Admit it. Getting an authentic, fun and safe date these days is a challenge. This remains the case in megacities like Jakarta, despite the fact that there are several new matchmaking sites online today, worldwide.
Swipe-based dating apps like Tinder, Hinge and OKCupid have won the hearts of many singles in recent years. With users trying to find “online love at first swipe”, the business model proves inefficient in terms of creating actual dates between real matches (Tinder is basically just a hook-up app for strangers — although this has its place in society, too). Out of thousands of swipes, winks, likes and pokes, dating app users must routinely filter through hundreds of candidates, from which they may end up finding one decent date.
This translates to investing a large amount of time in these apps before the user can get an actual face-to-face encounter with another user. Often, users feel like they’re sifting through résumés to find someone to conduct an interview with rather than actually creating a connection from which to build an organic relationship.
Jim Yang, an Indonesian-born serial tech entrepreneur, discovered this inefficiency in other dating apps and aimed to solve the problem. Gather is Yang’s romantic gift to anyone looking for real romance in the archipelago.
A cloud-based matchmaking service, Gather lets users make “real connections” with potential partners relevant to their Facebook networks. Right now, you may be thinking: So, Gather is no different than the rest of the online dating apps that have grown popular over the years then, right? Not exactly.
In big cities like Jakarta where heavy traffic is part of everyday life, Gather factors in the people that users routinely bump into, meet offline or encounter in daily life (that cute Starbucks barista you sometimes make eye contact with, for example). The app facilitates meeting people that you have actually crossed paths with in the real world – places where you normally work, hang out, commute, have coffee or shop for groceries.
Offering an edge for the app over the competitors is the feature that Yang calls hyper location. While running quietly in the background, Gather will be working with you wherever you are. At the end of the day, your Gather timeline will show nearby people who hung out at your same favourite spots, who are also looking for love on the app. The app will then compile this data in a cloud to determine the frequency with which you turned up in other users’ proximity.
Yang says that the first generation of location-based mobile dating apps, like Tinder, did not prove enough to “facilitate genuine connections.” He explains, “They are simply not special enough to break the ice with what is a fairly random stranger. It’s certainly not enough to take the next step and meet offline.”
Six months after its launch, Gather has already attracted more than 300,000 monthly active users across the globe. Interestingly, 100,000 come from Indonesia. This pool of users was only able to previously use the proximity-based matchmaking algorithm. But now, according to Yang, they are able to start hosting private group gatherings or individual dates offline.
To solve the problem of providing that “genuine connection,” Gather recently rolled out a new feature that lets its users organize on-demand social “Gatherings.”
As the name suggests, a gathering could be a simple individual meet up or a larger group get-together. Yang is proud of Gather’s Uber-like user interface and user experience. The app enables women (yes, only female users are able to create gatherings) to host or organize social meet ups, which can be lunch, coffee, drinks or after-hours hangout sessions. Hosts are able to let nearby users apply so they can join the group outings, and the female hosts maintain control of who gets to show up and who is not allowed.
Locations of private gatherings are not published until the guests are approved. Women organizing the event can check out profiles of interested guests based on their Facebook profiles, mutual friends and shared interests. Here, women choose the people (both men and women) they want to meet.
Yang explains that men are initially locked out of creating a Gathering. Instead, they can only join. Well-behaved guys who are able to attend successful gatherings will be able to unlock the feature and be allowed to create their own gatherings. The young CEO says they needed to add this feature to ensure safety for women.
As an additional safety measure, female users can set a high minimum “balloon” (a term Yang coined to signify a barrier to entry that only serious users will overcome). Yang says if a woman chooses to do that, men have to purchase the balloons with in-app credits to be eligible to join the gathering. This is a key way that Gather aims to monetize its product.
According to Yang, the process is shamelessly inspired by the Uber app, where drivers in Jakarta prefer a passenger with a bank-validated credit card on file to ensure they get paid for the service in the end. This way, men are able to show their commitment, as they won’t be able to get a reserved balloon back in the event that they cancel. Should they choose, users can also initiate a one-on-one date on-demand via Gather.
As an on-demand app, Gather aims to accelerate the process of meeting friends and dates just as quickly as it would be to call an Uber. Yang emphasized the app’s goal to keep meeting new people whenever your schedule opens up. “Gather will help more people just grab coffee or drinks, keep it informal, and keep online chatting down to a minimum,” adds Yang.
Gather recently formed a strategic partnership with Ismaya Group, a local food and beverage conglomerate. This partnership entitles users to host Gatherings at Ismaya restaurants across the country.
The group nature of the Gatherings feature also eliminates the awkwardness of first dates, says Yang.
It makes for a comfortable and fun opportunity to meet more people and actually have genuine connections. According to Yang, real-life interactions during the app’s Gatherings create an opportunity for spontaneity that strengthens a potential romantic connection. In terms of spontaneity, one example could be that a user ends up liking the host’s friend more than the host. This person might not even be on the app. Having a bunch of people together at a table also lightens the experience, making it less of an awkward one-on-one date where silence needs to be filled.
In terms of getting a bunch of people together for group dates in Jakarta, he says, “Some of these spontaneity elements could simply be mustering up the bravery to walk up to a girl and ask her out in person, or even just asking for her phone number.”