shinyshiny speaks to YourInterest’s Ekaterina Lengefeld on running a start-up in a male-dominated industry #InspiringWomenWeek
It seems everywhere you turn at the moment, there’s a new dating app or website coming out, hoping to be as big as Tinder, but, with so many people, especially lonely Londoners, focusing on finding dates rather than friends, Tech City entrepreneur Ekaterina Lengefeld has created the anti-dating website, YourInterest.
YourInterest is a social networking site that matches people based on shared interests, encouraging them to connect through offline events across the UK, and it’s inspiring to hear how Ekaterina’s created something that seems so simple and useful, but no one’s ever thought to do, and how, even though she’s quite new to the tech industry, she’s managed to hold her own and build her idea from scratch in just two years.
As part of Inspiring Women Week, we spoke to Ekaterina on the challenges of creating a start-up company, working in a male-dominated industry and why YourInterest is definitely not a dating website.
Hi Ekaterina! So, what inspired you to create YourInterest?
It was because of my personal situation, back in 2012. I was single, living in London, and all my friends seemed to be starting to have families. I wanted to be active, go out and do stuff, but it was difficult to find people to go to galleries with, as my social circles had changed. I actually wanted to join a tango class, or do something new like that, but none of my friends were interested, and I was a bit nervous about going at it alone.
I sort of just felt left behind, and I started talking to friends, who said they were in similar situations. They told me they were so busy with work and had no time to meet new people, even though they were newly living in London. I wanted a way that people could make new friends.
London’s such a big city, which, even though there’s obviously so many people living here, is actually a barrier. You can’t just go up to people in the street and say ‘hey’, can you?
No, definitely not in London. You’d get shunned for even looking at someone! What makes YourInterest unique?
I don’t know any other website that does this. YourInterest uses an algorithm to look at your selected interests and match you with others like you. There’s no long questionnaire to fill in. We also give people who are attending the events we hold the chance to see who else is attending prior. This gives them reassurance if they don’t feel confident about going alone, and allows them to find other people going they have something in common with.
What were you doing before YourInterest? What’s been your career path up until now?
This is the second company I’ve owned. I ran a travel agency, when I was at university, aged 20, and sold that after two and a half years. I’ve worked for big corporations, managing communities, and working on e-learning websites, but I’ve always known I could do it myself.
Wow, so you’ve had a busy career. What’s been the proudest moment of it so far?
I launched the first ever e-commerce solutions, and the first to sell direct to consumers, with Roche Diagnostics. It was a big digital project, and was my idea from scratch, so I’m really proud of that.
Wow, that’s pretty impressive. You must’ve had some challenges at points though?
Yeah, of course I have. I’d been working in mainly digital products before creating YourInterest, so am still quite new to the tech industry. That meant there was an infinite ocean of knowledge I had to acquire, which was a big challenge. It was a big learning curve dealing with developers, and getting YourInterest all the way from an idea to something tangible. There was a lot of information I had to learn in very short time. It’s all been very different to my first business, and has given me very different challenges to if I was working in, say, a normal shop around the corner. I’ve had to deal with so many different aspects technically and internationally.
Have you made any mistakes along the way, when you’ve been dealing with these challenges then?
Yeah, I’ve definitely made a lot of mistakes, but I think that’s all part of the start-up journey, and it’s the way you deal with those mistakes and overcome them that actually matters. However, yes, if someone in the team isn’t working as hard as everyone else, or pulling their weight, you spend time and rectify that.
So, have you found it challenging working in tech – an industry famously dominated by men?
I’ve actually found men to be extremely helpful throughout my career. I think it’s actually an advantage to be a women in tech, as we’re more flexible, and are less concerned about damaging our pride by admitting we don’t know something and need help.
I’d say being a girl in tech is definitely good, and it’s an industry more women need to get into. Although, you need to be able to deal with the tech jargon and understand psychology. It’s a challenge and requires adjustment, so be prepared.
Who are your biggest role models?
I am following with interest what Marissa Mayer, current CEO of Yahoo, is doing. To me, she is one of the most inspiring female leaders in the tech sector right now. Before Yahoo, she was at Google in charge of some of Google’s most winning, characteristic elements – such as the simplicity of the homepage, Gmail, Google Maps and now mostly, the recent IPO of Alibaba. On top of that, she is undoubtedly feminine, and a charismatic woman who balances a career and private life.
What are your ambitions for the future?
I’d like to operate YourInterest on a global scale, so users can meet new like-minded friends regardless of the city and country they live in.
That would be great, wouldn’t it? What advice would you give to women wanting to start up their own company?
Fasten your seatbelt and prepare for the ride! You also need to ask yourself why you’re starting it, and whether you’re prepared for the hard work and challenges it will bring. You have to motivate yourself on a daily basis and make decisions everyday, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. You also need to constantly keep focused with your goal in mind.