Nana Wereko-Brobby is the founder of Social Concierge, London and New York’s private dating events club. Her mission is to transform modern dating, taking people back offline to an event-based members club experience. Granddaughter of architect Sir Philip Powell, Nana grew up between West Africa and West London. She attended London girls school Godolphin and Latymer, achieving straight As and going on to study English Literature at Edinburgh University, where she helped run the biggest annual student fashion show in Europe raising over £140k for various charities. Graduating with a 1st class degree with honours, she went on to a career in digital marketing, first in a start-up in Shoreditch and then in Manhattan working for McGraw-Hill Companies.
Returning to London – with the spirit of New York dating in her blood – she went into publishing at Macmillan Education, and created Social Concierge as a date recommendations website in 2011. The site soon attracted a massive following through its editorial content and Nana decided to launch her side hustle as a subscription club, hosting private dating parties focusing on bringing together singles from the top universities and companies in the UK and US over drinks.
Nana has written regular dating-related columns and articles for Yahoo Lifestyle, Huffington Post, Square Mile magazine and appeared in Tatler, Evening Standard and the Daily Mail. She was recently made the dating editor at Balance magazine and is writing about the NYC dating scene for Elle Magazine UK.
We had the chance to catch up with Nana over drinks at House of St Barnabas in Soho
Tell us a bit about Social Concierge?
The network established itself as a By Invitation Only events company; a response to the proliferation of apps and lack of personal touch in the growing dating industry. The idea was to get people offline in a setting that felt contextual, vetted and chic. I felt that young professionals needed to enjoy the process of dating, not have it feel like a job interview. The goal is bringing together members with common backgrounds and drive.
In 2013 I quit my job at Macmillan Publishers to work full time on Social Concierge, turning it into a formal members’ club and subscription business. Since then the club has become known as the Soho House of Dating Agencies, with long wait lists and a strict vetting process. By 2016 the network had grown enough to allow SC to host 100-200 person parties every single week for their members.
The club launched in NYC in February 2017, with 500 members already subscribed and a waiting list of almost 2000. The NYC branch hosts bi-monthly parties for the membership base, also offering reciprocal memberships to the London events.
I didn’t want to have an events business, but rather a subscription business which is easier to manage and scale up. The idea of people being part of a community combined with having a commitment to meeting someone in a genuine way was really interesting for me.
Where do you get your drive from?
I am very target-oriented and get obsessed with membership targets and an obvious growth pattern. I also love the idea of building a brand, and the challenges of selling a vision and idea to people. Additionally, I feel very passionate about the dating issues of our time because I struggled throughout my 20s and really battled my way through it.
Social Concierge is not about the big sell. Seeing the team grow and changing the business is incredible, the lifestyle of being independent is amazing, and it allows you to be open-minded. I am more interested in the process of having a business rather than building it up to sell to one of the larger sites for now.
What’s your take on the world of millennial dating? How has the scene changed over the past decade?
I feel people have become increasingly commodified, everyone is more of a perfectionist in terms of what they are looking for – your expectations just don’t meet reality. My advice would be to drop your expectations and reintroduce yourself to people in the real world who aren’t the epitome of a perfectly polished Instagram profile. I want to open up the idea to younger people to get help on dating. Bumble and Inner Circle are great examples of these, being very engaged with the dating industry, and where Social Concierge can help engage them further. If you think about it, dating online started many years ago with the likes of match.com, eHarmony, MySingleFriend etc., nowadays becoming part of everyone’s routine.
Are there any parallels or differences that you can draw from other big cities?
If we take London and New York as an example, there is a huge difference between online vs. offline dating between continents. The biggest thing logistically is that London members want parties on Friday’s, which means Saturday’s are bookmarked for recovery time. New Yorkers on the other hand are so used to going out throughout the week and spend the weekend seeing friends and family. In New York, Social Concierge only organizes parties on Wednesdays.
If you think about the kinds of industries that are big in these cities and the difference in pay gap: advertising in New York pays 5 times as much as in London, so the breadth of industries represented is much more balanced in New York. In London you get the big corporate lawyers, bankers and consultants applying to our events.
New Yorkers really enjoy the process of dating, and have a much more relaxed approach to it; it’s seen more as a sociable way to meet new people, and potentially someone of interest further down the line. Our international members have a real flair and natural sociability to strip back the more uptight, British approach to dating, something we’re trying to encourage more of here in London.
Dating apps have taken the world by storm – although they might not be everyone’s cup of tea. What are some of the organic ways in which dating can be made accessible in our digital days?
I highly recommend going out mid-week and engaging in something new where there is a genuine interest in, for example, a bloggers dinners, networking with others, just getting out there. My biggest issue with apps is that people think they are quick, easy, no awkwardness, seamless – that’s not what dating should be. If you think back to when we were younger, dating someone was painful, awkward and weird. Social Concierge wants people to remember that what you like and want to fight for is worth it! You should optimize the chances of finding someone beyond the use of apps, it will happen. Weekends away with friends are a great way to meet other people.
How has Social Concierge changed and grown as a business?
I kept my job at Macmillan for 1.5 years while also managing Social Concierge until it had taken off quite a bit and I changed my schedule to flexi-time so that I was able to attend to some of the important meetings I needed early on. Once I had set up the subscription so that there was a baseline of revenue coming in, I went full time.
I didn’t take a salary for the first year, as all the revenue was reinvested into the business. After that, I was running Social Concierge full time and was close to burnout. I managed to get some space in a shared office which was a great way to meet people and talk about my business. I finally brought in an intern and realised how helpful it was psychologically to have a wingman, let alone to help me with the workload. The first investment I made was in a full-time staff and the rewards were amazing. In the space of a year, growth went from 80 members to 400. Investment since has always been in people – I’ve taken pay cuts to ensure my team are happy with their salaries and enjoy their job. There are now 4 of us working full-time, and we have ad-hoc ‘crowd mixers/mixologists’ who support each event and help our members blend in.
In London we have over 20,000 prospective members. We have 1000 strong active members per city – people come and go so we have a very fluid network of new people once they’ve had their experience. We have quite a female approach to business: where revenue has previously been the core focus, instead we’ve focused on slow cautious growth which is different to other businesses in the industry. Fast growth is seen in the majority of other startups in the industry that are driven by men. The dating industry is not going to be the tech business you think it’s going to be, as it’s a slower market but a strong area if you get the concept right from the start.
I’m so excited to be launching Social Concierge in Hong Kong in 2018 – it’s going to be such an exciting chapter.
What about the partnerships you’ve been able to build as part of that growth?
Venues have to be high-end and fancy without being snobby and pretentious. You’d be surprised how many of our members are those corporate people in the city who are actually really adventurous, gutsy and creative rather than the stiff corporate stereotype. One of our favourite venues is Tramp, a private members club in Mayfair which has all the connotations of being super romantic with dark rooms and a mysterious atmosphere – but also has eccentric members from 18-80! The energy blends from corporates to creatives so our members loosen up to the dating vibe. Quaglino’s in Mayfair is a glamorous but super fun venue – brilliant! The Goat in Chelsea is a beautiful bar with lovely lighting and warm staff, incredible cocktails with a neighborhood feel.
Who are the women who inspire you?
Cassandra Stavrou, Founder of Propercorn – she’s built a real tribe of employees which is all part of the extensive branding experience that she built – a real inspiration to young women braving it away from the corporate world.
Marjorie Scardino – former CEO at Pearson Plc – she was once the highest paid CEO in the world. Her reputation of how she related to her employees, for example hand writing every single Christmas card to her staff and knowing everyone by name was exceptional. It’s rare to find leaders out there who don’t feel like they need to have this persona of being above everyone else.
There is no point being an entrepreneur and quitting your job for something else unless you’re really passionate about it. Where it goes wrong is when you set something up and then it fails. After years of hustling, only passion will get you through to the 5 year mark where it feels like a real business.
London is a place with so many successful and ambitious women – on top of a busy work and social schedule, finding time to date can be a challenge. What would be your words of advice?
Don’t forget to have fun – what men are looking for is more fun and light hearted women so don’t treat dating like a job interview. Professional women are far pickier than professional men, where the bucket list for women is a lot longer.
Keep sane, invest in your dating life one night a week so that you alleviate the pressure of having to meet someone.
Think outside the box. Don’t assume dating nights are about getting plastered so that it’s detrimental to your health (and your bank account). Propose a coffee date or a walk in the park. Climbing dates are a great way to socialize and meet new people.
Adopt an international mentality and try a weekday date so that you can see your friends on the weekend.
Members who give themselves a 6-month mind set are more likely to meet someone in the first few weeks. Don’t give yourself the same timelines as you would for your job (“Oh it’s been 2 months, I give up!”). Taking a pause from dating is like taking a pause from life!
You can explore more about Social Concierge and their upcoming events here.