Meet Hey! VINA – a new app that launched in summer 2015 with the belief that all it takes is one friend to change your whole life. The app is dedicated to building global communities of women who make each other feel supported, inspired, free, and above all else, happy. You can find some new girlfriends on the Hey! VINA app, because you can never have too many friends.
Today we have the opportunity to speak with Jen Aprahamian who founded the app alongside her friend and former colleague Olivia June Poole.
Hi Jen. Thanks for your time today! Can you describe the moment when you and Olivia knew that you were going to make Hey! VINA? Was it a sudden insight? Had this been a long overdue project? What was the motivation behind VINA?
Hey! VINA came together after a great deal of user research, design, and planning, but in a lot of ways it was a very natural extension of some things we were already doing. Olivia, especially, is a natural connector, and she founded a ladies’ social group that was absolutely inspirational for what we’re doing now. When she realized that over 100 women were regularly coming to happy hours and social events just to get some quality time connecting with other women and making new friends, the natural next thought was “how can we scale this?”
I always find it fascinating to hear about the ideas that motivate people to excel. The concept for your app, helping women meet other female friends, is very interesting spin on the current “dating” app boom. What was your motivation to peruse this app?
We really, truly believe in what we’re doing, and we’re our own product users – it’s that simple! Friends are as important (maybe more important!) than romantic partners, and we thought it was strange that there are so many apps focused on dating and not as many centered on something equally important for our emotional health. And we’re pretty confident that there’s no such thing as “too many friends!” That’s actually something that sets us apart from dating apps – the end goal of a dating app is that your users meet someone and partner up and then they’re done, but we’re hoping that women have such a great experience with Hey! VINA that they keep coming back to make new friends – happy hour pals, book club friends, fitness buddies, etc.
While in recent years there has been a big push to be more inclusive of women in tech, let’s be honest, it still feels like a boys club at times. As a successful female entrepreneur in the tech industry, what sorts of challenges or hurdles did you run into, if any? How did you overcome them? What advice would you give other women who are trying to follow in your footsteps?
It’s been challenging to get some men in the industry to understand why we’re building what we’re building, or why women would want it; we got a lot of crickets before we launched. We knew we had a great product that would really resonate with women, and we stuck with it – the payoff for being persistent and sticking with our vision was that the press we’ve gotten and the response from users has been so overwhelming that it’s nearly impossible to ignore the data. I think our advice is twofold: one, don’t give up when people say “no” (we’re glad we didn’t!) and two, don’t be afraid to connect with people and ask for help. We’re both first-time founders, and this would have been infinitely more challenging without amazing friends and advisors to help us navigate things like launch, fundraising, scaling, and the general day-to-day of running a startup.
What was it that brought you into the tech world? Did you always want to be an app developer or did you fall into this? Tell us a little bit about your journey to where you are now and some of the people you met along the way that helped guide you.
I’ve been coding since I was a kid, although I don’t know that I always wanted to be an app developer per se. I definitely wanted to spend my career making video games, so the shift to something more social in focus was unexpected (but it’s great – totally different challenges!). I think, even as someone who’s been tapping away at a keyboard for more than twenty years, my path to tech entrepreneurship was a little bit unorthodox. I studied political science and economics in college, and even went to law school for a couple of months, and I think I needed to do those things that are so very different from writing code to realize that I fundamentally wanted to build things.
Something from my journey that really sticks out for me, and that seems so completely right now that I’m working on a product that helps people use technology to connect with other people, is that I met my first tech mentor via Twitter. We were total strangers who mutually thought the other said funny/interesting things on the internet, and she ended up taking me under her wing and really helped shape my career.
We’ve also been so lucky to count Ellen Petry Leanse as one of our advisors for Hey! VINA. She’s truly inspiring, and has really been a great role model for us as a prominent woman in the tech industry.
Do you make an effort to connect with other women in tech? If yes, how do you do that and why do you feel it is important? If no, is there a desire to, why or why not?
Absolutely! One of our core values at VINA is “collaboration over competition,” and we’re always excited to connect with other women in tech and increase their visibility. Fostering a sense of community among women in tech and entrepreneurship is huge for us – we want to see each other succeed and help each other succeed. The boys’ club has been around for years; why can’t we have our own?
It’s also important to us to see more women in leadership and technical roles because the next generation, girls who are getting excited about STEM, need role models. We want those girls who think code is cool to also be able to point to a woman who has a career that she might like some day, and say “I can do that!”
Any future aspirations to share for the Hey! VINA app or for other ventures?
Hey! VINA is just getting started, and so is our company! We’re building out the core app experience and working as quickly as we can to start introducing new friends around the globe, but we also can’t wait for the next stage. Our introductions are going to get smarter, we’ll have more quizzes and other fun content, and we’ve got a couple of other women-centered products in the pipeline that we can’t wait to develop.