At times, while working on his new startup with his two daughters, Rob Lipschutz is either “Rob” or he’s “Dad” depending on the advice he’s required to give or disagreement he might need to navigate.
Such is the dynamic of launching a company with your kids.
Lipschutz, of Bothell, Wash., is co-founder of The Chances App, a new social relationships app he’s spent a year creating with daughters Vanessa Lipschutz, 23, a Seattle University grad, and Noelle Lipschutz, 19, a student at UCLA. A tech veteran with previous startup and CEO experience, as well as a stint at Amazon Web Services, Rob Lipschutz sounds like he’s having the time of his life as a Gen Xer helping Gen Z find a better way to connect online.
“I’ve seen the sisters struggle with social media since high school, but those challenges really became more obvious when they went off to college and started ‘adulting,’” Lipschutz said. When his daughters hit him up for help building Chances, he was all in.
Chances is not a traditional social media app, and it’s not a dating app — the intention is to help people connect on mutual intentions across nine areas, including Connect, Friends, Let’s Chat, Let’s Hang, Let’s Game, Let’s Study, Let’s See, FWB (Friends with Benefits), and Let’s Date.
When intentions match, each person is notified. Chances calls it a more interesting way to think about relationships than swipe right or swipe left.
“In the old days people would have their black books, and that was more for the people you want to go out with,” Lipschutz said. “This is really a multicolored book that talks about all the kinds of relationships you want to have, whether they be friends or … a casual relationship, you know, which happens, right? Even the daughters of dads have these kinds of relationships. It’s all on the table.”
That ability for Lipschutz to go where other dads might be apprehensive is part of what he enjoys about working with his daughters. While he also has a son who is studying computer science at the University of Washington, Lipschutz says the relationships are different and he’s learned to connect openly with Vanessa and Noelle over the past several years.
The women are leading the charge for Chances at UCLA, where it is initially launching. They’re also hosting a podcast called “Taking Chances,” which includes a recent episode on dating during COVID-19.
“We really don’t think there’s anything else out there like this,” Lipscutz said. “TikTok, what do they want you to do? Create videos. Instagram? They want you to post. Facebook? They want you to like things. What we’re hoping people will do in our app is to do things together. Our goal is to help people connect in the ways that they want to.”
We caught up with Rob Lipschutz for this Startup Spotlight feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
What does your company do? Chances is a social relationships app created for and by Gen Z. Our mission is to inspire, celebrate, and ignite genuine and exciting relationships that feed the human spirit. Unlike social media apps that focus on eliciting attention, or dating apps that focus on impulse and appearance, Chances connects people based on mutually declared intentions across nine areas to offer a better way to fire up a variety of meaningful relationships from friendships to dating based on mutual intentions.
Inspiration hit us when: Before COVID even started, the sisters will tell you that they were already at a loss as to why they were feeling disconnected when they had so many ways to connect through social media and dating apps. It’s no surprise that they weren’t getting what they yearned for through likes, comments and swipes — leaving a void for the human connection that we all need. How do you build more meaningful relationships from social media platforms and dating apps that are meant to hook you? (Have you seen “The Social Dilemma”)? You don’t, which of course fires me up as the father of three Gen Z kiddos.
As they were growing up, we constantly would say, “don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” however, that’s how social media platforms and dating apps are set up. This is shown by quickly swiping, liking and commenting on pictures or posts (and of course, returning back to see how much attention these items are getting and not feeling great when they don’t meet your expectations, all designed to sell ads). It’s a constant cycle of trying to decipher what “liking your picture” or “swiping right” means. There is a lack of a deeper connection and it turns out the meaning of those actions differ per person, so people might connect but rarely feel truly connected.
That’s why we chose a new approach, where people can easily understand the intentions behind every action. In our approach, men and women can both express their intentions with ease. It’s a wonderful way to genuinely deepen connections.
VC, angel or bootstrap: We bootstrapped the company with some help from friends and family. We’re currently finalizing a convertible note round with investments coming from friends, family, and some of our advisors. We’ve come a long way in the creation of the app and I like that we did it with hard work and just a little help.
I’ve done a few startups before, Viant, arguably the first internet consulting company founded in 1996 and SiteScout which we sold in 2012. For Viant, the CEO and founder went the VC route and I’ve worked with a number of VCs since while at Viant and more recently at Amazon Web Services. There may be a place for them depending how we take the company forward. I think it’s best to keep all options open.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Zeroing in on “Intention Over Attention” to fill the human connections gap of social media and dating apps. We made it easy to connect with people based on mutually selected intentions across nine areas in the Chances App. These include Connect, Friends, Let’s Chat, Let’s Hang, Let’s Game, Let’s Study, Let’s See, FWB (Friends with Benefits), and Let’s Date with many more to come. Whether looking for casual acquaintances, study partners, close friends, or possibly the love of your life, it’s easy to use Chances to see where your intentions match with people you know, know of, or want to know. We’ve built a back-end platform designed to match on intentions and create interesting ways to connect to people. We have a patent pending on intention matching in various forms.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Focusing on Gen Z with our unique intentions-based approach. Although society is more technologically connected than ever, there are an awful lot of lonely people, with Gen Z (48.3%) being the loneliest group, according to a survey by Cigna done prior to COVID. In addition to loneliness, Gen Z has a lot of anxiety around relationships and being accepted by others: appearance (45%) is the top-ranked anxiety for Gen Z, and perhaps surprisingly, friendships are also a key source of anxiety (32%).
Despite what conventional social media apps may promise, it turns out having a large follower base doesn’t end loneliness or create meaningful relationships. They may be “social media natives,” but Gen Z is entering adulthood during a pandemic, and they’re reporting the highest stress levels of any generation in the United States, according to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Stress in American 2020 report.
Vanessa and Noelle are among the first of Gen Z to hit adulthood, and they’ve experienced all of these feelings. Craving deeper connections, they are over the disingenuous focus on counting likes or number followers in social media or being just a picture to swipe in dating apps like Tinder and Bumble.
Gen Z doesn’t really do the “check the boxes” thing: this is a “relationship,” these people are “just friends.” Gen Z relationships are much more fluid, and the way they spend time together can move from romance to hanging out as friends and back again, or maybe both at once. What’s important isn’t what you call the relationship, it’s the people in it! By focusing on creating a Gen Z experience that zeroes in on intentions, we can help facilitate deeper and more authentic connections where both people are on the same page.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Underestimating the skillsets of Gen Z. The Gen Z generation is 61 million strong. They are the first cohort of workers that grew up with the internet, and are used to dynamic and social communication from an early age. Until we started diving into the process of creating the Chances App, we just didn’t know how much Vanessa and Noelle already knew how to do. Sure, I paid attention to what they were doing in school, but what they could do on the business front has blown my mind.
Having a tech entrepreneur dad is pretty helpful if you want to build an app that will change the world, but the sisters not only conceived of the app and led marketing and managing the business, but they are heavily involved in the creation of the app. They have owned creating and defining the user experience (UX) using a tool called Figma and then worked closely with two other female UX and QA members of the team. They then tested and gained valuable feedback with UCLA early adopters to make improvements along the way. Gen Z has an amazing set of skills that they have been taught from grade school on that make them incredibly efficient and effective.
While I’ve never underestimated the strength and power of my Gen Z daughters, I absolutely learned a lesson that the skill set Gen Z learned in school and everyday living are unmatchable. Literally, the sky’s the limit. I’ve become a student in many ways.
Which leading entrepreneur or executive would you most want working in your corner? I would love to sit down with Clubhouse founders Paul Davison and Rohan Seth. In a very short period of time, they have demonstrated that the world is ready for new ways to connect and that social media platforms do not have all the answers. I love breakthroughs and believe the most important frontiers in the next few years are around people and connectedness. Social media, with all of its promise, has had a net-negative effect on human beings. We want to have a large net-positive impact.
Our favorite team-building activity is: I haven’t seen my daughters in a year. It’s been incredibly hard as a dad, but wow do I get to talk to them every single day on Zoom. We start our meetings with, “What are your human needs?” Everyone states how they are feeling and what is going on in their life. It can be as little as “I’m hungry” or “this made me smile today,” or as big as “I think I might have COVID.” This allows others to understand them and hear them from where they are at. Most importantly, this humanizes the company and keeps everyone at a level of understanding of why we are creating Chances.
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Heart, soul, and parallel thinking. So often in technology, our thinking can be linear but as it’s often said, you shouldn’t start building a product or platform before you know what you’re building. It’s been so important that our team members are collaborative, open-minded, and thoughtful when suggesting what we do and what we build. And all under the umbrella of helping people make better connections in this world
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Always look for people who you can collaborate with on every aspect of the business. We have intentionally created the Chances community of supporters, ambassadors, advisors, and investors! This team is made up of psychology, marketing, podcast, and startup experts that use their chosen field and their focus on people to help Chances do the right things. They are true believers in teamwork and collaboration.
Company site: The Chances App
LinkedIn: Robert Lipschutz