Looking for love? By now, you’ve likely turned to a dating website or app to find a partner— and you’re not alone. Online dating is now the most common way for couples in the U.S. to meet, a trend that bucks old stigmas and centuries of tradition. This Valentine’s Day, Ariel Charytan, CEO of the popular dating app OKCupid, discussed some trends he’s seeing in the algorithm-driven dating industry with Al Gardner, who was filling in as host of Wharton Business Daily.

Interview Highlights

1. Today, singles are more interested in a potential partner’s beliefs than other factors like age and distance.

“The core of OkCupid is that we match people on the things that are going to matter to them for their compatibility in a relationship, and because we’re all so different, that’s going to be completely different for everyone. For some, it’s going to be matching on politics. For others, it will be what they want in terms of family planning, or their religious values. Most dating apps focus primarily on location and factors that are more structured, like age and distance. (But) we’re much more concerned with how you feel about the things that really lead to greater compatibility than whether or not you are five miles away from the person.”

2. There’s no longer a stigma associated with being on a dating app.

“What’s so interesting now is that the greatest stigma is not being on a dating app. We’re seeing that, among LGBTQ community, 80 percent of relationships are starting on dating apps and 40 percent of marriages are starting on dating apps and growing. OkCupid itself is the number one dating app mentioned in the New York Times wedding section. The idea that technology is going to be an enabler to meeting the person who will bring you happiness in your life, for today’s daters, is not only embraced; it’s accepted and expected.”

3. A wide range of questions allow algorithms to learn more about user compatibility.

“The unique and fundamental thing about our app is that in order to get through the door, you need to answer 15 provocative and revealing questions about (yourself) so that our algorithms can do their magic to figure out who are the types of people that you have the highest likelihood of compatibility with. Those are everything from ‘How do you feel about cilantro?’ to ‘How long do you want your relationship to last?’ to ‘How do you feel about gun control?’ We want a wide range of questions so we can get a sense of where you orient in terms of what’s important to you.”

“We’re averaging about a billion answers a year. The algorithms and the AI can look at one person’s 15 answers, but then they can look at those answers within the context of a billion other answers, which are then compiled every year for 15 years. (The AI) can get smarter and smarter in terms of who we recommend to who and how we can ensure the likelihood of compatibility there.”

4. Inclusivity is key.

“The platform is what we like to say, ‘exclusively inclusive.’ It is for everyone and anyone, in all situations and configurations. For example, we were the first app to invite non-binary-identified individuals into a place that respects them. We were the first app that allowed people to express the pronouns that they felt most relevant to them. We were the first app to support gays and lesbians at a time when that was not standard in dating apps. One of our big differentiators has been a very big tent. The only people who are not invited are those who do not support that approach to humanity.” 

5. Currently, the dating industry’s biggest challenge is figuring out how to scale globally.

“Our biggest challenge is keeping up with scaling our growth across many countries and keeping the relevance we have in the U.S. in other countries that we might not understand as well. (For example) I want people in Indonesia to be able to match on what matters to them, so we’re finding the right team in Indonesia who can inform the dimensions of compatibility that matter to daters in Indonesia. If we get it right, we can be tremendously successful. We have to invest deeply in OkCupid for us to be relevant, not just in the U.S., but in every country in the world.”

“(To adjust to different cultures) we have different questions. In India, we’re asking people how they feel about women working. In Israel, we’re asking about how they observe the Sabbath. In Turkey, we ask users how Ramadan plays a role in their lives. We’ve configured the product to apply to different users of different cultures in different areas of focus. But, at the core, we’re looking for the things that make two people compatible enough to want to leave their home and interact with each other and potentially find love.”

— Emily O’Donnell

Posted: February 17, 2020

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