Hannah, I love the idea of Good Deed Dating! How did you come up with it?
Thank you so much! Well I have worked as a volunteer manager for seven years for various charities, and was trying to think of new and innovative ways to get people volunteering. I had the idea for singles volunteering events and began to think that it was something that might work as a business. However, I was pretty sure that someone else would have come up with the idea first but when I looked into it I found that it didn’t exist in this country yet.
Meanwhile, many of my wonderful single friends were using dating apps and struggling to meet like-minded people or form meaningful relationships. I knew that volunteering was a great way to meet people who share your values but a lot of people have misconceptions about volunteering. People often think that volunteering has to be a totally selfless act and you give your time asking for nothing in return. This is really not true these days.
What we’ve done is just re-brand volunteering as something that will appeal to a new audience for charities.
Throughout my seven years, I have built a great network in the charity sector, particularly many amazing volunteer managers who have helped me to refine the concept and then eventually get the idea off the ground and we launched in June 2016.
I would love to know more about the woman behind such an awesome concept, please tell us everything we need to know about you.
To be totally honest, even a year ago I would never have pictured myself here. I have never thought of myself as the entrepreneurial type. At school I was really interested in art and music but it turned out that environmental management was the way I went at university.
I fell into volunteer management during my placement year at university when I worked for the National Trust, where I gained a solid grounding in the phenomenal world of volunteering. After university I worked as a volunteering coordinator for the Wildlife Trust before heading back to the National Trust two years later. It was around this time that I started to think about Good Deed Dating (GDD). As the idea solidified into a reality I decided to take the plunge and go part time in October 2015. So I started my next role (at Volunteer Centre Hackney) whilst I developed the business and prepared to launch.
When Good Deed Dating launched and received such incredible support and media coverage, from the likes of MTV, Time Out, Evening Standard, BBC Radio, it became clear that I needed to focus on the business so I left my role in Hackney, and ran the business full time. Shortly afterwards we were approached by an angel investor who wanted to support me to scale the business.
Since then, I have been invited to a meeting at Number 10 Downing Street, we were picked as a finalist for Female Start Up of the Year and nominated for 2 UK Dating Awards. It’s really humbling to see how much people believe in something I’ve created.
The dating 'game' can be quite an intense one to play for many singles, what's the feedback been like from your clients?
Yes, it can be incredibly difficult to be single in a place like London and that’s something that I hope we can address. There are so many brilliant apps and websites that have made dating uber accessible and instantaneous, but our research shows that a lot of people are beginning to tire of the swiping nature of dating! So we’re encouraging people to get out of the house and off your phone and do something really positive in order to find love.
Trends show that the dating industry is moving offline and back to basics. I think people are looking to meet face to face and develop meaningful relationships which are based on more than what your profile picture looks like. Which is why we don’t have any profile pictures, no messaging on our website and no way of judging anyone before you shake their hand and introduce yourself in person. Our ‘Deeders’ build relationships based on a shared experience and similar values.
We get a lot of really positive feedback from both our Deeders and from our charity partners. Our customers come away with so much; they learn things, meet people, find romance and come away at the end of it with that feel-good factor that you can only get when you’ve volunteered. There’s nothing like it and there’s no long such a thing as a ‘bad date’. Our charity partners have access to a whole new world of supporters and they are finding that lots of our Deeders sign up to support the charities further after our dates. So everyone’s a winner!
You've built great relationships with huge charities, how receptive were they to your 'dating while volunteering' concept?
I have found it to be a really easy sell to get the charity partners involved, Good Deed Dating is driving volunteers to their events, providing a new platform for PR and media attention, spreading their message further and promoting their work, so the majority of charities I have spoken to are very receptive and want to be on board. They are all totally brilliant and do some incredible work. I try to make sure we work with a mixture of big names and smaller local charities. We also donate 25% of Good Deed Dating profit back to our charity partners, which is another incentive for them to get involved.
Initially it was about reaching out, making the most of my network and working with people who trusted me. But now word is spreading and charities are reaching out to us which is brilliant. There are so many incredible charities out there and they all do such valuable work. Even if we work with just a fraction of the charities out there, we’ll have hundreds of charity partners that all do wonderfully diverse work.
I think charities are waking up to the fact that they need to liven up their offers if they are going to engage the next generation of their supporters in a meaningful way. So they are largely very open to Good Deed Dating and see the benefits in working with us. There have been a couple who don’t see it working with their brand but I’ve been amazed at how many charities approach us now.
What are some of your top tips for start-up businesses?
Do as much market research as you can and hold focus groups to test your ideas. I found this so useful. You can have amazing ideas but until you test them on your target audience, you don’t know how they will work in practice.
Invest in your brand development as this gives you a solid foundation for developing the business. I also felt like having a brand gave me (and the concept) the credibility and confidence I needed to approach influential people about my plans.
- Be bold and back yourself. If you don’t have confidence in your idea, then no one else will.
- Set yourself realistic goals which are achievable. There’s no one right way to start a business, just put one foot in front of the other and you’ll get there.
And lastly but most importantly, surround yourself with supportive and positive people. Without my friends and family, I would never have got this far. Starting a business is hard but with encouragement and support from those closest to you it’s a whole lot easier.
Have you ever used any dating apps? What's been your experience?
I’m one of those incredibly lucky people who met their person on day one of university, so I have actually never had need for dating apps myself but I have many friends who use them. There are some really great apps out there with brilliant USPs. There are apps for pretty much everything now; whether it’s your glasses, your beard or your uniform!
What I hope GDD does, is provide people with a chance to maybe meet someone they would never have thought they’d fall for. We want to celebrate what makes people different and encourage our Deeders to meet the person that they weren’t expecting.
I'm sure you've made plenty of matches, is there a favourite couple that comes to mind?
My favourite match was at a dog show we were helping the Mayhew Animal Home with on Hampstead Heath. It was actually our very first paid event following our test events. At the end of the event I spotted two of our Deeders literally strolling off into the sunset together across the Heath towards the pub. That was a great feeling!
How useful has social media been in building your business?
Social media has helped us in so many ways. Obviously, we largely use it to connect with our customers and build out client base but it’s useful for so much more than that. We connect with charities and reach out to volunteer management professionals. We share success stories and celebrate our events. But it also allows us to support our amazing charity partners through social media by sharing their updates, campaigns and posts.
When you're not playing Cupid, where could we find you on a Saturday night?
I try really hard to keep my weekends free from work wherever I can, so you’d probably find me spending time with my friends or family. I have seven nephews and nieces who keep me pretty busy, and as much as I love London, I also like to escape when I can. I’d say you’d probably find me drinking a gin and tonic with friends on my parent’s farm.
Where do you see online dating in the next 5 years?
With so many innovative and exciting new ideas cropping up every day and the leaps we’re making in technology I think online dating may be quite different in 5 years’ time. Augmented reality and virtual reality open the door to an online dating experience that will be more similar to offline dating. I think wearable technology will play a part in the way we date in the future too. But all of these new tech developments will also leave room for what we offer; a fun and feel-good way to meet real people in the flesh.
Do you think your business will need to adapt to keep up with the digital revolution?
Yes, we will certainly need to be flexible and adaptable to developments in technology. However, since the premise of Good Deed Dating is about meeting people in person rather than online, I hope that we will be able to use these developments in tech to enhance our offer rather than rely on them completely.
What other plans do you have for Good Deed Dating?
We have big plans for Good Deed Dating:
We are redeveloping our website as we speak and planning to also develop an iOS and Android app in the next year. We’ve recently moved into our brand new offices in Kings Cross and the team is growing which is a very exciting feeling.
We plan to develop our service to widen our appeal whilst drilling down on our audiences. So we’re hoping to develop offers for the LGBT community really soon. We’re also keen to explore the idea of Good Deed Dating Minibreaks and send Deeders off on holidays to do good deeds as a group. We’re looking into events for really specific audiences like single parent family dates to get families bonding whilst meeting other single parents. We also get a lot of interested from couples who want to get involved so we’re wondering about hosting Good Deed Date Nights for couples who want to do something other than go for a meal and moan at each other about work!
So those are some of the ideas we are looking at. And hopefully before long we’ll be able to expand out of London into other towns and cities. Next stop: world domination!