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Breakfast  WITH PASSIONFRUIT
March 10, 2022

Matthew McNeill Love, co-founder & COO of Thursday

In August 2019, co-founders of newly launched dating app Honeypot Matthew McNeill Love and George Rawlings had a problem.
Matthew McNeill Love, co-founder & COO of Thursday

Having spent all their money on hiring developers to create the app, they now had no budget to actually get people on the app.

So Love, then an officer in the British army, took a train down to London and met his school friend Rawlings, head of brand partnerships for home deposit scheme Brix, at The Riverside pub in Vauxhall. They came up with a plan. It involved a piece of cardboard and some black sharpies.

Which is how Rawlings found himself walking around Picadilly Circus on Saturday 19 August 2019, wearing a homemade billboard that read: “I @George.Rawlings cheated on my girlfriend and this is my PUNISHMENT. Do not download Honeypot*” In tiny writing at the bottom a caveat read: “*If you are in a relationship.”

“It cost us a matter of pounds, and people went mad for it,” chuckles Love, who rebranded the app to Thursday after realising the majority of Honeypot’s activity was taking place on a Thursday, and made the risky – but genius – decision to only set the app live on Thursdays.

Its mission? To reduce the amount of time spent on dating apps, after Love and Rawlings both grew frustrated with how much effort they spent on stale small talk. By only making the app available on just one day of the week, users are encouraged to meet up in real life, that very evening. After midnight, all matches and messages are lost – everyone has to start from scratch the following Thursday.

Sitting on Zoom in his new WeWork boardroom in Bishopsgate, it appears Love is a victim of his own success. Piled high across the windows are endless rows of canned beer: a free gift from one of the many brands desperate to partner with Thursday. “We just got the most absurd amount of pasta from Pasta Evangelists delivered to reception,” he says. “And I have such old-school manners I have to say thank you to everyone, but it takes up so much time!”

It’s hard to think of another brand that has caused such buzz as Thursday in so little time. It’s distinctly irreverent persona and often controversial stunt marketing have earned it a never-ending flurry of press from the Telegraph to the New York Times, over 200,000 Instagram followers and a tendency to go viral on a monthly basis. It counts 360,000 downloads, has already expanded to New York and its weekly offline parties regularly sell out. Over Christmas it organised a successful Holiday-style home swap between users in London and New York, and this summer is renting a 30-person villa for singletons in the South of France for a month-long Thursday residency, which Channel 4 and MTV are already vying to film. And now brands won’t stop love-bombing him.

Understandably, Love (who has heard every joke about his name already) looks exhausted.

“Our Instagram DMs, our press inbox, it won’t stop. Everyone keeps trying to get our attention. Everybody comes to Thursday thinking we’re going to make them go viral. But we’re not even a marketing company!”

Arguably, the success of Thursday’s early marketing strategy is down to the fact there isn't one. While Love has a marketing degree from Oxford Brookes (Rawlings quit his Geography degree at Birmingham because “he didn’t want to be a town planner”), the co-founders have admitted they know almost nothing about marketing. Which is what prompted a series of ad-hoc marketing meetings they now call “Pointless Pints”, where Rawlings and Love would brainstorm the most “extreme” marketing idea, followed by the most “boring” over a pint, and would “meet somewhere in the middle”.

But it’s not often Thursday meets in the middle. In September 2020, the app made headlines after the company’s chairman Timothy Hammond sent out an email apologising to its 5000-strong mailing list for having found one of the company co-founder’s caught in “sexual activity” in the office, reassuring subscribers that the office had since been “thoroughly cleaned”. Of course, it was a marketing stunt.

“The barrage of emails we got was just… I actually remember lying under the desk in my office, repeating Oh My God over and over again,” says Love, who recalls the unfortunate timing of said chairman resigning that very week – a total coincidence – which led to a fresh slew of headlines. But, "there is no such thing as a stupid idea", he says, because Thursday’s mailing list grew to 25,000 in a day.

Other memorable stunts include handcuffing their intern Anya to a lamppost to mark the start of cuffing season, with a billboard next to her reading: “World’s Most Embarrassing Internship. Single? Download Thursday”. It was, Love notes, Anya’s own idea, but the brand got a lot of flack on LinkedIn for “sexing up” their intern.

“I think people see me and George as two white, middle-class, posh men and think the worst. They didn't have a clue that I was in Afghanistan when we first crowdfunded this,” sighs Love, who has been careful not to make the co-founders the face of the brand as a result. “By taking ourselves out of the picture it meant we could create a certain persona.”

But it seems the old adage of all press is good press still rings true. Not only did Anya’s stunt double Thursday’s downloads in a week, it prompted 148 prospective interns to apply for work. One even made her own pink billboard and danced outside Love’s offices to get his attention. “We literally created a campaign out of hiring”, he says. “Hiring is so boring, but we made it all about how creative the people who want to come and work for us can be.”

The team at Thursday currently runs at 15 – and is growing fast, partly down to Love and Rawlings’ decision to do away with unnecessary bureaucracy, and not rehire a Chairman. “We turned down an investment for our Series A last month, because it was literally wrapping us in red tape and we decided we don't need the money,” says Love, who raised £2.5million in seed funding last year, from backers including Monzo’s Tom Blomfield. “We wouldn’t have been able to hire like we are at the moment, in this incredibly fun and creative way, if we were shackled to terms and conditions from investors.

As well as interns, they’re about to hire a new CFO, and a developer, which Love is over the moon about. “She’s a female dev, which is rare as rocket horse shit, and she will bring such a fresh perspective to the team.”

While some might imagine the Thursday interview process is as wacky as its marketing, Love assures me: far from it. “What is perceived of the brand is very different to what goes on in here. We work very long hours and very hard”, he says. “We are really careful not to hire anyone who ‘fangirls’ Thursday, as [digital creative lead] Jess called it.”

Until recently, Love made sure he and Rawlings interviewed everyone personally, asking every person the same set of questions, including: have you downloaded Thursday? “You’d be amazed how many people said no!” says Love, shaking his head. “Being married isn’t an excuse – you don’t have to actually go on a date!”

Now the co-founders have delegated the hiring process. “Our CTO does all the dev interviews, and he always asks, ‘What’s the most stressful situation you’ve been in and how did you get out of it?’ before running a coding test with them.”

The team doesn’t tend to look at CVs – only the CFO must have (financial) qualifications, while the devs must have good education – since by far the most important box to tick is the culture fit. “I just want people to get on, to be able to go for a drink together after work, and to be able to sit around a table brainstorming ideas, not worrying about what others will think,” says Love.

As Thursday heads towards a reskin of the website, it’s also adopting a flexible attitude to talent. “Instead of hiring a product manager, a product designer and a UX, we’re outsourcing, which is a much more cost efficient way of work. We get basically the access of a whole team for what is effectively an annual salary of one person. And it really speeds up the process.”

Before Love rushes back to more meetings with more brands including Getir and Zapp, I have to ask: has he found love on Thursday?

He squirms. “It can be quite awkward. George and I went on a double date a while ago, and we tried to be as vague as possible by saying we worked in tech. But eventually the girls pressed us, and when we said we co-founded Thursday they didn’t believe us, and accused us of lying.”

The pair eventually had to whip out their LinkedIn profiles to prove it. “How tragic is that!” groans Love, who also has a profile on Hinge. “But then the Hinge founder messaged me to say, ‘Thursday not going well then?’”

Now, Love and Rawlings are putting all of their energy into their offline events, which they believe to be the future of the dating landscape. “I think people just want to meet the way their parents did these days,” he says. Oh, and, getting rid of all that free beer – though there are worse problems for a startup.

“It’s extraordinary looking back to when we first turned up to a WeWork office with a notepad, sitting there like, what now then? But by sheer perseverance and luck we are here,” he says, grinning. But sometimes Love needs to remember to enjoy the ride. “I’m always onto the next round, the next country, the next 100k users. Even though we’re having record week after record week, bringing in good money, hiring really good people, we’re never satisfied. It’s essentially imposter syndrome dressed up – so I’m trying to live in it all a bit more.”

Quickfire

Marketing mantra:

💎

“Stay in your lane! I'm amazed at how many people focus on what other people do. Startups are constantly trying to copy the Thursday voice and it doesn’t work when they're not prepared to go as far. Why try to copy us? We’re tiny, if you’re going to compare yourself with anything, do it with the big players”

I learned the hard way:

🇬🇧

“Not to launch your business simultaneously in two countries, because British humour doesn’t always translate to America when it comes to marketing. That was moronic and doubled all of our problems”

Hiring highlight:

⚡️

“Our data scientist. He started off as an intern but after two months we took him off it and paid him more. Because he created his own role and has made himself invaluable”

Workplace perks:

🥤

“We always have a fridge overflowing with diet coke and White Claw, plus WFH Fridays and unlimited holiday. Someone just carried over 20 days from last year and that’s fine with me”

Gadget I can’t live without:

🎧

“Airpods because everyone is always chatting in the office”

On my bedside table:

🛏

“A Smythson cufflink box, a lamp, Matthew McConaughey’s Green Lights and a half drunk bottle of fizzy water”

Sunday morning will find me:

☀️

“Walking with my brother and his labrador around Battersea because I’m a grown up now. But then we might go and get pissed at The Ship…”

Advice to change your life:

🌱

“We had so many doubters at the start and I was always trying to probe them wrong. My girlfriend dumped me when I left the army because she didn’t think it was a stable job, and so many senior people in the military thought the same. But actually, instead of proving people wrong, prove the people who always believed in you right. Mum and dad, my friends, I’m doing it for you.”


Written by
Eleanor Halls
Music Editor at The Telegraph, formerly at British GQ. Founder at PassTheAux and Straight Up Podcast Co-host.

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