Alena Titova

Co-Founder of SOON

Alena Titova is the Co-Founder and Head of Product at SOON.

Co-founded with Cora Kyler in 2021, SOON is a dating app that prioritizes high quality, intentional connections that happen face-to-face. SOON provides daters a list of the best date spots & makes deciding on a time feel easy.

With a background in architecture, Alena approaches creating a mobile app as she would the design of a physical space, carefully considering the pathways people use to move through each.

Alena’s own experiences with dating apps left much to be desired. After enduring the isolation of being single as a graduate student in the midst of covid, she turned to apps to meet people. It always felt like something could be improved—the endless browsing & sporadic chatting felt exhausting. Alena and her co-founder seized this opportunity to create an elegant, low-touch dating experience that actually brings people together, face-to-face.

Born in Chelyabinsk, Russia and raised in the D.C. area, Alena holds a BA from the University of Virginia and is pursuing her MArch at MIT. She currently resides in San Francisco.

Where did the idea for SOON come from?

SOON was born from my and my co-founder’s own shared experiences on dating apps. At the heart of it, we wanted to make an app that we would use & our friends would use. We carry that vision through the entirety of our process and our decision-making—it’s a good way to keep our ideas grounded. We first came up with the idea during the summer of 2021 when we reunited post covid—it felt like a fun way to continue connecting and working on a project together. The more we worked on it, the more we realized that we could make something that actually had a serious impact on people’s lives—relationships whether they are romantic or platonic are key indicators of happiness. In a way, you could say I stumbled into entrepreneurship.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I try to prioritize sleep & get at least 7 hours of it—it increases my general well being & my productivity. I start my day with a coffee & a walk around my neighborhood. In a way, because I work from home, I view this as my “commute”—it makes me feel more human. I try to break the work day up into sections–I rope off time for meetings, co-working sessions & time to just work by myself. I make sure to not skip meals, and I go climbing afterwards to shake off the day. I always read a bit before bed.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Take a stab at it! I think sometimes there’s a preoccupation with doing something perfectly and thinking that otherwise it isn’t worth doing at all. But I’ve found recently that putting something out there–whatever it may be–writing it down, making a mock up, taking it from my head and throwing it out there for the world helps me think through it more diligently. Usually in the process of doing that the idea changes & evolves for the better.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I am really into Gen Z’s casual attitude towards posting on social media and being a person on the internet. I think they’re flippant and don’t take themselves as seriously in a really positive way. There was a point in time where people crafted their image rather intently online, but I think there’s something more human about the casualness of the interactions I’m seeing now. I’d love to see this trend be carried over into dating and dating apps – places where people want to showcase their best curated self. We give people the opportunity to be a little more real on SOON!

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Really knowing your arena is key. SOON is in the dating space, so I have become a walking encyclopedia of online dating knowledge. I keep up with new features and make sure to always know what is going on, what beta features other companies are putting forward. Understanding where your space is heading is really helpful so you can orient yourself around that and have something to push against.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I’m still quite young, so if anything, at this moment I wish I could hear this advice from my older self. I think not having too strict of a plan for where you want your life to go is really beneficial. It’s good to sketch out plans and see what you want to try, but the most freeing thing I’ve done is to let go of the expectations I’ve had. It’s really allowed me to make decisions that are more risky and has really paid off.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Whenever I need to draft a piece of writing, I always start by handwriting it out. Holding a pen, scribbling forth my ideas, helps me get my ideas out there quickly without feeling bogged down by my immediate desire to edit. Once I have a few pages, I begin editing as I transcribe my writing to type-form. It feels a little old-school, but I swear by it.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Iterate! – I guess it’s literally the definition of doing something over and over again, but we’ve pushed & changed our app design many times over the last few months, and every time we do it, it gets better. It’s a painful process—it’s painful to scrap what you’ve spent countless hours working on, but you’re never actually starting over. It’s really more of a continuous conversation with yourself and whoever else you’re working with. By attempt 20 you’ll be in a way better place than attempt 1. I find it valuable to let go of whatever sense of pride you have in what you make. Poke a hole in what you do before anyone else does & learn from it!

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Finding the right people to work with is crucial—growing a team is so important, & at a certain point in time you need help to push & expand your thinking. Finding someone who is passionate and curious & is ready to carry your idea with them is a stronger addition than someone incredibly technically proficient who just doesn’t care as much. You want that curiosity to drive a person forward.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

It took me some time to find my voice—and that led to a multitude of smaller failures. Communicating effectively is crucial to all aspects of running a company. You need to be able to talk to people on your team, people you hire, & people who want to support you. There’s a certain amount of comfort required to do so naturally & well.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’ll give you a silly answer—I hope this already exists honestly. I used to live in an apartment with coin operated laundry machines and I always tried to get q-tips and trick the machine into thinking I was using quarters. My business idea is to make a device to put the quarters through and then pull them out and sell it to broke college kids!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I recently bought some plants, probably $100 in total. Having some green in my workspace makes a huge difference! I don’t like sterile interiors so I do my best to liven up the spaces I occupy.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

The most all-encompassing piece would be the creative cloud suite – I use the various programs all the time in my work. After Effects is great for videos or even making a product demo and it’s very easy to use. Illustrator and Photoshop are essentials–I just can’t go without them.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

It’s a classic but I’d have to say War and Peace. It’s one of those classics that is both a novel and collection of philosophical musings with gorgeous descriptions—I think it’s worth reading to have it under your belt. I did however read it in Russian so I can’t speak too much about how it reads in the translation.

What is your favorite quote?

This is kind of odd, as I am not a huge sports fanatic, but I feel particularly attached to the short advice snippet: “Next play” coined by Duke basketball coach Mike Kryzewski. I find myself repeating this mantra to myself often both in my personal & professional life. Dwelling on mistakes is less productive than taking charge & thinking about ways to move forward.

Key Learnings:

  • It is crucial to understand the importance of iterating on your work and not becoming too married to what you’ve created thus far–ultimately it will lead to better results.
  • Find the small things that have a large positive mental return for you–prioritizing sleep, working out, being in nature–and make them a part of your daily schedule.
  • Don’t be too fixed on any one plan–a career, project, life decision. Life might take you to unexpected places but be open to that.