The startup bug.
Everyone has it. From conferences to school corners, we’ve all fallen in love with the of becoming the next ‘big thing’ in tech – or at the very least – investing in it. The way people talk about it, you would swear startups had replaced the Euromillions or something. They talk about their near wins, their ‘I coulda thought of that, but’, their billion dollar idea they’ll never bother to pursue…and of course what they would do once they had all that money. Just like the lotto the appeal for most is in the potential low-investments high-returns outcome and (again, just like the lotto), we ignore the thousands upon thousands of failures for that thrill of ‘it could be you’. The majority are coming at it from the wrong angle by asking the wrong basic questions of themselves from the get go – “What can I make lotsa of money on?” rather than “how can I make stuff better?” But that’s a rant for another time (or maybe not at all considering I haven’t any startup to show for myself, failed or otherwise). The point is the frenzy for random acts of investment have reached a crisis point. Even Fortune mag – the long time adoptee of the ‘digital startup hero’ story, is beginning to cautiously, um, caution (see July 2014 issue).
One such application we’ve all been raving about is Tinder.
Now, I’m not exactly a fan of the app myself. But I am fascinated by it.
The dating app is the current darling of the tech world but, like so many new tech ideas, we need to hark back to what we know about basic human behaviour if we want to have even an inkling about whether the latest social/digital hit is going to be stand the test of time. And it seems to me, behavioural economics stamps this venture with a dirty big ‘Epic Fail’.
Why is that?
Well it comes down to the basics of how men and women behave differently (and I am talking just in terms of straight people here, sorry).
If you still believe true love can be found in online dating, I strongly urge you to ‘swipe left’ now.
Tim Harfod – author of The Logic of Life – highlighted an economic study on speed dating in his book which I really think is worth digging up and examining again. Speed dating, he argues, gave bored ole economists new and exciting data to play around with. Because of the nature of the game, speed dating allowed them to make observations about people’s selection of a partner in a relatively short space of time through a much simpler hook-up system than ‘normal life’… and thus spot patterns that would normally take years of individual stalking and a whole army of creepy economic peeping toms in trench coats (I don’t know why they’ve trench coats, guess I just felt they need a little flair).
So economists over a very short period of time, were able to see who ‘matched themselves’ with whom and start discerning patterns (yes, I know, just imagine what those ‘awful Facebook researchers’ are doing with your relationship data right now… more on that later). Some of what they found wasn’t exactly a revelation – women like tall successful men with all their own teeth, blah, blah, blah. But one thing that was of interest was when they started messing around with odd numbers.
Supposing 20 men ‘walk into a bar’ for speed dating night. But there or only 10 women, or maybe 10 ‘eligibles’ and 10 ‘duds’ (it doesn’t really matter). The same amount of men on average were likely to ‘register interest’ about an individual(s) of the opposite sex than on a night when there were 20 ‘eligibles‘. This pattern happened again and again.
So what’s the insight?
Pretty pessimistic you can suppose… Love is opportunistic and more about right place, right time or even ‘you’ll do, considering the circumstances‘ rather than finding The One.
Well, you can’t say I didn’t warn you!
But it gets worse, because women don’t act the same way. If the situation is reversed and 20 women walk into a speed dating scenario where there are a shortage of eligibles. Women are more likely to go home empty handed. It appears in general, our ‘basic instinct’ is far less opportunistic than males. Or, at the very least, what we consider an ‘opportunity’ is very different.
So what does this mean for online dating, and, more specifically, Tinder?
Well initially when Tinder reached our shores it had some merit. You (the female in this case) carefully combed dozens, maybe hundreds of profiles and selected a few potential winning catches amongst the fish. Then – wow – the flattery, that person might actually like you back! A conversation got going. Some good, some bad, some just downright weird but it all worked, sort of. But then men (and not all men, I’m aware I’m making a gross generalisation here and I’m not saying this is done out of malice or anything)… then men learnt to play the game. And apply the same old rules as they would have used in speed dating to Tinder. They started ‘liking’ e.v.e.r.y.o.n.e.
From their perspective it’s pretty simple logic. Send out an open invitation first, filter later. This is more than just anecdotal research amongst peers – there are even apps developed so that your phone could automatically like every new profile as it popped up. You don’t even have to look at the pics.
But what’s happening from the females perspective? Well simply put we got pissed off, pretty quickly too. First of all, the rates of abusive messages women get online from men far outnumber the abusive messages males get from women. That’s just a fact of online life unfortunatley. This has put a ‘risk’ on liking from the beginning and has always been a barrier for online dating. So, we are hardly going to act the same way and send out an open invitation… it runs too high a risk of being made feel ‘bad’.
Secondly there was the rejection factor. Where initially people were matched and a conversation sprang up, now females are matched with guys they really liked the look of, and totally ignored. More feeling bad for the ladies, great.
And what happens next? The women are leaving the room empty handed, again.
At best, it stops being ‘the new awesome dating app’ everyone wishes they invented and becomes just another sleazy hook up app/website. And there are plenty of those those fish in the sea already.
Seems to me less like tinder and more like dying embers…
So if you do plan on investing in ‘the next big thing in tech’.. perhaps it’s best to go back to basics first and figure out how human behaviour will dictate its use, before you get too carried away!