Startups Surviving Covid-19 #2: Michael Krayenhoff of The Inner Circle
The Inner Circle is an online dating platform that brings life-loving singles together in real life. Since 2012, they have rapidly expanded and are currently active in over 50 cities globally, with over 2.5M members and thousands of amazing love stories to tell. They believe that dating should be exciting, empowering, and real. That’s why The Inner Circle has created a vibrant global community of like-minded singles.
As we all know, Covid-19 affected London’s startups in direct and indirect ways, and it has permanently changed the landscape for London’s technology businesses like the rest of the world. We are interviewing key people of the startup ecosystem to ask them about their challenges and survival strategies in this hard time.
We hope that this interview series will be helpful and insightful for other startups in London out there. Because we believe that the most important thing is to learn from each other and be helpful to others, within this direction, you are welcomed to the second episode of our “How to Survive Covid-19 as a Startup?” interview series. You can reach all of them from our Covid-19 Interviews YouTube playlist. Let’s begin, fellas!
Watch the interview:
Work from home situation
Michael Krayenhoff is the Co-Funder and COO of The Inner Circle. We interviewed him and asked him questions. First of all, we ask him about his observations about how startups are handling work from home situations. He explained it like that:
Personally, in the beginning, I also found it quite hard. I worked a lot from home, but it was always a bit more relaxed. Now, I have to work from home hard. At work, I had a proper chair. The desk was at the perfect height; my screen was at a perfect height, etc.
About the remote working culture
For the team, they broke it down into a couple of focus points. The first one is tools, the second one is rhythm, and the third one is communication. In terms of tools, they wanted to ensure that everybody had time to adjust to working from home. So, they were pretty early on said: “Please work from home. See how it goes and let us know how it goes.” and then, once they worked from home, they said: “Okay, are there any tools you need that we can order for you? So, you can be productive. Tell us what you need, and we order it.” So, that was the first step.
The second step was rhythm. They do now every morning a global 15-minute check-in to kick-start today. That is firstly to get into the work rhythm of starting the day. Secondly, it helps everybody align on their main priorities, and everyone shares how they are doing. On Wednesdays, they have an informal teatime where whoever is free to join and keen to talk can join at four o’clock. Then on Fridays, they do a happy hour to celebrate the week, catch up with each other informally. Every morning call, the whole team joins in, and the other calls are for those who are free and keen to talk.
How The Inner Circle is handling the Covid-19 situation?
The business side of things had a huge impact as The Inner Circle is about bringing single people together in real life. You can endlessly date online, but eventually, you have to meet in real life. Therefore, everything we have always been doing has been focused on getting people together in real life. Many features in our app were designed to help people meet in real life. Unfortunately, we had to disable some of those features. We had to adjust a lot of our communication to encourage people to date online and to help them find ways to make the most of online dating instead of meeting in real life. Then finally, marketing was focused on offline dating and bringing people together in real life. The team had to race and completely change our marketing from A to Z.
To deal with the new situation, the product team has been working hard to adjust. Now, the whole team has been scrambling together to ensure that we provide our users with the best gospel experience to meet online. We also organize events globally, and unfortunately, we had to cancel these events. They varied from after-work drinks to immersive theatre to summer festivals. Unfortunately, we had to cancel all, but luckily our events team has come up with some fantastic online concepts. As a result, we are looking to roll out some very exciting online dating events over the next weeks.
People are always the key to success. Especially in a time like this, it’s super important to take wealthier people because if you give them security and confidence, they will go above and beyond. They really help the company stare through the crisis, come out stronger and together. So I really believe that investing in the people now and communicating as well as you can with the team on a personal and team-wide level are essential to get through this period well.
The first one is already live, which is pretty simple, but I think it will be a lot of fun. It is a Netflix party. We will be inviting 50 members to join us for a movie, and they can all chat together and watch the movie. Of course, it is a movie that everybody knows. In this case, our test is with “Dirty Dancing”. It is more about the communication and the banter than about the movie itself. I think the movie will provide many good cues for good banter.
Further, we are looking to host online games. First, as a pop quiz and we want to focus on meeting people. The activity that we do is the icebreaker to help people meet, whether one-on-one or in groups. It has the focus of providing that informal natural conversation around, for instance, a game. That can be a pub quiz or board games. We have many exciting ideas the team is rolling out.
How others are handling the Covid-19 situation?
Be strong now, because things will get better. It might be stormy now, but it can’t rain forever.
Larger organizations have a more difficult time than startups because startups are very agile, which is sometimes risk and an advantage. But, on the other hand, large organizations have big safes full of money figures to the speaking, but they are very, very slow to move. So, what are your thoughts on that?
I can imagine it really depends on the company and company culture. I think many of the big internet companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Google were already set up for flexible teams, and they gave their employees, as far as I know, the opportunity to ready work remote and things like that. So for them, it was a not too complex transition, but of course, many more traditional industries suddenly have to change their way of work. For many companies, this has proved the challenge. If the company has been less digital in terms of communication tools and channels, it will be a big challenge to run a company successfully through a crisis. If you were used to communicating in real life and suddenly you have to communicate everything digitally, but you don’t have the right tools and formats in place, then it’s so hard to change in a short period of time.
Our founder Ozan Dağdeviren asks about how Covid-19 has nudged the way people find new people to meet both in terms of friendship, either romantic or non-romantic.
As a future projection, two or three years from now on, do you think the trajectory has changed, and if so, how?
I think Generation Z was already really comfortable with using all the online tools, meeting their friends online, playing games together online, and basically running half their life online. However, the older generations were clueless. Normally, they would meet in real life whenever it is possible. Now, we suddenly see our parents throve a house party with an app and using all these tools originally designed for Generation Z, and they’re now all trying to figure out how it works. Moreover, they seem to be really enjoying it!
For instance, a friend of mine’s father turned 80 last weekend, and they organised an online quiz with the family in Kahoot. They all logged into Zoom and played the quiz with the whole family to celebrate his birthday. Everybody had a fantastic time. If everything were normal, they would have only celebrated it with those in the country, but now, they could also celebrate it with all their friends and family who live in foreign countries. Playing together, having a drink, having a good time. So, I think this has really pushed people to explore what’s possible online. I think the things that people work and enjoy will be part of their new social toolkit.
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Each week, we will be visiting a new startup office to meet with their team & founders. Stay tuned!