Female Disruptors: Charly Lester of RealMe On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis
Jul 28 · 8 min read

Be responsive. I’ve always been a planner, and when my dating blog first went viral, I had dreams of writing a book. I never planned to be a tech entrepreneur — in fact people would often ask when I would launch my own dating app, but I knew it wasn’t possible without serious funding. The best points of my career have come when I’ve been responsive to opportunities which have come my way. While I always have a rough idea of where I want to be, and what I want to be doing, I love the flexibility to be able to say yes to a great opportunity and just see where it takes me.

a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Charly Lester.

Charly Lester is RealMe’s Dating Industry Expert. She is known for her previous work as the Dating Editor for the Guardian and the Global Head of Dating for Time Out. Charly is also known for co-founding the dating app Lumen.

Charly is also responsible for launching the UK, US, and European Dating Awards. Over the past eight years, Charly has worked in a range of different capacities with dating businesses of all sizes. Charly’s dating advice and insights on the latest dating trends have been featured in national print, broadcast and digital media, and she is a regular guest on BBC Woman’s Hour.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

entered the dating industry as a blogger eight years ago, and was headhunted by the Guardian newspaper as their dating editor. This led to me leaving my job in banking, and working for Time Out magazine as their Global Head of Dating. My work with the dating blog inspired me to launch my first business — The Dating Awards — which grew to become an international set of industry awards for the online dating industry. Following the success of the Awards in the UK, US and Europe, I was approached to co-found Lumen, the first dating app specifically designed for daters over 50. Lumen was the fastest growing dating app of 2019, and secured over 1.5 million members in its first year. I exited after it was sold to Blackstone Group as part of their acquisition of Bumble Group. Since then I have worked within the dating industry as an advisor and dating expert, working with companies of all sizes in the space, including RealMe — a platform which works directly with dating apps and platforms to verify users potential matches and provide background information to make dating apps safer.

Why is the work you’re doing disruptive to your industry?

I’ve always come at the dating industry from a ‘user first’ perspective. When I was a blogger, I was a singleton, using the apps I wrote about. I created the Awards so that they focused on the safety and legitimacy concerns of users, and what I love about my role now as RealMe’s dating expert is that their service is all about providing safety and security for users. Dating is great, but it is an industry which has the potential to be open to exploitation, and so single people need to be protected on the apps and services they use. What I love about RealMe is that the company embodies the same values and principles I applied to my first business in the industry seven years ago — keeping users safe and putting their priorities first. I believe any business in the dating industry needs to be thinking about their users before their bottom line, because with dating apps users are as much your product as the actual app. If you don’t have members, you don’t have a dating app, and real members want to know that their potential match is who they say they are so they can have a sense of security while engaging online.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson did you learn from that?

I’m afraid it’s not funny — but an early mistake I made was setting my goals too small. I named my first business ‘UK Dating Awards’ — not realizing how much of a demand there would be for them. A few years later I had to completely rebrand ‘The Dating Awards’ as my business spread to other continents. You should never set your goals too small — leave space for yourself to grow, because you never know where that might take you.

Who are some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they’ve made an impact on you?

When I worked at Time Out, I was particularly inspired by Ellie Ford, who was their Head of Innovation. I almost left the dating industry and she was the one who underlined just how much expertise I had established in the space and how rare that was. If it wasn’t for her advice I would have moved to another area of tech — and something I have definitely learned in the years since that conversation, is just how important a niche area of expertise can be. Dating is a very small industry, and there are very few people who have the hands-on experience I do, from a whole range of vantage points within it.

In today’s world, being disruptive is usually a positive trait. Please share your thoughts on how being disruptive can be a positive thing for your industry, and please share examples of what you mean. Are there also examples of when being disruptive is not so positive for your industry?

I think sometimes you don’t necessarily see the full impact of disruption until many years later. Dating apps totally revolutionized online dating — they gamified the industry, making dating something fun and playful, which was no longer surrounded by a stigma. And that’s a hugely positive thing … but a few years later we are seeing some of the biproducts of this change. Dating apps can dehumanize people — making it all feel like too much of a game, and as a result people can hide behind avatars, or behave in ways they wouldn’t in the real world. So there ends up needing to be new disruptions, to tackle new problems which results in change. I like the fact that services like RealMe are there to remind users that they are talking to other real people, and to hold people more accountable for the things they say and do online. Dating should be a fun, joyful experience, and we need to protect that experience as an industry.

Please share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve received along your journey, along with a story or an example for each.

I believe you should always be your authentic self. When my dating blog went viral, at first I didn’t understand why — but when I spoke to people I realized it was because I spoke to my readers, like I was speaking to friends. I have never had different sides to myself — when I was launching Lumen around the world, I would be on TV shows, talking to millions of people, and I always found the best approach was to answer questions honestly and as a human — because people trust other humans. We can see and hear authenticity … and we can interpret it when it’s absent too.

Trust your gut. Over the years I’ve had far too many experiences as a female founder where men who are older than me have underestimated me, and tried to con me in different ways. I’ve realized that my gut is most often correct when I have a bad feeling about a company or an individual. One of the greatest parts of working for yourself is being able to say ‘no’ to situations and opportunities when they don’t feel 100% right.

Be responsive. I’ve always been a planner, and when my dating blog first went viral, I had dreams of writing a book. I never planned to be a tech entrepreneur — in fact people would often ask when I would launch my own dating app, but I knew it wasn’t possible without serious funding. The best points of my career have come when I’ve been responsive to opportunities which have come my way. While I always have a rough idea of where I want to be, and what I want to be doing, I love the flexibility to be able to say yes to a great opportunity and just see where it takes me.

How are you going to shake things up next?

As we’ve seen in recent weeks on social media, there is a huge call for people to be more authentic, and to verify and truly own their online identities. Screens should no longer be a disguise which allows people to say and do whatever they want to other people, because people end up getting hurt. I’m really excited to represent RealMe as their Dating Industry Expert, because I believe the dating industry needs more transparency and accountability, and that starts with knowing exactly who you are talking to.

What are the biggest challenges female disruptors face that their male counterparts don’t?

There’s often no one in the room who looks like us, or who has a CV resembling our own. Whether that’s a board room, or when you’re pitching for investment. People most commonly hire in their own likeness, and there are still so many ceilings out there which need breaking. I believe female founders have to fight twice as hard for many things male founders take for granted, but as a result, we’re doubly qualified to change the world.

Is there a book/podcast that’s had a deep impact on your thinking?

There’s a business book called ‘The Idea in You’ which I reviewed a few years ago for a program I was running for female entrepreneurs. One of the main learnings I took from it was applying the Nike slogan ‘just do it!’ to life. Instead of procrastinating, if you think of something, and it might take less than half an hour to do, do it now, don’t just add it to a ‘to do’ list. I’m often in situations where I’m cramming 12 hours of work and activity into 8, and so that premise helps me to be a lot more efficient and just get things done as soon as I can.

If you could inspire a movement, what would that be?

I want more little girls to believe they are superheroes. Every little girl in my life (nieces, neighbors, friends’ children) has Wonderwoman outfits. From an early age my parents led me to believe I could achieve anything, and I want those girls to feel that way too.

What is your favorite life lesson quote? Please share how this is relevant to your growth/life.

I loved ‘Carpe Diem’, the Latin phrase in the film Dead Poets Society. It’s Latin for ‘seize the day’ and has definitely guided the way I live my life. Both my parents died in their early 50s, and it showed me you never know how much time you have, so you should make the most of every opportunity. I’ve travelled the world, lived in Canada, China and Honduras, and run marathons across the Sahara Desert. I competed in Ironman triathlons and represented Romania (my mother’s birth country) in the Roller Derby World Cup in 2017.

How can our readers follow you online?

I tweet @charlylester and am on Instagram @charly.lester

Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights! We wish you continued success.

Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Pop Culture, Business, Tech, Wellness, & Social Impact

Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Candice Georgiadis

Written by

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.

Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.