When it came to online dating, Old Town’s Sarah Press found that Cupid’s arrow missed its mark more often than not.
“There’s something kind of off about online dating where you’re paying a subscription for each month but there’s really no guarantee you’re meeting anyone, you’re having any fun,” the 26-year-old said.
Now, she and fellow University of Chicago grad student Alan Illing are out to turn the industry on its ear.
The pair joined forces to co-found Project Fixup, a pay-as-you-go online dating startup that Press said is designed to make online dating a more personal experience.
“It’s really about us doing the work to introduce you to a person that you have something in common with, that you’re attracted to, and that lets you do something fun that you’d like to do anyway at a convenient place and time,” she said.
Members fill out a brief questionnaire, complete with a headshot, the kind of date they’d like to go on, and when they’re available to go out.
“Our site’s not built for engagement, it’s built for dating and real-world connections,” Illing said.
“It’s not a very detailed profile,” Press added. “It’s just kind of people being honest in the questionnaire, letting us know a little bit about who they are and what their interests are.”
That’s something that appealed to busy professionals like Meghan Stegemann and Will Del Genio, both of whom signed up for the site hoping it would take some of the hassle out of happily-ever-after.
“I’d never done online dating before because I thought it was weird,” said Stegemann, a 29-year-old Lincoln Square resident who is an associate director at a non-profit and single. “This to me didn’t seem as last resort to me. You’re not spending all this time poking each other and winking. You get right down to business and figure out if it works or not and that’s just more my personality.”
“All you have to do is just fill out a little bit of a profile and the amount of work you have to do to get a date is extremely minimal from there on,” added Del Genio, a software engineer.
Software designed by Illing takes over from there, matching people up based on common interests and suggesting tailored dates such as a specific type of bar or restaurant.
If two users decide they want to go on a date, each pays $15, money that comes with what the company calls “awesomeness guaranteed.”
Basically, if you don’t have fun on your date, you get your money back.
“We’re only making money when our members are actually having a good time,” Press said.
“There’s a lot less sort of BS going on trying to contact people, set things up, gauge interest to the point where you’re meeting in person,” said Del Genio, who is in a relationship with someone he did not meet on the site. “I like that a lot.”
So how’s it working out so far?
Press said 750 people have signed up for the site, 200 have gone on dates, and nobody’s asked for a refund. But that’s not to say the site is the be-all, end-all when it comes to dating, something both founders acknowledge.
“We don’t believe that there’s a formula for love, and even if there were, we don’t claim that we would have it, and we don’t think that anyone else has it,” Illing said.
“It doesn’t have to be like necessarily an end game that you’re going to meet the love of your life right away,” Press added. “We think that dating’s supposed to be fun. Either way, we’re young, we’re trying new bars, we’re meeting new people, it’s a good time.”
Matt Linder is a RedEye special contributor.
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