It’s hard to imagine anyone looking at the frighteningly simple swipe-left functionality of Tinder and saying, “It’s just too complicated.”
But think about it: Users have to swipe in hopes of a match, then chat in hopes of a spark and then maybe (but probably not ever) make plans with your potential soul mate.
The recent upsurge of “on-demand dating” promises to end all that. These apps instead promise a near instantaneous, face-to-face date (yes, IRL) in as little as two taps of the finger.
“Many online daters complain that while Tinder has opened up a whole new pool of potential matches, these connections rarely lead to offline dates,” says Simon Edmunds, editor of London-based . “Matches are made, and conversations are started, but because of the gamified nature of the app, it is hard to know whether users are serious about meeting up. On-demand dating has emerged as a result of this — daters are tired of trading endless messages with online matches without them materializing into offline dates.”
A $2 billion industry as of 2014 with a growth rate of 5% yearly, online dating is catering to an increasingly cynical, time-starved single adult who is tired of longwinded icebreakers and time-suck apps like Tinder, et al.
Enter efficient, meeting-focused dating apps — which at times share more in common with apps like Lifebooker than with Tinder. Clover, Whim, Pure and HowAboutWe's Tonight app offer on-demand functions which cut to the chase so you can aggressively get on each others’ calendars, stat.
Clover, which just closed $2 million in funding (bringing total investment to $4 million) is the current golden child of on-demand dating and was just featured as a best new app in the Apple store. Rather than trying to find the perfect guy or girl via endless swiping and messaging, it’s centered around your needs and desires right then (“I want to meet at this bar Friday at 9 p.m.") — and the guy or girl can step up to fit into your schedule and your life. First, users pick a time and location. Second, Clover finds the date partner who is open to the same schedule and proposed date time and has also expressed interest in you.
“Most dating services today are essentially inefficient text messaging platforms, and it takes a lot of effort to find a real connection,” says CEO Isaac Raichyk, who is the former head of the Vine-like social video sharing service Keek. “Clover is the fastest way to meet new people. We want to streamline the entire dating process and put meeting in the real world back into focus.”
And lest anyone think Clover is more like the now defunct Crazy Blind Date, there is a sophisticated pairing algorithm for matches in play. The methodology is actually called PAIR and stands for personality (interests, political views, social type), attributes (everything from attractiveness to height to age), intention (hookup or serious), and reputation (based on in-app feedback).
“Clover users are not going on blind dates,” Raichyk says. “Everyone has an opportunity to review another person’s profile and get to know people on the app before deciding to actually meet."
Clover also has flexible privacy controls not seen on other location-based dating apps. Users can choose not to display their location, they can disable GPS and limit what type of people are able to contact them.
Close behind Clover is upstart , which debuted in the Apple earlier this month after successfully completing its beta phase in LA in 2014. But CEO and founder Eve Peters protests that her site falls into the same category as its rivals because. She says, Whim has more highly screened, quality clientele and date booking is more precise (down to the app picking the location for you).
Competitors Tinder and HowAboutWe did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
“We’re prioritizing quality more so than quantity. That is not true of these other apps," says San Francisco-based Peters, who is a former product lead at OKCupid. "Second, we’re the only one providing a true date setup service through our app. Clover and HowAboutWe have embedded ‘on-demand’ features within a larger, typical dating app feature set.”
The reduced number of steps leads one to speculate that there might be a Moore’s Law of online dating — but instead of faster processor speed, it’s faster dates.
“The on-demand economy...is all about getting people what they want efficiently and effortlessly,” Peters says. “We already have this for car service (Uber, Lyft), food delivery (Doordash, Instacart) and a plethora of other things. Why shouldn’t going from your phone to a date be seamless as well? It’s just a data problem.”
She predicts a Siri-like effect happening with on-demand dating: “An app like Whim, over time, becomes an increasingly sophisticated virtual personal assistant — anticipating your preferences for whom you’d like to meet, when and where, and facilitating those setups.”
Peters takes us through the necessary steps on Whim to get from pixellated pic to dream date:
Step one: Sign up and create a profile, similar to how you would on Tinder or Hinge (you can use Facebook to expedite). Step two: Say when you’re free in the coming week. Step Three: Swipe yes or no on your matches. Result: As soon as two people who have said "yes" to each other become available at the same time, Whim schedules a date for them — picking a specific time and bar or cafe to meet up.
It's more real results for time spent on site.
“Tinder thrives based on getting people to spend as much time as possible on their platform. Whim thrives based on getting people off the app and onto their dates with as little time as possible spent on their platform,” Peters says. No one wants managing their dating love life schedule to feel like a “second job."
Feedback on Whim supports her assertions so far.
“I feel like none of my friends use Tinder anymore. Too random and sketchy,” says 29-year-old Madeline, a designer in San Francisco who has been a beta tester of Whim for the past three months and has gone on two dates so far. “I tell my friends to use Whim if they just want to get out and meet people.”
Indeed, meeting people is the main thrust of on-demand dating, says Edmunds of Global Dating Insights.
As Tinder has become “flooded” with users, Edmunds says, “Many online daters complain…these connections rarely lead to offline dates.”
Markedly different from Whim and Clover is the unabashedly more hookup-focused , which is so radical and in-the-moment in its “demand” nature, that there are actually no profiles or Facebook integration. Having raised 10 times less investment capital than Clover ($400,000 versus $4 million), Pure is already cash-positive. Launched in October 2013 on iOS and the end of June on Android, during the last 12 months, Pure users have created more than 1 million meeting requests. Before launch, the Pure waiting list was 100,000 people and during July alone, 50,000 new users signed up.
Says Pure CEO Roman Sidorenko, “All you need to meet someone on Pure is a selfie. When you are in the right mood, submit a meeting request and within one hour, we will show you people who want to meet right now. When you like someone who likes you back, we give you one hour to get to know each other and decide where you want to meet.”
Think of it like a sexy, time-crunched Cinderella. Or something.
“If you look at on-demand dating from a conservative and monogamy-oriented perspective, on-demand dating apps may seem reckless,” says Sidorenko, who is based in Lisbon, Portugal. “But in reality, these apps are a tool for grown-ups and their use is a choice, pure and simple.”
However, even with all the bells and whistles and happy anecdotes of on-demand dating, Tinder is still the giant to beat.
“At this stage, there are no on-demand dating services that could rival apps like Tinder because of its incredible growth and prevalence in the online dating world,” says Edmunds of Global Dating Insights. “However, with singles becoming increasingly disillusioned with current online dating solutions, with the right idea and a good execution, the potential is definitely there to tweak the strides Tinder has made, and genuinely improve the online dating industry.”
But while Tinder’s lead might be unshakeable now, perhaps the better question is: Who will ultimately come out on top in the world of on-demand dating?
“I think the landscape of messaging-based dating apps is indeed crowded,” agrees Whim’s CEO Peters. “But the landscape of scalable date setup services (e.g., Whim) is wide open at this point.”