In London, two long-time friends Alison Schwartz and Alexandra Chong have an app that helps women anonymously gossip about men.
On Lulu, men aren’t allowed in, and women can anonymously rate them without their consent. The men, who are all guys the women know via Facebook, are rated on a scale of one to 10. Their profiles are automatically pulled in when the women they know access Lulu. When rating a man, women are prompted to share how they know him (friend, ex-girlfriend, etc), then asked to check off all the good and bad qualities about the man that apply.
The tone is playful and funny. Quality hashtags include #Big Feet and #One Woman Man for pros, and #Obsessed With His mum and #Napoleon Complex for cons. The women can see how many people have favorited a profile (people following that man’s profile for real-time updates and alerts), and how many women have viewed the profile.
The app purposely has no free form spots, so the women can’t get too nasty. This also helps protect Lulu from some lawsuits.
The app reads like a quiz in an issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. There’s even a “Dear Dude” portion of the app that lets women ask men anything. Editorial Director Alison Schwartz says thousands of submissions come in all the time, and that engagement rates are really high with the content. Many of the women ask follow up questions too.
The company is led by Schwartz and Chong, who first met during summer vacations in Jamaica where they both had family. They each attended law school and, while in London, Alexandra fell in love with startups. She called Schwartz, who was working in New York with a book publishing company, and the pair started plotting Lulu.
The idea for Lulu came from a post-Valentine’s day brunch. Chong sat at a table of women who were friends and friends of friends, gossiping about everything from the men in their lives to trusted dermatologists. She wanted to find a way to harness that gossip and voice, which women magazines have successfully done, online.
“If you put even one guy in the mix, the candor of that conversation changes,” Schwartz told Business Insider. “We thought there was a real opportunity to tap into informal girl talk and gossip.”
Lulu began as a desktop product in December 2011 with $950,000 in funding, but last summer the founders realised it needed to be mobile-first. They re-launched Lulu for iOS and Android last June and raised another $2.5 million in February. Investors include Yuri Milner, Jawbone co-founders Hosain Rahman and Alexander Assely, Path’s Dave Morin, Passion Capital and PROfounders Capital.
Since mid-January, 80 million profiles have been viewed on Lulu, 12 million searches have been conducted, 7.5 million reviews have been read, and there have been 6 million user sessions. Lulu says users come back on average eight times per week.
Regardless of its tone, the app inherently draws controversy. A number of men have complained about their profiles but there haven’t been any lawsuits filed yet. Schwartz says her team immediately removes men’s profiles if they write in and complain. She also says men will go through great lengths to get into the app to review their feedback, including changing their sex on Facebook to female.
Schwartz says her developers are experts at finding the digitally sex-changed men and sends them a notification: “Dude, you’re a dude, but we love you anyway.” They’re also sent a link to a men’s Lulu app, where guys can update the profiles women see.
Although Lulu was founded in London, the 14-person team has been marketing its app on college campuses throughout the United States. They started with Florida State and have been finding sorority leaders to push the app. Schwartz says their power users browse the app seven hours per week. As a result, Lulu has popped up in places the founders didn’t initially intend, including Colorado and Arkansas. Chong and Schwartz will be moving the company to New York City in the fall to further push the app in the states.
“We definitely feel this is about female empowerment and collective wisdom,” Schwartz says. “We also feel boys are just the beginning. We’ll win the trust of our girls here and then take them into other verticals.”
Here’s what Lulu looks like:
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.