Inspiration can come from from anywhere. And for Chinua Cole, his motivation to create Dadapp, the fatherhood community app, came from Jay-Z. “His album is called 4:44, with the specific song 4:44 being the track that generated the idea,” Cole tells Elite Business. “That album covers numerous topics from financial freedom to the LGBTQ+ community but it was the subject of fatherhood that sparked the lightbulb moment for me.”
It was back in January 2018 that he first registered Dadapp, making it just over a year he’s been beavering away at what started as a conversation with teammates on the football team he was playing for at the time. And he did it all by himself despite not having any business experience or third-party financing. “It’s taken this long because I was and still am a first-time solo founder with zero external funding which has made it challenging to say the least,” he reasons.
Some fathers may recognise the name from last year when Dadapp was particularly active across various channels, such as in so-called #Instadad circles. But that quietly tailed off and, if you ask Cole, it did so for good reason. “There were some huge technical challenges I had to overcome and I felt until I overcame them, I was doing a disservice to my users by continuing with activities that didn’t address those issues,” he says. “First-time founders often lose focus on the main thing and I will never make that mistake again. Our main thing is the app, everything else comes second to it.”
Cole acknowledges openly that he isn’t a father but he has enough awareness to know a service like Dadapp has potential to scale massively. It’s certainly worked for mothers, who have Mush through which they can meet other mums. “I know the founders at Mush, they’re both lovely,” says Cole, claiming that nothing like his father-facing offering has been developed before, especially on the app front. “Dadapp helps you find, connect and meet with like-minded dads nearby based on location, children’s ages and shared interests.”
While Mush has secured £2.9m of investment so far, Cole has a couple of thoughts on why there’s been nothing developed on the dad front until now. “Fatherhood has suddenly been acknowledged by mainstream media and society,” he opines. “I think the other reason is that the barriers to entry to make a technology-based product are still high. You have to get a lot of things right and there’s not a lot of space, if any, for error.”
So to make sure Cole doesn’t trip over himself, he’s focused on getting to the heart of what users really want. “Never in a million years did I think I would know so much about fatherhood before I became a dad,” he says. “After many interactions, I think the biggest issues dads face is the uncertainty and the expectations.”
Indeed, just look at Gillette. On the back of the ongoing #MeToo movement and other female-empowering campaigns, the men’s shaving specialist launched an advert encouraging men to step up and do the right thing, forgoing any outdated stereotypes to raise a respectful generation of boys who’ll grow up to become create gentlemen. And in doing so, its attempt to showcase “The best men can be” was met with hostility and furious customers, arguably showing the precise opposite of what the slogan in the ad is promoting. With more than 30 million views on YouTube, among the top comments are remarks such as “I vote Gillette stops making razors and starts making tampons” and “Dollar Shave Club here I come.”
With attitudes like that, while it by no means speaks for the majority, there’s clearly room for improvement. And Cole thinks Dadapp has a place to make that shift happen. “Regardless of the societal shift in views we’re currently undergoing, there is huge pressure to ‘bring home the bacon’ and be strong all of the time,” he says. “There’s no room from vulnerability or weakness because there’s a stigma attached and it’s deemed soft. I love masculinity and I don’t want it to be erased. However, I do think men, and dads specifically, need a space to talk about the challenges they face but also just to catch up for drink to offload the day-to-day stresses of life. I think Dadapp is a great tool for the wellbeing of dads.”
And Cole is well versed in what fathers would desire from the platform, having spoken with them extensively since conceiving the idea. “I spent an entire year speaking to dads both online and offline,” he details. And they weren’t shy about giving their insights, which pretty much meant the required features were all decided by the dads he spoke with – the end users. “I think the fact me not being dad at this point really helped and forced me to listen to potential users because I couldn’t ask myself,” he explains. “Dads did make one thing clear – no forums.” Cole notes the move is something “the complete opposite” of many mum-facing apps. And with a reputation that’s swirled around the likes of Mumsnet for years for being full of catty comments and trolls, it’s easy to see why it’s been bypassed.
Having originally launched an iOS version of Dadapp last year, alongside the marketing cooling period and taking stock of all the input from dads, the platform has returned this year with a new approach to social media and an Android app in tow to cover all bases. “Before our quiet period, the app was only available on the App Store and we didn’t think this was right and took some time out to work and develop it for Android users, so more dads have access to us,” says Cole. “Now you can expect more dads on the app, you can expect to see better app features and functionality and you can expect to see more interaction on social media.”
Although he now has a solid foundation in place, that doesn’t mean his baby isn’t going to give him a few more sleepless nights. “Balancing my nine to five with my – not-so-side – side hustle” is something Cole points to as one challenge he’ll continue to endure while building the business alongside his full-time retail management role. “You always hear the generic ‘Quit your job and be an entrepreneur’ but that’s not my narrative – sustainability is very important to me. I work really hard so the business will move forward and I look forward to what the future has in store.”
And looking ahead to the future, Cole is aiming high. “I want Dadapp to be the biggest and best meet-up app for dads in the world,” he opines. “I want it to be an aspirational brand. As I move forward with things this year, the word brand will be at the forefront of everything we do. We want to have the best support, the best, features, the best interactions and most importantly the best success stories. I want to hear about cases where Dadapp has changed somebody else’s life. That’s the big vision for Dadapp.”
Cole’s inspiration and concept are clear but what about motivation? Well, fatherhood is in Cole’s life plan so he knows what he feels would be useful when that box gets ticked. “I’m driven by the fact that if I were a dad, I would want to use Dadapp for myself. It’s weird to have to step outside of myself and attempt to serve a community of people.” And it’s that selfless element to the crusade that he finds most enjoyable. “I love it because it’s not about me in anyway, I’m driven to deliver a service that makes dads’ lives better,” he concludes.