Dinner Club

A Virtual blind dating project

Shapely Gal is a weekly-ish newsletter that discusses love, relationships, marriage and the various markets these are traded on. This newsletter is a concoction of observations, theories, ideas, real stories, figments of imagination and sometimes just rants on romantic relationships.

This is a special edition of the newsletter about a new project that I am about to launch in a couple of weeks. It’s called “Dinner Club”, and it’s a project to connect interesting single professionals on a blind date. It’s going live on 25th June 2020.

Backstory

Over 7 years ago, I caught the matchmaking bug when I set up two friends who ended up getting married. Then I started connecting interesting people within my network to see if they’d get along. No strings attached. It was a lot of fun, but really hard to scale. This made curation harder, and then it was a vicious cycle. Remember, this was 2013 when Tinder and its look a-likes were just coming to India. When you could have an algorithm giving you infinite choice everyday, why bother with a human, right?

So, I abandoned my little project after a year. Then life took over and I never thought about scaling my little project until I met someone (or not) on Lunchclub last week. That’s when it hit me that this was exactly like dating - I’d met people who only spoke about themselves, I’d met people who I’d interesting conversations with and I’d met people I’d want to meet again. So, as a spur of the moment decision, I put out this tweet…

What’s in it for me?

At the most carnal level, the cheap thrill I get out of introducing two people who’d be glad I introduced them.

This is my chance to heal from a bad break up and make it right. Plus I better put my MBA and product management experience to some use, right? As I said, I never did a “post-mortem” of my project from 7 years ago. Of course there were tonnes of lessons learnt, but I’ve never really tried to check if those lessons learnt were the right ones. Could we have gotten dating all wrong with the internet? Is it possible to “feel” anything virtually? Does friction, choice or control influence the way we perceive dating? I have too many unanswered questions that I am seeking answers for through this project.

What’s in it for you?

Serendipity, albeit manufactured by me. You get the opportunity to meet someone interesting that you wouldn’t have normally met on your own. You get to try something that you’ve probably not done before.

If you are around 20 today, you’ve probably never used a dating app because you detest the sound of it. If you are in your mid-late 20s, you’ve tried it enough to wish you had alternatives. If you are in your 30s, you are a power user. I know that it is tiring to swipe all day, pray for a match in your sleep, hope that the conversation will move outside of the app and also be excited about finally meeting face to face. So, this project involves none of that, and so hopefully that way, I’ll save you some (not all) calories.

The experiment

Pre-internet, people didn’t have to go knocking on strangers’ doors asking if they’ll love them back (or at least not as often). People were oblivious to the choice they had, and people didn’t suffer from loneliness, decision fatigue or rejection as often. Now, we’ve traded vulnerability for access. The internet was supposed to make love easier, but why does it feel like it only made it much worse?

What if you met someone at a bar, or at a friend’s party and you could have a conversation with them face to face without so much as an expectation of what’s next? Would you drop your guard and judgement? Would you be able “feel” good? Would it make it a bit more human? These are the hypotheses we’ll test together, albeit virtually.

As with all experiments, I’ve chosen a small target group (professionals) which is essentially an extension of my own network. The reason I’ve chosen this group is because I’ve access to it and helps preserve trust (to some extent).

How this will work

You sign up by providing some basic details about you. Each and every one of you will need to send in a little introductory video of yourself, so I can learn your vibe. I will use the details in the form and the video to make a match based on a hunch. When (KEYWORD) I have a match, I will send you an email with a line about your match and a video call link so you can meet at a time that is pre-destined. ;)

You are free to talk about whatever you want on the blind date. There will be resources including personalised pre-date coaching to help break the ice if you need, but it’s really upto you. Remember, you’ve bumped into this person at a dinner party. It’s not a complete stranger because I invited you both, you both know me (although not very well yet), so be nice. Ok?

After the date, you rate each other on nice-ness and relevance, and provide feedback on what went well and what didn’t. This helps us learn better about your preferences and also helps us ensure that the club is only always full of nice people. If you really enjoyed speaking to someone, and you’d like to see them again, I’ll be happy to set you up with that person again on a double opt-in basis.

When this doesn’t work

There will be times when your date does not go as well as you would’ve hoped. Despite your best attempt at being open, you may simply dislike having spent 30 minutes of your life on someone you simply did not connect with. This is when your feedback becomes important to help curate a better experience for you, and the rest of the club.

I am also fully aware that I have picked the toughest group to work with where each and one of you are super interesting and have very particular preferences, so more often than not, there will no matches. There could be several reasons for this - I don’t have anyone suitable yet, you could do with representing yourself better or simply skewed gender ratio.

So, what happens when I don’t find you a match? Worry not. This club is about a lot more. You get to attend group dinner parties (virtual of course) where we chat about the club, get to know each other better and hang out. Hopefully it won’t turn out like the news hour (LOL). I also plan on sending weekly newsletters to keep you company by sharing interesting tit bits on what’s happening in the club and providing resources to make your dates more fun.

Values

At the very core, there are two things this club is based on:

  • Trust

  • Kind-ness

It’s important that every member trusts the club to be a safe space. Honesty is the basis of all relationships. We will take ut-most care possible to ensure that we’ve vetted people for apparent trustworthiness and genuineness before we set two people up on a date. We don’t mind if this means that each person is set up on a date no more than once a month, but we’re not in any rush. We trust that you understand what this means for you and everyone else in the club and we trust that you will act responsibly.

Kindness is under-rated. A little kindness can go a long way. Being open is being kind. Allowing another person a chance to talk is kind. Turning up when you are supposed to is kind. We trust that every member of the club feels like they can afford a bit of kindness to others.

My door is always open for feedback in case something about this project bothers you. So, do not hesitate to drop me a note on pri.bharadwaj@gmail.com. I may not have the resources or infrastructure to address it immediately, but I promise that I will find a way to address it rather later than never.

Incentives

If all members of the club including myself are incentivised to grow the club responsibly, we’ve built something for keeps. Every member of the club is expected to build social credit beyond what is offered as a joining bonus (15 points) once you’re an approved member of the club. Some of the ways in which you can earn credit are as follows:

  • By being nice on your dates

  • By inviting friends (of the opposite gender)

  • By getting friends (of the opposite gender from within the club) to vouch for your coolness through written testimonials

  • By volunteering to organise dinner parties (virtually) for members of the club

It is important that we incentivise people who help keep the gender ratio balanced while growing the club. Lots of you are pouring in with suggestions on incentives as you sign up, and I want to be able to give every great idea a chance, which is why, I want to keep the incentives dynamic to aide the growth of the club.

Launch

Now, just like you, I don’t want to go into this with a lot of expectations. I don’t expect this project to disrupt the dating industry or anything. But if it does, wouldn’t it be so cool that you and I were the first ones here? Ok no. I’m keeping it cashhh.

Right.

The project is going live on 25th June 2020 i.e. in about 2 weeks. Between now and then, I will need to do another round of outreach to balance the gender ratio, learn a little bit about everyone who’s signed up, build the matching algo, set up infrastructure to organize dates, collect feedback, build infra to tabulate and maintain social credits, organise newsletters and a million other things that I haven’t yet thought about yet. If I manage to set up at least 10 dates in the week of launch, I will definitely not be able to continue orchestrating alone. I will need more hands than I’ve got to run this grand experiment.

So, in case you know someone with technical skills to help me build the infra or skills to help keep the community engaged, you should definitely make an intro. I could trade social credit for some help ;)

I am so excited to be launching this project, and I hope that you’re just as excited. Do keep the ideas coming in :)


More from Shapely Gal

When I got paid for coaching for the first time in 2016, I couldn’t believe someone valued this. That’s when I pivoted M.B.A from matchmaking to relationship coaching and set up a website in Oct 2016. When I quit Amazon last August and went into coaching full-time, lots of people laughed at me. But thankfully, I’ve never once doubted the value of guidance in building and sustaining healthy relationships.

In November last year, I met Sid from Floh at a UMich Alumni meet. We exchanged stories about M.B.A and Floh. I’ve always admired Floh for making singledom and dating human, and I feel so very sad that they’ve had to shut down because of COVID-19. But I am so thrilled that they’re starting Dating Coach, not just because it’s a new chapter in their lives, but also because it is great validation for a journey that I started 4 years ago.

Projects I’ve been working on:

Clearly one project has taken priority this week, but I’m still working on a few things that I’d like to give you a sneak peak into:

  1. The Ghosting fund - As promised, I will be subsidising Quickies by 20% for people who are dealing with the bruises of ghosting for the rest of this year. 

  2. UNBOXED - Rahul and I had discussed about how dating has evolved over the last decade in the latest episode of Unboxed. Here’s a link to the full video.

  3. Ask Priyanka - Some people were skeptical about signing up on Dinner Club because they’d had bad experiences with dating. So I decided to make a video to talk about it.

  4. Ask Auntie - Someone who is actively looking to get married asked me which is the best app to find yourself a life partner, and so I decided to make this video to help them think through it.

  5. Arrange your own marriage - This week’s video is going to be a little masterclass in understanding your relationship personality and identifying your type. Whether you are looking to get married or not, this is a super important video for anyone who plans to be in a relationship.


Sneak Peak into …

what I’m reading:

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi - I just started reading this. I like the format so far - comic, humour to talk about a serious issue, etc. I continue my journey around the world through this book about an Iranian-born French contemporary graphic novellist.


P.S. - It’s my birthday today. Don’t send me a birthday wish, instead share this newsletter with 10 other people. No, I won’t curse you if you don’t, but still. Kthnxbai.