Founders: Sarah Press and Jason Skicewicz
Company Description: An online dating service that focuses on the offline experience
Company Site: https://www.projectfixup.com; Twitter; Facebook
Date of Interview: January 2015
Sarah Press is the Co-founder and CEO of Project Fixup. She has always been passionate about entrepreneurship and bringing people together. She believes in “getting offline as quickly as possible” to help people form meaningful relationships in their busy lives.
On getting started as an entrepreneur:
In college at UNC Chapel Hill, Sarah often fell asleep in her dorm lounge. In the morning, the dorm staff used to come by and wake her up to remind her to get up and go to class. As a result, she formed relationships with the staff and wanted to help them out. She created an online form that connected the staff with university students who were interested in tutoring their kids. The product and concept were simple, but being able to create something that added value to people she cared about was “inspiring and empowering”.
On the path to Project Fixup:
Sarah’s first startup was Communiteach, a peer-to-peer learning platform to help neighbors and friends learn from each other. After a period of time, she realized that though she found the mission rewarding, finding peer-to-peer learning opportunities just wasn’t a big enough pain point in peoples’ lives. She pivoted her thinking and decided to bring people together for a different purpose – dating.
“Project Fixup had a similar soul to Communiteach because it was still based off recognizing that people are really busy, but really benefit from meeting each other. Instead of doing it for learning, it was doing it for dating. People like to learn from their neighbors, but if you’re single you REALLY want to meet people with similar interests”
On Tech Stars and funding:
In 2013, Project Fixup was selected to be in the inaugural class of Tech Stars. They had bootstrapped the year prior and continue to keep their funding small for the time being. Outside of the ~$100K seed investment that comes with Tech Stars, Project Fixup has only taken investment from one additional angel investor.
“When you’re trying to do too many things at once with a small team – figure out your product, figure out your marketing, figure out your investment – you’re not going to be able to do any of them effectively. Initially after Tech Stars we were having several conversations with funders, but it just wasn’t really the right time because we were still trying to figure out our core product pieces. So we decided to take a step back and figure out how we can expand to other cities first.”
“You can focus on one of those things, maybe two, but not all three. Feel comfortable saying ‘no’ to some opportunities and ‘no’ to some follow-ups because you just can’t be focusing on too many different avenues.”
On finding a technical co-founder:
Sarah’s current co-founder and CTO is Jason Skicewicz. They spent 2 months working together on Project Fixup and trying out their relationship before making the decision to be co-founders.
“The world has really evolved in the past few years, so people shouldn’t feel like they can’t accomplish SOMETHING without a CTO. There’s no excuse to at least not start validating your idea and making progress. That gives you flexibility to get to know people better so that you know you’re going to be a dynamic team with a shared vision.”
Sarah lists that co-founders should have 1) passion 2) entrepreneurship 3) complimentary skill sets 4) shared vision 5) shared style.
On dating online and offline:
The idea behind Project Fixup is that you spend as little time online as possible. Project Fixup does the work for you and sets you up on an in-person date. Sarah aims to “offer a service where you can still meet people and hit it off without all the other work involved in traditional online dating sites.”
“We think the proper mix of online and offline is to get offline as quickly as possible. People aren’t profiles – they’re very different. A person having a conversation is different than a text you send on Tinder. People make a lot of assumptions based on these artificial ways of communicating that don’t really align in person.”
Sarah talks about how even offline, assumptions and impressions can be off. “We do a post date review after each date, so sometimes we get to see how people have very different interpretations of how a date went. In one case, the girl really liked the guy, had a really great time and was very excited about him. But then, the guy thought she had no interest in him. Usually we don’t follow-up directly, but sometimes we want to give a little nudge.”
“Dating is hard! Sometimes people don’t realize the signals that they give off.”
On evolving as an entrepreneur:
“At the beginning, I thought that as soon as you focus on something and if you believe in it enough it will come true. I was very hopeful and optimistic and I still am. But I’ve learned that entrepreneurship is a process. Even for ideas that don’t hit a home run out of the park – just the fact that you’re bringing something into existence that can add value to people is really rewarding. Thousands of people signed up to Communiteach and had the opportunity to connect and learn from their neighbors. And even though the full platform doesn’t’ exist anymore, the Learnapalooza festival came out of Communiteach. It’s an official nonprofit with a team that is still pushing on it. I’ve learned that that has its own types of rewards.”
“I love launching my own startups, but I’ve also learned that I just love being entrepreneurial in general.”
Project Fixup is currently available in Chicago, San Francisco and Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill).