Hinge Hits SF With Its App For Finding True Love, Not Just Hookups

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Tinder is great if you care about looks, not personality. But if you want a simple dating app that matches you based on interests, education, and profession, there’s Hinge. Today it launches in San Francisco. In city of quirky and sometimes socially awkward people, Hinge’s focus on brains and background over beauty could help people find a Jedi in the streets, not just a Sith in the sheets.

Hinge thrived in its hometown of Washington, D.C., after launching in February with its app that matches you with friends of friends you might want to date. It saw strong 25% monthly growth and an average of 40 logins per month as it expanded to New York and Boston. In November it raised $4 million led by Great Oaks and Chamath Palihapitiya‘s Social+Capital Partnership who see the dating industry being transformed by mobile, and verticalizing around different amounts of commitment.

You can check out a quick demo of Hinge and my interview with founder Justin McLeod below.

At first glance, Hinge’s iOS and Android apps look a lot like Tinder with their swipe to approve or dismiss matches, and the option to chat if you and someone else like each other. But Hinge is striving to create a much different usage pattern.

Hinge App DetailRather than endlessly swiping through strangers, Hinge gives you a limited set of potential matches each day, represented by a line of dots on the left. Hinge wants you to seriously consider each person and check out their listed biographical info rather than make a snap judgment based on their first photo. And since you have friends in common, it feels less creepy to talk or go on a date with someone.

Hinge’s secret weapon is what I call “The Romance Graph.” The app pulls in your interests, work history, education, religion, and mutual friend list from Facebook (but never posts there). Hinge lets you edit these and also add some personal adjectives — kind of like more family-friendly Lulu hashtags — so you can say you’re a “science nerd,” “animal lover,” “die-hard carnivore” or “after-partier.” Ok, yes, that’s me.

Then Hinge looks at who you like and dislike so it knows if you always dismiss short guys, or vegans, or even people of certain religions or ethnicities. It combines all this data to show you people you’re most likely to be into, without forcing you to answer awkward questions about what you’re looking for in other people.

McLeod tells me this Romance Graph approach has the average female user approving of 30 percent of their matches and guys approving around 50 percent. By doing data-driven matchmaking, Hinge has succeeded where other friends-of-friends dating apps like Yoke, Acquaintable, Thread, and 3 Degrees have failed to gain traction. And since your connection goes deeper than looks, it’s more likely that two-way approvals and chat threads lead to offline dates and relationships.

photoHinge even suggests dates you could go on by looking through your Date Spot preferences. So if you both, say, you’re in to “museums,” it might recommend going to check out some art together.

Eventually, Hinge plans to monetize by selling premium services that enhance users’ experiences. Those might include getting more matches, being able to select someone you want to keep appearing in front of, or being able to tell if someone read your message.

Hinge has an uphill battle in competing with Tinder, which has a huge user base and was seeing 400 million swipes a day plus 4 million matches per day in November. Tinder has solidified a norm in swipe-based dating apps that you have nearly infinite potential matches, so you can flippantly dismiss or approve people en masse. Hinge will have to fight to make people slow down and give their matches real thought. Tinder has also expressed interest in facilitating more than just hookups, and its playful style may prove more addictive.

But almost everyone dates at some point in their life, so there’s likely enough room for both Hinge and Tinder to succeed. In fact, I bet we see even more verticalization in mobile dating around different subcultures and relationship styles. Perhaps there’s room for an ever more “let’s have sex now” app than Tinder or a more “let’s just hold hands” app than Hinge.

For now, though, San Franciscans have a new way to find someone who loves them for who they really are with Hinge.

Hinge is available for iOS and Android in Washington D.C., New York, Boston, and San Francisco.