When Facebook married Sex and the City, Luluvise was born
From a meet and greet with the prime minister to the fury of Floxx founder Rich Martell, Alexandra Chong has received both bouquets and brickbats for launching Luluvise – a female only dotcom where girls can rate men’s ability to have sex.
With its pouting pink lips logo and “Girl time all the time” tagline, Chong might have positioned Luluvise as a light-hearted social network, but the site, it seems, makes a serious business case.
Why? Because big shots like Lastminute.com founder Brent Hoberman and Bebo founder Michael Birch have helped Chong raise £665,000 for her “Facebook meets Sex and the City” venture.
Chong is a law graduate from London School of Economics, a former member of Jamaica’s Olympic tennis team (she knows Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick personally and hangs out with them when they come to Wimbledon), and has worked in the PR sector for a year.
She doesn’t have an engineering background and website coding is Latin to her, so why on earth did she decide to launch a platform where girls can gossip and rate vital statistics of men?
To find out, I have come to White Bear Yard in Clerkenwell which, mind you, homes a snazzy smorgasbord of tech ingenuities like Stylistpick and Technovated.
“In 2009, I went on a rather interesting Valentine’s date and I wanted to share all the gossip with my gal pals, many of whom are scattered all over the world,” says the 30-year-old half Jamaican half Canadian blonde dressed in a chic blue jeans, blue shirt, black boots and Ray Ban glasses.
“Why didn’t you post your date details on Facebook?” I ask her.
“Of course, I couldn’t post it on Facebook – that’s where everyone from your mum to your boss can trawl your wall!” she tells me with a giggle.
“After dishing out juicy details over three telephone calls, two Skype calls and a bunch of Blackberry messages and texts to my other girlfriends, I called my best friend Alison Schwartz in New York. I told her that we needed a place where girl talk is private, fun and all in one place.”
How Luluvise works:
1. You have to be a registered Facebook user to log on to Luluvise but none of your Facebook friends get to know that you have connected.(That’s how they keep boys at bay.)
2. You then create an “inner cirle”- a private place for you and your handpicked best girlfriends
3. Girls can send four types of “scoops” or messages on Luluvise namely photo scoops, text scoops, polls and wikidates.
4. Wikidate is the naughty one. Luluvisers can rate men they’ve dated according to various factors including looks, manners and performance in bed. None of these scores are visible outside the site.
After her eureka moment, Chong looked to digital agency Glow Labs to build a prototype for Luluvise. She would then send half of her monthly salary from her job at mobile marketing company Upstream to Glow Labs, and after a year and three versions later, Luluvise was on the launch pad.
Perhaps the most controversial part of Luluvise is the ban on boys. This is so the ladies can give their gal pals the inside “scoop” on whether the sex with their last date falls into the “Is he into girls?” category or “I had no idea that was physically possible!?” category.
And when boys try to break in to get a sneak peak of this girl-o-sphere, “Dude, you’re a dude, nice try though!” is the error message they are greeted with.
Ask her how a niche platform like Luluvise will make money and Chong enumerates interesting stats.
She points out that women generate more than 70 per cent of the messaging activity on Facebook, spend more than 35 per cent more time on social networks than men, and drive 80 per cent of all consumer spending.
“We’re tapping into the largest online demographic, women. Surely, that will make Luluvise a profit-making venture?
“The numbers proved to me that a concept like Luluvise will be a hit with 18-35 year old girls and I haven’t looked back since,” she says.
No doubt every girl has SOS, LOL and OMG needs, but will that make a strong business case that will have investors laughing all the way to the bank?
Chong is confident that it will. “The day I put in my papers at Upstream, my boss Alexios Vratskides, the chief executive of the company asked me about my future plans and I told him about Luluvise. He really liked the idea and invested some cash to get Luluvise off the ground,” explains Chong with a glint in her eye.
Chong then tells me how it wasn’t easy to convince Brent Hoberman to part with his money.
“I remember when I was pitching to Brent, he asked me questions like why can’t girls create private Facebook chats and he was slightly terrified by the Wikidate concept.
“But I proved to him that there was clearly nothing like Luluvise for the ladies to enjoy unadulterated girl time. Therefore, there was a gap in the market we were filling and the project has definite revenue potential,” she says.
Surely, if bigwig investors like Hoberman and Birch have decided to put their money into the venture, Luluvise has to have a solid business model in place? But she’s reluctant to talk about it because it’s early days.
“We won’t even think of monetising the site till we have more girls flocking to the site to spend girl time. Once we’ve achieved that I think Luluvise will start making money through partnerships, affiliate marketing and advertising on our site,” she tells me.
Chong keeps mum about the number of users as well, but tells me that the site’s users come from more than 140 countries across the globe.
With 12 employees – six male and six females – Luluvise does have some men running the show, but they’ve started calling each other girlfriends.
“It’s good to have a mix of both sexes in the office but sometimes the boys get fed up. We’ve got our tagline ‘Girl time all the time’ scribbled on our white board, but one of the boys changed that to “Girl time, overtime”, says Chong.
When Lulu met the PM
One of the only men to get a sneak peek into this girls’ private club is none other prime minister David Cameron who came to visit London’ tech mecca for its yearly progress report.
“The PM’s visit was a great morale booster for us as and we gave him a little demo before we got the product out of the door. He’s one of the few lucky men who got an exclusive peek even before Luluvise was launched.
Chong recounts how the team had created a Wikidate review on the PM. You may recall that a Wikidate review rates men on their appearance, sense of humour, first kiss, commitment, manners, ambition and of course performance in bed.
And what were his scores?
“We gave him top scores in everything,” chukles Chong.
Does Luluvise cater to wannabe Disney princesses only?
Chong says she always knew that launching a site with features that rate men on their vital statistics would garner its share of hurrahs and boohoos. In a column on the Kernel, Floxx founder Rich Martell slagged off Luluvise as a site for “wannabe Disney princesses?” I ask her about this, doesn’t Martell make a valid point?
“What’s wrong with being a Disney princess?” she replies.
“He [Rich Martell] doesn’t know what the girls are talking about in their inner circle. They might be discussing Disney toys or they mi
ght be talking about politics for all he knows. Luluvise has got nothing to do with him, it’s for girls.”
Chong is adamant that Luluvise has got a “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” vibe to it and is a light-hearted place to capture the “girly guilty pleasures”.
“I did a user session with a sorority class of Stanford University in the summer and the girls loved Luluvise and said they connected with it instantly. These are girls who are very bright and ambitious and will no doubt make it big in life. How will Luluvising make these girls any less ambitious or damsels in distress?,” she asks me.
And what do you have to say to the girls who say that the site “comes across as a silly, wannabe combo of Sex and the City and High School Musical”?
“Well, if we’re not your cup of tea, we’re not your cup of tea, don’t join our platform. We have millions of other girls who would like to luluvise,” declares Chong introducing a new verb to the English language.
I ask her if she’d approve of a male version of Luluvise where men rate sexual performance of girls.
She takes a pause and answers, “to each his own but I don’t think men would want to discuss their dates as much as woman.”
These are busy times for Chong. She’s about to launch a Luluvise mobile app for gossip on the go, she’s doing a demo in Queen Mary University to spread the word and she pens “Diary of a start-up” – her column in the Sunday Times which documents the progress of the project.
“My next challenge is to build a strong user base in the UK and US,” she tells me.
“We are just a month old but we’re here to prove that Luluvise will take on the world as a billion dollar tech company right here in London.”
My verdict? You go girl!