11 Jul 2017

Save the awkward convo for the first date

4:08 pm on 11 July 2017

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Two Wellington-based entrepreneurs reckon singletons are sick of the awkward small talk on dating apps like Tinder and have developed their own alternative.

In about a month, Rendezvous will be launched in New Zealand. While technically an app, the program is better described as an automated chatbot that functions through Facebook’s Messenger.

Rendezvous is the brainchild of Elliot Riley, who works in dispute resolution, and Jess Smith, a commercial adviser for the Government. They’ve been developing the program this year with their technical co-founder, James McCann.

Their original idea was to create a downloadable application, but they decided a chatbot was a better idea. “Facebook is pumping a lot of investment into chatbots. We’re hoping our timing is right,” says Smith.

“Tinder is obviously the most prolific dating app in New Zealand and we were talking about how it works and its purpose and the barriers it creates for people wanting to meet in real life,” says Riley.

“With Rendezvous you can cut to the chase and go on a date without all the cheesy pickup lines and awkward conversations. We want to get people together without having to spend hours in an app.”

Elliot Riley and Jess Smith.

Elliot Riley and Jess Smith. Photo: Supplied

After signing up for free through a Facebook page, users are asked to create a short bio of 80 characters or less. They pick a day and a time they’re keen to go out and the program sets them up with someone and picks a conveniently located bar or restaurant.

Beyond a brief bio and age, Rendezvous only displays someone’s Facebook profile pic. They also have the option to “go blind” - as in hide their photo and not see anyone else’s.

An hour before the date is set to start, users can send a message to their match to confirm and arrange a meeting place. They can cancel at any time. They also have the option to bring a plus-one if the idea of a mostly-blind date strikes them with a little terror.

How the chatbox works.

How the chatbox works. Photo: Image: Supplied

People who no-show or behave inappropriately on dates can be reported and blocked.

There are obvious similarities with Tinder, which Riley acknowledges is “a phenomenon”.

“But Tinder is more of an online dating platform - you can build an online persona and interact with people through that - our tagline is, ‘meet the person, not the profile’.”

Rendezvous is initially planned for Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch, Hamilton, Tauranga, Dunedin, and possibly Palmerston North. It was recently successfully trialled in the capital. There are few small technical tweaks to be done before its launch, but Riley and Smith say it’s essentially ready to go.

Nevertheless, they’ve got ideas beyond the program’s current state.

“We are open to exploring group meetups and we think Rendezvous can be popular for people just wanting to make friends - tourists for example,” says Smith.

“But if we wanted to launch with all the ideas we have, we would never get there.”

They want to keep Rendezvous free and their revenue model involves them signing deals with local restaurants and bars. For now, they’ve chosen venues they’ve judged as both cool and safe.

They also say they’ve thought long and hard about safety issues and while there is no screening mechanism in place right now, they are exploring a way for the program to identify dodgy Facebook accounts.

Another obvious possibility is that some users treat Rendezvous as an easy way to get laid.

“People are going to come to us with different expectations, and we know that comes with certain risks,” says Riley.

“We don’t want to control too much of what happens offline, that’s up to different people. There are inevitably going to be some fails and uncomfortable experiences, but as long as there are more positive, fun experiences, it’ll work.”

They acknowledge their long-term success will be based on how many people sign-up - a factor predicated on word-of-mouth.

“We have a lot of friends who use Tinder, or have used Tinder, and they felt it had plateaued. They would match with people and there might be a bit of awkward conversation but nothing would eventuate,” says Smith.

“We think people want to cut to the chase and meet others in real life.”