When Amanda Bradford was a business school student at Stanford in her late 20s, she found the world of mobile dating frustrating. Matches were based on superficial criteria, led to drawn out chats, and rarely resulted in successful dates.
“The process was super-broken and inefficient,” said Bradford, the 31-year-old founder and CEO of an invitation-only dating app called The League. “I said, ‘I’m going to fix this.’ ”
She realized the solution was right in front of her. From her class of 300 students, almost 40 couples had formed. “It was in your face — the chances of pairing up were much higher when people shared experiences in a community,” Bradford said. She decided to replicate her Stanford experience of a carefully selected community in a dating app, betting that it would help busy and ambitious singles meet each other and quickly transition to building serious relationships.
The League officially debuts in Boston on Oct. 26 but has already accepted 2,000 local founding members. It will continue to add users over time. Bradford’s team worked to assemble a diverse group of singles from businesses, academia, the medical field, and the nonprofit sector. An Ivy League degree isn’t necessary to get in, but it helps, Bradford said.
Especially important to her was helping women find partners compatible with their professional goals.
“If you’re a career-driven woman you want a partner who is supportive and comfortable with nontraditional gender roles,” said Bradford, who uses the app herself.
The League is one of a few new selective apps catering to successful singles: Raya for celebrities, Luxy for high-income earners, and Inner Circle for European professionals. All of them are trying to improve dating by carefully crafting a specific community. For The League, that appears to be people who dream of being half of a power couple.
To get into The League, Boston hopefuls might have to spruce up their social media profiles. The free app’s algorithm screens applicants’ Facebook and LinkedIn profiles to identify their university degrees, title and employer, preferences, size of their network, and other relevant variables.
The process is completed by a human review that’s mostly reserved for verifying the authenticity and quality of photos.
Applicants referred by friends get priority admission. And depending on the gender ratio, you might be put on a waiting list.
The League offers the option to upgrade to a $179 annual membership that allows access to additional features, such as customizing your profile and receiving more daily matches, usually limited to five a day.
They also get invitations to members-only events. In San Francisco, The League took its members on a yacht cruise, and in New York threw a party in the Hamptons.
“We want to do what a meet-up does but with a dating community,” Bradford said.
When The League was launched in 2014, in San Francisco, the app faced criticism for being elitist and exclusive. But Bradford prefers to describe it as “curated.”
When The League was launched in 2014, it was called elitist and exclusive. But its founder prefers to describe it as ‘curated.’
Maria Boden, a 36-year-old senior executive at a Boston company, has tried the whole gamut of dating sites and apps, from Match and eHarmony to Tinder and EliteSingles. She has heard about The League and would like to test it out. Waiting for a friend at a bar in Somerville, she pulled out her phone to show just one of many lewd messages that she had received on Tinder.
“It would be amazing if an app vetted people before joining,” Boden said.
Sparkology, another membership-only app, is trying to solve the unwanted-message problem by making men pay $3 to $4 per message, in addition to a $99 sign-up fee, said the company’s president, Cameron Amigo. Women can purchase monthly memberships for $40 a month. Started in 2011, the site had a strict vetting policy for men, admitting only verified Ivy League grads, but eventually broadened the criteria to all male and female professionals who are serious about dating.
Sparkology’s newly redesigned app is also entering the Boston market this month, according to Amigo.
The founder and CEO of the dating app Hinge, Justin McLeod, agrees that paid memberships elevate the quality of online connections. Recently, Hinge moved away from being a free app and relaunched itself as a $7-a-month service with an emphasis on creating serious relationships.
But McLeod doesn’t think that exclusivity is necessary for improving mobile dating.
“We believe that everyone deserves love,” McLeod said. The first generation of Hinge and Tinder users, he said, is entering a stage in life when they are ready to settle down.
“We want to be the place for those people who graduate from swiping [app] games into finding something real,” said McLeod.
Nevertheless, Kevin Lewis, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California San Diego who reserached online dating for his PhD at Harvard, tempers the expectations. “The reality is that there is a lot of people online,” he said. “But it’s not some magic solution to being single.”