Can we time warp for a minute to an analog dating era when guys picked up ugly phones with cords and paced around their rooms, mustering the courage to utter those voice-cracking words, “Uhh, ___? Hey, it’s ____.” It may have been awkward, but at least it was authentic, in a John Cusack/Say Anything kind of way. Incidentally, if you’ve never heard of that movie, stop reading this and watch it. It’s a national treasure, as any nostalgic Gen-Xer will emphatically tell you.
Now here’s what any future-minded Gen-Zer will counter: They want authenticity in their love lives, too. They’re sick of reducing themselves to voiceless, one-sentence photos on apps like Bumble. “That 2012 way of dating is dated,” says Marc Baghadjian, a Brunswick 2017 and Babson 2021 grad, who hit a digital dating wall himself and was determined to improve upon the existing model with his business partner, NYU grad Sacha Schermerhorn. “I was frustrated with the superficial swipe mentality of the online scene,” he says. “To be frank, the world has changed, but the platforms to support us just have not. Covid only made that clearer to me and the Gen-Z community.”
So last summer, Marc and Sacha dreamed up the social dating app Lolly, and since then, their venture-capital-backed startup has raised over two and a half million dollars, 10x-ing their valuation. Lolly’s big sell is that it puts a premium on personality over flat, Facetuned perfection, with its Snapchatty video format that allows users to showcase the fun, quirky, athletic, musical, multi-dimensional aspects of themselves that might otherwise not surface in a 2D feed. Come to think of it, Say Anything’s Lloyd Dobler would totally dig this. Listen in as Marc shares more about Lolly.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE NAME LOLLY?
It’s short for lollipop, it has a nice inflection, it’s kinda flirty. You also want something really concise, where you can play with branding. What’s so amazing about Lolly is we can play with candy, that’s our branding, all our merch. Who doesn’t love candy? The aesthetic is colorful and young, it’s just fun, and girls like fun.
LOLLY DEFINITELY HAS A FEMALE-FRIENDLY VIBE. WAS THERE A PSYCHOLOGY TO THAT?
Absolutely. We want to be female first and have amazing women on our team, so everything in the app is designed around that. If you can get females to come to your platform and they feel safe and at home, everyone will come. We want to be that fun bar experience in an app. The psychology is baked into the video experience. Plus, women statistically use more words and gestures than men, so for women, that means more colors to sell yourself, to be yourself.
WHAT’S THE TARGET AGE OF YOUR USERS? HOW YOUNG IS TOO YOUNG FOR LOLLY?
Eighteen to twenty-two. I’m sure younger people will try to download it, but we have age restrictions. It’s hard to build all the functionality at inception, but we’re investing in verification tools. Older people can join. We have people in their thirties, but that’s the beauty of video. You’re gonna see that guy is clearly not eighteen when it’s a forty-year-old man—in his towel.
HOW DOES LOLLY’S INCLUSIVITY DIFFER FROM OTHER SOCIAL DATING APPS?
How do you be yourself on Tinder? How do you be yourself on Bumble? How are you an inclusive ecosystem if only hot people have preference? If the only dimension that you measure success and get matches is if you’re hot or not? Well, you bring video into play. It’s really hard to be funny with a picture. There’s no context. Ok, it’s you and your friends laughing at a bar, but how is that funny? If you have a video, and you see your friends dying of laughter because you did something embarrassing? That’s funny. People are getting super creative. We also have prompts to inspire content, like, “What’s your morning routine?” and “What’s your favorite date spot?”
We believe we can make dating so much more equitable by letting people win on a dimension of more than just an attractive picture. We’re only one of ten companies in the world working with TikTok to use their technology to integrate their log in to the app, so people can upload their TikTok videos to Lolly with one button.
WHERE IS THERE SPACE FOR A SHY PERSON ON LOLLY?
A shy person can upload a profile picture and use it the same way they would with any other app. They can still “clap” on content and send “crushes” out on Lolly, without creating videos, so it’ll say, Charles or Vanessa clapped on your content forty times and has a crush. They are less likely to find matches if they’re unwilling to upload content from their TikTok or Snapchat, but it can still happen by engaging and liking content. By the way, only you see how many claps you get. It’s not the same as likes. We also don’t allow comments, because it just gets toxic, and we don’t want to be part of that.
YOU SOFT-LAUNCHED YOUR APP DURING COVID. HAS THAT GIVEN YOU AN ADVANTAGE?
Covid forced us all to go with the times, and everyone who wasn’t on dating apps before ended up on the dark side, too. Look, I would love to meet a girl in Central Park, but I can’t do that. They don’t even know what I look like. She sees my eyes and my hair. From the top up, I look like Johnny Depp, but you take off the mask and it’s like, “Ugh.”
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR LOLLY IN THE NEXT YEAR?
One million downloads. Our hard launch will be later this summer. The amazing thing is that Lolly reached the top fifty in social networking on the app store after we announced our launch, forty-eight places away from Facebook, competing with Mark Zuckerberg. It’s just incredible to get that many users in that short amount of time.
YOUR MOM IS A FRENCH AND ARABIC TEACHER AT BRUNSWICK?
I had her as a teacher for four years. It’s like we went to high school together. She even gave me pink detention slips. But seriously, my mom is the best. I mean, we made our angel investors name the LLC after our moms, KH Operate Syndicate One, for Sacha’s mom, Kate, and my mom, Hasmig. We are the epitome of mama’s boys. Lolly wouldn’t happen without the confidence they give us. They tell us what to do. “Get renter’s insurance for that building.” “No, not that logo, the other one.” We disproportionally take their feedback. We don’t know what to do. We’re kind of just winging it, with great experts who also winged it. I feel like everyone is winging it. Literally, the CEOs of big banks? Winging it.
YOU WERE A TOP FENCER AT BRUNSWICK. ANY SIMILARITIES BETWEEN FENCING AND THE COMPETITIVE WORLD OF SOCIAL NETWORKING?
You know, it doesn’t feel hard if you enjoy it. It’s hard, but hard is like quantum mechanics, people living in Liberia, making two dollars a day. Because I grew up low-income, because I come from Lebanon, because people in my family lost their generational life savings, I have a different perspective. This is all easy in the grand scheme.
Fencing was always fun for me, and because it’s so fun for me, I won, because it wasn’t a bother to practice. So many people wake up in the morning dreading work. I don’t. The worst thing that could possibly happen is we spend two and a half million and people don’t like the app, they don’t like our narrative, the aesthetic, they don’t like what we stand by, it doesn’t work. Even in the worst-case scenario, I’m still so blessed that I get to do this. When you love what you do, you’re unstoppable.