Waves, A Y Combinator Dating Startup, Makes A Splash In Our Love Lives

Using dating applications like Tinder, Bumble, Grindr and many more can be a stressful and overwhelming experience. In the pursuit to appear attractive to others, dating app users naturally emphasize certain facets of their lives such as what they like to eat or watch and repress or hide important parts of their personalities such as their sexual preferences. Emerson, 20, and Morris Hsieh, 22, understood the social taboos around discussing particular kinks and fetishes and created Waves, the dating app that openly allows for users to match based on their sexual compatibility. Waves is currently a part of Y Combinator’s Summer 2019 batch. Waves can be found on the App Store and the Google Play Store.

Hsieh Brothers

Condensing your personality and life to a set of carefully curated pictures and an eye-catching bio to “match” with strangers is a challenge in of itself. For women, especially, the pressure to appear perfect or attractive on these apps can have adverse effects on their self-esteem and well-being. Female users are also overwhelmed with all of the attention they get on these apps and face a diminished user experience given their lack of control in filtering how they match with others. Also, because of social taboos around discussing sex publicly, both men and women are discouraged from talking about their sexual preferences in person or on dating apps in general. The lack of transparency regarding the sexual compatibility of both individuals makes it difficult to find long-lasting and fulfilling relationships through dating apps.

The Hsieh brothers had initially set out to make a medicine technology startup after being admitted into Y Combinator in early June. However, given the lack of traction, they pivoted into creating Waves after hearing from friends and colleagues about the difficulties of finding sexually compatible partners. Their user research and feedback showed that mainstream dating apps like Tinder and Bumble fail to create spaces or opportunity to match people or encourage matched individuals to discuss their kinks and fetishes. Also, the brothers’ female colleagues and friends stressed the need for their potential app to create safe spaces for women to express themselves in a judgment-free environment. Taking these sources of feedback into consideration, the Hsieh brothers had a working prototype of Waves in early July. Waves had to now contend with established dating apps, which consist of a sizeable share of the more significant online dating industry.

Hsieh Brothers

According to Market Research, the U.S. online dating industry is projected to be $3.2 billion by 2020. In 2018, Match Group Global-owned Tinder had approximately generated $800M in revenue. Melissa Lin, the finance blog editor at Toptal, reports that Match has roughly 25% of the online dating market, followed by e-Harmony’s 12%. These numbers show that the online dating industry is still a significantly fragmented market for the taking, leaving a company like Waves with plenty of opportunities to take market share. The Hsieh brothers’ took care in designing their application to not only generate revenue early on through premium subscription models and enhanced matching features, but also create long-term value for its users beyond an immediate match.

To match on Waves, a user first has to fill out their profile. Part of the profile section contains a list of sexual preferences that a user can select, allowing the app to help match them with others who also share the same choice. In choosing those preferences, you can indicate your interested in each one given the following prompts: ‘Yes,’ ‘Hard No,’ and ‘Discuss.’ The number of matching preferences, not the specific preferences themselves, are shown to potential matches unless the user selects an option explicitly granting their consent to have it displayed on their profile automatically to a specific match or every potential match that could match with on the app. Given the social taboos around public discussions around sex, the Hsieh brothers designed the app with the keeping the psychological safety of the user in mind by giving them control over how their preferences are used and shared with their matches. These preferences act as filters to ensure that users avoid engaging in activities they find uncomfortable.

Hsieh Brothers

The core value-add of Waves goes beyond matching people based on important yet taboo topics such as sexual preferences but creating spaces where people can easily seek out and be connected with individuals that they want to share and discuss sensitive topics. Sexual preferences are just a start, but the true problem Waves is solving is one of communication. How can a person avoid the fear of rejection and judgment when using online mediums to meet and talk with people they generally wouldn’t have the chance to in real life? If Waves can solve this issue on the basis of sexual compatibility for dating, they could become the de-facto platform for communicating sensitive topics for people across the globe. To achieve this overarching goal, the Hsieh brothers’ have become a team capable of solving this tractable problem.

Emerson Hsieh is a rising junior at the University of California Berkeley, pursuing a degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Morris Hsieh is a third-year medical student who previously studied for a year at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. The two brothers have worked together extensively on previous app development ventures, as well as publishing a few research papers together on their academic pursuits. Their deepened trust from working together for many years on various projects shows that these two can create a dating app where we can be our true selves without fear or judgment.

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I write extensively on college students' triumphs and failures in their journeys in entrepreneurship. I graduated from MIT with my Bachelor's and Master's in Aerospace E...