Coffee Meets Bagel Takes Flash Sales Approach to Online Dating in NY & Boston

8/1/12Follow @xconomy

New York startup Coffee Meets Bagel is built around some of the biggest themes in online shopping innovation over the last few years: content curation, limited-time events, social recommendations, and daily e-mail communications.

But users of its site aren’t browsing the latest deal on a designer bag, vintage home goods, or a haircut. They’re opening each day’s noontime e-mail to get a connection to a potential love interest.

Coffee Meets Bagel is takings its cue from flash sales and daily deals sites like Gilt Groupe and Rue La La to innovate in the world of online dating, which founder and CEO Arum Kang says is plagued by users’ passivity and laziness. So rather than requiring users to comb through a list of dozens of potential significant others, each day Coffee Meets Bagel curates an exclusive match for its users. They have 24 hours to indicate their interest in the suggested mate.

“That person is looking at your profile at the same time you’re looking at theirs,” says Kang, a 2011 Harvard Business School graduate who founded the service with her two sisters, Dawoon Kang and Soo Kang. “It’s different than when you’re one of many and you don’t know who’s looking at you. This feels very personal.”

The site piques users’ interest with a picture of their match and just enough information from their profile to help the potential mate decide if they’re interested.

“It’s light, it’s sort of entertaining, and people really look forward to the noontime e-mail to see who they’re going to get,” Kang says. “People talk with their friends about who they got today. It brings a lot of social aspects to dating, which is how it should be.”

If the interest is reciprocated, Coffee Meets Bagel’s services sends the two people a text message alerting them of each other’s first name (the first time in the process that any personally identifiable information is revealed, Kang says).

The site automatically kick starts the next steps in the conversation, by requiring users to draft a 120-character text message to their match as soon as they indicate their interest. That’s sent out once the match reciprocates his or her like, and the message goes through an anonymous, third-party service. The number it’s sent from expires after a week. So, users have exactly seven days to meet up or exchange actual contact information.

“There’s no e-mailing—we thought it was a really passive form of communication,” says Kang.

The startup works hard to keep its members engaged, by putting anyone who hasn’t responded for more than four days on hold. And for those who are too lazy to even figure out where to take their date, Coffee Meets Bagel provides coupons to local restaurants and coffee shops. The startup tested an initial set of features among friends late last year, and launched its official beta version this April, starting with New York and recently expanding to Boston.

In addition to focusing on convenience and curation, Coffee Meets Bagel is tapping into users’ social circles as a means to create more successful matches. Users sign up on the site using Facebook Connect, and they import data from the social media site into their dating profile. Unlike traditional online dating sites, Coffee Meets Bagel isn’t interested in long, philosophical surveys to determine potential matches, but does require users to input a school they’ve attended (either high school or college), as well as answers to other light questions. .

“What we’ve found is college association is really strong,” Kang says. “People make decisions based on the schools they attended.”

So, Coffee Meets Bagel’s algorithm takes alumni status as well as the number of mutual friends a potential couple shares into account when generating each day’s matches, Kang says.

“The willingness to like someone goes up dramatically if they share mutual friends,” Kang says. “But having too many mutual friends in common actually doesn’t do as much as having four. It’s close enough but not too close that you might already know each other.”

Coffee Meets Bagel’s mix of strategies speaks to the latest generation of online matchmaking startups. New York-based Sparkology takes a similar approach to curation by only allowing men from renowned universities into their list of eligible bachelors. Sites like Acquaintable, theComplete.me, and Circl.es focus on making matches through Facebook profiles and social connections, while Grouper arranges group outings between three guys and three gals.

Coffee Meets Bagel has just closed a seed round of more than $500,000 from “very reputable VCs,” says Kang, declining to disclose more details. It will be releasing its mobile app as soon as it nabs Apple’s approval, and plans to expand to a total of five cities by the end of this year.

And what’s with the name? “We decided to have a brand where people could come in and it could feel personal, casual, and comfortable,” Kang says. “So what’s one thing people comfortably interact with? A coffee break. The bagel came because it’s very complementary to coffee. And this is all about finding someone who can complement you.”

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