The dating industry has changed dramatically over the past ten years with the influx and subsequent domination of dating apps. In 2017 however we’ve started to see new challengers to the dating throne in the shape of events companies. This year Match.com raised a few eyebrows with the introduction of their new dating events, was this a nod to the increasing popularity of real life meets? This week I chatted dating with Charlotte Spokes, founder of London’s newest events company, My Friend Charlie.
Charlie, tell me about your professional background…
I didn’t follow a traditional route, so it’s always a bit hard to know where to start with this one. I’ve definitely always had a passion for start-ups, in fact the first thing I did after leaving school was to start my own small business catering for children’s parties, alongside working in a variety of sales and business development jobs. One thing that’s been very consistent in my career is the fact that people are what make me tick. In my mid-20s I decided I wanted to get some more traditional education and so I went back to college and later achieved a masters degree in Osteopathy. It made sense to me at the time as I have always had a passion for fitness and wellness, but, like many students I changed my mind about what I wanted to do. I used the degree to get myself a job in the FX industry, but by that time I knew I wanted to start my own thing again, only now I’d have a lot more business experience to fall back on.
What are your views on dating in 2017?
It’s brutal. Expectations are sky high but on a very superficial level. It’s hard to make a genuine connection with someone because you don’t dig deeper or get an opportunity to see the real person behind the profile. We invent this ‘best version’ of ourselves which is plastered all over social media and dating apps which you then have to try to live up to in real life. It’s not sustainable, so you see a lot of people get a date or two and then realise the person they’re dating isn’t this profile or picture, it’s a real human being and guess what, none of us are perfect. First impressions are tough too, but the snap judgement you make when you meet someone face to face can be very tainted by their online persona. It skews the reaction in my opinion. Whereas if you meet in real life without the online preamble you’ve got no idea what to expect, so you have to react accordingly. It means people see the most honest version of you. These days dating feels more like a job interview or another thing on the to-do-list. Dating should always be fun, which is why we’re working so hard to create an environment that takes the pressure off and lets people get to know each other in a more natural way, just like the good old days, but with a thoroughly modern twist.
What made you want to get into the dating industry?
As a single woman with lots of single friends (both male and female) I’ve experienced some of the true frustrations of the dating scene and some of the horror stories and stereotypes we hear of, really are true. I’ve been sitting on the idea for a couple of years – I love organising events and parties and I really feel there’s a market out there that isn’t being served by the existing app and online dating offerings. I wanted to create something that wasn’t pretentious and exclusive, but instead just focused on bringing people together, having fun and seeing what happens. I honestly believe we’re on to something pretty special.
Why events and not apps or matchmaking?
Apps make it too much like a game. Swiping right and getting a ‘match’ is like a hit – it makes you feel good, but more often than not nobody is interested in talking and even if they are, there’s that awkward first message to deal with. You basically have to make a decision on superficial, instant impact factors about a person, and there’s no way of getting a true sense of the person. Internet dating has many of the same drawbacks, you simply can’t tell if you’re going to get that ‘click’ with someone away from a screen, so you can spend a lot of time and effort (not to mention money) and get absolutely nowhere. On a personal note, the pain and misery (slightly dramatic) of sending and receiving endless “Hi, how are you?” messages drives me nuts. I’d prefer to be out there in the real world talking to a real person. People are endlessly fascinating and you get so much more from others face-to-face than you ever get from behind a screen. Matchmaking agencies are incredibly expensive, so they are by definition out of reach for most people. That really isn’t what I wanted. Our events are no more expensive than a couple of rounds of drinks after work, which means they’re accessible to a lot of people – that’s vitally important to me.
Do you think us singletons have become too dependent on online dating over the past few years?
Short answer? Yes. But I don’t think we’re completely to blame, it’s tough to meet people ‘naturally’ these days. It’s great that the stigma that used to be attached to online dating has basically gone, but it does mean some of us are getting better at writing than we are at real conversations – which is after all what you have to do in order to forge a real relationship.
What needs to change about the dating industry?
Like the rest of the online world it can seem anonymous at times and that makes people do and say things that they never would in person. From ‘dick pics’ (we’ve all been there) to online abuse, it unfortunately happens. We need to remember that we’re humans talking to humans, and whatever you put ‘out there’ on the internet has the potential to last forever. Anything you wouldn’t say or show to someone’s face you should think twice about saying or sending to a stranger online.
What do you love most about your job?
There are lots of really great things. Meeting new people and picking the events are pretty high up the list. Best job ever in fact. I have a list that covers a whole door at home of the events I want to run and I literally can’t wait to book them in. The idea that I’m solving a real problem for people and helping them to find the right relationship that they can be happy in is what I’m really passionate about. I’m an old romantic, what can I say!
What’s your idea of the perfect first date?
The perfect first date is one that you never want to end. I love the excitement of not knowing where something is going to lead and I think that’s why I love what I do so much. We’re creating so many possibilities for amazing first dates. My perfect first date would start with drinks somewhere fun, and then we’d do something spontaneous, maybe jump on the first train somewhere and have dinner wherever we ended up. It wouldn’t matter if it was fish and chips on Brighton Pier or a candlelit dinner for two on a rooftop in Paris, just doing something different would sweep me off my feet. The ability to drop everything, even just for a day, is magical to me and it doesn’t happen too often as people are very confined by expectations and social norms.
What makes my friend Charlie stand out from other events companies?
It’s personal, and there is a real human behind every aspect of what we do. That’s important to me because I want people to feel like they can ask questions and that we aren’t hiding from anything. We also make sure that all of our events have even numbers. The gender balance needs to be 50/50 or max 60/40 otherwise it’s no fun for anyone. All our events have an activity (not organised fun I promise) but there is a reason for being there other than to meet singles. It’s something to do, something to break the ice and something to talk about.
What’s next for My Friend Charlie and where would you like to be this time next year?
I want to build the business to the point where we can replicate the format in other parts of the country and offer the same personalised service to even more single people. We’re looking at a number of funding options at the moment, but for me it’s essential that however we grow we remain true to our customers and keep delivering the same personal touch and even more fun and exciting events.
To find out more click here.