Business development · 17 February 2016

Double: Inspired by Tupac and backed by a serial entrepreneur

Double founders Gary MacDonough, Loren Gould and Ben Greenock in the Dragons' Den
Double founders Gary MacDonough, Loren Gould and Ben Greenock in the Dragons’ Den

Gary MacDonough was inspired to create a double dating app after a female friend admitted to avoiding traditional matching apps due to safety fears. It attracted the attention of Dragons’ Den investor Nick Jenkins and Bebo founder Michael Birch just in time, when its creators had almost run out of money.

Its co-founder believes Double is “more fun, less awkward and safer” than competitors like Tinder because it matches pairs of friends with duos they are attracted to, allowing the four people to arrange a group date.  Its three co-founders are serial entrepreneurs, although their current venture has been slower to generate cash than previous business ideas the three of them have worked on.

The startup capital for Double­ – around £30,000 – was raised over the two years when the partners sold rude Christmas jumpers. Yet by the time they reached the Dragons’ Den in 2015, they had spent it all and were deep into their personal reserves.

MacDonough described the reality of entering the Dragons’ Den as “grueling”. He explained: “We got there at 6am in the morning and were standing around in silly clothes until 6pm in the evening. Then the pitch itself lasted about two hours – I couldn’t feel my legs at the end of it.”

But he didn’t regret their choice of clothing for the pitch. The garish red and white suits – inspired by something which a friend wore for a Las Vegas stag do – which they picked up for £60 each were “the best marketing dollar we’ve ever spent”.

And the hours of practice that Double’s creators had put into rehearsing meant that effectively selling their business was a walk in the park. “We’d taken part in events like Hipsters, Hackers and Hustlers at Google Campus, and unsuccessfully pitched to get into growth accelerators, so we knew what questions to expect – they always ask the same things.

“Then, in the run up to the filming, we just practiced hundreds of times, and we even made ourselves go through it while dancing at the same time to make sure we knew it back-to-front. By the end we were actually worried we’d practiced too much.”

Not only did Moonpig founder Nick Jenkins agree to give them £75,000, but he also introduced them to Bebo founder Michael Birch, who matched the investment. It took a a couple of months for the deal to become a reality – MacDonough emphasised: “People think that if you’re successful on the show you get to walk away with the money there and then, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.” But when the founders of Double received the funding they were able to bring technical development in-house.

For MacDonough, the resultant process of finding the necessary technical talent has been the biggest challenge so far in his business journey. But, in addition to money, their angel investors have helped the Double founders by introducing them to good people. “On a day-to-day basis it’s us who run the company, but they’re there for problem solving if we need help, which is really useful,” he said.

“In retrospect, it was probably naïve to start a technology company with no technical experience. But naivety can be a great asset in business sometimes – if people knew what was involved they might be deterred from starting a company,” MacDonough added. “The most important thing I’ve learned is that tech Is all about networking. If you really want to be successful, go out every night of the week.”

He described his role on the business now as “growth hacking”, and said he was inspired by the late rapper Tupac Shakur “because growing a tech startup is all about hustling”.

“The first person to sign up to a dating app will get nothing out of it, but it gets better the more users you have,” he explained. “We’re aiming to focusing on reaching a critical mass in one city at a time. What level that is is a tricky one to calculate, but it’s probably around 10,000 active users. We’ve just launched in New York, and will be targeting other big US cities like LA and Philadelphia later in the year, as well as Canada and Australia.”

Unlike many competitors in the dating space, which attract a disproportionate number of male users, Double benefits from a gender balance which is close to 50:50, something MacDonough believes is partly down to the 18-24 demographic which the increased safety of the product appeals to. Double’s popularity among this age group has also meant  it has a great social following and lots of word-of-mouth marketing momentum.

“When we first launched in London we used a lot of PR but now we’re experimenting a bit more. Instagram ads have worked really well for us, because it’s all about tagging friends, so encouraging people to tag someone they’d be happy to take on a date with them is really natural,” he explained.

Though his company is still pre-revenue, MacDonough and his co-founders have clear ambitions for how to turn this hype into profit. They will be releasing a monetized version in the next three months, with in app purchases akin to Tinder’s superlike or Happn’s charms available – making Double a definite one to watch.

For more Dragons’ Den advice, don’t miss Peter Jones’ tips for micro business success.

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Hannah Wilkinson is a reporter for Business Advice. She studied economics and management at Oxford University and prior to joining Business Advice wrote for Kensington and Chelsea Today about business and economics – as well as running a tutoring company.