Founder Interview: Alexandra Ballensweig, humhum, LA29

Bianca Veltri
January 10, 2024

humhum is a startup that attended LAUNCH Founder University and then joined the LAUNCH Accelerator’s 29th cohort. We had the chance to interview Founder & CEO, Alexandra Ballensweig to learn about how she iterated her platform, built community, and tackled early challenges.

Learn about humhum and why we invested here.

What is the problem you are solving?

humhum is a community and intentional dating app offering guided blind dates, group events, and coaching online. We approach dating as a practice and create low-pressure spaces that foster personal growth, and human connection so that dating supports well-being.

Tell us about your team.

Having gone through a prior co-founder breakup before humhum, I wanted to be extremely discerning about who I collaborated with. With humhum, I chose to be a solo founder as after interviewing several folks on the technical side, no one felt like a long-term fit. I met my founding product manager because she was initially a customer of humhum, and loved what we were creating. She started as a product advisor and became a fractional product manager helping us launch our beta and ruthlessly prioritize what we build. We've built a lot of trust over the last year.

Tell us about a critical business decision you made in the last month.

We decided to reduce the days and times we offer dates from 10 hours a day, seven days a week, to two days a week, four hours a day. We used the data we had to align on the two days, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. The team came to this to help us simplify schedule overlap and get more people on dates. And, to spark a sense of rhythm with our daters, where they know what to expect each week and can plan more easily.

Why do you want to solve this problem? How did you come up with this idea?

About 78% of people experience burnout dating and studies show that dating apps correlate with higher levels of anxiety and depression. Swipe-based apps prey on our fears, insecurities, and vulnerabilities, and amplify qualities we feel crappy about, like being transactional, impatient, and avoidant. We are on a mission to create a healthy dating culture. I see the relational landscape changing more broadly, and most players in the dating space are focused on an old model of relationships that centers on "finding the one" as success.

humhum focuses on building relational skills and capacities like resilience, self-awareness, integrity, mindfulness, and clear and kind communication that are valuable across relationships and supports people to expand their definition of relationship success to align with their own truth vs. a model inherited and defined by society. I came up with the idea as I was considering how I wanted to be in connection with people in a dating context, and what I saw work in communities outside of a dating context. Going on silent retreats, and learning insight dialogue practices in mindfulness communities illuminated more intentional ways of being in connection that resonated, and I wanted to bring those practices to dating as an experiment. It translates! I identified the core aspects of satisfying social interactions were:

  1. A container that supported me to stay present and connected to myself while being in connection with others.
  2. Something to talk about that helped bring my authentic self forward, and nudged me to go deeper than I'd go with a new person, but I was still willing to share without significant trust built.
  3. A shared frame of self-responsibility and practice. Where both people were watching their minds. Knowing this helped me feel less responsible for caretaking someone else's experience, and I could just focus on my own, and therefore communicate with clarity and kindness about it.

As a founder, what is a lesson you wished you learned sooner?

Have the hard conversations as early as possible.

How did you validate your idea?

We hosted over 300 dates and hundreds of group slow-dating events via Zoom as a service before building our beta app. People submitted feedback after every one, and so we learned what was resonant and what wasn't. We grew a community of 6,000 people by hosting events and dates and launched our beta to that community. What was surprising to learn along the way is that our customers told us that by using humhum, they had a better experience on the other apps. By building confidence and skills, they went back on to meet a lot of people, and more quickly discovered satisfying connections and relationships.

How did you acquire your first customers?

I hosted a slow-dating event at the yoga studio I was teaching at in 2019. I asked my friends if they could share the event with friends of friends. I created a sign-up form, and we ended up with 20 strangers in a room, and that was the first humhum experience. I then started a newsletter because those people asked when the next one was. I quickly pulled together another six events before the pandemic took hold in New York. In mid-March 2020, on the same day, three of our community members asked if we would be hosting humhum virtually. I pivoted our April 2020 event from in-person, into Zoom, and then sold out three virtual events after that because the word of mouth was strong. We then started partnering with dating coaches and communities to host humhum experiences for their clients/humans.

Tell us about your experience fundraising so far.

Learning who is really interested and who is just being polite is a practice of discernment. Also, when an investor has super clear criteria and metrics, it's a lot easier to know if we are in the range of their thesis or not. The LAUNCH team made it clear what was required to get funding. When we hit those benchmarks, we let them know. Funding after that has been for me about values alignment. We had an angel investor come in who believed in our mission and saw the potential of our business. Over time, we learned to describe humhum as a mental-wellness brand rather than a dating brand; there's a lot of skepticism with dating apps and companies, and since we have a completely different approach, it wasn't helping us to be affiliated with the existing dating industry.

What has been the most difficult part of your founder journey?

As a solo founder, surrounding myself with a strong team has been critical. There have been points it has felt lonely. The hat switching, and knowing how to prioritize my time to move the needle most effectively where it counts is an art.

What has been the most rewarding part of your founder journey?

Seeing people interact with what we've built, and getting delight from it is satisfying. Hearing our community tell us how they're dating differently because of humhum is inspiring.

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