Harvard grad Adam Cohen-Aslatei, 35, was on vacation in Cabo last year when he decided there should be a new way to date.
He met a woman, also on vacation, who was complaining about life on dating apps. She told him she was on “every single one," and that her experiences felt ... disingenuous.
The woman admitted she created a not-quite-honest persona for herself, simply because she thought it might attract men. Similarly, the men she met in person never quite matched the people she chatted with on the apps.
“And she says, ‘Why is it so hard for a woman to find a relationship?' ” Cohen-Aslatei remembered. “I felt really bad about myself because I had been in the industry for so long, and I kind of felt like I was contributing to this problem.”
Cohen-Aslatei — who’d been in the dating business for almost 12 years at that point (he was the managing director of Bumble’s gay dating app, Chappy, and had also worked for The Meet Group) — went on to develop S’More, short for “Something More,” an app that technically gives you less (visually, at least) until you earn it. The premise of the app: You can’t see people’s faces as you swipe; everyone looks blurry to start.
As you like click on your interest in someone’s personality traits and communicate with them, more of their profile picture is revealed to you. The system is meant to deter people from swiping through profiles too quickly, and from writing bios that don’t represent who they really are.
Cohen-Aslatei’s launched the app in Boston at the end of December, giving a first look to students at Harvard.
“Boston has some of the highest concentrations of graduate students and young professionals the country. ... I think it’s also very representative of people who are more serious about relationships," he said.
Now S’More is in three cities (also Washington D.C. and New York) with a pool of thousands in each location. That’s a small sample; Bumble, for instance, reports to have millions of users. But Cohen-Aslatei says it’s just a start. He says membership grows by hundreds a day. The app is free, but for a price ($4.99 a week), users can become premium members, which gets them more information and options.
Cohen-Aslatei, who has a master’s in management from Harvard, got his start in the dating industry while he was in school there. As a grad student, he noticed that people were isolated.
“What I started to realize was it was very challenging to meet students from different graduate campuses; there are 12 in total," he said. "I just was so intrigued to meet people at the med school and what research they were doing, and at the business school and at the law school. Engineering. Divinity. Design. Etc. When I joined the Harvard Graduate Council, I realized that there were a lot of people that felt the way that I felt.
"So through the Graduate Council and the provost’s office, we’ve got a funded project to build a website that would sort of power a speed-dating event. ... I had a couple of my friends from MIT build the website, and then we launched the speed-dating events. The first one we launched sold out, we charged $25. And in to the less than two hours, we sold 200 tickets.”
Now, more than a decade later, S’More, what Cohen-Aslatei calls his “baby,” is catering to a similar clientele. S’More is not just for millennials (people who are now about 25 to 39 years old), he said, but the app was designed with them in mind.
“We knew millennials were the most visual generation in history. We grew up on Instagram. We’re so visual — but we also want these meaningful relationships," he said. “And it’s so hard to get past the selfie that’s not perfect because we’ve been conditioned to judge people based on head shots. But if you can’t see the way the person looks initially and you still provide a very visual experience, we felt that was a very different approach.”
A common question asked about the app: What if you go through the trouble of getting to know someone and find out, based on their picture, that you don’t want to make out with them?
Alexa Jordan, one of Cohen-Aslatei’s ambassadors, who’s helped him spread the word about S’More around Harvard where she’s an undergraduate student, said she wondered whether the slowness of the picture reveal would dating difficult, but she said she hasn’t felt like she’s wasted time. “Honestly, I was concerned, but very quickly you get to see the person’s face.”
Cohen-Aslatei explains you might see a person’s face within minutes, depending on the engagement. If you like three features about a person, 75 percent of their photo is revealed. After a message is sent and open, you can see who you’re talking to.
Also, Cohen-Aslatei says dating is supposed to involve some false starts, and that it’s not all about speed. He added that when he met his husband, in person, at a dating event, he didn’t automatically swipe right (that’s a yes) in his brain. It was friendly – until there was something more.
“When people say what their type is ... they’re usually describing something physical. They often don’t say, ‘I want a caring and compassionate soul. I want someone to cuddle with.’ ... And we got into this conversation and you know, when sparks fly, it’s like, wow, we’re so similar. That’s what I fell in love with.”