In the first of a new On the Up series featuring startups that have successfully made it to the milestone of £1m turnover, Business Advice met founder of exclusive dating platform The Inner Circle, David Vermeulen.
Designed as an invitation-only online dating platform, aimed at ambitious like-minded singletons, The Inner Circle already boasts a 90,000-strong user base across Europe. Vermeulen has made plans to launch the brand in New York later this year.
(1) Who are you and what’s your business?
I’m David and I’m the co-founder and CEO of The Inner Circle – an exclusive dating platform for London’s successful and ambitious single people. I had the basic idea after signing up for a dating site several years ago, and wasn’t impressed with the curation. I found that most platforms attracted too broad a range of people, and I felt there should be one offering “quality” rather than “quantity”.
We launched in 2013 after I created an initial platform, first on desktop and then on a mobile site and app. Having started with a team of three, including my co-founders Serge and Michael, we now have a team of seven.
(2) You’ve recently reached £1m turnover, how much of a milestone is this for the firm?
It’s a good first step, but in our opinion it’s just the beginning. It’s a nice milestone but we are growing rapidly month-by-month and we think we can grow even quicker than we do now. In the last 12 months, The Inner Circle’s London user base has grown from 4,500 members to 35,000 – a 777 per cent growth. Across Europe, we have around 200,000 members, but we’re looking to grow worldwide.
(3) What do you consider to be sustainable growth when it comes to turnover?
Steady 100 per cent growth year-over-year. This year, however, we are on target to reach 150 per cent revenue growth.
(4) Is there a point at which you want The Inner Circle to cross over from a lifestyle brand into something else?
We want it to be more than just a swiping dating app. The Inner Circle aims to become a trustworthy community full of like-minded people. That’s the reason we focus on meeting our members whilst travelling, both at our own events and outside, at members’ favourite city hotspots.
(5) What’s been the biggest struggle along the way to reaching £1m turnover? Would you have done anything differently?
One of the hardest things has been reaching critical mass in the various countries we’ve launched in. As an exclusive platform, it’s quite difficult attracting enough of a user base to fuel user engagement. If people are seeing the same profiles again and again, they’re not going to stay interested.
(6) How do you factor in new hires to support revenue growth?
We just hired a growth marketing manager and a growth hacker. They will be responsible for increasing further growth in activity and revenue through our viral, organic and paid-for channels.
(7) To what extent has the look of the business changed from £1 to £1m turnover?
When we were just starting out, we were a basic, desktop-only platform. Now we are everywhere. The Inner Circle has a mobile site, an Android app, IOS app and Apple Watch app (although nobody uses the later). Now, we are in everyone’s pocket. Through geo-location, users can see who is nearby, and through push notifications you can immediately contact someone in your network.
(8) What’s your plan for achieving your next £1m turnover? Do you have an investment strategy?
We don’t need any external investment with the current rate of growth. The site is becoming more and more profitable, which is a nice position to be in, and it was like that from the get-go, ever since launching in Amsterdam – our first city.
The way I see it, the route to growth is to launch in more cities. We are launching in New York later this year, and in the next few years we may look towards South America too – hosting different types of events than we do now.
(9) You’ve coined the term “Tinder tired” as a way to describe the enthusiasm for current dating apps. What does it mean?
The meaning is simple – people are bored of using Tinder, and similar platforms. The most precious commodity to busy people is time, so having a pre-screened platform like The Inner Circle can help to save a lot of time.
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