When entrepreneurs Sean Rad and Justin Mateen found themselves single and fed up with online dating about six months ago, they created an application for smartphones that they believed would help them find better matches.
The app, called Tinder, sorts potential love interests by proximity, shared interests and common friends.
“We started trying different dating apps just out of curiosity and we realized that the experience really sucked,” said Rad, chief executive of the West Hollywood company. “We set out to build a dating app that mimicked the way you interact in the real world.”
One of Rad’s complaints with other online dating apps was that people lied about who they were or posted fake photos as their profile pictures. Another problem with online dating, Rad said, is the imbalance for men and women. Men have to send dozens of messages before they get a response, while women receive hundreds of messages from people they aren’t interested in.
When a person signs up for Tinder, the app syncs to Facebook and uses the same profile picture, which provides some measure of authenticity. The app then shows pictures of potential matches who are in the same city, organizing them based on mutual friends and common interests. Two people can only send messages to each other after they’ve both indicated that they “like” each other.
Tinder is one of dozens of applications that are looking for a piece of the online dating market, which is dominated by websites such as eHarmony in Santa Monica and Match.com in Dallas. Other dating apps based in Los Angeles include Grindr, focused on gay men, and Blendr.
Even online dating giants such as Beverly Hills’ Spark Networks and eHarmony have entered the mobile dating scene. EHarmony’s mobile products generate about 40 percent of new signups for the company, said Arvind Mishra, the company’s vice president of product. Meanwhile, Spark Networks has made a mobile version of its flagship Jewish dating service, JDate.
But even as dating apps crowd the market, the giants are staying away from the casual dating scene where Tinder is focused, as opposed to matchmaking sites.
Last fall, eHarmony shut down its casual dating website and app, Jazzed. Mishra said Jazzed was created under different leadership – founder Neil Clark Warren came out of retirement in July to become chief executive at eHarmony – and it did not represent eHarmony’s brand.
“Jazzed was created as a more casual experience and it was kind of off brand,” he said. “We’re all about compatibility. It very quickly became apparent that this type of casual product is not in our DNA.”
Rad, who previously founded Beverly Hills Twitter ad network Ad.ly, and Mateen launched Tinder in November to appeal to people who aren’t already dating online.
The eight-person company started as a part of Hatch Labs in West Hollywood, an incubator operated by New York media conglomerate IAC/InterActive Corp., which also owns Match.com and OkCupid, a free dating site based in New York. Tinder has since spun out of Hatch Labs, though it still occupies an IAC-owned office space off of Sunset Boulevard. It raised an undisclosed amount of funding from IAC and Hatch Labs.
Rad would not say how many people have signed up for the app, but did say that more than 1 million matches have been made through the app since Tinder launched.
Rad and Mateen have both dated people they met through the app, though both men are still single.
But even as Tinder grows, Chris Armbruster, an analyst with B. Riley & Co. in West Los Angeles, questioned how much money a dating app could make.
“The casual dating environment is not nearly as profitable,” said Armbruster, who follows Spark Networks. “The users aren’t nearly as committed to finding a relationship. The reason why Spark, for example, is so profitable is that the people that use the service are generally interested in paying a premium to form long-term relationships.”
Tinder does not sell ads, and Rad said there are no plans to do so. The company plans to monetize eventually by, for example, selling virtual items through the app. If a man is especially interested in one woman on the app, he could buy her a bouquet of virtual flowers to stand out from other suitors.
The company also has plans to match people based on more categories and increase the amount of location technology it uses. Right now, it only recognizes which city a person is in. But eventually it could get as precise as showing people potential matches in the same neighborhood or even the same bar.
“We definitely want to go big with this. The current version of Tinder fulfills 1 percent of our vision for the company,” Rad said. “We’ve actually already had multiple offers to buy the company, but we don’t want to sell.”
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