Mark Bonington speaks to Matt Verity, co-founder of new dating app TrueView – set to revolutionise the way we connect online.
Walking into the trendy offices of TrueView in East London, you would be forgiven for thinking the layout is more suited to an art studio than the HQ of London’s hottest new dating app. Large tables covered with stickers, over which new ideas are fired back and forth from a small team of techs and creatives, dominate most of the room, adorned by walls lined with interesting and inspirational paraphernalia.
But doing it differently is at the heart of TrueView, which is set to revolutionise the way we meet online.
Yet the road to start-up success is far from easy (and far from over), as co-founder Matt Verity explained to me.
“It all started with my friend Damian Mitchell, another of the founders. We were working at the same advertising agency, and we began exploring how ads are moving away from traditional mediums and more into online and product development. It worked well, and it meant Damien and I formed a great working relationship. Then Andrew Ibbotson, the third founder, came down to London and lived with me for about 4 months. He didn’t know anyone, so to get him out and about I suggested online dating. I signed him up to a few services, which took a lot of time and money.
“Fast forward a few years and we went for dinner for his birthday. He explained that’s what is out there currently in terms of online dating is just rubbish. It’s archaic; it didn’t tell you about people. Mostly it’s very static – made for the desktop. Basically it wasn’t in line with how people spend time online now, which is mainly through their smartphone. So we came up with the idea of TrueView.
“We took the idea of social media behaviour and online dating and made something which was real, dynamic and more in line with the way people meet. Traditional online dating is very embellished, and it doesn’t open up many avenues for people to talk about. People also don’t update their profiles often, so you can end up going on a date, as Andrew did, and the only info the person has seen about you is two years old. TrueView is about logging the things you love to do and using that to connect with people. So if you’re off to a Black Keys gig, for example, you can see if someone else has done that too – that’s an ice breaker and a conversation opener.
“The only other apps which offer dating tend to do it in a very flirty round-the-corner hookup way – Blendr, Grindr etc. It was about moving it away from that very shallow landscape into a more premium product – like eHarmony or Match.com, which are for people serious about a relationship. The difference with TrueView is it’s using your location to understand you as a person.
“We understand the importance of chemistry in a relationship, of course, but the longest and strongest relationships are not usually based on profile picture attraction, it’s based on affinity. So it’s about building up a more rounded picture by allowing people to express themselves through comments and other outlets. It’s for people who really want to meet someone – offline as well as online.”
When Matt speaks about the TrueView way of dating, you can’t help but wonder why someone hasn’t updated it already. As anyone who has ever flirted experimentally with online dating will know, it can be a virtual minefield. There are few things more disappointing than turning up for a date and finding the recipient is about 8x less attractive than their profile picture first suggested.
But even before that, the profile-building process itself can be Sisyphean. Something Matt and his fellow TrueView developers were quick to notice when they began investigating the dilemma of profile building.
Do I want to appear independent, or funny?
Do I flaunt my amazing job, or is that boasting?
Do I put my ‘goal’ weight, or my actual?
With TrueView, the pressure is taken off. And this runs to the date itself.
Because the aim of the app is already built on common shared ground, it is also a way to outreach and make new friends.
“We did a lot of role playing and test scenarios,” explains Matt. “You walk in to meet someone with the old style model and they’ll immediately say something like ‘So your profile said you work in fashion?’ Now most people don’t update their profile often, so in a lot of cases we were finding the response would be something like ‘Oh no, I quit that job ages ago!’ which leaves conversation stunted and you both feeling awkward. Our app is all about connecting through what you are doing in real time, so it’s relevant in your life still. For us, it’s really exciting to see how people connect.”
And keeping the connected customers at the forefront of their business enterprise is central for TrueView, who interview and consult with users as they add and develop new features to the project. In that sense, the customers themselves are part of the creative process.
“TrueView as a concept is a way of connecting you to people you don’t know, but should know” says Matt proudly.
In that sense, it is perfect for people who are new to a city like London.
“A lot of other dating companies put this focus on meeting ‘the one’” he elaborates. “And they charge a lot of money for that service. We’re on the other end of the spectrum – the side of the singles. We know it’s stressful, we know it can be crap. So we want to give you the tools to feel as confident as possible. We don’t sell you the dream.”
Matt is also quick to point out the business flaw inherent in a system like eHarmony or Match.com, who play on people’s dream of marriage in the age-old game of hearts. “They don’t actually want you to meet people, because once you do you’ll stop paying them £40 a month,” he states, equating the experience to walking into a wine shop. You may have 50,000 bottles to choose from, but if you’re not wine connoisseur, you need help choosing the two which could be right for you.
Although the outlook for TrueView now looks optimistic (frankly, I’m tempted to download it and give it a go myself) the road to this chic little Shoreditch studio was anything but.
“We were all in full time jobs initially,” says Matt. “So we blagged our way into a networking event in Manchester, so we were able to boast about being a lean start-up From there we spoke with O2 about their funding scheme for small start-ups. Out of something like 1060 businesses we were one of 16 chosen to move into their space. So the investment came in from Telefonica, but the initial challenges were very much in making the right decisions; we were very much going gung-ho with the product, taking time and effort to building it. It’s definitely a mistake to think you have all the answers. The truth is, you need to slow the pace down a little bit and make sure the decisions you are making are the right ones. As a small start-up you don’t have all the resources behind you, so you have to be very careful.
“If the product isn’t right, especially in the app landscape, people will just pick it up and put it down. Very disposable. So the product has to be the answer – a good product doesn’t need selling, it should sell itself. We learned a hell of a lot, but investors weren’t necessarily as supportive as we’d hoped they’d be. So there was big pressure on us to raise more funding and address the errors we’d made initially – namely user testing and re-architecting the app in a way which made it much more robust and usable.”
A big list of challenges to overcome. But the TrueView show is, in reality, barely through Act 1.
“Getting our brand out there and getting people using our app is now our main focus. It’s a very competitive market. But the response to what we’ve been getting is great. The fact that there aren’t millions of people using the app yet is now our challenge. The product we have is now the foundation of where we take the product in the future. We have some great ideas and we’re excited.
“As a small start-up you normally have heaps of ideas. It’s about prioritising those and setting a timeline. The challenge with tech, of course, is that as soon as you’ve built and released something, it’s already dated and something new has come along to replace it. It moves so quickly. Naturally we don’t have 20 developers at our disposal, so it comes back to making the right decisions for our app and the longevity of the business.”
Although still in its infancy, you have to admire the resilience of businesses such as TrueView. The typical user will never see the work and effort which caused three entrepreneurs to conceive an app for better dating, not to mention any number of the hurdles (thus far) which could have been taken as a sign to pack it up and get back to reality. Instead they are here, on the brink of a product which looks to revitalize the two reasons we invented the internet in the first place: to connect, and to see each other naked.
Having been at the forefront of a product which did not have an easy road coming to market, what would Matt advise for aspiring entrepreneurs?
“Admit that you don’t know all the answers and surround yourself with a great team” are his first words of wisdom.
“If you’re starting a tech business, don’t just outsource to freelancers. Get someone technical on-board who is going to help you achieve your dream and feels as involved with the product as you are. Remember, your idea might be crap, and you need someone who is going to tell you that. Not someone who is just going to build the project for you.
“Keep your first launch as simple as possible. Do the minimum to get that product into the market. If you procrastinate too long, or try and make it to do everything you want it to do, you’ll run out of money. That happened to us, so we had to reset and rebuilt. Find the proposition and make the technology fit that proposition.
“Most importantly, just be transparent and honest. We believe in that so much we made it part of our name.”