Robyn Exton won $6K on the lotto and turned it into a $3 million global business

Founder of Her Robyn Exton speaks at a tech convention in New York. Photo / Getty Images
Founder of Her Robyn Exton speaks at a tech convention in New York. Photo / Getty Images

Robyn Exton was working two jobs, studying at college and had moved back to her dad's house when, just like every week, she took a punt on Britain's lotto.

"I have always loved the lottery and I play it all the time," the 30-year-old from London tells news.com.au. "I woke up one Saturday and when I looked at the numbers I realised many were the winning numbers."

Excitedly, she looked to see how much she had won on the Euromillions draw. Sure, it was one number short of the jackpot but it was nothing to be sniffed at.

"It wasn't 60 million pounds but it was 3500 pounds [NZ$6700] so it was amazing".

It was 2012 and the temptation to burn through her windfall was huge. But Exton resisted the urge and instead invested the money in her own, less than certain to be successful, business venture.

Less than four years later that fluke $6700 win has turned into a company that has attracted $3.2 million worth of investment.

Exton created Her, a dating and social networking app for women. It now has 2.5m subscribers and this week will tick over its 100,000 download in Australia.

Early next month, she will fly to Australia to meet revellers at Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras - a key market for the app - and give a talk at the city's Apple Store.

Her journey from pulling pints in a pub to creating the world's most successful app for gay women has involved wooing new customers with free booze and weirdly toilet paper, and even avoiding the overtures of lecherous men wanting threesomes.

Rewind to 2012 and Exton - who then worked in marketing - realised that dating apps aimed at gay women were no more than reskinned versions of apps designed for gay men.

"They used 1980s style stock imagery that made women look like porn stars. None of it looked like my life."

So little thought was put into the female versions, the apps even asked women the identical questions they posed to men - right down to the level of body hair they sported.

Exton wanted to change all that. But there were some small hurdles. She had little in the way of IT skills and even less cash.

So, she moved back home and enrolled in a coding course.

"I'd wake up at 5am to do my coding homework, and then go to my day job. At lunchtime I would sneak out to talk to people about the app and the evenings I work in a pub.

"That app was my life. I was all or nothing, there was no way I would be satisfied If I hadn't given it everything."

Within a year, and with a little help from her lotto win, Exton had raised $16,000 and launched the forerunner to Her in the App Store.

But how to get women to actually download it?

"I'd buy bottles of Tequila and we'd give out shots to women in exchange for downloading the app. In hindsight, I wonder if that was illegal," she pondered.

"At festivals, we stapled flyers to toilet paper and we would give them to women because we knew the toilets would be gross so we made the experience nice."

But one of the biggest bug bears of lesbian dating apps was all the straight blokes lurking on them, some who even hid behind fake female profiles.

"I would get messages from guys asking me for a threesome or they would pretend they were women and then say, 'Oh, my brother wants to come along too' and I would be like 'come on', what do you not understand? We're not here to meet you."

Her has several tactics to weed out straight men creeping around including staff who scour the profiles. That's not to say Her isn't gender diverse. Indeed, there are 23 different gender types you can choose including 'trans female', 'agender' and 'boi'. But not male.

"Straight men have many of their own apps," said Ms Exton.

There are other differences between Her and traditional dating apps like Grindr or Tinder.
"Men are looking to meet up quickly whereas [lesbians] are often looking for a date in five to seven day's time. Knowing someone is three metres away is not helpful and is almost scary levels of information," she said.

"We've made profiles more like Pinterest boards to prompt people to put in more than just the standard stuff; we want people to explain who they are."

Questions are also posed by the app to encourage shy users to engage online. Social events, from cabaret evenings to soccer matches, means women can interact without the pressure of a date. Although, Exton admits, that below the matey camaraderie there's still often a desire to hook up.

Her first major funding was GBP100,000 [NZ$162,000] from angel investors in London. However, it was when Ms Exton moved to America that the big bucks, US$2.5 million [NZ$3.2m] of them, came her way including from Alexis Ohanian, the founder of Reddit.

Like many IT entrepreneurs, Exton's company is seeking to monetise the app. There are premium features - such as remotely changing your location - to encourage customers to part with their cash.

It's "going well," but she admits it's a challenge. "When you've been a free product people think you're stopping usage but if they understand you can still do what you always did for free, they are happier."

Her launched in Australia at the beginning of 2016. "Australia has been a test bed for us to see if we had to be on the ground. We worked remotely with some Facebook groups and Instagram accounts and it went incredibly well, it's guided our strategy for the rest of market."

Aside from joining in the revelry of Mardi Gras, Exton will be using her talk to explain how to create a company in a female leaning market.

But while she may have already struck gold with millionaire investors, she says she is still a regular lotto player.

"I'm obsessed with it. I'm a firm believer that one day I will win the jackpot."

- news.com.au

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