Boardroom App – South African Roots, Global Aspirations

31 May 2024
Boardroom Team
31 May 2024
Boardroom Team

Innovative UCT alumni Wisani Shilumani (left) and Derusha Naidoo (right) together with Serisha Barrat (centre) have created a dating app for professionals, that is a runaway success.

What is Boardroom App?

Boardroom is a dating app designed specifically for busy professionals seeking meaningful connections and potential life partners. The app leverages LinkedIn for profile verification and requires users to upload clear photos and complete detailed profile prompts. It prioritizes quality and safety, creating an environment where people with shared values and interests can connect. Boardroom was co-founded by Wisani Shilumani, Derusha Naidoo, and Serisha Barrat in Cape Town in June 2023.

Meet Boardroom’s Founders

Wisani Shilumani – Chief Technical Officer & Head of Product 
Wisani moved to Cape Town in 2012 to pursue a Mechanical Engineering degree at UCT. After graduating, he started working at Allan Gray, where he continues to work today. Passionate about using technology to build community, Wisani has eight years of experience as a Software Engineer and has worked on various startups, including WeSit, Tribyst, Muso, and Vooiced. His experiences with these ventures have been crucial in shaping his role at Boardroom.

Derusha Naidoo – Chief Marketing Officer 
Derusha completed a BSc in Mathematics and Economics before starting at Allan Gray in 2014. She later pursued a modular MBA at UCT GSB in 2022, where she met Wisani. They worked closely on MBA assignments, building a strong understanding of each other’s skills and leadership styles. Derusha spent nearly a decade at Allan Gray before joining Momentum Money as an executive associate. She also has over a decade of experience in influencer marketing and brand campaigns.

Serisha Barrat – Chief Executive Officer 
Serisha has a legal background and over a decade of experience founding tech startups, including “Lawyered Up,” which uses AI to make legal services more accessible and affordable for startups and small businesses. She is also involved in initiatives like Arts of Charity and provides pro bono legal aid to victims of gender-based violence through “Lawyered Up.” Serisha is dedicated to fostering inclusivity and equity in the tech industry.

How It All Came Together

Wisani and Derusha met Serisha at UCT GSB’s “Women in Business” conference in 2022. They shared their entrepreneurial stories, not expecting to partner on a venture only a year later! 

Wisani initially conceived the idea of a dating app for busy professionals and, after some testing, invited Derusha and Serisha to join as co-founders. In October 2023, while Wisani and Derusha were at UCT Graduate School of Business for their entrepreneurship courses, Wisani shared a post on X about Boardroom which ended up receiving 5 million impressions and hundreds of comments. The Boardroom team, seeing this as a validation of the product, decided to leverage the virality and organic interest as much as possible to push forward with the business. 

Since starting, some key highlights for the team include winning a “Best Startup” award at the Africarena Grand Summit, hosting successful in-person events for professionals in Cape Town and Johannesburg, reaching over 20 000 downloads, and receiving PR exposure from major South African news publications and broadcasters such as News24 and SABC Morning Live.

Awards Ceremony
Boardroom amongst the other winners of Africarena Grand Summit
Derusha and Serisha
Derusha and Serisha with the Best Startup award

The Inspiration for Boardroom

Wisani explains, “During COVID-19, professionals everywhere in the world were struggling with loneliness. Since then, I’ve been fascinated by the loneliness pandemic, whose research has shown that loneliness is as bad for people as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Before building Boardroom, I had just gotten out of my own relationship and this problem became more front-of-mind for me. This issue particularly impacts busy professionals who relocate to cities for economic opportunities and end up living alone in apartments. It made sense to connect professionals who were very busy and didn’t have a great deal of time on their hands. It was thus a compelling motive to connect people and find a way to encourage sustainable, long-term relationships for people from 25 to 50 years old.” 

Boardroom’s very specific target market is professionals who have more than likely been in previous relationships and are now looking for something serious. The Boardroom team posited that the below factors hold importance for busy professionals looking for a life partner: 
(a) Someone who understands and aligns with my lifestyle 
(b) Someone I can co-create a shared future with 
(c) Someone I can easily engage with about my ambitions and interests 
(d) Someone who shares my core values

Boardroom’s Differentiated Features
The Boardroom team knew that in keeping with its mission to help professionals find love and to bring safety and quality to the online dating experience, they would need to build features to support this mission. The core differentiator is LinkedIn verification, which discourages fake profiles on the app and keeps the user base focused on professionals. In January 2024, the team introduced a bold new feature that limits users to a maximum of three chats at any given time. This encourages more meaningful engagements. Wisani comments, “We live in a time of instant gratification, demand, and excess—and we are saying PAUSE.” 

The team listens closely to feedback from users and has introduced confidentiality features that hide a user’s place of work until they have matched with someone. When dealing with professionals, it’s important to understand their specific needs and concerns.

The Experience Building the Business

Wisani describes the experience of working on Boardroom as a breath of fresh air and a pleasant contrast to his highly pressurised career in corporate. He enjoys connecting people, and seeking to understand what matters to users on the app. Derusha expresses, “I absolutely love the learning that happens every single day of running a startup, and the autonomy of being able to test new strategies and methods to get the best outcomes. Things move quickly in a startup and you have to wear multiple hats!”

From a marketing point of view, the team knew it would be important to understand where their target market was spending most of their time and try to position Boardroom in those spaces. LinkedIn was an obvious channel to focus on for online ads, but the team took an iterative approach testing other social media platforms as well. Strategic partnerships were also a key focus area and the team partnered with content creators who already have engaged communities of professionals that Boardroom could tap into. 

The team has tested various pricing models with the latest being weekly subscription options, which offer users a chance to try the app for a week before committing to a full monthly subscription. Wisani comments, “It is bittersweet when we see people going off the app after they have bought their subscription, but the reason is because they have found someone on the app, which is great news!” The team is of the view that if the app is successful in helping professionals find a match, the positive word of mouth from that will help drive business growth.

The Way Forward

South Africa is home to Boardroom and proved to be a great place to start given the team’s existing networks; however, the goal has always been to scale Boardroom globally and help professionals everywhere find love. True to this mission, the team has begun testing the market in the UK, identifying that it has a dense population of working professionals who already use dating apps. A key priority for Boardroom will be to continue enhancing the experience for users and building on the safety and quality features on the app.

Did the MBA Help?

Derusha and Wisani concur that embarking on their MBA was a transformative journey that encouraged them to “think big” when it came to starting a business. The MBA provided them with powerful tools and networks to leverage in their entrepreneurship journey. Wisani comments, “The focus on leadership in the MBA is invaluable and gives a thorough self-understanding, teaches self-leadership, and requires us to question how we show up in the world.” Derusha notes, “We are building a global company and need to have a mindset that enables that vision.” 

Wisani remarks that some of his friends have even found matches on Boardroom and are grateful for the connections the app has provided. Derusha comments, “I’ve learned that if you have an idea and a solid team backing you, other people will get behind you and support you—users and investors alike. It is all about believing in what you have created.”