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New Tampa Bay app aims to make online dating more authentic — but it’s not easy

Weaver Dating wants to tackle dating app exhaustion. But in a saturated market, it’s no guarantee singles will connect.
 
Weaver Dating, which debuted locally in early June, says it uses an algorithm to match people based on core values important for long-term relationships.
Weaver Dating, which debuted locally in early June, says it uses an algorithm to match people based on core values important for long-term relationships. [ RON BORRESEN | Times ]
Published June 28, 2023|Updated June 28, 2023

Frustrated with dating apps? A new one in Tampa Bay just launched to help singles find lasting connections.

Weaver Dating, which debuted locally in early June, says it uses an algorithm to match people based on core values important for long-term relationships. That includes politics, religion, financial goals and emotional personalities, according to the app’s founder, Mara Rudolph.

Users can then mark which of the preferences of other people on the app are “red flags” and absolute “deal breakers.”

But it’s no easy feat to start a new dating app company with so many heavyweights competing for singles’ hearts.

The past decade has seen a wave of popular apps pop up including Hinge, Tinder and Bumble. There are also niche ones out there connecting people with similar politics and those with the same religion.

“I mean, talk about uphill battle,” said Rudolph, a 27-year-old technology product designer from Delray Beach.

To do so, Weaver Dating is focusing on creating a home base in the Tampa Bay area after struggling to launch nationally last year, Rudolph said. With little funding, she’s hoping to use word of mouth to build a relationship with the region’s community of singles before expanding elsewhere.

“Everything we’re doing right now is very low budget,” Rudolph said. “We’re being scrappy about it.”

But there’s an opportunity to stand out, she said, with the growing amount of singles frustrated by other apps.

How does the app work?

For “relationship seekers” — those looking for a serious romance — Rudolph said it can be challenging dealing with game-like features in dating apps that reward browsing over connecting.

“There’s a lot of ghosting going on, a lot of surface level and superficial kind of swiping and talking,” Rudolph said. “But time and time again, all of these relationship experts talk about the importance of the values being the most fundamental part of getting into a relationship and being in that relationship long term.”

Singles fill out 26 questions based around core values to make a profile on Weaver Dating. The app's founder, Mara Rudolph, said other dating apps focus too much on interests rather than the issues that matter the most in a romantic relationship such as politics, religion, family aspirations and financial choices.
Singles fill out 26 questions based around core values to make a profile on Weaver Dating. The app's founder, Mara Rudolph, said other dating apps focus too much on interests rather than the issues that matter the most in a romantic relationship such as politics, religion, family aspirations and financial choices. [ Courtesy of Weaver Dating ]

Weaver Dating aims to connect people through similar foundations, rather than interests like TV shows and hobbies like other dating apps do.

“Some have values-based questions, but there’s also a lot of interest questions and what your personality traits are,” she said. “That kind of muddies the water and doesn’t get to the heart of what truly matters.”

When a user downloads Weaver Dating, they fill out a 26-question survey on “Pillar” issues and what responses they’re ok with another single answering.

It asks whether they believe in a higher power, how politically active they are, if they want children and what their opinion of marriage is. Each question has about five responses to choose from. Rudolph said she spoke with relationship experts and divorce lawyers to develop the questions, and said finance was a big issue that leads to many divorces.

The section on finance doesn’t ask how much wealth people have, but rather their relationship with money and debt in their daily decisions.

Users can then mark which responses would be a red flag or deal breaker. An algorithm then connects people with the most similar responses. If someone answered with what another single considered a red flag, their profile would be pushed back in the queue. If they answered with a deal breaker, they’ll be pushed even further back.

Why Tampa first?

Rudolph developed the app and launched it nationally last year. But that strategy was hard without investment.

Features of the Weaver Dating app, a new startup that launched in the Tampa area in early June, are shown. Users can mark which core values they consider red flags or deal breakers.
Features of the Weaver Dating app, a new startup that launched in the Tampa area in early June, are shown. Users can mark which core values they consider red flags or deal breakers.

”A lot of people think that they can make a successful dating app. And so naturally, there’s a lot of noise ... it makes it just that much more difficult to raise money,” she said.

After running out of funding, Rudolph said she posted a plea on AngelList, a site connecting investors with startup founders. That’s how she met Matthew Spaulding, a Tampa Bay native and entrepreneur who’s in a long-term relationship and was interested in helping others find something like he had. He joined on to be the app’s chief technology officer.

It was Spaulding’s idea to launch locally first since he has ties here and the region has a growing amount of young professionals. The app connects people within a 60-mile radius of Tampa’s city limits, Rudolph said.

As the economy tightens and investors are more cautious, Spaulding said they’re going “old school.” Marketing includes finding any stage where they can talk about the app, leaving flyers in coffee shops and posting on social media.

“We’re going to prove out that we can get users to join and be successful without investor money,” Spaulding said. “And then once that happens, our company will be much more interesting to investors.”

Tackling dating app exhaustion

Weaver Dating only shows users three profiles a day for free. Users can buy “gold coins” to see more profiles or get more coins for free by referring friends to the app.

“This encourages really intentional dating,” Rudolph said. “To take their time to actually like look through the profiles and think about it and not make a quick snap decision.”

More than a third of users say dating apps present too many options, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey. The study also found about 30% of adults have used a dating app, but 10% of adults in a relationship said they met their spouse or partner online.

“We don’t do any of these addictive things that some of these apps do nowadays. If you play any sort of mobile game, they have ways of getting you to come back again and again and again,” Spaulding said.

The app also makes the photo icon of a profile smaller to emphasize values over appearances, he said.

“You don’t know anything about the person. You just see the picture and you swipe left or right,” Spaulding said. “People are getting tired of the superficiality of it.”

Kathryn Coduto, assistant professor of media science at Boston University and dating app researcher, said it’s smart of Weaver to focus on a specific city.

“Part of why dating apps took off in the first place was because of their geolocation features,” she said.

But if someone is on one dating app, they’re likely on others, she said. It makes it difficult for singles to escape frustration from online dating.

“Often you’re ending up swiping on the same people,” Coduto said.

Weaver’s Rudolph said they hope to get past the stigma most cities like Tampa face, where locals think their home is the worst to date in.

“The bottom line is that there’s singles everywhere,” Rudolph said. “No matter what the city is known for stereotypically, they’re always there and they’re always kind of struggling.”