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Short version: Ponder Founder Manshu Agarwal understands the power of referrals. Not only did he find a job after someone referred him to a new company, but he also met more suitable dating partners after a matchmaking intervention from an old friend. Manshu wanted to apply these principles from his life to the sometimes-unaccountable world of online dating. That’s when Ponder was born. The dating app functions via referrals and daters sign up because they’re interested in being matched with appealing partners who run in their social circles. Would-be matchmakers are encouraged to make matches for their friends and acquaintances through a blockchain token system that pays them for building successful romantic partnerships.
Before creating the Ponder app, Manshu Agarwal regularly benefited from romantic referrals.
“When I was single, I had a friend of mine — also from Britain where I grew up — make matches for me,” Manshu said. “With her help, I went on all these great dates, but in a limited number.”
Manshu recognized that his friend’s input raised the enjoyment level of his dates. Both daters knew their matchmaker could see them hitting it off, which made them believe they had compatibility from the start.
Manshu described this phenomenon as powerful and said it also injected a sense of security into the process.
“Those referrals added a lot of credibility,” he said. “In a dating context, it made people feel safer, like someone was watching over them. You’re not worried like you are when you meet a date from an app for the first time. After all, most couples still meet through friends.”
Manshu recognized that there was no online dating platform that relied on friend-to-friend setups. He saw the value in providing referrals to make daters feel both safer and more accountable to that third-party.
“I thought that if I could find a way to scale those referrals, which are hard to find, then we could have something interesting — a unique way of meeting potential partners,” he said.
From that desire, Ponder was born. The app encourages would-be matchmakers to pair up compatible members of their social circles. In turn, daters can express their interest in being matched by their friends and acquaintances by joining the app.
Manshu said the app is ideal for those daters who are looking for a hybrid dating strategy.
“We combine offline with online, so you get the best of both worlds,” he said.
Online daters can feel dissatisfied with the matches they’re making on other platforms or apps. They may have to sift through profiles of people with whom they have nothing in common, or with whom they feel entirely incompatible.
In contrast, people on Ponder say they love to be set up by their friends.
“One of the biggest items of feedback from our community is that people love to have matches made,” Manshu said. “They love the idea of leveraging their social circles to find dates.”
“If you’re making successful matches, you’ll get coins, and if you’re matched yourself, then you’ll pay coins,” Manshu said.
Most Ponder users are younger daters and matchmakers because of the technical nature of the platform. Most daters also live in metropolitan areas of the United States.
“Our average age is around 30. It’s a little bit older for matchmaking; for singles, it’s 29.5, and for matchmakers, it’s 32,” Manshu said. “Ponder is also concentrated in the urban areas around the US, particularly New York, the Bay Area, and Southern California, but we have communities in most urban places.”
Matchmakers often pair up their friends out of the goodness of their hearts. However, many would-be matchmakers may need more than warm feelings to spend time pairing up their acquaintances.
“I wondered, ‘How do we attract those people who don’t see themselves as matchmakers?’” Manshu said.
But the Ponder creator soon found the answer — through gamification.
“We made the app delightfully gamelike, as if you’re playing a challenging puzzle. But the challenge is how good of a matchmaker you are,” Manshu said.
With the success of gamification, Ponder is adding a new element to incentivize matchmaking — monetary incentives. These financial enticements, provided as coins distributed through blockchain, encourage users to be more persistent. Still, Ponder wants to give its matchmakers the satisfaction of a well-made pairing.
“The primary focus is on the good feelings of matchmaking and what that entails,” said Manshu. “These people are together, and you’re the one who’s created a successful coupling.”
One of Ponder’s unique features matches people who run in similar social circles. This idea is observed in the sub-communities that develop on the app.
“Users want to find matches within their own ‘tribe,’ whatever that may be,” Manshu said. “That could be runners in Miami, Mormons in LA, or Koreans in Chicago. Whatever group fits with your values and interests, they want to be matched within that.”
Most users believe finding a compatible partner is more likely within that set of parameters, and their matchmakers may be in this group, as well.
“We want to create [a place where] people can create their own rules.” — Manshu Agarwal, Founder of Ponder
So, Ponder developed sub-communities. When sub-communities are defined, users can also create their own parameters for matching and being matched.
“The sub-communities decide what the rules are,” said Manshu. “For example, they can choose how many tokens are distributed when a match is made. Then, all those rules are put into a smart contract.”
Additionally, each community can distribute the blockchain tokens as it sees fit.
“Based on a sub-community, blockchain seems to be an effective set of technologies,” Manshu said. “We want to create these semi-autonomous, independent units where there’s little control from the central unit and people can create their own rules.”
Ponder is successful in creating matches because of its blend of online simplicity and real-world effectiveness.
“We had a couple in their early 40s match with one another,” Manshu said. “They met through the app, she moved to LA, and they’ve been dating for the last three months.”
But couples aren’t the only ones who benefit from long-term matches.
“If they do marry, that will benefit the matchmaker because if a couple you’ve matched ends up married, you get $1,000,” he said.
While Ponder includes gamified elements, the core of the app is intuitive and simple: creating love. Manshu said he and the Ponder team try to find unique ways to help people find love every day.
Ponder can do that by eliminating elements of anxiety more common among daters on other apps.
“Including a third party cuts through the chicanery; couples don’t want to upset the matchmaker,” he said. “There’s more friendliness, less flakiness, more efficiency.”
The matchmaking element of the app also encourages more compatible pairings. At the same time, the third-party involvement makes both daters try harder to make solid first impressions.
Ultimately, Ponder doesn’t feel like it needs to replace other dating apps. Instead, it wants to combine matching algorithms with a human touch.
“You can keep your other dating apps, but keep Ponder because you never know when a quality referral might come through,” Manshu said. “Our goal is to find a comfortable way to help people meet that mirrors how they meet in the real world.”