journey.

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