For $300, Amy Bao will take a deep-dive into your dating history and tell you if you should be on Tinder or Bumble. For an extra $50, she will write your dating app profile. If you have $500 to spare in the name of love, she will launch a full frontal attack on your singledom, helping you choose an outfit that best matches your skin tone, scout out a photo location that "tells a personal story" and craft the perfect response to your match — one that's respectful enough to convey a good-natured personality but just flirtatious enough to stave off the dreaded "Friendzone" for one more day.
Bao, who co-founded GetSetDate, a Bay Area-based dating consultancy, with her friend Maggie Hsu, is part of a burgeoning cottage industry that helps singles expertly curate their dating app profiles to up their prospects in the ways of romance. In an era where brand marketing no longer applies to the apps alone but to the people on them as well, these professionals will help you take stock of your goods and package them into a pithy, sleek profile to reach your target audience. In this case, the target audience is your dream date.
In many cases, dating app support services are selling the apps back to the app makers. "One type of client we get is your stereotypical Bay Area man in tech who spent most of his adolescence relating more to books and computers and needs to beef up on skills and confidence," said Jessica Engle, founder and director of Bay Area Dating Coach, a coaching service for singles that operates out of Emeryville.
Whether these techies are lacking in social skills or in free time to build a dating life or have recently moved from a different part of world and want to learn more about dating decorum in the Bay Area, one commonality rings true: They have yet to crack the code on landing satisfying dates through the apps.
Given that these companies receive a good deal of business from tech employees and financiers, it's fitting that the language they use to describe their services is sprinkled with startup patois. One service, Introverted Alpha, offers a 12-week virtual intensive that promises to "Launch Your Dating Life." Improving a client's image is often described as an "iterative process."
Dating app support services also approach the job with a lot of the same methodologies and data-driven techniques that Silicon Valley marketers use to optimize website traffic. And if there's any kernel of truth about advertising in the tech era, it's that clean, eye-catching images and tight branding go a long way.
"We're in this very capitalistic, commercial society, so when people are online dating, the part of their brain that has been trained to compare prices and to find the shiniest new bobble is going to get activated," Engle said.
All coaches agree that commissioning high-quality photos of yourself is the secret to success, citing studies that reveal that 80 to 90 percent of the reason why someone might swipe left or right on your profile is tied up in the images alone. "The higher quality the photo the more the person looking at the profile is going to have a sense that this is a high-quality person, even though you and I know that it has nothing to do with the actual quality of the person," Engle explained.
Because photos are largely the only content that potential matches are looking at to analyze compatibility, dating app coaches believe that cultivating a unique personal brand — or visual story — out of your photos is essential. They will help clients tease out specific qualities that they like most about themselves and strategize methods to convey those qualities visually through locations, outfits, props, poses, angles, photo sequencing, or a combination of all of them — anything to get a leg up on the competition and to give potential suitors pause in an endless sea of scrolling. "I had one girl who was like, 'I want confetti!' She was really bubbly, so confetti represents her well," Bao said.
But Bao and her cohort are professionals, and the data-backed advice doesn't just end at "take good photos." Dating app support services analyze everything from demographic data, to reports released by the app companies themselves on changes in app UI all to up their clients' chances for success.
One coach, Eddie Hernandez, left a career in data analysis to found his online dating consultancy company, Eddie Hernandez Photography. He said he applies a lot of the same skills he used to advise tech startups to his new business. "Actually, there are a lot of similarities if you dig into it," he said. He and other coaches frequently reference hard data to make judgments on what apps a client should use based on their location and age, where to place a group photo on a dating profile, and how many emojis their clients should use in their bios.
The personal branding efforts are extensive, but there's a concern that they betray authenticity. If a person is receiving a professional makeover and ghost writing services to craft their app, it's hard to accept that it's really them being portrayed through their profile and not a marketing team.
Coaches believe that curating a dating app profile and getting advice from services on what to say to a potential match is little different than asking friends or family to snap a flattering photo or weigh in on a text to a crush. Polishing the profile, they argue, is just a way of putting your best foot forward, which is what we do in all social situations.
But in some cases, coaches will log into their busy clients' apps for them and do some swiping and messaging on their behalf, reasoning that real dating doesn't happen online but in person, and their objective as a counselor is simply to get the person on a date where the organic processes of attraction kick in. Other actors in the industry draw a hard line on this matter.
"I've gotten requests to write messages for people, and I don't do that. I want people to be more self-sufficient," Hernandez said. "At the end of the day, I'm not going on the date for you. You still have to do that yourself."
Potential misgivings aside, the services seem to be working. The exact numbers are hard to crunch, but the coaches say the proof is in their clients' anecdotes. Bao said that every time she follows up with a client after a photoshoot session to ask if they're interested in dating a connection of hers, they're happy to report that they've already found dates through their revamped apps.
Some clients even confess to their coaches that getting help on their profile led to a romantic experience that they never thought they would have. "I work with 40-year-old virgins that will come in and say that they're dating now once, twice, three times a week, or people will come in and report back that they've had their first kiss," Engle said.
Regardless of what the existence of dating app support services says about tech's reach in our lives (everywhere), our relationship to image (indispensable for reaching an audience), and our willingness to use optimization tactics in the most intimate facets of our lives (very willing), dating app consultants are trying and succeeding at getting people to connect in real life.