During his freshman year at Princeton, Michael Pinsky went to the student lounge to watch a Yankees game. Knowing there were plenty of other fans on campus, he was certain it would be packed.
But the lounge was empty except for Vaidhy Murti, another fan, sitting on an adjacent couch. The two began to talk, becoming fast friends.
But the pair realized it doesn’t always work that way.
“You walk around campus and have hundreds of acquaintances, people you say, ‘Hey, let’s get a meal to,’” Pinsky said. “But you never do.”
So the now-seniors decided to try to fix that with an app called Friendsy. The app, which launched nationwide earlier this month, aims to connect college students, whether it’s to be friends, date or hook up. Friendsy launched on about 40 campuses before its national launch. In the two weeks since, its user base has doubled to more than 45,000.
Friendsy is essentially Tinder meets vintage Facebook. You need a .edu email address to sign up.
“As an interested venture capitalist put it, we’re trying to do to Tinder what Facebook did to Myspace,” Murti said. “Make it exclusive and clean.”
The app allows users to swipe through profiles, swiping left to discard someone. But rather than simply swiping right to match with someone, users select if they want to friend, date or hook up with another college student. If they also want to, you match.
Pinsky and Murti said making the app available only to students with active .edu email addresses makes it unique from other apps. Even apps like YikYak that allow you to sort by campus aren’t exclusive to students at that college. Anyone in the general area of campus can post on it.
Friendsy could pose a real challenge to Tinder in attracting college students and has even evolved to include many features Tinder doesn’t have.
You can filter profiles by school, gender, year, major or group. When you log on, you can decide to be seen only on your campus or on other campuses as well. So unlike Tinder, where you see everyone in your set radius, on Friendsy you can very specifically refine what profiles you view to the point where you can practically search for certain individuals.
The app also has a “hint” feature, where users can give hints to people they want to match with to increase their chances of being matched back. The app notifies users with the hints, which can be general, “Someone from your school wants to go on a date with you,” to more specific, “A guy from your school in the class of 2016 and Mechanical Engineering wants to go on a date with you.” If you get a general alert, you can request a more specific hint.
It also has a compliments feature that is pretty similar to a YikYak feed, where users can anonymously post about people and others can favorite the posts. However Pinsky said it’s very different from YikYak because it is closely monitored to only include positive comments about individuals. Despite the close monitoring, this feature seems to be the most risky because it would be possible for false information about specific individuals to be posted, and close monitoring will become more difficult as the app’s user base grows.
The app additionally has a function called ChitChat, which matches you with a random student who is also currently online and allows you to have a live chat with him or her.
Friendsy first launched at Princeton as a website in spring 2013, then evolved into a mobile app and moved to other campuses like Dartmouth.
The app launched on my campus, Northwestern University, in late September. Just a week after its release, a student publication reported more than 1,700 students had signed up, a significant number for a school with about 8,000 undergraduates. It’s most popular at Michigan, Northwestern, Dartmouth, Princeton and James Madison University.
In just the four years since I started college, apps ranging from Tinder to Hinge have drastically changed how students meet, hook up and even date. Most of my friends are frequent users on multiple apps, to the point where there have been times when one friend was talking to a guy on Hinge and another friend realized she was talking to the same guy on Coffee Meets Bagel.
It seems like with so many options already, the last thing college students need is another dating app. But in college towns many students attempt to only include classmates on Tinder by setting a low radius for the app or using something like Hinge where you’re limited only to mutual friends. With Friendsy, you know for sure that the people you interact with actually go to your school.
Friendsy now has more than 50 users at more than 70 American campuses. Since launching, the app has made 450,000 mutual matches. The average user spends about 26 minutes on Friendsy in a given session, the founders said, and a total of 75 minutes per day. The app has had 18 million swipes in the past two weeks.
On my campus, Friendsy grew so quickly due to the option to send anonymous invitations to other friends. This way students could add crushes without directly approaching them, and the added sense of mystery made students want to sign up faster.
Although the fervor around Friendsy has died down a bit since it first launched at Northwestern in the fall, I have friends who connected on the app who are dating. I’ve heard friends talk about using it to start talking to new people or hookups in the way they talked about Tinder last year.
With its match as friends option, the app could also be used for more than just finding a hook up. When it first launched, I reconnected with friends I hadn’t run into around campus in a long time on the app.
Although the app’s founders tell me the breakdown of users is pretty much equal across the board by class, the app seems like it could be particularly useful to college freshmen at the start of a school year looking to meet new people and make new friends.
As Pinsky and Murti look ahead to their own graduation date, their next step is determining what will happen to Friendsy users once they graduate. Possibilities include an alumni network that would allow you to connect with other recent graduates in the city you just moved to or even remaining in your school’s network so undergraduates can continue to connect and network with you.
Friendsy is backed by a Princeton University accelerator and as of its launch had raised more than $200,000 from New York angel investors.