Punch Profiles: People to Know / 9 Questions with Bennett Richardson, Chief Marketing Officer of Hinge
Whenever I get asked, “What’s it like to date in DC?” by anyone not from the metro area (well, now I’m in a serious 9-month relationship, but believe you me, since living here since 1990, I know what it’s like to date in DC) I pause, take a deep breath, look up to the sky, then cock my head slightly to the left, then close my eyes, and say slowly, “It. Sucks.”Â Granted, that response might sound pedestrian, but you know what? It is. And I was.Â Let’s be real.Â Dating is not easy anywhere, particularly in a major market. Smart people that we are in the nation’s capital, we aren’t fooling ourselves.Â If the process of dating was a cinch, matchmakers and dating sites would never have had a market to saturate and everyone would have been set up by their Jewish (or not) grandmother, mates would have been discovered in the local market’s produce section, in the aisles of self-help books, or in the dog park.
And thus, we are a fix-it society.Â We must solve the problem (and make money on it, natch).Â Enter every sort of meet-and-greet mixer, dating site, social media connector, magic wand waver you can imagine for any type of membership fee and tahdah, you have a second full time job on your hands and that’s only for the time it takes you to fill out the profile (I once tried eHarmony and JDate).
Then along came a little application called Hinge, created by one of the many interesting start-ups who can call DC its birthplace.Â Since knowing Bennett Richardson who is now Hinge’s Chief Marketing Officer, for years as the fun, affable, “big guy in a plaid shirt” who was everyone’s buddy, we at the Punch were intrigued to learn that he was at the forefront of a new online social media mixer.Â What we love about this format is that these guys found a void in the market place, recognized a problem and came up with an idea to fix the situation.Â They pulled together intellectual resources, searched for capital, and through perseverance, good connections, not giving up, not fearing rejection nor defeat, nor the inevitable hiccups along the way (this is after all technology and people) they turned an idea into a product.Â That my friends is true entrepreneurship.Â But can Hinge work for us? Will it sustain? Will it solve our mixing, dating, matching challenges? Please note that Hinge is still in its beta stage.
We had a chance to chat with Bennett at the Park Hyatt a few weeks ago and got a few of our questions answered.
Pamela’s Punch:Â Tell us a bit about yourself, personally and professionally.Â
Bennett Richardson:Â I’m 27 and have been working in marketing and communications since I graduated from Colgate University in 2006. I’ve been at Hinge for a few months, but the first six years of my career were on the agency side working in both public affairs and consumer marketing. When I’m not working, I love sports (Red Sox and Patriots fan) and traveling. I also used to be a bartender, so I love trying new wines and making up new cocktails.
PP:Â How did you get involved with Hinge?Â
BR:Â Hinge was founded by Justin McLeod, my best friend and college roommate. He started Hinge last year, and I’ve been advising him on branding and marketing since this past winter. I joined Hinge full-time in May to get ready to launch the app over the summer.
PP:Â Let’s address the pink elephant in the room. The concept of “online dating” has gone from great to good to to decent to questionable to untouchable (by the younger set for sure).Â Even Match.com is going offline to host mixers.Â Tell us how Hinge is different than eHarmony, Match, JDate, OkCupid, Singles.net, and others.Â
BR:Â Traditional online dating sites like Match.com are hard work — you have to fill out a long profile and browse through hundreds of random strangers, checking out tons of profiles before you find someone right for you. Hinge does all the hard work for you. You just answer questions about your friends (which of these people is my type, is this person optimistic or pessimistic, etc.) and Hinge learns your taste. We then recommend five compatible friends of friends every day. You’ll always have at least one mutual friend in common with your on Hinge, so it’s a lot easier to find compatible matches that are already in your social circles.
PP: With Hinge, you don’t say “use” you say “play” – tell us how you “play” Hinge.Â
BR:Â Hinge is great at finding quality matches for our users, but it’s also fun to use. The app is really a game — you answer a few questions about your friends and then we give you a match. Most people don’t find traditional online dating to be an enjoyable activity. We want Hinge to be as enjoyable to use as it is effective at helping you meet people.
PP:Â You’ve stated your target demographic is 20′s through mid-30′s.Â What if someone a bit past those years has found the other sites, or even just dating period to be unfruitful.Â Are they allowed and encouraged to play?Â What success stories have you seen with an older crowd?
BR:Â We tailored Hinge to 20-somethings and early 30-somethings because those are the people that are most against trying online dating, and most of our users are in that age range. We’re not excluding anyone, though — if you’re in your late 30s or 40s you should definitely still join and you’ll have a really great experience. We’ve already had some successful dates with users in their late 30s!
PP:Â So this is a great way to just ‘meet’ new people that you have deemed OK because of mutual friends. Some people have tons of mutual “friends” on Facebook, but that doesn’t mean they really know them.Â How do you maneuver through that safely?Â
BR:Â Great question.Â We prioritize matches based on a number of factors, one of which is the number of mutual friends you have in common with someone. If you have 10 mutual friends, there’s probably at least one real, close friend in that group.Â Right now we’re also working on a “best friends” algorithm that will let us figure out the 100 Facebook friends that you interact with the most and are closest with. Matches through those best friends will be at the top of the list.
BR:Â We just launched in DC and have more than 1,200 users in the area. We’re going to be focused on getting the word out in DC for the next several months. Right now we’re doing a lot of outreach on Capitol Hill because many of our users are Hill staffers. We’ll continue to target small groups like that to grow in an effective way — when someone joins, we want them to have several mutual friends already using Hinge. Our biggest next step is mobile. Right now we’re building Hinge apps for iPhone and Android, and those will roll out this fall.
PP:Â You just finished a significant round of funding.Â This says a lot from the perspective of investors about the market of “dating” online and offline, as one might think it’s saturated.Â What comments can you offer to young entrepreneurial business men and women who have a really good idea?Â
BR:Â We’ve raised $750,000 to date from a group of smart, strategic investors. With both the Hinge experience and with fundraising,Â was important for us to pick a niche and focus on dominating that niche.Â There are a ton of dating services out there, but none have won over young professionals on a large scale. Â My advice to entrepreneurs starting out is just that: don’t go after everyone. Pick a small target audience and figure out how you can solve a problem for that group. Facebook started by providing a useful service for Harvard students. You can’t get much more targeted than that.
Pamela Lynne Sorensen is the founder of Pamela’s Punch, a leading source of information for the “who, what, when, and where” of Washington, DC’s elite social, professional, and philanthropic scene, which she founded in November of 2006. In 2012 she launched Pacific Punch, based in Los Angeles. Pamela comes from an extensive background in sales and business development from a variety of industries, has been involved with charities and fundraising for a number of years and holds several Board and leadership positions. She currently resides in Arlington, Virginia and when she’s not out on the town, she’s reading or writing while sipping fine wine, or traveling the country and the world ISO adventures, beauty, fun, food, style, libations, music, and the good life. Follow her on Twitter at @pamelaspunch.