There’s a dating app for everything these days- whether you’re only interested in dating men with beards, bacon enthusiasts, or people who went to private school, there’s something on the market for you (though no conservative traditionalist app yet, sadly). But the one group of people who are shockingly under-serviced by the current dating market are the over 50s. Which is strange if you think about it- given that 1 in 3 marriages ends in divorce, there must be plenty of people my parents’ age who are single and looking to mingle.
However, this is set to change, with the introduction of Lumen- a new dating app exclusively for people aged 50+ that was co-founded by Charly Lester- an entrepreneur who has lived and breathed all things dating! I’ve known Charly for a while (the dating industry is a small place) so I decided to have chat with her about her latest venture. So read on, and make sure to pass on to any of your single parents.
For any readers who don’t already know you- how and why did you get into the dating industry?
About 5 years ago I wrote the blog ’30 Dates’ where I went on 30 blind dates in the 3 months leading up to my 30th birthday. The blog went viral and I ended up working at the Guardian as their dating editor, and leaving my banking job. I then launched The Dating Awards – the industry awards – and went on to become Global Head of Dating at Time Out. Since then I’ve consulted for most dating apps and websites.
You have a fair few businesses on the go already so you must be pretty busy- how did the collaboration with Lumen come about?
Actually the timing was perfect as I decided to sell The Dating Awards at the start of the year, and my other company ‘A League of Her Own’ is a lot more passive. Antoine, my co-founder, was Head of Revenue at Bumble, and we knew each other from the dating industry. He wanted to create a dating app for over 50s and approached me to join him as CMO and Co-Founder, so we spent all summer working on creating the brand and the app.
Obviously, you’re not over 50 yourself- so what made you decide to get involved with an app designed for this market rather than one aimed at your own age bracket?
I’ve worked in dating for over 5 years now, and I genuinely can’t count how many times I’ve been asked by friends’ parents for recommendations of dating apps or websites for over 50s. And I genuinely never had a decent answer. So I knew there was a space for Lumen and that it was a necessary product. Over 50s are a massively underserved audience in tech, whereas most dating apps are targeted at people my age. A lot of dating apps and services these days are gimmicky – because that’s the only way to create something new, or get coverage – but I didn’t want to create a gimmick. Lumen’s USP is that it’s the only dating app specifically for over 50s. That’s a big enough deal on its own.
As you can’t draw from your own experiences, how did you go about finding out what 50+ singles want from a dating app?
In a way I have still drawn from my own experience, because I have had so many conversations with single over 50s since I started working in dating. When I worked for Guardian Soulmates I would run dating workshops where I would help people with their profiles and answer questions and the majority of people who attended were in their 50s. So I already understood some of their pain points. I’ve also judged hundreds of different apps and websites as part of the Awards, so I knew what the current offerings for this age group were, and where they were lacking. But once we began working on Lumen, we did a number of focus groups, so over 50s have worked with us on our product and branding – to ensure we were designing something which was of interest to us. Our first ever advert was in National Trust magazine – which has a huge over 50s market. To advertise in the magazine we had to convince a panel of something like 30 trustees. The process took about two months and was a real validation that what we had designed was what our target audience needs and wants.
What unique challenges do you think there are for people dating over 50?
One of the biggest problems people in their 50s face is that people assume they don’t use apps or smart phones. If you asked someone to think about what a 50 year old looks like, they are unlikely to think of Kylie Minogue, or Daniel Craig (who are both 50!) and more likely to think of someone in their 70s, retired and in a hammock on a beach – that’s because all the stock imagery of over 50s is exactly that. So on the one hand they are this kind of ‘forgotten generation’ in society (and one which is getting larger – because we’re all getting older, and that generation is only going to get more tech-savvy. And then there is also often an issue that women over 50 find, that a number of men their age are only interested in dating women who are a LOT younger than them.
Why should 50+ singles use Lumen to look for a partner, as opposed to a more general app like Tinder or Bumble?
Well for a start, neither of those products were designed for them! When Tinder first came out the max age was 50, so people older than that were lying about their age. Now you can only search for ‘55+’ – not an actual age!
Lumen has been designed to tackle the issues over 50s experience on dating apps – increased scamming and catfishing (we photo verify every member) and frustration with empty profiles lacking detail (ever user has a minimum of 3 photos, an ‘about me’ section and ‘I am looking for). It is also a space JUST for over 50s – so any woman over 50 who is fed up feeling overlooked on ‘younger’ apps, because men her age are looking for far younger women, knows that any man using Lumen is only looking for women who are 50 and over … because that’s the only kind of woman he can meet on Lumen!
One interesting feature of the app is that users are required to upload a selfie as a verification process- do you think cat-fishing is a big problem with dating apps? Has this ever happened to you?
Sadly our research has shown that over 50s are the key group targeted by scammers and cat-fish, so it was something we needed to take into consideration. The nature of many dating apps is that you can sign up so quickly and easily, that not everyone who uses them are who they say they are – something which also occurs on social media. So we just wanted to nip the issue in the bud, in a way which we could directly control. Every user takes a live selfie at registration, which doesn’t appear on their profile, but which our AI and human moderators compare to the images on their profile.
I don’t know that I’ve personally ever been catfished on a dating app, but I was catfished in a work scenario over Facebook once, which was all very strange. I always used to insist on meeting up quite quickly when I dated online (and I also used to do a Google search for people to check they were who they said they were)!
The Lumen app aside, what general advice would you give to a single person over 50 (perhaps recently divorced) who is looking to start dating?
Take your time. Try not to replace the relationship you’ve just come out of with something, or someone, identical. (That applies to under 50s as much as it does over 50s!)
Be upfront and honest about what you’re looking for – you can do this in your dating profile to avoid awkward later conversations. And just go with the flow. Try new stuff, don’t put too much pressure on yourself and try to enjoy the experience. Dating can be a great way to remember exactly who you really are.
And finally- do you have any more business plans on the horizon? And what do you like to do when you’re not working?
Well the plan for Lumen is to not only become the top over 50s dating product in the world, but to also be one of the largest dating apps in the world. The world is our oyster – there are 80 million single people over 50 in America and Western Europe alone – so first things first, we will grow internationally. And then I guess I’ll see what happens. I’ve launched 6 companies in the last 5 years, so I don’t tend to sit still too long!
Haha, well I’m just the same outside of work. I love a challenge – I do a lot of sport. I took up triathlon last year, and have just done my first Ironman. I’m now training for Marathon des Sables, and this week I’ve got the Chicago Marathon. I think my Instagram is a neat mix of sport, sausage dogs (I have two), and Wonderwoman – I’m a huge feminist!