Charly Lester featured

Inspirational Woman: Charly Lester | Co-Founder & CMO, Lumen

Charly LesterCharly Lester is co-founder and CMO of Lumen.

Lumen is the first app-only dating platform for over 50s.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I'm co-founder and CMO at Lumen - the dating app for over 50s. We launched last September, and already have over 1.5 million users worldwide. Six years ago, I fell into working in the dating industry when my dating blog '30 Dates' went viral. I ended up working at The Guardian as their dating editor, then at Time Out as their Global Head of Dating. My first business - The Dating Awards - launched in 2014, an industry awards for the online dating industry. The Awards started in the UK, then spread to Europe and the US, making me one of the leading voices in the sector. After 4 years running it, I had tried and assessed most dating apps and websites out there, so when my co-founder suggested we launch a dating app for over 50s, I jumped at the chance to create a product which directly tackled the issues I knew consumers faced on other apps.

I run all of Lumen's marketing, and a huge part of that is tackling the way society views over 50s. It’s a demographic people haven't designed apps for before and they are extremely undervalued and misrepresented. I spend a lot of time trying to make our brand and our advertising as 'pro-age' as possible.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Haha, never! I did Law at university, a Masters in Broadcast Journalism and then I went into banking (after a few gap years travelling!).  What I love about my career is that it has shaped itself, and I have ended up designing a role for myself which suits me down to the ground. As I look back at what has got me to the position I'm currently in, there are so many skills I picked up from other jobs which are so useful to my role at Lumen. We've launched the app in five countries so far, and every time we launch, I have to do interviews on live TV. Who knew my TV journalism experience would come in so handy?

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

When I launched my first business I didn't have any female friends who ran companies. I didn't know anyone else who had taken on that risk, and I can genuinely remember really doubting my abilities.  There were lots of ups and downs involved with running a business for the first time, but I wouldn't change any of it because I learned so much along the way and realised what I'm capable of. Probably the biggest challenge was other peoples' preconceptions and fears. My own parents died when I was a teenager, but my friends' parents have often worried about my decision to step away from a 'traditional career path' and take risks. There have been many times when they haven't really understood what I was doing, and have told me as much. I had to learn to understand when to listen to other peoples' concerns, and when to take them with a pinch of salt.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Appearing as a judge on the final of The Apprentice when one of the candidates designed a dating app was a pretty big career high. I also spoke at the Oxford Union in a debate about the existence of true love (my debate partner was the creator of Love Island!) - probably the most daunting evening of my life! And thanks to Lumen at least three couples have already married, hundreds live together, and hundreds of thousands of people have met - that's a pretty amazing feeling to know you have quite literally changed someone's life.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I always break things down into small steps. In my spare time I run ultramarathons and Ironman triathlons, and a huge part of that is breaking something huge and unmanageable into small steps. I know how to pace myself, and I never let the final goal daunt me. That's the same attitude I apply to business. No matter how slowly I'm moving at times, I'm always moving forward.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Find mentors you admire and trust. When I first started working in the technology team at Time Out, Ellie Ford was Head of Innovation. She is one of the most inspiring women I know, and about 10 years older than me - Ellie is so intelligent and I learned so much from her. Knowing who to go to to ask vital questions - including what to do with my career when my role was made redundant - was a huge part of my career progression, and five years later I can still hear her words of advice.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

When I look at the teams at Magic Lab (Lumen's parent group) there are still departments which are heavily male, despite us trying to hire as equally as possible. Women and equality are really high on the agenda, however tech companies still need to have women in the hiring pool in order to employ them. Part of the issue is educating women that certain roles are for them just as much as they are for men. The barriers start right at ground level - treating little boys and little girls exactly the same. Making them understand no hobby is gender-specific, and neither is a specific career. And then helping women to ask for progression and the salaries they deserve when the time comes for that.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

I was at a talk recently by Caroline Criado Perez and she was saying that it's not just a case of getting women to ask for the pay rises or promotion they deserve - if that's not the way most women behave, why not adapt the way pay structures and promotions work to better accommodate female ways, instead of accepting the 'male way' as the norm.

There needs to be total transparency in all companies about peoples' salaries - this is where our 'Britishness' has let us down - because the women still bear the brunt of our desire to be discreet and not talk openly about money.

I also think we need to be more flexible with work arrangements, not just to accommodate working parents returning to work - but also to get the best out of people. I for one know I get far more done working on my sofa at midnight, than I do sitting in an office at 8am.

There is currently on 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Teach coding to all children from age 11 - mandatory. My dad was a computer programmer and I am so gutted I didn't learn to code from him when I was a kid. It is such an incredibly valuable skill and would certainly change a lot of women's job options after school or university.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

I've just finished reading 'Invisible Women' by Caroline Criado Perez. That, and 'Lean In' by Sheryl Sandberg, is impossible to read without stirring up your inner feminist! I used to try to attend a lot of Women in Tech events, but now I also try to encourage as many women to attend events for everyone.  There is nothing more depressing than turning up at a tech conference, and seeing a panel of all white men on a stage.


Inspirational Woman: Clémentine Lalande | CEO, Pickable

Clémentine Lalande Clémentine is the CEO of Pickable, a world-first dating app. It offers privacy for women whilst dating - which is otherwise public on other similar platforms.

Pickable is ideal for women who are worried about being recognised or dislike too much online exposure.

A keen entrepreneur, Clémentine has worked with various start-ups at C-suite level. Early on in her career she joined BCG in Paris but got tired of the monotony. Her career took a change of direction in the form of working for a number of venture capital companies. Clémentine is passionate about doing business for the greater good and has spent time working in investor funds with businesses in developing countries such as Haiti and Uganda. She has also spent some of her career in Argentina and Columbia.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I envisioned Pickable in 2018 when I realised how much men were still leading the game in the online dating world.

I have previously worked on another dating app, Once. During my time at Once, I managed to scale up the app use from two to ten million users worldwide. I met with thousands of women who expressed a need for more privacy, discretion and control in the online dating world. I decided it was time to change the game by creating Pickable, an app that protects women’s privacy and enables them to browse anonymously.

I have over a decade of experience in technology and business development. I have also had the privilege of living and working in many countries around the world. I have also spent time mentoring various start-ups at C-suite level. I am proud to call myself a mentor in various start-up founders’ networks. Before that, I was a venture capital investor and strategic adviser at BCG.

In my spare time, I am a jazz singer and songwriter. I live in Paris with my two children and my husband.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not exactly. I studied industrial engineering at university and worked in venture capitalism. Now I am the CEO and founder of a dating app - the two do not exactly go hand in hand!

I am driven by intellectual rigour. This is how I make most of my career choices - I like to surround myself with brilliant people who inspire me. This is how I have made sense of all my decisions retrospectively.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

One of my biggest challenges is taking time to disconnect and 'switch off'. This is something that I have only learnt over the last few years. At university, I studied difficult sciences (mathematics and physics) so alongside my studies, I developed an artistic parallel life. I use this as a method to balance my brain.

I am a passionate musician and singer. I always allow time to myself regardless of what happens during the week. Even if I have a busy schedule, an investors emergency or a childcare crisis, I always continue to learn. I have toured with a jazz band, tried my hand at song-writing and I also recorded three EPs with my previous band. I also study lyrical singing as a mezzo-soprano and have taught myself the piano. This is the way I manage to disconnect myself so that I go back into work full of energy and recharged.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

The worldwide success of Pickable is one of my biggest achievements. Following the launches in new markets, Pickable became the number one trending app in France, Italy and Austria. We have recently launched the app in Switzerland and in Germany. It will be very exciting to see the outcome of both launches.

Other than my career, my children provide me with pride daily - alongside exhaustion!

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

A strong mindset and constant hard work.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I am proud to be a mentor in various start-up founders’ networks. Every year I take on one or two start-ups that I coach on various topics. These include fundraising, strategy, planning, operations and recruitment.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

I have loved following the media attention of the ‘Me Too’ movement. There is a clear split between men and women and I am delighted that this has caught the attention of the press. I am also delighted that many governments have got involved in the issue. The 'Me Too' movement has created a platform to prevent discrimination and enforce gender balance.

It is wonderful that many enterprises have pledged to drive change. This is due to the issue becoming more and more visible - both internally and externally. The progress is slow but I believe that with further innovation and technology we will begin to see change. Hopefully, I’ll be able to tell you more in a few months!

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Never allow someone to tell you something is impossible.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I would love to develop another app based on a brilliant concept that I discovered in Germany. There is a campaign called ‘Pinkstinks’ which finds sexist advertisements online. It then reports and makes fun of them with the help of a community. I plan to develop an app based on this concept which spots