Why We Made Another “Dating App”
Something sweet has just arrived
The ugly truth
About a year ago, a friend of mine shared the latest of his Tinder success stories with me over lunch. Indeed, he is an avid user of the popular dating app, and also what you might consider a statistical outlier.
It’s been said that only 0.6% of swipes by single men on Tinder actually result in a successful match (Washington Post, 2016). Fair to assume the number of online matches converting to offline dates has got to be quite low. So, I asked my friend the obvious question: “What is your secret?” And he replied, “John, the top 5% of Tinder users rule the app.”
Whoa! It took me a split second to realize two things: (1) you need to be pretty damn attractive to score in the top 5%; and, (2) the other 95% of Tinder users are kinda screwed. It may be no surprise my friend is super tall, handsome and fit. These are the kind of physical features that help clinch a first impression on apps like Tinder or Bumble. In fact, this is how it works in the “real world”, when you think about it. I’d venture to say that perhaps 5% of single people in a bar on a given night will make a solid connection. In fact, the chance of connecting is probably a tad higher in a bar than on Tinder, since one can start a conversation without the hurdle of mutual consent.
There’s another point that factors into this equation, however. We tend to set our sights on people who are above our pay grade, so to speak. This is partly human nature, and partly a function of society. “Groupthink” is a psychological phenomenon, whereby the desire for group conformity and consensus results in an irrational decision-making outcome. In this context, the definition of physical beauty is generally higher for a group than it is for an individual. Nobody wants to risk saying “Hey, that guy is really cute”, only to be shot down by her friends. Add to that the fact that our expectations have been largely distorted by the media, when it comes to how we define beauty. And so, we take what we’ve learned and we apply it to our daily lives, including the way we relate to one another through social media.
I thought about this and realized that, while there’s nothing wrong with aiming high (worst case, you waste a few years trying and failing), most folks really aren’t giving themselves a fair shake. We’re largely ignoring the fact that non-physical characteristics such as intelligence, humor, charm, passion, drive and sex appeal all play an important role in defining what’s “desirable” about another person. In fact, studies have shown that physical attraction isn’t fixed to begin with (Kansan.com 2017). Personality actually plays a positive role in perceived physical attraction, when one finds another person likable and interesting. And almost always, it’s personality that helps “close the deal” when it comes to making authentic connections. (We all know a pretty face can only get so far!)
We don’t talk anymore
I wondered why there wasn’t a dating app on the market that puts personality on an equal footing with physical attraction. I’m not talking about the ones that ask 500 questions and then set you up with another paid user; I’m talking about the kind of app that lets you participate in the process. One that lets you engage in real conversations, without a split decision or rush to judgement. An app that connects you with new people in a more spontaneous yet controllable fashion. I thought about AOL chat rooms back in the day, when users would enter a topical chat, and get to know each other a bit before exchanging profile pics. Having a conversation incognito was fascinating, and if you discovered you weren’t physically attracted to him/her, the worst-case outcome was you’d just made a new friend or pen pal.
People loved the chat room experience. In fact, the only reason AOL chat rooms went away was because AOL went away — overtaken by better / cheaper Internet access and competition from the likes of Friendster, MySpace and eventually Facebook. But nowadays, meeting new people online is a binary decision: Swipe right if they’re hot; swipe left if they’re not. In fact, it’s more a game than anything else (Business Insider, 2016). The way I saw it, the most popular dating apps in the world were underserving their own users. They were superficial, and ineffective in actually bringing people together. Groan…
Therein lied a problem that needed solving. 😉
Going against the grain
I realized that if I could re-create that sense of excitement and spontaneity that comes with meeting new people, through a topically-focused modern day social chat application, I might be on to something special. Such a product would need to include just enough viral game mechanic to satisfy today’s mild dopamine addiction, without defeating the underlying purpose of creating truly authentic connections. Indeed, this product would need to somewhat require users to communicate… but in an interesting and playful format.
And thus, Taffy was born.
We made Taffy a chat-first application that lets you thumb through user-generated posts with blurry profile pics and catchy headlines.
Images are slowly revealed through real-time conversation. The more you say, the more you see.
Most social discovery apps are profile driven, meaning you have one profile that gets matched (or not) with others. Taffy is post driven, so users can create countless posts for a variety of purposes — e.g., love, friends, chat, advice, etc. So, you can create one post for dating, and another for finding mountain bikers in Sweden.
Like other dating apps, Taffy users search for the most relevant and recent posts by specifying a target gender, age range and distance. But they can also include specific hashtags and keywords to help narrow down the desired set of results.
How we did it
It took me a few months to refine the concept behind Taffy, and to decide whether or not it was going to be a viable model. By August of last year, I had gathered enough positive feedback to begin putting my thoughts down on paper. And by September, I realized it was time to find a tech co-founder to help me bring Taffy to life. Within a few weeks, I found a brilliant talent and terrific partner in Nick Wientge. He joined on as a co-founder, and we immediately got to work.
The first thing we did was to sit down and go through all of the core features and functions that would make Taffy a desirable product. Then, we built a prototype we could demo and use for collecting early feedback. We held three focus groups — the first with more than a dozen 30 and 40 year olds, the second with roughly 10 people in their late 20s, and third with a group of 16 college students from USC. We received overwhelming approval, most especially from the younger demographic, so we started building the app itself.
It took 10 months to get where we are today, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. We have what I like to describe as a uniquely differentiated product in a highly validated space. Certainly, it won’t be a cinch going after that coveted k-factor, especially as a bootstrapped effort in its earliest days. But we’re proud of our accomplishments. And if we can help fill an obvious void in how people are meeting online, then perhaps we’re doing some good in the world.
What’s up next?
This journey has just begun! Some of our near-term goals include adding more features around user engagement, and improving the algorithms that determine how users find one another, and how quickly images are revealed. We’re also working on a variety of paid features, which will provide users with additional functionality for a low price.
John Schenk is Founder and CEO of Taffy.