From the now classic OkCupid to the ultra-exclusive newcomer The League, there are plenty of sites you can use to jumpstart your love life.
But none of that compares to the services of a real-life matchmaker — at least according to the founders of young matchmaking startup Tawkify.
“Human language is incredibly limiting,” cofounder E. Jean Carroll said to Business Insider. “People are not always completely honest when describing themselves online. Algorithms don’t work. A computer can’t match people.”
Carroll has written the popular “Ask E. Jean” advice column in Elle magazine since 1993. It’s the longest currently running advice column in American publishing, doling out wisdom relating to love, relationships, and general etiquette and professionalism. Carroll has also written for “Saturday Night Live,” Esquire, and Outside, and she was the first female contributing editor at Playboy.
Tawkify, however, is her first foray into the startup world. And even this startup takes a more traditional approach to dating than you would find elsewhere.
Daters are paired with a matchmaker who goes through other daters’ Tawkify profiles to find someone he or she thinks would be a good fit. After talking with prospective dates in person or on the phone, the matchmaker then arranges a date for the two of them. Users pay a monthly fee of $US599 to be set up with two new people a month, though it’s up to the individual if he or she wants to go on a second date with a person they have met through their matchmaker.
Tawkify sees itself as a full concierge service, as opposed to a match generator that relies on algorithms and technology.
“We just bang them together. We have no control over anything,” Carroll said. “Even though we’re a matchmaker business and say we have data, data, data, we have no control. Mother nature controls it. We just make sure the matchmaker gets them out and they make good choices.”
The dates are always packed with activities — recent planned dates include whiskey crawls and rock and roll tours through New York City.
“We never want people to just be sitting around at dinner. It becomes like an interview, asking things like ‘What do you do?’ and ‘Where do you work?'” cofounder Kenneth Shaw said. “If you’re out doing stuff, you start to see people in a different light and start to learn more about their interests.”
Shaw and Carroll met more than five years ago, when Elle magazine was looking for an engineer to build its Facebook app. After looking at the top apps on Facebook, they stumbled upon My Purity Test, a quiz-like app that Shaw had built while he was a resident advisor at Stanford.
With more than 6 million users, My Purity Test was going viral on college campuses and had reached Facebook’s top 30 most popular apps. Shaw sold My Purity Test to Speeddate.com in November 2007, shortly after finishing his bachelor’s degree at Stanford.
He later went on to work at Microsoft and was the principal imagineer at One Kings Lane before launching Tawkify with Carroll in 2012.
“We basically started Tawkify because Kenneth needed a girlfriend,” Carroll said with a laugh. “And it worked.”
Carroll and Shaw decided to jumpstart their business last summer by applying for StartX, the startup accelerator funded by Stanford. As a company that only minimally uses tech and has a founder in her 70s, Tawkify is not your typical StartX company.
“The level of brain power at StartX is staggering. People are creating products that will solve global warming and medical crises,” Carroll said. “It was brilliant.”
Shaw added that the 10-week program helped Tawkify to rearrange its compensation structure as well as its company culture and email marketing strategy. Matchmakers now earn 40% of their clients’ monthly fees.
“We learned so much just from being with the other founders,” he said. “StartX has a really amazing mentor network.”
Tawkify currently has 27 matchmakers in New York City and San Francisco, with “hundreds” of users, and has plans to expand to Boston in March. Anyone not living in those markets can still use Tawkify, though they will be charged a discounted fee to video chat with their matchmaker.