Meet Palmira Diaz Fernandez, an IE Business School MIM student who recently won the First Prize and Best Startup on the Venture Lab Competition with her App for LGBT lesbian and bisexual women, with over 7,000 active users in Spain. Ulindr, is an innovative dating app that was recently launched, and it’s running with success in the Spanish market; within Pamiras future plans, one of the most important ones is to grow internationally.
How do you remember your time as an IE student?
“A life-changing experience” – I kept hearing this during my first week at IE. I honestly thought that was just “something” they needed to say to students to give us a bit of motivation. Hopefully, I was wrong.
As soon as I started IE, I quickly found myself in a hurricane of experiences. Demands were enormous, but the inspirational and outstanding people I met, the unbelievable amount of knowledge I gained and the situations (high demands, group projects, close and speedy deadlines) were the elements of a perfect storm that ended up being one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.
What motivated you to start this project?
Coming out of the closet was a real struggle for me. However, the real pain came afterwards when I realized how hard it could get as a lesbian to find a partner, or merely a private space. When I used to date guys, it was much simpler because I would not have to question their sexuality (you automatically assume that they were straight). But when I finally decided to stop hiding myself, acknowledge my sexuality, and act on it, this became much harder. How can you know when someone is gay? It is always a guessing game. At the end of the day, the possibilities are much limited: you can try to go to lesbian bars or places where you know that the presence of a high % of lesbians is assured. But at some point this becomes tiring. So I eventually ended up downloading dating apps. It looked like the perfect solution since technology has the potential to uncover hidden communities such as the LGBT one. But these apps are full of catfishers (men posing as lesbians), and heterosexual couples looking for threesomes, and this makes them unsafe spaces where women are constantly sexualized. This makes it impossible to grow an authentic community, and women end up feeling like “products.” I would additionally say that current dating platforms (for lesbians) are copycats of apps that have been designed to solve the pain points of other market segments (mainly heterosexuals). For example, they only offer chatting options. What I was looking for in a platform like this was opening real face to face opportunities because otherwise, my options were quite limited. A chat is simply not enough. I enjoy chatting, but I was missing something that would allow for immediacy.
One day I was having a drink with some of my gay male friends when suddenly one of the stood up and said he was leaving because he was going to meet someone he met on Grindr. And I thought to myself: “It is so easy for them. Why is there not a decent app for lesbians?”. I simply couldn’t get it. So I left to, grabbed a taxi to Chueca (a gay village in Madrid) and spent the whole night going from bar to bar asking women in there what was their experience with apps. Not surprisingly all of them highlighted the pain points I have previously described: catfishing, unsafe spaces, wrong features (only chat, features that are effective for heterosexual but not for this niche), no sense of belonging (feeling sexualized, like a “product,” lack of community feeling), etc. So after 6 hours going from bar to bar and having spoken to more than 30 women, I came back home with an obvious idea: “I am going to change this.” I prepared a business plan and raised funding (from a relative of mine).
What is “Ulindr”? What is the next step to keep growing?
Ulindr is a mobile app where women from the LGBT community can connect and meet each other for dating, friendship, or whatever purpose. It aims to be a good friend that opens up connections, stories, and meaningful moments, building an authentic and real community.
I launched the app in Spain (at the moment, it is only available here), and since then this is what we have achieved in terms of growth:
• More than 12k registrations
• 8k active users in July.
• 4.6 qualification in Google Play Store and App store with reviews from users saying that they love the innovative features we offer, how safe and reliable it is, and in sort: “It is the best app for lesbians I have ever tried.”
How is Ulindr different?
o Ulindr makes it safe by getting rid of fake using a righteous verification system that works with social media verification (Facebook or Instagram). The app automatically sets the name used in social media as the username for the user (e.g., if your username in Facebook is “Pepa Huertas Ramirez,” your name in Ulindr is that one too). In case the user wants to change her username, she needs to double verify her account, adding an additional social media account. Additionally, the system is reinforced by rewarding users for reporting suspicious profiles.
o Ulindr opens real face to face opportunities with an innovative and exclusive feature named “Meet Up Now” that is only available in Ulindr. By default, this feature is diactivated. In case the user wants to meet directly and avoid the long-lasting chatting process, she simply needs to activate her “Meet Up Now” status, and she will get automatically connected with all the users that in her area are willing to meet now.
o Ulindr makes the user feel involved and part of a community by democratizing its own evolution. Users are the ones suggesting and voting for new filters, features, and implementations. Ulindr is the first app made by and for the users.
o Ulindr offers premium features, but it is not subscription-based. The user simply pays for the features she wants to use without having to buy a whole subscription. She can customize her app (the same way one customizes a car) by only unlocking her favorite features and ignoring the ones she is not interested in.
This summer, along with my team, we will develop Ulindr’s upcoming version. We have more than 500 user suggestions under our voting system. The most voted ones will be selected and implemented. In September we will launch this new version, not just in Spain but internationally, with a particular focus in LATAM (especially Mexico and Brazil), the US and Russia. I have lived in Peru, the UK and Russia, and the problem with these apps is exactly the same. Grindr is a dating app for gay males with presence in 192 countries, 30 million users that were sold for 260M to Kunlun group in 2016. Today there is not an equivalent for lesbians. At the moment we are just in Spain, but during these 4 months we have proven the superiority of our value proposition, and we want to expand this globally with the intention of becoming the Grindr for lesbians.
The international expansion strategy will follow two different approaches:
• Ulindr will expand to key strategic geographical areas with its own resources.
• Ulindr is giving brand and software exploitation rights to foreign entities in exchange of royalty fees.
o Joint-Venture- Ulindr + Foreign entity (investment)
o Royalty – Foreign entity
What is the most important thing that you will like to transmit with this initiative?
I have always been told that a successful startup is supposed to solve a real pain point. But I would never have imagined is that my startup was going to be addressing my pain point and have the potential to solve it for millions of women.
Which challenges have you faced?
• Time management: Doing the MiM at the same time as Ulindr has been an absolute challenge, especially after Ulindr’s launch in March. Group projects, individual assignments, exams, class prep paired with the daily routine of a startup (it is really never a routine) and family life became insane. My social life because super limited and my sleep went to be 5 hours a day as a maximum. Additionally, I had to be wearing many hats, and do tasks I would never have imagined.
• Fear of being “missing out”: Seeing many of my classmates getting jobs in amazing companies such as “Deloitte,” “JP Morgan,” KPMG” made me question sometimes whether I was taking the right path or not. “What if I am making a mistake?”
• The time it takes for results to come up
• Delegating: I am a bit of a control freak, and this has had a negative impact on some aspects of Ulindr, especially when delegating.
• Dealing with stress and self-doubt: What if the idea fails? What if the big ones crush it before it takes off? Why would I leave the comfort of a monthly paycheck? Startup failure is 99%, why would I take such a significant risk? All these questions subconsciously trigger self-doubt.
How did your experience at IE during the MIM help you to develop this project?
Before starting the MIM, I had a meeting with a law firm to discuss specific legal aspects of the business. One of the lawyers was a former IE student. When I told him about the project, and I said that I was starting a master in September, he looked quite skeptical. “Are you going to be doing this at the same time as IE? Really?”. And I was skeptical too. But today I realize that it is by far the best decision I have ever taken. Pursuing the MiM has been incredibly useful because it has taught me the hard skills I needed to apply to Ulindr and a community for support.
IE helped me gain a fresh perspective: being exposed to new concepts made me question some well-established assumptions I had. Many of these ideas conflicted with my own initial plans, but I still embraced them, and this lead to an insatiable curiosity which paired with strategic thinking, analysis, and research that I gained in IE came out to be a fantastic asset.
Completing the MiM has also allowed me to see the big picture. Doing so many case studies prepared me to take the problem apart and understand its impact on the organization, both short and long term perspectives. I also gained the tools to make immediate decisions.
Other skills that filled crucial gaps: marketing, finance, delivering a good pitch, strategy.
It has further developed my interpersonal, leadership, and skills (ruthlessly efficient multi-tasking, delegation, focus, prioritization, flexibility). In an uncertain, complex, and unambiguous environment, those skills are absolutely essential, especially in the fast-moving entrepreneurial sphere.
The network: Strong network of people that have helped in many different ways; Classmates, professors, the staff at IE, guest speakers… I came across many skillful and talented people; I can’t explain how much I have learned, not just from professors but from other students coming from different parts of the world and backgrounds — additionally, The focus on collaboration, cooperation, and coordination over the competition. During my undergraduate program, I got very used to work on an individual basis foreseeing the relevance working in teams can bring to the success of a project. Group projects and assignments establish a platform to share responsibilities and get mutual benefit from your peers’ experiences. Even when having conflicts, I learned from them.
I would also highlight the contribution that the venture lab has had in all of this. First of all, IE assigned me an excellent mentor that helped me through the whole process by providing additional invaluable perspectives, motivation, and advice. And, Mr. Paris L’Etraz has been a fantastic mentor as well, showing continuous support, motivation, and encouragement since the very beginning.
IE has taught me a priceless lesson: A good idea is only a good idea. A superior value proposition is only 10% of it. What is vital is execution, and IE has provided me with the necessary skills, network (exceptional professors and professionals), curiosity and with the mindset for it.
What kind of partnerships are you seeking now?
We are looking for strategic partners:
• Technological partner: that will make future developments in the platform and in the app
• Outside partners that would launch the app in other countries.
For more information about the app please click here.