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The Friend HookUp Goes Online With DC 500 Startups, Startup Hinge INTERVIEW

Dating sites have been around almost as long as the internet. I remember a time when it was actually odd to try and find a date online. Now it’s pretty much odd to find a date or relationship in real life. One thing that most online dating sites haven’t tackled though is hooking up friends of friends. Now we’re not talking about a one night stand hook up, rather the old school version where you introduce a friend to a mutual friend and voila.

Now Washington DC, 500 startups backed, startup Hinge helps achieve that… sort of.

Hinge uses the Facebook social graph to match users with compatible friends of friends. Now your market of available singles increases from what you normally see from online dating sites to your friends on Facbeook and then your friends’ friends who may be somewhat compatible with you.

What this also means is if your perfect match is single, but not actively pursuing dating or a relationship, you may still meet that person via hinge. You know the same way your buddies or girlfriends introduce you to that perfect someone, that may not actually be looking.

When you actually check Hinge out and what they’re doing, it’s hard to believe no one else has tried to do this. Hinge is a great idea and an awesome Washington DC startup. It’s so awesome that they’ve caught the eye of Dave McClure’s 500 startups.

We got a chance to interview Bennett Richardson, Hinge’s CMO. Check out the interview below:




What is hin.ge?

Hinge is an app that helps young people meet dates through mutual friends.

In layman’s terms, how does it work?

You just log onto Hinge, answer questions about your Facebook friends and in minutes Hinge is recommending friends of friends that match your taste. If you’re interested in a match, Hinge will connect you if the feeling is mutual — without embarrassing you if it’s not.

Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds?

Justin McLeod is Hinge’s founder and CEO. Justin graduated from Harvard Business school in 2011 and founded Hinge while at HBS. Justin is a former web developer, majored in Game Theory at Colgate University and worked in management consulting before HBS. Matt O’Donnell is Hinge’s CTO and has 17 years of development and dev ops experience. Bennett Richardson is Hinge’s CMO and ran the consumer practice at a social media agency where he worked with clients like Lenovo, Intel and Google.

Where are you based?

Hinge is based at The Fort, the startup accelerator run by Fortifyin downtown Washington, DC.

What’s the startup scene/culture like where you’re based?

The tech scene in Washington, DC has really started to take off over the past year. It definitely has a counter-culture feel to it since so much of the city is dedicated to politics and the federal government. Despite being a smaller city, our enthusiasm for tech is huge: The DC Tech Meetup was the largest tech meetup in the worldin the month of July.
How did you come up with the idea for hin.ge?
Justin came up for the idea for Hinge when he was sitting in class at biz school and saw a cute girl a few rows away. He Facebooked her and found that they had a dozen friends in common. Justin wondered how many more compatible single ladies were just a mutual friend away. The concept for Hinge was born to do just that: help people discover compatible, single friends of friends.

How did you come up with the name?

Because we’re obsessed with door hardware. Or maybe because hinges connect things, like Hinge connects people? Or maybe because your love life hinges on you joining? It’s a mystery, even to us.
What problem does hin.ge solve?
Young people don’t join dating sites. Two thirds of people age 18-35 say their dating life is somewhere between mediocre and comatose, but only 15% of them use online dating sites. They don’t use traditional online dating sites because of the stigma associated with them. Hinge helps young people connect with dates while avoiding all of the stigma: you don’t have to create a long awkward profile, you never see any random people — all of our recommendations have mutual friends in common with you, and you didn’t meet online — you met through a mutual friend.

What’s your secret sauce?

Hinge is different from other dating sites because of its unique question and answer process. As Hinge users answer questions about their Facebook friends, Hinge learns the users’ tastes and recommends compatible friends of friends – similar to how Pandora suggests new songs based on the songs you already know. As users answer questions about their friends to articulate their tastes, they’re also creating “dating profiles” for these friends. This process gives Hinge a level of content and reach that is unprecedented in the online dating space.

What’s one dilemma you’ve encountered in the startup process?

We are all about keeping our users happy, but users have a diverse array of opinions on everything. We did a user experience survey with our first 1,000 users and got some great feedback, but on some things our users were evenly split. In situations like that, you just have to go with your gut.

What’s one challenge you’ve overcome in the startup process?

Farmville killed the Facebook request channel for apps. As such, people ignore any app invitations they get from their friends. Hinge users sent a ton of invitations, but they weren’t converting. To overcome this we added Gmail integration in the app, which will help ensure that users send invitations that actually get seen, opened and read.

What’s the first thing you would do with a one million dollar investment?

We’d hire more awesome designers and developers to grow our kick-ass team.

What’s next for hin.ge?

Our mobile app will be launching this fall on iOS and Android.

Linkage:

Check out Hinge here at hin.ge

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