Monday, August 8, 2011

DuoDater Wants To Make Online Dating More Social And Less Awkward (Invites Herein)

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Last month, Nick Paumgarten penned a lengthy article for The New Yorker detailing the rise of online dating and the effect it's had on web culture. Among other things, Paumgarten alludes to some eye-opening statistics about the industry, including the fact that fee-based dating sites have become, collectively, a billion-dollar industry, that "one in six new marriages is the result of meetings on Internet dating site", and that online dating is now the third most common way for people to meet.

While much of the early blush (or stigma) around using an online platform to pursue a relationship is wearing off, some of the same friction that has always been there still exists: From the awkwardness of online-to-offline interaction, the potential danger of meeting an an eStranger, relying on algorithms to find your "match", etc. And, somewhat ironically, for being socializing facilitators, most online dating sites seek to connect users with new people while remaining disconnected from their actual social life. As Paumgarten points out, online dating still is still inherently isolating.

Michael Parikh and Andrew Flachner, the co-founders of a new dating site called DuoDater, agree that there are still some very fundamental problems with current approaches to online dating (and, well, dating in general). Creating an online dating profile can be difficult; it's hard to find the right things to say about yourself that will help the site, whether algorithmically-based or not, help match you with the right person, the co-founders said. Not to mention the facts that messaging a stranger can be a somewhat stressful process, and meeting them in person without much in the way of background is awkward, and sometimes unsafe.

So, the San Francisco-based startup is offering a platform that aims to be a bit more social and perhaps less intimidating that the model championed by current dating sites: Double dates. DuoDater is aimed at men and women in their 20s and 30s who are looking to socialize and meet new people — with the help of a co-pilot. The co-founders think that, by allowing users to have a friend by their side while on a date, the interaction can be more natural and (hopefully) less awkward way to socialize and make friends.

DuoDater is also structured in such a way as to make the creation of a dating profile a less nerve-racking process. The site offers "Duo Profiles" that only require users to write a few sentences about themselves individually, so that the main attraction is turned to creating a joint description that the pair of daters can work on together to fill out. Flachner said that, so far, DuoDater's users have found this a less problematic and more enjoyable approach to dating profiles.

The founders also think that their model provides a higher level of accountability than is typically inherent to solo dating, as users are less likely to use trick photo angles and exaggerated or romanticized descriptions when they know a close friend will see it and may call them on it.

DuoDater also adds "featured date" ideas, so that new users can get off and running more easily and get out there and test out the model.

When I asked the founders whether they had considered a group dating option, they said that their market research and due diligence had shown that users prefer double dating to the latter because it still provides a level of intimacy that makes the experience feel like an actual date, rather than a loose, social gathering.

The founders said that, while there are a few successful group dating sites, group profiles take the focus off individuals and organizing an outing for a large group of people can be a hassle — something many are familiar with.

Of course, the inherent risk to DuoDater's model is that one of the large players in the dating space, like, eHarmony, PlentyOfFish, and OK Cupid, could establish their own double dating service and quickly have the startup beat in terms of user base. But Flachner said that he thinks DuoDater is well-positioned as an alternative because it focuses on the casual atmosphere of double dating and is centered around events and experiences, rather than relying on an algorithmic model (a potentially less "human" approach) to connect actual people.

DuoDater offers an interesting spin on traditional dating models and, really, it's a wonder that this model isn't something that's been implemented on a large scale. Of course, that could be for good reason; without a fee-based model, it's hard for dating sites to make money, and double dating does intrinsically bring its own challenges.

DuoDater is currently free to use, and as the startup is bootstrapped at this point, it will rely on its beta to test the waters to see if this approach is truly viable and can scale. A fee-based premium service could be on its future roadmap, too, which will likely include the ability to form more Duos, post more pictures, etc. Or having featured DuoDate ideas from restaurants, concert venues, and other businesses that pay to be featured on the site is also an option.

For readers looking to do some early testing of the double dating platform, click over to and enter the "TECHCRUNCH" invite code for access.

Let us know what you think.

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