OPINION: Egg of an idea hopes to improve experience of online dating

Last year, at the Bartaco on Roswell Road, friends and tech colleagues Mitchell Alterman and Sam Lukens hatched a plan to change the ethos of online dating.

“There are a million dating apps out there, but they are all relatively the same,” said Alterman. “I was on dating apps and found the experience across the board to be super hollow and unfulfilling. I thought there was a better way to connect people online.”

That’s a serious indictment coming from someone who met his wife on a popular dating app. But Alterman said he lucked out after a shaky first date in which he and his future wife struggled with conversation.

He asked her why she swiped right on his profile.

She said she liked his picture.

He wondered, what if she hadn’t?

“How many people out there are missing out on their soulmate because someone didn’t like their picture?” he asked.

For most dating apps, a profile consists of a photo and a bio, both of which are likely to be enhanced if you believe the 70% of online daters in a recent survey who said it is very common for fellow app users to lie to appear more desirable.

That day at the restaurant, Alterman shared an idea with Lukens, who was quickly sold on Alterman’s mission to help people develop more substantive relationships.

The meeting marked the beginnings of Hatched, a new dating app that prioritizes personality over physical appearance but allows users to experience the same ease and convenience they have come to expect from online dating.

When I talked to the co-founders, Alterman as CEO and Lukens as COO, they were just a few weeks away from launching Hatched exclusively in Atlanta to build momentum and community and get user feedback before expanding to other cities.

“The sentiment is that dating apps are a necessary evil. People have to use them because it is the No. 1 way that couples meet up today,” said Alterman. “How could we create an experience that is fun, fulfilling … and personality-focused?”

Credit: Hatched

Credit: Hatched

Online dating has supplanted the more traditional forms of meeting and mating, according to several surveys on the topic.

A 2019 survey from the Pew Center found 3 in 10 Americans have used a dating site or app and 12% have married or been in a committed relationship with someone they met through online dating.

Apps that allow perfect strangers to connect have helped to broaden the prospective pool of romantic candidates beyond what friends, family or social organizations can provide. But at the same time, the fact that strangers are connecting has also led to a dating environment that can be anything but civil and can result in what some consider to be superficial relationships.

After mining their network in Atlanta’s tech community, Alterman and Lukens brought in Reeves Kissel as CTO and the real development for Hatched began.

Users sign up for Hatched with basic demographic information, but instead of posting a photo with a bio, they choose an egg avatar that represents an aspect of their personality or a personal interest. A photo is placed behind the avatar.

If a potential match likes the avatar, they hit the hatched button, and the same randomly generated question is sent to the avatar and the individual who clicked on it. The questions, from a database of 700, are assigned a point value based on what a consulting therapist has determined are the biggest contributing factors to compatibility.

“It is fulfilling and interactive, but it is also easy,” said Lukens. “Users don’t have to complete open-ended questions. They just hit a button.”

The questions help reveal important aspects of a person’s personality. They ask things such as: “You have a 45-minute drive home after a long workday. This is the perfect time for you to: Call or FaceTime friends or Listen to a podcast, music or an audiobook.”

If the selected answers to the question indicate a match, the egg hatches to reveal 25% of the photo underneath. Once two users have matched on four compatibility questions, they can chat with each other and view each other’s photos.

“We are giving people a chance to match based on questions that while on the surface may seem fun are high level and have deeper meaning,” Lukens said.

Use of popular dating apps including Bumble, OKCupid and Tinder has reportedly been on the rise in metro Atlanta, according to 2020 data in Atlanta Magazine.

Studies have shown that while dating apps alone may not have negative impacts on mental health, the pursuit of external validation, whether on dating apps or on social media, does correlate with emotional distress.

Alterman said moving away from a model that is dependent on external validation can help support the mental health of online daters. That’s an idea, or in this case, an egg, worth getting behind.

Read more on the Real Life blog (www.ajc.com/opinion/real-life-blog/) and find Nedra on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AJCRealLifeColumn) and Twitter (@nrhoneajc) or email her at nedra.rhone@ajc.com.