Culture Editor Ally Azizi interviews Co-Founder of Qemistry, a London-based start-up, Emma Clark on the brand-new dating app that’s more than just photos.
Fresh off its launch date on 6 September, I had the opportunity to conduct an interview with Emma to talk about Qemistry and what sets it apart from other well-known dating apps such as Tinder, Hinge, Bumble etc.
Emma initially trained to be a lawyer and eventually moved to finance. She has worked for Majedie Asset Management and prior to that an asset management events company. She has an undergraduate degree in International Relations, CFA level I, a Graduate Diploma in Law and the Legal Practice Course.
Sachin Karia is the other Co-Founder of Qemistry and the creative genius of the team. He is an experienced tech entrepreneur and software developer. In the past 5 years, he has had several roles at technology based startups (such as Rentoo, Get Cooked, and more recently Xcademy), helping them to build, launch and grow their products.
Roar: Why did you decide to pursue Qemistry?
Emma: Because online dating is broken. In real life, personality plays a huge role in how attractive you find someone and how much fun you have with that person. It’s so hard to get your personality across, or get someone’s vibe from existing dating app profiles.
Before the coronavirus, my Co-Founder and I used to run a tech start-up which was doing in-gym PT sessions whereby it connected you with a personal trainer, yoga instructor etc., in the area and the business relied on gyms being open. We really just got going in February, but by March all the gyms closed. We chose to pivot away from this business and started building the Qemistry app during lockdown.
R: For our readers, what is Qemistry and its aims? How does it differentiate from apps like Tinder?
E: Qemistry is a brand-new type of dating app. Our whole thesis is based on the fact that personality is really important to what makes you either attracted or unattracted to someone. It’s really hard to get your personality across on existing dating apps because it’s just a photograph and a bit of text – it doesn’t actually give you a flavour of what someone’s like at all. It’s hard to be funny when someone’s not saying the joke because it’s just a piece of text. We are trying to help people put themselves across more fully and accurately by having video-only profiles.
In the 1980s, people used to record themselves on VHS tapes and post them to potential dates. It usually contained cringy and cheesy things, but Qemistry is nothing like that. Here, they could upload TikToks, Instagram Reels – content you would share with your friends which show your goofy, down-to-earth side. We interviewed about 3,000 users in the making of this and almost everyone wanted someone who was funny.
R: Could you explain a little bit about the online dating algorithm?
E: Existing dating apps allow users to set very specific preferences (height, religion, race etc.). When you only have a photograph to go on, people decide if they like each other purely based on looks. This often leads to the most outwardly desirable 10% of users getting all the action, and everyone else struggling to match. That is what makes Qemistry different – it gives everybody a chance to use their full personality to land themselves a date, similar to how one would when in a bar. While appearance is a key part of the equation, personality is also just as important. We anticipate Qemistry fixing these problems.
R: What are the benefits of using videos rather than just photos?
E: It improves the safety of meeting up with a match as you have much more information about them. It gives a better chance of more fun dates because your knowledge of your date goes beyond the impression you get from a few photos. Hopefully, it would also eliminate general implicit bias that people have on existing dating apps. One of the things we discovered in our interviews with people was that people have a preference for people with impressive job titles. They’re using this data point to determine their match’s intelligence. The video nature of the app replaces the need for all those data points, you can see how someone speaks for example, their energy levels, their articulation, and it should allow users to see beyond the ‘stats’ of a person. As a result, we’ve been able to remove job titles from the app and actually find people better quality matches.
R: I read in your preview that there’s a feature called ‘Student Mode’ – how does that work?
E: Student mode shows you other students from your university, regardless of your current physical location. Use your university email address when registering, or if you don’t have one yet, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. The people who are using videos are you – students, young people, you’re the ones who make really good content. When experimenting with our practice version, the profiles between those in their 30s and 20s were really different. The latter had really fun and honest profiles which made everything enjoyable, that’s why it’s suited for this age group. One of the reasons we developed this is because of the coronavirus, everyone is everywhere. What student mode does is that it shows only people from your university for any period of time you want, whether it’s a day or a week. It’s easy to toggle between the Student Mode and the ‘normal’ mode. Currently, we’re testing a University of London feature which allows students to explore beyond their universities.
R: That sounds really interesting! Regarding security, how are you going about this issue?
E: Initially, we built in a feature where you could see someone’s precise location, but we’ve completely removed that because it’s safer that way. The video feature obviously helps because it helps you determine how a person acts in daily life. It’s also hard to catfish as it would be really hard to find five videos of someone else from their other existing social media.
R: And what was the budget for this like?
E: We are self-funded, which means small budget (laughs). We built almost everything in-house but now we’re scaling up to a bigger budget.
R: What difficulties did you face while developing the app?
E: So many. Firstly, this concept hasn’t been done properly before. It was tried about 10 to 15 years ago, but people weren’t ready for video yet; we’ve got to convince people that this is a good thing to do. Normally, users would have a set of photos to use on various dating apps, so for them to create a few of their own or choose from some would pose as a challenge. The other challenge is, of course, the beginning, and convincing the very first group of people to go on it, and to stay on it until more people join.
R: What are your long-term plans for the app?
E: We hope to expand to the rest of the UK and eventually, the rest of the world. We’ll see!
R: What was the best part about creating the app?
E: The moment we started using the beta testing version with a group of our friends and realised what a huge leap forward in online dating Qemistry would mark.
R: What advice would you give to students who hope to create their own start-ups?
E: You have such a big personal network at university, you meet new people every day, you have so many resources at your disposal, it’s one of the best points in your life to explore ideas and start a business. There are cheap ways to explore almost every business idea, check out the Lean Startup series for advice.