“During times of standstill Victoria enabled people to connect,” says Vicky Cheng, Founder and CEO of Victoria the App, as she looks back on how her eponymous tech business inspired and connected locked-down creatives in times of peak pandemic blues.
Victoria the App is a league apart from other dating/networking apps in the market today. Designed with the purpose of building meaningful connections over forced, temporary flings, Victoria the App has not only succeeded in providing a sense of community during endless lockdown iterations, but also promises to be one of London’s buzziest virtual member’s clubs this year.
“My aim was to fuse virtual life with real life, taking the pressure off finding a place to meet that would suit both individuals,” Vicky said. “I feel that as much as technology has helped us find new people, we still need to keep a natural element in making connections.
We sit down with Vicky Cheng and discuss the early days of her tech start-up, how she has stood out as a woman in tech, and the merits of building meaningful connections and surrounding yourself with the right people to help you succeed.
She also gives some sound advice for future female tech entrepreneurs looking to shine in a male-dominated landscape, underscoring the value of self-belief and embracing all the things that make you ‘naturally original.’
Vicky says, “Step out of your comfort zone and never think that being a girl is a problem, and instead only as an advantage. As Beyonce once said, she never faced any glass ceiling. Being different is an advantage, it sets you apart and makes you naturally original.”
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background, what inspired you to start Victoria the App?
I am originally from Hong Kong but made the UK my home when I was 17. I went to an all-girls school here, before starting my studies at London School of Economics. My family remained in Hong Kong, so I’ve always been keen to meet people that have the same mindset as me. People I could trust, otherwise it can quickly get lonely, especially in a big city like London.
I started Victoria right after graduation, as I found that all the other apps I was using to meet people, just gave me temporary connections, and the whole process felt a little forced. From this personal issue, Victoria was born. I wanted to create a platform that connects people through mutual interests, whilst also letting them meet in organic settings, through the app’s many events.
My aim was to fuse virtual life with real life, taking the pressure off finding a place to meet that would suit both individuals. I feel that as much as technology has helped us find new people, we still need to keep the spontaneity in making connections.
I wanted to offer a healthy alternative to the usual toxic space of dating app. Victoria is a community of high-quality people, that saves young entrepreneurs and creatives time when looking for a like-minded network.
Dating, networking, events – Victoria the App has everything! What were those early days of starting your business like?
The beginning was hard as I didn’t have a technical background and it was my first job after graduation. Funnily enough, I was setting up a networking business through networking, which highlights the importance of connections. Through constantly meeting people, I found so many talented individuals that helped me set up the technical side of the business. In those early days, I set up my website with the help of a supportive intern and even gave coding a try.
After a while I joined a coworking space where I met incredible, talented people who were all keen to connect. One of whom was an iOS freelancer who helped me get the app on the Appstore.
I made a lot of mistakes and changed my idea few times before getting to the final concept that we know today. I also realised that hiring the right people that work well together other was crucial for efficiency and productivity.
In the early days it was all about making mistakes and learning from them. You must be brave, have great passion for what you do and have the ability to persuade everyone around you that your idea will be successful. Don’t let other people project their fear on you and you’ll see you’re going into the right direction. As an entrepreneur the most important thing you must learn is how to change your opposers opinion.
What have been the biggest milestones so far?
One of the biggest milestones is hitting 1k members and launching abroad. I also hear people talk about Victoria, so word of mouth is working. Our stats also show that with have the highest 14 day retention rate amongst our competitors, which shows that our members enjoy being in the Victoria community.
Another great achievement was when our first A-list celebrity signed up to the platform, it really highlighted the impressive quality of our community.
Tech is traditionally a field dominated by men. How do you set yourself apart in the tech world as a woman?
Being a woman has never stopped me from going for anything, and I’ve never felt that I was overlooked or not respected. Because of the industry I’m in, a lot of my teammates are men, but that doesn’t mean they disrespect or patronise their female colleagues.
We also have a lot of tech savvy women in our team, for example my NED is a brilliant lady that came from Bumble and now helps me grow the Victoria community. When I make decisions about hiring, I am not biased on gender nor am specifically looking for a balance, it’s what they can do and know that counts.
Personally, I really feel that success tells more about a person rather than gender. I believe this is also why I’ve never felt disadvantaged as a woman. I always try to make my achievements speak for me and earn respect within this male dominated industry. Once the industry got word that I managed to receive funding, a lot of other companies were interested in me and wanted to learn more about Victoria.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an entrepreneur so far?
With setting up a start-up everything is very challenging, but I think the biggest task is finding the most suitable people for my brand. People forget that it isn’t just about capabilities but also about how the person resonates with my vision and how they can fit into the team dynamics. Trust is also a major factor that goes into the hiring process, as my staff will get the most intimate insight into my ideas and strategy.
In the world of COVID-19, what role do you think online communities like Victoria the App can play in connecting people?
During the numerous lockdowns we had to endure, I felt Victoria kept a sense of normality for our members. We hosted a range of online events once a week, which all had fantastic turnup rates, during peak covid times we had around 80 attendees.
We partnered with great brands such as Wolf & Badger who sparked a conversation about body positivity. We also had entertaining cocktail making classes and a virtual visit to a classic car garage. For many it was the highlight of their week. Others felt it was very refreshing seeing new faces and not speak to the same ten people in their emotional support circle. During times of standstill Victoria enabled people to connect and have intriguing conversations.
Covid measures are gradually being eased so we can now commence with real events, bring Victoria to life, and show our members the real potential of our community.
What’s next for you? Any new exciting projects in the pipeline?
Our latest events were hosted in person for the first time. Most recently, we had a low-key get together at the exclusive private members club, Laylow. Joshua Kane, a quintessentially British tailor also collaborated with Victoria by hosting an ambassador dinner at another private members club, Home House. In July, I will be speaking on a panel, as part of our ‘Brands disrupting the norm’ Event at Home Grown, Home House’s sister club focussing on Entrepreneurs, Investors and Business Leaders.
Other than events, I will keep pushing Victoria to reach more people and receive greater resonance around the globe. One of our main objectives for 2021 is to increase growth amongst our community and receive more traction on the app. To achieve all this and unfold our greatness, we are constantly looking for investors and are planning to participate in fundraisers.
What advice do you have for women who would like to become GirlBosses like yourself?
Believe in yourself don’t care what other people say about you, if you really want to set up your own business and that is the only thing you want to do career wise, go for it and take the plunge!
Make sure you always ask for help, a start-up is about getting all the support you can and building useful connections. You need to find people that are willing to support you, mentor you and be friends with you throughout your journey from setting up your business to success.
Step out of your comfort zone and never think that being a girl is a problem, and instead view it only as an advantage.
As Beyonce once said, she never faced any glass ceiling. Being different is an advantage, it sets you apart and makes you naturally original.