“Helping Black people to stop sliding in DMs since ’14,” is Brian Gerrard’s Twitter bio and he says it defines his vision pretty accurately.
Gerrard cofounded the app Bae, which is essentially Tinder for Black and brown people, with his brother, Justin. Based in Fort Greene, he’s currently out on the West Coast raising money for a seed round. He says that the company is looking to raise several million dollars, and is almost there already.
We caught up with him by phone this week to find out more about how Bae is going to change the game for mobile dating:
TB: How’d you get the idea for the app?
BG: The idea came to us in a lot of ways. We saw that it’s faster easier and better to meet people online because it’s a little more efficient. We saw that from looking at the data and just Black experience on Tinder. I talked to a Black friend who said he’d swipe thousands of times and he’d only get five matches. A comparable white guy got about 50 in the same time.
We thought it would be a dope social concept: Where black people meet up. It was also triggered by us getting the trademark on the word “Bae.”
We saw influencers, musicians, athletes come on very early, within a few months, when we launched at Howard University and here we are a year later. Howard goes by the nickname “The Mecca.” You go there you’re going to see 10,000 beautiful black students there in one place. We launched at one of their basketball games in SpringFest at halftime. Within an hour or two we had about 1,000 signups. Fast forward a week later we had 17,000 downloads. We spent $140 marketing that event, which is less than one cent per download.
For context, Hinge, it took them a year and a half and $600,000 of funding to get the same number of signups we got in two weeks. At this time I was a consultant in New York and my brother was was in business school at Dartmouth. We ended up winning a Dartmouth pitch competition and got about $30,000 to start off the app.
TW: Do you think dating apps will become ever more segmented?
BG: I think so. I think even as fast as you can swipe on a dating app, people still have that sense of urgency to find that person on a higher frequency or density. The mass market doesn’t work because you want to connect with people who have similarities. That’s why you get the FarmersOnly of the world.
TW: What’s it like raising money?
BG: We’re almost done with the round. There’s more room left so we’re being really selective, but we’ve closed the majority of it already. It feels like in the next month we’ll be closing this one. It’s in the millions. Everything’s going 100 miles per hour.
I was just in San Francisco. Was fortunate enough to be a panelist at Facebook’s F8. Eleven months ago I was in a cubicle in New York. Now the camera is going to Mark Zuckerberg’s face and going to mine. It’s been a really incredible.
We have investors in our seed round from Lagos, Nigeria. There’s no mobile-first social experience for the black diaspora until now. Bae is that. There are 700 million people of African descent who are going to have a smartphone in the next two years.
When he introduces you to his friends as Bae 😍 pic.twitter.com/jtgslYgAbO
— Bae_App (@Bae_App) May 14, 2016
TW: Tell me about the Young Maven’s Society. What is it?
BG: The Young Maven’s Society was the catalytic moment for Bae. It’s a group of young male entrepreneurs my brother put together. A group of guys with startups. Ryan Williams’ Cadre raised over $30 million. It’s really just to find someone who looks like you doing or aspiring to do what you’re doing. I heard a phrase, “It’s hard to be what you can’t see.” That’s a reference to if you never see someone who looks like you being successful in tech, on a very subconscious level, that it’s not what’s meant for you. It’s not possible. It’s unrealistic. And so by us creating a group of young black men, seeing that repetition on a monthly basis like there’s a guy who is where I want to be and his skin color does not box him in.
We have a monthly dinner. And Bae came out of one of those meetings. Someone said, “I was on Tinder and it sucks to be black on here.” And that was the moment where the light bulb went off. When something sucks that’s a business opportunity.
TW: How is the tech climate in Brooklyn for your company?
BG: I think that Brooklyn is already, as distinct from New York City, a top five best places to be today. What gets me really excited about Brooklyn’s potential is its proximity to Manhattan and that hustler mentality and the diversity. Because everyone comes from different perspectives different, places different.
People in other parts of the country aren’t exposed to the same ideas as people here. Those types of ideas like Bae might not catch on in San Francisco or Boston or even Manhattan. Because of the diversity of Brooklyn, those ideas flourish.
TW: What’s next?
BG: We’re partnering with a television network called Black and Sexy TV. It’s almost like a black Netflix, licensed to BET. We’re going to do more events with Trap Karaoke. It’s going back to HBCUs. Deeper marketing efforts in the U.S. Growing the brand in Africa in meaningful way. We’re swinging at every pitch.