Lolly is building the future of dating by changing the way people meet online. Rather than swiping, Lolly offers users the opportunity to connect with people based on shared interests, through short-form video content. This month, our team is featuring co-founders Sacha Schermerhorn and Marc Baghadjian for the SVA Founder Profile Series. We hope you enjoy learning a bit about why they’re building Lolly and lessons learned along the way.
Names: Sacha Schermerhorn & Marc Baghadjian
Hometown: Sacha — San Francisco, CA / Marc — Greenwich, CT
Company Name & Brief Description Blurb: Lolly — the most fun way to meet people online. Discovering dates and connections through feeds of short-form video.
Company Location: Los Angeles
Year Founded: 2020
Founding & Mentorship
Q: Tell us about the moment you and your cofounder decided you wanted to start a company together.
Sacha: I originally met Marc through the remote accelerator Pioneer, which I had been accepted into at the beginning of the pandemic. Marc’s friend in Pioneer connected Marc and I and the synergies were immediately obvious to us both — he had the seed of a great idea and it was a pretty straightforward decision from there.
Q: When did you realize there was a need for your product/service? What was the impetus for starting your company?
Sacha: As soon as we observed dating behavior on major social platforms like TikTok we knew that the current dating apps had failed to capture Gen-Z. That, coupled with the insight that innovation in dating originates from social, was the driving force for building Lolly.
Marc: Telling your story on other dating apps was defined by three pictures on a single axis of physical attraction. People have more dimensions than just physical attraction so we allow people to tell their stories by being more than just a picture — — video allows people to continue to be physically attractive but also adds the ability to be funny, interesting, talented and more.
Q: How does your original business plan differ from what you’re working on today?
Marc: Two years ago I set out to build FaceTime dates. I launched an early MVP and it went nowhere. High effort requirements were the bane of the initial app. All apps take a few pivots to get it right.
Q: What do you think is the future of dating and what is currently missing?
Sacha: The future of dating will approximate the interactions and behaviors between people in real-life much better than it does now. The future will only get better at leveraging the convenience of technology while preserving the fun of real-life dating. We think that Lolly is a massively overdue step in that direction. Online dating in its current instantiation just isn’t fun — it’s a mechanical process more than a fun game of exploration. The beauty of video-first dating is that we put personality at the center of the process and house that personality in a vehicle that’s incredibly fun to consume.
Q: Was there a pivotal moment that felt like “failure” at the time, but actually helped to propel your company forward?
Marc: Trending on the charts the first time but not seeing users organically WOM spread our concept. The heart wrenching epiphany that marketing was a sham and that great product is the only thing that can most effectively trigger growth.
Q: When you’re feeling stuck on a problem or idea, what helps you to progress?
Sacha: Going for a walk and/or exploring the problem spaces of other founders.
Marc: I call my advisors.
Q: Any advice you’d give yourself when you were starting?
Sacha: Under-react. Cut the depth of your emotional response to events in half as it will help you in the long run.
Q: Did/do you have a mentor and how were they most helpful?
Marc: John Pleasants. This guy is like my north star for all things in life. Incredibly successful yet so modest about his success. Wise like a master Shifu yet understands that he may not know all. He has a strong understanding of product strategy, more than most of the product experts. This paired with his incredible kindness and compassion has made him a paragon of hope during times of chaos. Find yourself a John Pleasants.
Q: Who or what were/are the best sources for support and advice as you develop(ed) your business?
www.elements.envato.com/ (predesigned assets for anything)
www.rocketreach.com (for cold emailing)
www.pioneer.app (best early accelerator for an early stage idea)
2. Lean Startup
Q: Was there an unexpected piece of advice, or something you heard or read, that stuck with you or reframed your thinking as you built your company?
Marc: There is no finish line.
Q: Were there any important lessons learned during your fundraising process(es)?
Marc: Get 50 no’s. By the 50th no, you will have crafted a proper thesis/product vision around the concept you are building. Do not take no’s personal and keep the no’s updated.
What were your biggest misconceptions around fundraising or what surprised you the most?
Sacha: Like many processes, fundraising proved to be reflexive in nature. We received no after no until we hit a major yes which then catalyzed countless other yes’s. To be extremely clear: that catalyst was SV Angel, who took a chance on us without needing to wait for other investors to validate us as a company first. It was a testament to SV Angel’s process that they were taking a bet on us as founders instead of which investors we had in the round already.
Q: Why did you choose to partner with SV Angel?
Sacha: Every single reference check for SV Angel came back glowing. Every firm likes to tout themselves as “founder friendly”, but SV Angel was able to offer more tangible evidence for their involvement than any other firm we had met. As soon as we met Topher and Beth, we were immediately sold (pun intended).
Marc: The best way to sum up why we choose to partner with up SV Angel is that when things go wrong, the first investor we call is SV Angel.
Team & Culture
Q: What are your company’s top three core values?
Marc: Effort, transparency, self-starting.
Q: Can you share any valuable lessons about recruiting and scaling a world-class team?
Sacha: Building a great team is reflexive — the probability of acquiring great talent is a function of the level of talent you already have. The better the people we brought on, the easier it was to bring on more. Seek out the most talented people you know and initialize the search process by aiming high. If you can just get that initial high credibility person to join, it will autocatalyze from there.
Marc: Do not settle for less, hire big.
Q: How do you think about hiring and what is your favorite hiring question?
Sacha: When it comes to hiring, probably the best proxy for eventual success has been the number and depth of that person’s side projects. Quarantine was the perfect climate in which to judge candidates since the majority of people during quarantine binged Netflix. The candidates who stood out the most and who eventually became the best hires we made were those who spent their time perfecting their craft and who worked hard to showcase that well-earned agency via their side projects. During quarantine, when I met Marc, I was working on 8–10 different side projects. We decided that it was a pretty powerful heuristic we could use to judge other people as well.
One question we like to ask is: “What gets you up in the morning?”. The question is intentionally oblique (which leaves the ball in their court to determine what we mean) and is usually pretty telling of the person’s motivations on a much shorter timescale than would be the question “what is your 10 year plan?” (it’s much easier to feign an answer for that).
Q: How has Covid-19 affected your company? How are you supporting company culture and employee engagement through the pandemic/remote working?
Marc: Very difficult to build culture via Zoom. I encourage every founder to invest in group trips or settling somewhere.
Q: Is there a social cause or organization that you’re particularly passionate about? How do you think about integrating philanthropy into your company’s culture?
Sacha’s personal work can also be found here.