For the latest installment in our Supporting Small Businesses Series, we sat down virtually with the co-founders of Catch Feelings Not COVID. They provide hand-curated, video-enabled blind dates for singles. Check out more about this incredible dating and matchmaking service to learn about how you can sign up!
Tell us a bit about yourselves:
My name is Chelsea Mandel. I’m originally from Long Island. I went to Dartmouth and live in New York City. Professionally, I work in commercial real estate as a real estate broker. I link buyers with sellers typically for industrial real estate, so connecting comes somewhat naturally to me.
My name is Amanda Shane. I went Syracuse University and have been a social worker for six years now. I was born and raised in Boston and now live in New York City. When Chelsea pitched this idea to me, of course I loved it. We are both natural connectors, but I was also so drawn to working on this based on my background in mental health. When this “covidness” started, the first thing that came to mind was how this was going to impact people’s mental health. This project though is one way to combat that and ease that sense of loneliness. When going through matches, I really try to learn about the person through their open-ended questions. I try to take the time to really understand their responses and use my people skills to make the best matches that we can.
How did you get the idea to start Catch Feelings Not COVID?
We started Catch Feelings Not COVID as a fun project to set up our friends in New York City and to help give people something exciting to do during this time of quarantine and self-isolation. We were FaceTiming with some friends, and a lot of them were struggling. It was clear that this was taking a toll on people’s mental health, especially people who are single or living alone. People need human contact and intimacy and connection. Having to live without all of that while being stuck in a small apartment has been hard. We wanted to do something to get people off the couch. We wanted people to have fun and to feel good about themselves. We decided to try it for a week as an experiment to see how it went. We started setting up our friends from around the New York City social scene on blind video dates, and people were signing up through our Google Form. We didn’t close the form and people just kept registering, and we were like wait, no, this was supposed to be just one week! We decided to keep the form open to keep the process going. We had maybe 20 people to start and then it grew quickly to over 100 people, and we started setting everyone up on all of these dates. CNBC did a press release on us, and that’s when it exploded.
How have people been able to learn about this and sign up?
We’ve had some great press from ABC7NY and News 12. We also have some more upcoming news articles which is really exciting to help us get the word out. We’ve started growing and expanding into other cities. Now we are up to 1300 people total in our database, and we’ve set up about 1500 dates for people all over the country. The feedback has been really positive.
How many cities are you in and how have you determined which areas to bring this service to?
We started with New York City, and people would post on social media to bring this service to their city. We began keeping track of which cities we were seeing the most demand from. We are in 10 cities now: New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Miami, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Dallas. Some are newer, so we have only made a couple of matches. It’s best to wait though for a critical mass of people to sign up so that we can help to make more compatible matches.
What’s the process like of making matches? What are some key factors that determine a successful match?
Our Google Form asks basic questions that are good indicators of compatibility. We ask our users their age, age preferences they want to date, if they’re interested in dating male, female or non-binary. Then we ask if it is important for them to date someone with the same religious and/or political beliefs. We ask if people would like to have children one day. We also ask if people are open to dating someone from a different city. Another important question is if a user considers themselves an introvert or an extrovert and what kind of person they prefer to date. Then we ask some open-ended questions about what’s important in a partner. People describe the key values they are looking for in a relationship. We then look at their social media page because users submit links to either their Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn profiles. We dig around to learn a bit more and then try to decide on compatible matches.
What would you say are some of the key differences between your service and dating apps?
We are a matchmaking service instead of an app for right now. This process is blind so you don’t have pictures to swipe through, and you can’t communicate with the person beforehand. So, the first real interaction is messaging each other to set up a time to meet for the first virtual blind date. This is something we haven’t seen in the dating app world yet in terms of not communicating before meeting the person. There are no robots behind this, just us helping to hand curate matches. We put in the effort to really match people who we think are truly compatible. It does require more time and energy to put into the matchmaking process, but we’ve been having a really high success rate of getting people to a second date.
Do you find that the human touch rather than a computer algorithm has been a strategic advantage in making compatible matches?
Yes, one hundred percent. There are things that you just can’t tell from a computer and an algorithm. There’s so much more beyond people than their answers to questions on their dating app profile. For example, we look at photos on social media. Where do they like to go on the weekends? Where are they tagging on Instagram? What do they like to do in the summer? What organizations are they passionate about? Who are they connected to through their LinkedIn profile? These are things that matter that you can only find out once you take a match from an app to the next step. A computer algorithm won’t tell you who a person really is. We try to learn more in order to provide a holistic understanding of each individual, and if two people seem like they will get along well, then we take it from there.
Any tips or recommendations to help make a first virtual blind date a success?
For every match who we pair up, we send out a list of questions and conversation starters for their first date. We don’t want to be the dating app where people text endlessly as pen pals and never take that next step to meet. The topics that we suggest they talk about are more meaningful questions that can lead to deeper conversations. So, on a first date, people are talking about growing up with their families or their number one value in a partner. These are conversation starters that help people realize if they are compatible. What people find on the apps is that so many conversations are superficial, and people could end up texting back and forth but never getting to really know much about each other. This is meant to speed up that whole vetting process to just get down and dirty to see if you’re really into each other.
Can you walk us through some of the logistics?
Once we have two people who are a match, we send them our template email: “Congratulations! Cupid says you two are a match. Within the next three days, reach out to schedule a FaceTime date with each other. Then within 24 hours of your date, please respond back to us with your feedback as to whether or not you would like to continue dating this match.” So, at that point then they have their date and give us their feedback. If it is a mutual yes, we will email them that the feeling is mutual. If not, then we will send them a new match. We rely on getting the feedback before sending another match because we don’t want people getting so many matches at a time that they end up just not talking to anybody.
What is the process like if each person enjoys the date and wants to go on a second date?
Based on the feedback email they send to us after a date, if it’s a “yes” from one person and a “no” from the other, they won’t get another email from us for that pairing. We will then end up sending out a new match. If it’s a yes from both people, they will get an email saying, “Congratulations! The feeling is mutual. We will let you take it from here.” And then it is their responsibility to reach out to each other, and at that point they have each other’s phone number. This way it’s not awkward if they contact each other because each person knows the other enjoyed the first date.
Any highlights or stories that stand out?
We have one couple who is now exclusively dating since we’ve set them up! Each time though when we get to send out our email about a mutual match after hearing feedback from a first date, that gives us such satisfaction and joy. Overall, people are giving great feedback about our service and the reality is that this is something to help bring some confidence back to people. It has been great to help give people something to look forward to. People are getting dressed up and looking cute, and it’s been amazing to help restore a sense of normalcy to people’s lives. They are having human interactions and meeting new people instead of just sitting around. We think that video rather than texting is a great platform because you can’t really hide behind some of the anonymity that comes with texting. You’re fully there looking at each other and wearing your heart on your sleeve. You can see each other’s reactions and read each other’s facial expressions and respond in real time. It’s also been amazing to work together as friends when we never thought this was a possibility before.
What are your future plans?
We think there’s definitely a need for this in terms of dating in a big city, like New York. We’ve talked about a strategy and putting together a business plan for how to thrive after the pandemic. What we’ve found is that there is a real value in this video platform as a way to communicate, interact, and build relationships. For now with COVID, this is the alternative. In the “real world” after this ends one day though, we are trying to make this a critical step of the dating process. So that this isn’t an alternative to dating in real life but instead, it’s like the step between being introduced to somebody and then going out on a date. You don’t need to put in the time and effort to go meet a person if you can suss out in a few minutes on a video date that you’re just not into them at all. This is like dating for the efficient person who doesn’t have time to meet everyone for drinks and wants to be a bit more prudent about who they choose to meet in person. Based on the feedback we’re getting, people can tell immediately whether or not there’s a spark there. To go on a first date, you have to get dressed up and schlep around town, and it could be a complete waste of an evening. So, why would you not want to hop on a quick virtual video date before spending $20 on an Uber or drinks when you could’ve figured out ahead of time that you either had something there or you didn’t? This is an easy and safe way to meet somebody to see if it is worth putting in the effort to take that next step and grab a drink together. Since we’ve started this, many people have said that they wished something like this existing before COVID, because it would’ve been a huge time saver!
Any parting words?
We encourage everyone to follow us on Instagram and Facebook to stay up to date. We hope that more singles will continue to sign up through our Google Form! The more people who sign up, then the more precise matches we can make since it helps to select from a larger pool. So, help us to help you with getting more people involved!