One of the ‘Uber for X’ concepts I thought would be further along by now is ‘Tinder for business.’
It should work. There must be hundreds of millions of people open to meeting others professionally. The user experience of swiping right is intuitive and familiar; Tinder itself has been around since 2012, and it’s hardly the first matchmaking app. The leading professional connections site, LinkedIn, has never attempted anything like this.
Why hasn’t this gone anywhere though?
I’ve spent too much time trying services like this. Every several months, I check out Shapr, which launched in 2015. It’s a freemium approach, with enough utility in the free version and then some helpful upgrades with a subscription. One smart feature is that Shapr limits the number of swipes per day, keeping you coming back and also preventing you from swiping everyone in one sitting (you get extra daily swipes when you subscribe).
Another is Bumble Bizz, which feels odd to use if you’re in a committed relationship because it’s incorporated into the main dating app. If you’re a man matching with another man (and yes, I’m simplifying genders here since the app is binary too), then either of you can start a conversation first, but if it’s a man matching with a woman, the woman must initiate the thread. As for paid upgrades with Bumble, they don’t seem to do much; I tried to pay to feature my profile and received no more interest than when I was a freeloader. Also, you can blow through every match within 100 miles very quickly, although new people keep popping up in major cities.
There are a handful of people who I’ve enjoyed chatting with or meeting through these apps, and there are a couple I’ve stayed in touch with after the initial chat. But by and large, most conversations within the app died within a few messages, and that was after both parties opted in.
So what’s broken?
One challenge is the quality of the population. On Shapr, it feels like every other person is in wealth management or some aggressive sales role where you’re just another prospect. On Bumble, it’s worse, as people seem to proudly promote get-rich-quick schemes, and some of them seem to be pyramid schemes. A lot of people seem to want others to sell hair care products. A frequent company listed as the employer is ACN, a multi-level marketing company.
Many others on Bizz call themselves influencers and want to promote their Instagram accounts; Bumble also allows up to six photos, so it’s a more visually-driven experience. On Bizz, some men and women show more revealing (even if mostly harmless) photos that make you wonder just what kind of business they want to get down to.
You could set limits, such as using filters with either service. Then your pool becomes smaller but not necessarily better.
Another issue is what happens after you connect with someone in the app. On a dating app, when you make a match, the goal is to do as much screening as you need via the app so that you can decide if you want to meet in person. If you meet in person, you both know you’re pursuing some kind of personal interaction, and you can figure out if the other person is looking for an arrangement that’s aligned with what you want.
With business apps, it’s less clear. What are you buying, and what are you selling? Even if their profile is transparent, what exactly do they want with you? If they want to sell you something, you’re going to be on the defensive as soon as you think you’re getting a pitch. If they’re open to your pitch, you’re going to wonder what they want in return. It is extremely difficult to get to one of three scenarios that would probably appeal to most people on those sites:
A) They have a specific need that you’re confident you can help with.
B) You have a specific need that they’re confident they can help with.
C) Neither of you has a specific need where you expect to help immediately, but you both think you both may be good resources for each other sooner or later if you take a bit of time to figure out how.
Otherwise, it doesn’t work well, outside of the sphere of two people who just like meeting for the heck of it and are using this to make friends or get out of the house more. In that case though, these apps aren’t much different than any other form of meeting new people, such as joining a meetup, a church, or a volunteering event.
There’s also the gender role issue. Again, while I’m generalizing and oversimplifying, women are less likely to want to share their names and personal information with men they don’t know and trust. When I was using dating sites pre-Tinder, practically every woman I met had some issue with men misrepresenting themselves on these sites, and men I knew had few such issues with women.
This issue comes up everywhere. Just see this post that writer and Twitter star Yashar Ali shared this weekend about harassment from an Uber driver. While the gender split on Shapr and Bumble Bizz feels even enough, you can expect fewer women to participate, women to be far more cautious about who they interact with after they’re matched, and women sharing much less information about themselves. On Bizz, women at least make the first move, and anyone can report harassment, but that doesn’t mean women will let their guard down once they match with someone.
I’d still love to see such apps work. Certain event apps are trying to do this, with Tinder-esque features that try to connect people at those events. In those instances, there is context, with everyone unified around their interest in that event. The downside is that there usually aren’t too many people using those apps, so the best way to work the system is to swipe right on everyone and then, if someone swipes you back, you can see if you’re interested. I know that’s how some use dating apps too.
Maybe I’m wrong and this is one of those lost causes – an idea that seems better on paper. Most ‘X for Y’ ideas are terrible, and often the ones that work do so through trial and error.
For the Serial Marketers Slack community, there are probably a lot of members who would welcome a bit of randomness in terms of who to connect with from within the group, and since they’re already taking time to be active in the community, they’ll be up for getting to know others there. The same can be true on a smaller scale for communities around groups like any house of worship, or on a larger scale such as all members of a university’s alumni community, or alumni who identify with a fraternity or sorority. Some scale will matter here, unless there’s a use case where participating in the app is core to the overall experience.
Have you gotten anything out of apps like these? Have any worked well for you? What’s your recommendation or prediction?
And what are you making of yourself?
Thanks to so many of you for responding to last week’s column on replacing “Hope all’s well” with “How are you?” – often by telling me how you’re doing. It was wonderful hearing from old friends and getting to know some of you better.
Meanwhile, one long-time friend, recruiter Don Leon, had a terrific response that he welcomed me sharing, as he also found the “hope all’s well” line “disingenuous.” Don said instead of just asking someone how they are doing, he asks a question that is “specific and engaging” such as, ‘How are you this rainy Monday morning?” or, “What is going on in Tulsa these days?”
It’s such a great move, making it more personal, and giving a hook so that the recipient knows it’s not just a copy-and-paste job. It also relates to why I never use LinkedIn’s automated responses when congratulating someone. I wish I could be more eloquent with such notes, but at least when someone gets it, they’ll know I took 10 seconds to write them myself and not tap a bot’s form response.
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