Friends, family and having the ability to switch off are key to keeping a healthy mind as a start-up founder, according to the leader of a new organisation blazing a trail in the dating industry.

Photo of Charlie Spokes

Charlotte (AKA Charlie) Spokes is the founder of offline dating specialist, My Friend Charlie, which launched in 2017.

It matches like-minded singletons with zero-pressure dating events, urging users to ‘pick an event not a profile’, with everything from wine tasting to axe throwing on the menu.

Following a hectic but successful first few years, Charlie says the support she’s had from those around her has made it all possible.

Charlie said: “Mental health is a fairly huge problem for start-ups. It is the thing I’ve struggled with the most, and it can take its toll on your personal life.

“You’re doing most of the things yourself without a lot of support and there’s always the next thing to do, but I’m lucky to have a good support network in my family and boyfriend. Having that support network is a game changer.

“I also go to yoga twice a week, which has really helped. I leave the phone at home, switch off and don’t think about anything else.

“There's a common misconception that start-up founders thrive on stress and chaos and whilst that is partly correct, the truth is that a lot of founders can find themselves unravelling thread by thread and not paying attention until they hit breaking point.

“Your entire existence is a balancing act between growth, fundraising, day-to-day operations and innovation, all managed whilst you count the days until your current bank balance bottoms out.

“Having a sounding board, in my case my boyfriend and family in lieu of a co-founder, to bounce business decisions off means that I can sense check everything I do and somehow that responsibility no longer seems so overwhelming.

“Finding someone to talk to about your business, whether it's a loved one or a mentor, in combination with regular exercise (yoga for me) are probably the two most important bits of advice I could ever give another start-up to help maintain good mental health.”

Photo of a My Friend Charlie event

My Friend Charlie has launched in London, Manchester and Bristol, and is set to expand further in 2020. The expansion has been helped by a successful crowdfunding campaign, which enabled Charlie to develop the technology to help the business grow. Charlie also took part in Virgin StartUp’s StepUp programme in 2018, which aims to help founders gain the skills, knowledge and confidence to scale their businesses.

She added: “I have enormous respect for what Sir Richard Branson has done and how he’s got there, so I thought if any big corporate could help me, it was Virgin.

“I took part in StepUp about nine months after the business launched – it was a great confidence boost. As a founder, you always think your business is great, but the litmus test is to get others to believe in it. StepUp was a key part in growing My Friend Charlie to the next level.

“I found the speakers incredibly inspiring; people putting everything they have into their business. You have to give it everything you have got.”

The platform boasts a good success rate in matching people post-events, but has also spawned a lot of friendships, particularly among like-minded men.

Charlie added: “Speed dating is very easy to do; it’s easy for the people putting it on but it’s not necessarily right for the customer. We put people first – they are front and centre of what we do.

“I was working in finance – everyone was single, and everyone was moaning about the dating scene. I ended up having a conversation with my mum about it all – she was saying that people don’t seem to meet people in a natural environment anymore.

“Working people in big cities don’t have the time to meet new people. When they get together in groups, they tend to see the same people over and over again.

“I love hosting parties and getting people together, so I got 20 single friends together in a pub and asked them to pull the business plan apart. But the feedback was so overwhelmingly positive, My Friend Charlie took off from there.”

Find out how Virgin StartUp can help you and your business scale-up through our StepUp programme today.