For most people, getting a flirty DM on LinkedIn is borderline cringe, unprofessional and very weird. After all, the platform does describe itself as “a business and employment-focused” community. But what about working professionals who are also looking to find their soulmates? Where can they go?
A South African startup called Boardroom is building a social media platform for working lovebirds who are looking for long-term partners. Founded by software developer Wisani Shilumani and serial startup entrepreneur Serisha Barrat in June, Boardroom is already making waves, having gone viral over the weekend.
TechCabal caught up with co-founder Barrat to get more details on how exactly the app works, what challenges it is trying to address, how much traction it has attained so far and why they prefer not to be called “the Tinder for working professionals”.
TechCabal: Please tell us about Boardroom and the problem the app is trying to address.
Serisha Barrat: We realised that nowadays when you think of online dating, it comprises mostly of hookup culture. But what about people who are looking for much more than that? It is something that needs additional verification. How do they actually find someone who is long-term and also aligns with your professional goals and ambitions? So that was the market we decided to target with Boardroom. We don’t just want to have aimless dates and aimless swipes, as well as ghosting culture, but rather enable our users to find a long-term partner who they can share a life with for more than just one night.
The problem that we’re solving here is we all have busy careers and shrinking social circles. So Boardroom is designed for men and women who would like to engage not just with any type of individual, but one that’s aligned with their professional goals as well. So there’s no easy way for professionals to find compatible long-term love interests if they are fully focused on building a career. And that’s where Boardroom comes into play, creating a community where it’s safe to find a partner.
TC: Tell us how the app works
SB: It is a mobile app available on both Android and iOS devices. Once users download the app, their identity is verified against their LinkedIn profile, which is one of the differentiating factors about it. That gives us additional verification and authentication for every individual. It also is an invite-only app so if you do download it, you don’t have access immediately. You would need to apply for access, after which we do additional vetting on our site to make sure that users are the calibre of individuals that we’re looking for, i.e. professionals.
In terms of the user journey, after a user signs up after the LinkedIn verification, we then get an email on the back-end dashboard which verifies their identity. Do their profile pictures on Linkedin and on Boardroom match? Are they individuals within the professional space? Have they put accurate information on their LinkedIn that matches their Boardroom information?
Then once we have accepted and done the additional verifications, we allow you on the app to flesh out your profile based on your hobbies, and additional images. You have to fill in all the info on the app for it to be accredited and accepted. So if it asks for five pictures, you provide five pictures, etc. So once you get onto the app, and you’ve now completed your profile, you will then be matched with individuals along your stated profession and interests.
For each match request, you have to accompany it with a message to that potential match. So it’s not aimless swiping like with other platforms. And then it also gives you a time limit of 24 hours to actually engage with that match. Should you not engage with them in 24 hours, then it’s seen as you’re not interested so the person disappears from your profile. But once you have engaged with the respective individual, you’re able to chat with them. Additionally, we use AI to detect any vulgar language in the initial message sent when requesting a match to create a safe community free from harassment.
Over the weekend, Boardroom went viral with some people referring to it as a “Tinder for working professionals.” Would you say that’s an accurate description of the platform?
SB: We do not want to be associated with any other platform besides our own, to be very honest. We believe Boardroom is one of its kind. If we look at what our competition and positioning are, Boardroom is on a completely different side and spectrum of what the platform you mentioned is. We are not a hookup app, we’re not a despondency zone and we focus more on long-term relationships. So to answer your question, we are definitely not the Tinder for working professionals.
What challenges have you faced in building the product?
SB: Currently, the primary obstacle we face is the surge in user sign-ups, which is putting a strain on our verification and screening procedures. Our objective is to streamline the vetting process by exploring more convenient methods, such as capturing a photograph of your identification along with a dated document and a selfie for verification purposes.
Our aim is to eliminate bots and individuals misrepresenting their professional qualifications on our platform. We are dedicated to ensuring that every user undergoes thorough verification to maintain the integrity of our community. Managing this has proven to be a minor challenge due to the substantial increase in new users.
Where do you see the Boardroom platform in the next 2-3 years?
SB: Online dating is a billion-dollar industry and I believe that we are uniquely positioned in that we’re trying to take the stigma away from online dating. We are offering a safe platform for working professionals to identify partners who also align with their professional aspirations.
Up next for us is launching in South Africa’s major cities which are Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town. In the first quarter of next year, we’re looking at launching in London and then going through to the USA. We are starting with London because the rate of adoption for mobile apps is quite high and regions like Canary Wharf, where the demographic is working professionals, align with our target market.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.