Is Dating Becoming Just Another Networking Opportunity for Entrepreneurs?
In the not too distant past, I went on a Grouper date. It ended with a proposition – in the most professional sense of the word.
For those uninitiated in the embarrassing dating rituals of New York City, Grouper is one of a host of app-based dating startups. Its "hook" (aka the pitch won over Y Combinator in 2012) is that instead of one-on-one dates, it sets up drinks between three men and three women who download the app.
The date went fine, despite the fact that two out of the three men clearly did not wish to be there. There was no chemistry, so I didn't expect to hear from any of them afterwards.
I was surprised then when, a few days later, one of the potential suitors messaged me on Facebook. After a few perfunctory messages, his true intentions became clear: he was trying to fund a Kickstarter campaign and, as I had mentioned that I worked for a business publication, he wanted me to cover it.
I did not respond to his message.
As someone who writes for Entrepreneur, I've come to terms with the fact that occasionally people I believe to be interested in a date actually just want me to write about their apps. However, speaking with a number of other entrepreneurs and those who love them, I found that I was far from the only one affected by this phenomenon. As more dating apps have made their way to the market, startup founders are finding them useful for professional purposes.
When Tinder plays LinkedIn
Dating apps often strive to be seen as more than just facilitators of either romantic or sexual connections. Tinder's motto is "Tinder is how people meet. It's like real life, but better." Hinge's is "Meet new people through friends." The subtext is there, but the focus on connections of all kinds and the similarity to real-life scenarios keeps associations wholesome.
While this vagueness may seem like wishful thinking, there are stories of business relationships based in dating app connections. A 2014 Fortune article highlights a former hedge funder who connected a match with funds, a woman in tech who uses dates as a way to ask for business advice and a Google executive contemplating business prospects – all of whom met on Hinge or Tinder.
Entrepreneurs may be particularly susceptible to the tendency to network when looking for love. When you're thinking about your company 24/7, it can be difficult for matches to separate work from romance.
One such pair is Ashley Taylor and Alexander Klokus. The duo matched on Hinge about six weeks ago and discovered both their companies were in intense growth mode in overlapping industries; Taylor works at blockchain-centric production studio Consensus Systems and Klokus works at science and tech aggregator and summarizer Futurism.
"Very quickly, Ashley started dropping all of this very awesome tech lingo," says Klokus. "I think from that point, we knew that this is something that could evolve into something much more than a simple hookup."
While Klokus jokes that he's playing the long game in wooing Taylor, the pair's professional collaborations have already borne fruit, including Taylor writing a post for Futurism on the Further Future Festival.
"There are very few companies that are focused in the space we are focused on, in terms of emerging tech and how they impact society," says Klokus. "I think that going forward, there will be a lot of opportunity for collaboration."
Both Taylor and Klokus say they are still on Hinge, but they admit they don't have much time for serious romantic relationships – a sentiment that is common amongst entrepreneurs.
"[When crafting the guest list] we are looking for… the person that is super ambitious, and they tend to invest a lot of energy into their career," says Christina Weber, creator of New York City dating experience Underground Unattached, which attracts an entrepreneur-heavy crowd. "The dating aspect of their life sometimes get neglected because they thoroughly enjoy what they do."
At Underground Unattached events, 20 men and 20 women mingle for a night. While Weber does a great job planning activities that steer the conversation away from the workplace, the DJ starts off the event instructing guests to make at least one good connection that evening – either romantic or professional.
Weber, who is nicknamed "the human LinkedIn," says that Underground Unattached already sparked at least one business connection. Two guests – a younger woman and an older man – bonded at the event over a shared sense of humor. A month later, Weber learned that the two had formed a mentorship as the woman launched the next stage of her career.
Of course, Weber says that there have also been romantic and sexual relationships formed by couples who met at an Underground Unattached experience. Taylor and Klokus were similarly quick to specify that business connections via dating apps are the exception, not the rule. However, as dating platforms become an increasingly common means to make connections of all sorts, these exceptions are starting to add up.
The interwoven futures of networking and dating
"Hinge is trying to mimic something you do in your life," says Hinge CEO Justin McLeod, regarding the dating app's utility as a means of connecting people. He believes the app's success is not only tied to growing its user base but also its ability to feel as natural as possible, something that is key to understanding why entrepreneurs are using dating apps as networking platforms.
If you meet someone at a wedding – one of McLeod's metaphors for how Hinge users relate to each other with the friend-of-a-friend model – you may be looking for a Wedding Crashers-style hookup, but you certainly won't dismiss a networking opportunity. As dating apps and other platforms become accepted as a normal part of the dating landscape, their uses also evolve.
With this in mind, it's not surprising that a new wave of startups are launching networking platforms utilizing the "Tinder model" of swiping through potential business collaborators. Apps like Let's Lunch, Networkr, Weave and most recently Meshly attempt to connect entrepreneurs with nearby business opportunities posted by other users.
However, none of these apps have managed to thrive. "Tinder’s beauty (and some would argue, it’s problem) is its simplicity of use: it’s a glorified game of hot or not," wrote my colleague Laura Entis in an Entrepreneur article on the topic. "Deciding whether or not to talk shop over drinks, though? That’s a harder decision to make with a single swipe."
McLeod agrees, saying that while he's heard stories of business partners meeting on the app, dating is what truly motivates people to download and then regularly use apps like Hinge or show up to events like Underground Unattached. Networking, if it happens, is just an added bonus.
Therefore, instead of the rise of networking startups mimicking existing dating platforms, the more likely outcome is successful dating startups increasingly multitasking. Truly game-changing platforms become far broader than their original purpose, as in the cases of Facebook becoming a dominant publishing platform or Twitter hosting live-video streaming. Resourceful Tinder users have used the app to find people to do everything from send pizza to their apartments and shovel snow. Why not find a business partner there?
As popular dating startups become ingrained into daily life, creative users will find more and more uses for them. For entrepreneurs, that applies tenfold, especially when it comes to finding people who can help grow their business.
Companies don't need to pivot to force users to take advantage of apps' many functions. They simply need to step back and let users explore their options, just as they would in the real world. Entrepreneurs are dedicated to their businesses, often prioritizing time spent working over time spent seeking love. Ultimately, their tendencies are to pursue business relationships wherever connection happens, whether in a crowded bar or alone at home on their smartphones.
Is this intermingling of dating startups and networking a good or a bad thing? I don't know. However, I do know in the future that I'm planning on keeping my profession on the down low until at least the second date – third, if it's with a startup founder.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the dating event founded by Christina Weber. That event is Underground Unattached.