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Fireside chat with Zac Stern, Founder of Official

Who is Zac Stern?

I am originally from Northern New Jersey, and I was lucky enough to attend The Stern School of Business at NYU (I have no relation to Stern, btw). I was closing VC deals while still a student at a $1bn fund. I was hired as a full-fledged analyst as a Senior and promoted to Associate upon graduation. In October of 2020, I left the VC world to dedicate my full attention to Official as it’s Founder & CEO. 

What’s the story behind Official?

While working in VC, I analyzed the business models of everything from jetpacks to cancer research; dating apps somehow fall within that range. When looking at a business, the first thing you learn is that you want to keep your customer. Relatively obvious, but not when it comes to dating apps. 

Dating apps are an interesting business because when they do their job correctly they lose their customers, but the same thing happens when they do their job poorly, or when an outside force accomplishes their “goal.” So from a financial perspective, I realized that it made more sense to focus on helping people stay together, because the longer they are together, the longer they want to be our customers. 

Official switched the incentives so that when we win, you are happy in a great relationship, and when you lose, we lose a relationship with our user. It changes it from what is seen within the dating industry in general. 

On the personal side, I was dating someone long distance at the beginning of 2019, while still in school and studying abroad. I was in London, she was in NYC. I met her two weeks before I left to study abroad, so we started our relationship with a lot of calls, texts, and facetimes. This led me to realize that I needed a way to remember everything, so I started making a notes tab on my phone to remember things she would say; I made another one to remember things about her family or other tidbits; I had an Instagram saved folder of things we wanted to do in the future; and I pinned every future date spot on my phone’s map. While it was tedious, this was the only option. I knew there had to be an easier way. Also, many of my friends were in relationships and what I noticed was that everyone wanted to be the “perfect” couple; the couple that had the best dates, cutest photos, best sex. I realized that there was nothing out there for couples to help them be better. All of these things happening are what led me to the idea for OFFICIAL. 

What was the most difficult part of your experience in the early beginnings?

When I first started my journey I knew that not everyone would understand or like what I was building, especially coming from the Venture Capital world. I knew how many No’s I would face but even when you know what’s coming it’s hard to have people tell you that your dreams don’t make sense, or there isn’t a market for it. I vividly remember when I first went out to raise money that I thought it would be easy since I knew the space, but it wasn’t. I had nothing in retrospect but a can-do attitude and a smile, and no matter how many people told me no, I never lost my smile because I knew it was the only thing keeping me going. I had three meetings back to back, in each meeting the investor said no in a different way, and for contradictory reasons. One said that the market was too small, another too big, another just didn’t get it. It was hard, but it teaches you to think about every crack and to know every angle of the business. 

What are you most proud of regarding your business?

There are two things that have made me incredibly proud as a founder while building Official. The first is seeing my idea actually turn into a product that interests people. It baffles me everyday that something I thought of is now on tens of thousands of phones. In addition to being proud of the product, I am also extremely proud of the team that I have been able to build. The Official team is remarkable and I could not do what is being done without them. I am so proud of the team at Official and what they have been able to accomplish over the last year, because it was no easy feat.  

What is your vision for the future of Official?

When I dream about all that Official will accomplish, one thing that is clear in my mind is that Official will help couples with their relationship. However, even though therapy is more accepted than ever, couples therapy isn’t. What we realized is that we want to bundle the tools and tricks that someone may learn within couples therapy, and give them to our users. Couples therapy or coaching has a stigma because it implies that your relationship needs help or has problems, but we know that isn’t the truth. This is leading us to take a trojan horse approach to therapy and share it with our users as social media. If we highlight all of the fun couples are having in their relationship, offering the tools a couple may need to have a healthier relationship is seen more as a bonus. At the end of the day, we aren’t therapy, we never plan to be, but our goal is to take some of this knowledge and share it to make people happier. 

What’s your advice for the businesses that are trying to adapt to this economic climate?

The best way to run any startup is to act like you are an enterprise, but budget like you are a start-up. What that means is to show off to the world that you have the best in class solution, all while finding ways to keep costs down and living on a ramen noodle budget. The best startups are the ones that are able to manage their finances and stretch every dollar as thin as possible. When you are going out to secure funding, you need to show investors that whatever money they give you is going to be spent ten times more efficiently than it would have been spent elsewhere. 

Please name a few technologies which have the greatest impact on your business.

The technology that has had the greatest impact on my business is Chainstarters, the software development platform. Their technology is something that allows us to maintain and operate our infrastructure and code more efficiently than we could otherwise. I am so lucky to have found them because it makes it that much easier for us to continue building Official. Another piece of technology that we use frequently and find a lot of value in is Slack. Slack allows us to organize all of our communication in a centralized location and makes it super easy for our team to stay connected. 

What books do you have on your nightstand?

Zero to One – One of the best startup books I have ever read, it goes over the difficulties of how hard it is from going and starting something from scratch. This book really hit home for me after re-reading it because of how difficult it is for OFFICIAL to establish a new market category, the relationship market.

Zapp – This is the first business book that I read and truly understood. My father gave me this book, which he had given to him when he started to work for Xerox. The book is simple yet powerful, it goes into how people can see each other as managers and what to do to effectively manage people both up and down.

Algorithms to Live By – This book isn’t about startups or business, but I love it because it goes to show that even what we consider random within our lives can still be explained by rules we cannot understand at times. This book really goes to show that by changing perspectives we can understand what is truly random, and what we can explain.  

Because of the current economic climate our publication has started a series of discussions with professional individuals meant to engage our readers with relevant companies and their representatives in order to discuss their involvement, what challenges they have had in the past and what they are looking forward to in the future. This sequence aims to present a series of experiences, recent developments, changes and downsides in terms of their business areas, as well as their goals, values, career history, the high-impact success outcomes and achievements.

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