Alums build dating app for black singles

by Sungil Ahn | 3/31/16 6:04pm

Not every demographic has kept up with the pace of growth in online dating — a study on data from the dating site OkCupid revealed that black men and women face particular bias. One year ago, the team behind BAE — “before anyone else” — built a smartphone dating app to help black singles in the dating world. The team includes two Dartmouth students, chief technology officer and co-founder Jordan Kunzika ’16 and chief marketing officer Justin Gerrard Tu’16.

The app launched last year at Howard University and has reached the top 50 list in 20 African and Caribbean countries in the App Store and the Google Play Store.

The idea originated when the BAE team looked at the data that showed that black people were penalized in the dating scene.

Kunzika said that he saw a “decline in [the] black family unit,” citing a statistic that showed less than 50 percent of black people were married. He said the idea of being able to restore the black family is one of the factors that drove the BAE team in their project. The popularity of BAE in African and Caribbean countries validated BAE’s mission, Kunzika said.

Gerrard said that the team is trying to “make dating fun again” and use technology to connect people.

“If we can move the needle on black relationships then we’ve done a true service to the community,” he said, when giving the reason for working on BAE.

Additionally, Kunizka said that the project would break new grounds in diversity in venture capital, citing that “less than 1 percent of teams with at least one black co-founder get any funding” in ventures. BAE’s entire team is black, and Kunzika hopes to be a role model as he breaks those barriers.

Kunizka is working on the app full-time, turning down job offers from Microsoft and Google to do so.

BAE received both grants and advice from various resources, including the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network, the Digital Arts and Leadership Innovation lab and the Tuck School of Business.

Computer science professor Andrew Campbell said that Kunzika, who he taught in class, demostrated strong entreprenuerial skills and creativity.

Kunzika cited his “Introduction to Smartphone Programming” class as a example of a class that translated into his work. In the class, he learned Android programming and that skill set took him far, as it helped him get the internship at Intel and helped him with his prior startups and BAE.

Gerrard said DEN was supportive from the beginning. Tuck provided mentors and opportunities to the team to gather funding and capital. Additionally, they provided initial stewardship and introduced the team to Dartmouth Ventures, a conference on entrepreneurship.

Dartmouth Ventures helped the team jumpstart the apps development alongside marketing efforts that they needed to start working on BAE full-time. Winning the grant showed the team that the concept could work while also validating their concept within Dartmouth students, alumni, and venture capitalists, Gerrard said. It also gave the team access to networks of people who gave great advice, helped it position the product and raised funding.

The app had multiple rounds of feedback within the Dartmouth community and with venture capitalists.

During the app’s launch, the team visited various historically black colleges and universities to foster its target userbase.

“I think the HBCUs were great in terms of driving the initial word-of-mouth,” Gerrard said.

After the launch, the team worked on improving the customer experience.

“The real work begins once it’s out there,” Kunzika said.

These improvements consisted of looking at reviews, receiving and responding to customer emails.

He cited the app’s acceptance into Facebook’s FbStart program, which gave the team $80,000 in services, as an example of its success, as it allowed the team to partner up with Facebook and to present the app at F8, Facebook’s developer conference.

Gerrard said the app uses a unique algorithm for matching people.

“A lot of traditional dating platforms have you fill out a lot of information, and they’re using that to ideally match you up with others you would like to connect with,” he said, “For BAE, we kind of reverse-engineered that. We want to know as little about you as possible, and then we use how you interact with users in the app to form those matches.”

Kunzika added that the app learns from users’ selection behaviors to learn more about the users and match users up with other people who are more likely to like the said users.

When asked about how BAE maintains its black userbase, Gerrard said that BAE has not had any problem with targeting the right demographic as “people are self-selecting when they go on BAE.” He in fact said he wants BAE to be inclusive, as he doesn’t want to discourage people attracted to BAE’s target demographic.

Gerrard said that a huge part of addressing social problems is networking.

“The biggest thing in tackling social problems is to talk to other people in the community who share the concern for the world,” he said.