A Look at Facebook Dating through the Lens of FriendsPlus

In 2013, I led a team to create FriendsPlus, a mobile app that was acquired (and killed) right at launch.

It turns out Facebook’s new dating app, announced last week, is very similar. Let’s see how Facebook talks about it:

Facebook Dating product manager Charmaine Hung tells me that “I have 2,000 Facebook friends. I’m not best friends with all 2,000 people, and there’s a good chance that one of that could be a really good match with me. I trust them, I appreciate them and I know we’re compatible. The only thing missing is knowing if we’re both interested in being more than just friends without the fear of rejection if you were to do this in real life.”

Let me first share how I talk about FriendsPlus on my LinkedIn Profile, with my intro deck and a screenshot below.

Dating service acquired in 2013 by Vietnam’s largest dating community, Noi.vn.

► Recruited and managed 5 person cross-functional team to produce FriendsPlus, a social / local / mobile dating (SoLoMo) app for iOS and Android.

► Created service targeted towards professional-age females, emphasizing real relationships to make romantic connections in contrast to typical male-oriented “browsing”​ dating services. Product Manager.

► Led startup to acquisition of application and technology platform.

An overview of Friends+ as pitched to investors and later, acquisition partners. The application and technology platform were acquired pre-launch in Q4 2013 by Vietnam’s largest dating service, Noi.vn

I first started work on FriendsPlus in 2013 while I was COO at Cyworld, a social networking service. When I first arrived in Vietnam in 2006, it was still common for women to get married as early as age 18 and slightly older for those who went to university. My theory is that limited life options in education or careers streamline roads to marriage and children.

As women started to build great careers in the blooming (tiger) Vietnamese economy, there was less time to focus on relationships; some of Cyworld’s female employees became increasingly frustrated at growing older but not finding marriage partners.

Going deeper into the problem, traditional methods such as matchmaking could be a bit archaic or difficult if a woman was working away from her hometown. Dating apps like Tinder were primarily focused on (ahem) male psychology; women needed a digital tool to help them meet people in a way that still felt conservative and true to the values (less about hookups) with which they grew up.

After hearing about these problems for some time, I decided to take action. I formed a new company to help my female employees find love: FriendsPlus.

From my user research, I learned that Vietnamese women did not want to meet random people. At the same time, it was not yet culturally acceptable to make the first move (unless you were my future wife).

My problem was how can you bring two people together in a natural, almost magical way?

The solution we proposed was: serendipity.

At the time, Facebook was already the most popular (sigh…Cyworld) social networking service in Vietnam, and you could still pull in friends lists from the service. We let users connect their Facebook accounts to FriendsPlus and select up to the second degree of friends (friends of friends) of people they were interested in as “romantic crushes”; the idea was to include your friends and people that you might have known or seen occasionally but were still a bit shy around.

From here, the app was “set it and forget it.” As other people started to use the app and set their own crush preferences, our system would monitor when two crushes were in close proximity (ex. 1KM away on a weekend afternoon). If you were both around each other, the app would ping you and try to convert you two into meeting – this would also be the first time you knew about each other’s mutual interest. This was a magic moment that might not happen again for a very long time.

FriendsPlus was about removing frictions to create a real meet up and opportunity at love. One point that spurred furious internal argument was leading users to meet offline in the real world instead of to chat. My argument was that if you start chatting, it’s easy to postpone a meet, and basically never meet. Chatting was also what every other dating service did; I felt that the case for chat was the common mistake of seeing what everyone else was doing and assuming you needed to do the same. FriendsPlus needed to be clearly different in how it operated and generated successful outcomes for users.

If you have noticed, however, FriendsPlus had a problem, at least in comparison to social apps of the day: engagement. In 2013, success was about creating addiction, a problem we understand more clearly in light of Facebook, YouTube, and fakes news /  junk content / data privacy. FriendsPlus was a utility that only appeared in your life when something special was about to happen.

Thus, there wasn’t a clear business model (though we could have highlighted places to meet as ads, that ad volume would have been low) or virality. Before launching, we also added ways for people to meet people at random, my homage to ChatRoulette. You can see a preview of that below.

Friends+ Screenshot – Finding People Nearby

FriendsPlus Screenshot.jpg

Feature: Allowed you to propose a meetup right now based on the type of activity and person you would like to do and meet.

To be honest, the app was not going to be easy to launch and have traction grow on its own; this is why I ended up selling it to Noi.vn, Vietnam’s most popular dating service. Noi never launched the app either. I suspect it was hard to get internal support for something that did not work on traditional engagement metrics.

Going back to Facebook, its Dating team is going to face the same issues in defining success. After you set up crushes, what do you do?  FriendsPlus would wait for that magic moment, but if the user does not take action right away with Facebook Dating, she will not go back into the app. It’s also not like you add new friends (I guess this rate declines with age) constantly and consistently over time and can be reminded to set new crushes.

I imagine the real-world usage as follows: I set some crushes. Some time later, as not all users will use the app at the same time, a crush of mine may also use Dating and set me as a crush. Facebook whisks us into an awkward chat:

Facebook: “You guys seem to be crushes. Go chat!” (at a random time of day in which the pair may or may not be busy)

Me: “Hi”

You: “Hi” (anywhere from immediately to days later, have you seen how the modern generation replies to messages?)

Me and You: [Uhhh, what now?] (Hopefully, not a dick pic)

Potential awkward fail, at least based on how the app is described in the TechCrunch article.

The Facebooks and Googles of the world get easy media attention any time they release a new app. My impression is that most of these apps are tests from product teams that need to build out their resumes. These apps are not real businesses; they get 15 minutes (seriously, go search Techcrunch) of media attention and die out months later.

While this sounds like a humble brag, I claim this more about my failure in social products: I feel I hit my peak as a social innovator in 2012/2013, seeing pain points and constructing social utilities to solve them on a monthly basis. Because I was in Vietnam, these ideas died; I could not get investor support for anything without clear virality (“build it and they will come” and gamification are not strategies) and revenue models. (Cyworld and Mimo failed in significant part because unlike MySpace, Facebook, and Snapchat in the West, we had to grow users rapidly and make money.) Months or years later, I would see these same ideas I had get millions in funding in Silicon Valley, like Facebook Dating. They unsurprisingly all failed, though perhaps some like FriendsPlus in Vietnam eventually got acquired.

That is what I expect to happen here.

And1 Tai Chi Mixtape Shoes – In the Wild!

Introducing the TAI CHI MIXTAPE, a limited edition remix on one of the most iconic basketball shoes to date, the AND1 Tai Chi.

And I’ve got them. You can’t read my past blog posts on my extensive fan love anymore but I was a huge And1 fan – I had jerseys, mixtapes, mixtape poster, mixtape tours, books, etc. I tried to intern for them over a decade ago, writing a personal letter to Seth Berger. I even have an autographed card from the team’s 2005 E3 appearance to promote their And1 Streetball game. It sits framed in my apartment and has traveled the world with me. It’s been great to see them getting back to their streetball and community roots over the last few years – you can also find their gear at affordable prices in places like Walmart.

The shoes look great in person. The only problem is if I can bear to wear them and get them dirty…IMG_1477IMG_1479IMG_1480IMG_1482

The Bay Area Parent’s Shopping Guide for Your Baby’s First Six Weeks

In July, I happily became a first-time parent. I quickly had to learn what to buy (and why) to keep myself, mommy, and baby in good spirits. Thus, I’d like to share my insights with other first time parents, coming from the perspective of someone who lives in the Bay Area (think: more moderate weather, mainly using a car, more fortunate in terms of financial means).

Everything below is something our family has actually purchased and used, referred from family friends, Amazon.com reviews, or Wirecutter. I’m focusing just on the stuff we used for our baby’s first six weeks.

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Mom’s Recovery

Yunga Tart Seatz Bath

Sitz Bath Soak 32oz (2-Lbs) Epsom Salt With Niaouli, Geranium, Lavender, Frankincense, Juniper Essential Oils & Vitamin C Crystals – Natural Hemorrhoid Relief, Fissures, Postpartum

If you wife has a natural birth, you absolutely need to get the two items above to help with physical recovery. One of the things I learned is that the delivery uses the same muscles as going #2 (poopie). So think of the mother having the biggest poopie of her life (6-8 pounds!), and pushing for hours at a time. That’s not normal – think of the muscle soreness she will face. My wife cried from the pain post-birth until we bought these.

Feeding

Spectra Baby S1 Breast Pump

This was definitely one of the high ticket items we wondered about spending on because the hospital gave us an electric pump. Once we got the Spectra, we realized rechargeable battery = portable = going places with infant for more than a few hours will actually be pleasant.

Simple Wishes Signature Hands Free Breastpump Bra, Black, XS-Large

Lets the mother breast pump with her hands free – she can now use a phone, eat, etc. My wife didn’t think she needed it at first, but I doubt I could take this away from her now without causing big problems.

Haakaa Silicone Breastfeeding Manual Breast Pump Milk Pump 100% Food Grade Silicone BPA PVC and Phthalate Free

As the mother breastfeeds on one side, use this manual pump to collect milk from the other side – often, the other side may start leaking milk on its own. Don’t waste liquid gold!

Medela Breast Milk Cooler Set

Medela Breast Milk Storage Solution Set

Philips Avent Natural Baby Bottle Blue Gift Set, SCD206/12

There are lots of brands like Philips, Medela, Dr. Browns, etc., for baby bottles They all want you in their ecosystem, thus pick one brand and assume you’ll stay with it across all your bottle-related items. These brands are mostly incompatible with each other, a huge pain in the butt, and something I understood too late. If you buy the items I list here, you’ll be fine but I’d buy from one brand if I did it over.

Boppy Nursing Pillow and Positioner, Notebook Black/Gold

Boon Lawn Countertop Drying Rack Green

Really useful and aesthetically pleasing drying rack that we use exclusively for baby stuff.

General Health Around the Baby

Mountain Falls Advanced Hand Sanitizer with Vitamin E and Aloe, Pump Bottle, Compare to Purell, 67.59 Fluid Ounce (Pack of 2)

Clean your hands, without sacrificing softness!

Angelcare Baby Bath Support, Aqua

Small babies are not exactly easy to handle normally, let alone when wet. This helps when it’s bath time.

Johnson’s Head-To-Toe Extra Moisturizing Baby Wash

Johnson’s Baby Powder

Desitin Baby Diaper Rash Maximum Strength Original Paste

Use this on your baby’s butt during diaper changes to prevent diaper rash. Also useful for the neck folds area.

Almond Oil

Use as an occasional lotion for your baby and to prevent stretch marks for the mother.

Babyganics Wipes

We currently use these and like them over the Huggies ones as they are less wet. \

Baby Nasal Aspirator NoseFrida the Snotsucker by Fridababy

Babies get boogers and someone (me) has to clean them.

Safety 1st Steady Grip Infant Clipper, Colors May Vary

Babies are well known for their razor-like claws (fingernails)

Summer Infant Contoured Changing Pad

We don’t have a dedicated changing table (we are in a small apartment and space is a premium), so we place this on the floor or sofa (I prefer floor). We also bought a cover for the pad, but our son kept peeing all over it and we quickly realized the cover didn’t add any benefits other than aesthetics. The cover is hard to wash, but you can easily rinse or wipe down this changing pad.

Transportation

Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat

You can’t leave the hospital without a car seat, these aren’t the days of beige Opals, optional seat-belts, and holding a baby in your arms in the car. This seat is well regarded and scored fantastically on crash tests.

Baby Jogger 2016 City Mini 3W Single Stroller

When I put this together, I realized, “this is what quality and attention to detail look like”.

Baby Jogger Car Seat Adapter Single for Chicco and Peg-Perego – 1967207

BEST STROLLER ORGANIZER for Smart Moms

Helps you carry more stuff on the stroller. YOU WILL HAVE MORE STUFF.

Ethan & Emma Stroller Hook, Carabiner Shape

This came free with the stroller organizer – check for an offer on the Amazon page for a code to get the hook.

Summer Infant Snuzzler Infant Support for Car Seats and Strollers, Ivory

Necessary for your infant’s first couple of months when he’s inside the Baby Jogger stroller. The Chicco KeyFit has its own infant support included.

Baby Bjorn Baby Carrier Original – Dark Blue, Cotton

See all the parents who walk with their babies with a kangroo pouch-like thing on them? This is it.

i play. Baby Brim Sun Protection Hat, Gray, 0-6 months

Sleep

Fisher-Price Deluxe Rock ‘n Play Sleeper, Moonlight Meadow

When we mentioned we bought the Rock ‘n Play to our doctor, she said “Babies LOVE the Rock ‘n Play.” So true. More sleep for the baby means more sleep for you.

LectroFan High Fidelity White Noise Machine with 20 Unique Non-Looping Fan and White Noise Sounds and Sleep Timer, Global Power Edition

I use this white noise machine for myself right now but I hear it can be helpful for babies too, in terms of drowning out random noise to help him sleep. Oddly, our baby sleeps through anything right now – I can vacuum a few feet away from him. When he becomes more sensitive, we’ll have to put this next to him.

SwaddleMe By Your Side Sleeper

If you want your infant to sleep in bed with you, this keeps him protected.

Covidien 2022A Curity Maternity Pad, 4-3/10″ x 12-1/4″ Size (Pack of 14)

GORILLA GRIP Original Slip-Resistant Mattress Pad Protector (52″ x 34″), Bed Wetting & Incontinence Cover Absorbs up to 8 Cups, Waterproof, Leak Proof Edge, Pads Machine Washable, Toddler

These two items are for the mother – after pregnancy, she may leak fluids for some time, and these prevent problems from leaks.

HALO SleepSack Micro-Fleece Swaddle, Baby Blue, Newborn

Swaddling is highly recommended by well, everyone, for the early months. Our son will wildly swing his arms while lying down, so I think swaddling helps calm him down.

Thinking about the SleepSack makes me want to sleep myself.

Other Notes

We haven’t purchased a baby humidifier, baby monitor, or bottle warmer. I still don’t feel the monitor is necessary because we live in a small one bedroom (typical Bay Area!). Bottle warmer reviews said warmers are not much (if at all) better than just warming up bottles in a pot. We use a tea kettle to quickly heat up water and then put the bottle with that hot water in a mug for warm milk in 5 minutes. As for a humidifier, maybe that’s in our child’s future. The Bay Area is definitely drier compared to the East Coast or many parts of Asia.

Other things not covered here but you will want to buy:

  • Formula – even if you want to focus on breastfeeding, have formula as a backup. You can make it very quickly and it will start at room temperature in times where there may not be enough milk. I suggest Costco’s Kirkland brand.
  • Diapers – Wirecutter likes the Target and Walmart house brand diapers. We have not tried them, but I am not averse to doing so. Either way, buy diapers from Costco. You can also buy from Target or Amazon, depending on different promotions that you prefer. Make sure the diaper you get has a visual indicator on the front of wetness – very useful. We use Huggies and Pampers and have also tried Babyganics.
  • Diaper bag we were lucky enough to have loving relatives who got us a great diaper bag. Inside the diaper bag, place travel-size bottles of hand sanitizer and baby powder along with the typical diapers, small changing pad, etc.
  • Clothes – buy generic stuff at Walmart / Target. You’ll probably be gifted them too.

For the Grandparents

Nixplay W10B Seed 10.1″ Widescreen Wi-Fi Cloud Digital Photo Frame

I’d long wanted to get my parents a photo frame that could automatically update with new photos from Google Photos. This frame had been well reviewed in the past, but only literally in the last month did Nixplay get connected with Google Photos via API.

This means that after setup (very easy), the photo frame automatically checks a designated shared folder for new photos to show in the frame. You simply add new photos to that folder from your phone – this convenience to keeping baby and grandparents connected is great and my dad loves it.

That’s all for now!