"When I looked at the dating industry, I saw it was expensive to reach a critical mass of users and open a niche dating site," says Yonatan Ben Shimon in a Skype call from Tel Aviv.
"That's why dominant sites are one-size-fits-all, but that's not what most of us look for."
Ben Shimon is founder and CEO of Matchpool, a new dating service that aims to bring couples together through the art of matchmaking – and a 21st century twist, let the most successful matchmakers earn cryptocurrency rewards for their work.
The unique selling proposition (USP) of the service is to combine elements of traditional matchmaking with the transparency and enforceability of programmable smart contracts.
In short, potential matchmakers start 'pools' – subsets of users united by a common interest, like Facebook groups – within which all users can private message one another in the hope of finding a match.
Pool owners are able to monetize their matchmaking efforts in a variety of ways, such as by setting a membership fee to join or charging an amount per message sent.
Additionally they can try to maintain group dynamics by setting smart contract-enforced ratios between different user attributes: a 50/50 male-female split, for example, or a balanced age range. Rather than using the everyone-for-themselves, search-and-filter strategy of a site like OKCupid, you might call it a more curated approach to dating.
Not so different
In a Medium post, Ben Shimon writes that matchmaking is still a common practice in many religious communities, and has been for much of history. But, it's also true that most of us don't live in these kinds of communities anymore.
"I think it does happen, but under the surface," he said. "If you ask a lot of colleagues or friends how they met their husband, they'll say through mutual friends. It's an environment that takes off your layers of protection … If a trusted person makes the introduction we suddenly feel a lot more comfortable."
The idea is that pool owners will help to create this atmosphere of trust, at least to some degree, vouching for the users in the pool in a way that fosters genuine conversation instead of the frequently bland or abusive tenor of other popular sites.
Of course, even with the best intentions, trying to engineer social dynamics is pretty tricky, as is launching a dating site (or any other kind of social network) when existing competitors already have a significant network effect.
With these potential challenges ahead, why is Matchpool taking on the additional challenge of creating its own cryptocurrency token to underpin it?
Firstly, Ben Shimon said the company was attracted to the idea of using a blockchain to store data about user interactions because the records in the system are difficult to change, something he hopes will further build the trust network between users.
Secondly, as has been established in many other contexts, cryptocurrency is thought to be an attractive option if the aim is to reward users with small amounts of money on a regular basis, especially compared to conventional payment processors.
And thirdly, Matchpool's 'Guppy' token will be used to attract users, with 20% of the token supply being used to incentivize new signups with a reward – which for the time being will only be given to women.
The rationale is that dating sites tend to have higher numbers of men, though it’s difficult to assess figures across all sites. Research from the Pew Center, though, found that more American men used dating sites than women.
"I believe that if we reward early users with real money – in a way that we couldn't do with dollars – then we can cheaply overcome the initial barriers that come from the [lack of] network effect," said Ben Shimon, citing PayPal as a company that had employed a similar paid sign-up strategy to rapidly acquire users.
Idea to market
With a token sale (sometimes called an initial coin offering or ICO) scheduled for March, and prospective launch date in May, it won’t be long until the effectiveness of this strategy can be judged against results.
But one question remained at the end of the interview: what exactly is Ben Shimon's motive for the site anyway?
Could it be that perhaps he’s like the Mark Zuckerberg portrayed in "The Social Network", trying to connect crowds of other people as a way of getting closer to the one girl that got away?
For now, he doesn't see it the same.
"You know, that’s a tricky question ... I'm not doing it to get one girl."
Love and money image via Shutterstock. App image via Matchpool