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Start-up Sunday: Tinder aims to make dating easier

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On a recent Tuesday night, I met with my blind date for drinks after a weeklong text courtship. Only this time I wasn't set up by my friend or neighbor.

My smartphone played the role of matchmaker thanks to Tinder, a new free dating app that, in a twist on the "hot or not" game, matches users with potential partners in their area without the risk of rejection.

The Tinder app, created by Los Angeles entrepreneurs Sean Rad, Justin Mateen, Jonathan Badeen and Christopher Gulczunski, was first introduced across college campuses and quickly downloaded by millions of millennials.

Since October, the app, whose icon resembles a flame, has helped make more than 20 million matches, the company said.

Founders Rad and Mateen, both USC graduates, said the idea was to help users get acquainted with new people easily and, if there is mutual interest, get to know each other more intimately.

The app is designed to "solve issues with dating and rejection in our generation," Rad said. The 26-year-old chief executive also founded Adly, an online marketing start-up that connects brands with influential celebrities.

Tinder is financially backed by InterActiveCorp, which is also the parent company of Match.com.

Here is how it works: After downloading the app, Tinder syncs to your existing Facebook profile and  integrates public data about you to rate your compatibility based on your shared friends, interests, networks and location. You can choose a radius to view other Tinder users near you, and then those users' pictures begin to appear.

Time to play: If you're interested in a person, you swipe left; if you're not, you can move on to the next candidate by swiping right. The real "secret sauce" is that the app takes the risk of rejection out of the equation. It's all anonymous until both Tinder users say they like each other. Then they can chat using the app.

For those who want to be discreet, the app does not divulge sensitive information on your Facebook wall. The use of the Facebook account integration helps avoid fake profiles and filter out "catfish" -- people who are not who they pretend to be. 

The Tinder app has seen 20,000 daily downloads since October, said Mateen, 26, who is also the chief marketing officer.

The founders declined to give specifics about the app's activity level, but according to AppData, a third-party service, Tinder has more than 100,000 users connected through Facebook checking the app every day. 

Tinder has pledged never to use advertising as a form of revenue. Instead, Rad said, the start-up plans to generate revenue by charging for added features that they plan to roll out in the future.

Going back to my Tuesday Tinder date, let's just say he looked good on paper -- er, text -- but he didn't light my fire in person.

We spoke with Rad and Mateen to find out more on how the mobile app is growing.

What is the background story?

Rad: The rules of the game have been redefined. There’s this big sense of rejection from everyone because you have to do so much to get a response. We thought there has to be a different way to intelligently solve the problem of meeting new people around you.

How does Tinder differentiate itself from other dating apps in terms of protecting its users?

Rad: Other mobile apps don’t exclusively connect to Facebook. Whatever you put on Tinder, whether it’s your age or picture, has to coincide with something you advertise on Facebook, so it's harder to fake your profile because it is connected to your Facebook account. Not only do you know there is a high likelihood that this is a real person because it’s connected to their Facebook profile, Tinder also tells you who your common friends are, which helps solve that legitimacy issue.

How big is the market for an app like this?

Rad: We are helping people meet new people. It is in my opinion one of the biggest, most untapped opportunities that exist today when it comes to social. Just like Facebook is the platform to connect with your existing friends, we want to be the platform that you use to connect with new people.

Is there a reason Tinder started with a younger demographic?

Rad: Since college students are not your likely candidates for a dating app, given that they live in a highly social environment, we figured if we can get them to use Tinder, then it’s a signal that we’ve built a worthy product. But Tinder is not just for college students. It’s for everyone now -- 77% of Tinder users are between the ages of 18 and 25.

How do you measure success and user engagement?

Mateen: The average user opens Tinder six to seven times per day, with 61% of our users logging in daily, 75% weekly and 96% monthly.  

The metrics that we look at generally are the numbers of matches we create, and we have created about 20 million matches. Seventy percent of Tinder users who were matched began chatting through the application. But it’s hard to say how many of those people are meeting up.

What is the biggest challenge right now?

Rad: Keeping things running fast is a really big challenge. Tinder is growing at a rate we didn't really expect. We are making sure that we don't go down and that the user experience is fast. The more users that hit the server, the harder that becomes.

What is your exit strategy?

Rad: The product as it stands is only 5% of our vision. There is so much more, we’re not even emotionally ready to think about that.

We want to build a long-standing, giant company and a platform that people use to connect with new people around them. To successfully achieve that, it is going to take us a while, and we probably don’t see ourselves wanting to sell anytime soon. The exit, I would say, is to go public. It is not going to be a short-term sale to a company. For us, it would be in the form of an IPO.

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