“Once’s vision is to create the post-swipe dating world”: Interview with Once’s CEO and founder, Clémentine Lalande

Dating nowadays is almost synonymous with ‘swiping’ on our mobile phones. But what would dating look like without this abundant, throw-away mentality?

Clémentine Lalande, founder and CEO of Once, has this vision firmly in her mind. Founded in 2015, Switzerland-based Once leverages AI algorithms to provide just one match per day to each user. Each pair has 24 hours of each other’s attention and can continue chatting if they ‘like’ each other. And this method seems to be more than popular – over 10 million people now use Once, and in early 2021 the company was acquired by Dating Group, overall valuing the company at around €14.9 million.

We were able to speak with Clémentine about her experience growing Once, building a 10-million-strong community, Once’s recent acquistion, and her thoughts on the future of the dating industry.

You’ve founded two dating startups. What was it about this sector which pulled you towards it? 

I started my career at the Boston Consulting Group and worked with private equity and venture capital companies. I got tired of the existing dating apps and the market that reproduces and amplifies patriarchal stereotypes, and decided to reinvent the rules of online dating.

Then I founded Pickable, a feminist dating app, which reverses gender power imbalances by requiring only men to create a profile. A few months after its launch and already with two million users, Pickable was awarded by Apple and sold to Once, while I headed the united company.

Congratulations on the recent acquisition by Dating Group. What are your learnings from this experience so far?

Dating Group has proven its focus on post-swiping dating alternatives. I knew about this earlier, even before we started discussing the acquisition, but then I made sure that’s the right step for the company. I’m thrilled to join and happy to leverage the huge synergies between Once and Dating Group.

Let’s talk more about Once – the dating app market is pretty saturated, but what do you believe makes Once different?

With Once we target singles who are looking for real connections and beautiful love stories as well as people who have a ‘swiping burn-out’. Once users receive only one match per day, which is selected with the help of artificial intelligence. The AI uses the account information, dating preferences and past activities to find the best match for a person. Each match has 24 hours of each other’s undivided attention. If they like each other, they will be permanently connected and can continue to chat.

Other providers rely on mass. The catalog of singles seems to be endless when you’re swiped as a user. With Once, the match suggestions are selected specifically for each user and with each decision the users make, the algorithm learns and improves the match quality.

Once’s vision is to create the post-swipe world. Technological innovations help us do incredible things – so why not love? Currently, singles are only part of a huge catalogue of possibilities. Swiping on a variety of apps is like searching for a number in the phone book. This simply makes singles unhappy. We need to change that, we need innovations that stop swiping and bring more personality and relevance back to the search for love. This is exactly what Once has competed for. To make dating beautiful again.

In your time at Once, you scaled from 2 to 10 million customers – a dream for entrepreneurs everywhere! What are your tips for budding founders on scaling up successfully?

First, do not be afraid to be loud and stand up for yourself. Others must and should perceive you, see and hear what you have to say.

Secondly, do not apologize or justify yourself. Do not find excuses from the outset that neutralize your opinions and actions. I have noticed during my career that women often do this, they are not confident in their opinions and suggestions. To change this and to be taken seriously in the founder’s world, you should ask yourself in every action whether people would treat you differently and you would behave differently if you were a man. Because if you always apologize or justify yourself as a woman, others do not take you seriously.

Third, if you have an idea, just implement it and don’t wait for perfection. In this way, you gain valuable experience that will advance you personally as well as the business. You will learn more and more. There is no failure, only continuous development.

Finally, what’s next for Once? 

Once is said to have ushered in the post-swipe era and ensured that singles take more time to get to know each other again. The recent acquisition by the Dating Group is already a big step in the right direction. We can use the enormous synergies that exist between Once and the Dating Group to put an end to swiping over the next few years. Having a great partner in such a concentrated and competitive market, allows us to expand our reach and accelerate geographic expansion to make dating personal again and slow it down.