'I had about eight, nine, dating apps on my phone. But I always felt this pressure of looking good.'
'When it comes to finding romantic love, it just feels very shallow.'
'I felt it was time for something different, something non superficial.'
Tanvi Gupta induces the feeling of butterflies in the stomach through SwoonMe
If you are single and in some cases, even if you are not, there might be many dating apps that fill up your mobile screens, the likes of Bumble, Hinge and Tinder.
All of them are picture-based dating apps where you look at one or a few images of women or men and make split second decisions.
SwoonMe, on the other hand, the brain child of founder Tanvi Gupta, takes you back to old school romance and courtship which began with just a conversation.
The joys of experiencing butterflies in the stomach, the air of mystery, intrigue and the formation of that mental sketch of the person behind that voice.
The former product manager at Meta and the founder and CEO of SwoonMe spoke to Rediff.com US Contributor Abhijit Masih from her office in Palo Alto about her own experiences that led to the idea of a voice first dating app.
"There's so much you can learn about a person through the voice.
"It contributes to enhance dating, real life like experience.
"So like, I'm talking to you on the phone right now. And you could tell so much about me, right?
"And as I'm talking I get to know so much about you, I feel like I want to keep talking to you, somebody I want to share things with", says Tanvi about the importance of voice first introductions.
Tanvi moved to the US from Patiala when she was 16 and studied at Carroll University and later did her MBA from Marquette University in Wisconsin.
She moved to New York City and worked at a few financial institutions on Wall Street till she met her husband, a techie from Silicon Valley on a night out with friends.
Before she met -; Vivek, she followed what most people do to find amorous acquaintance -; swipe on her phone.
She recalls, "I had about eight, nine, dating apps on my phone. But I always felt this pressure of looking good.
"Not that it's a bad thing. Obviously, everyone wants to look good, but nobody wants to be judged in a matter of a split second.
"When it comes to finding romantic love, it just feels very shallow. I just felt like it was time for something different, something non superficial."
Thus, the idea for a voice first avatar-based dating app sprung out of her own dating experiences in New York where she didn't want to be judged solely on physical appearance.
Late hours at Morgan Stanley in New York where she worked at that time and Vivek's busy schedule on the West Coast forced them to continue the relationship via phone calls between 8 and 10.30 at night.
These phone conversations convinced Tanvi that a voice first platform made sense.
She remembers the conversations that led to her founding SwoonMe, "We just exchanged numbers after having like a nice conversation and sharing a drink. And then we started talking on the phone.
"When he went back to California, it really started when we were talking on the phone. It was never really about exchanging photos or anything like that. It was just like really connecting based on shared ideologies."
The connection also led to her move from New York City to sunny California, where she soon joined Facebook and worked there for three years before she took the somewhat bold decision to quit the social media major to start off on her own, pursuing her idea and her dream.
Quitting Facebook, a dream job for many, must have been tough.
"I just felt I had this wealth of technical experience, as well as product experience and I just felt like I wanted to venture out on my own.
"When I would listen to Zuck (Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg) speak, when I would listen to his Q and As and how Facebook operated and how he started I really would get inspired.
"My hypothesis was that this should work. And it did, it actually resonated with users.
"I put the idea of their avatar plus voice."
SwoonMe stays away from pictures at first, but through the Avatar concept it does answer to the needs of people who may have a set requirement in terms of physical attributes like specific hair or eye color.
"Sure, love is blind. But I also know from that there are some people that have certain requirements, when it comes to finding a mate.
"So I thought we have to show some aspect of somebody's face. And avatar could tell a lot about a person's appearance, just not everything, like there is some element of mystery," Tanvi explains the differential features of her app.
The app provides a feeling of being present with other people in real time unlike picture first apps where you mindlessly and passively swipe or send texts.
She wants to replicate and have Swooners experience the same feeling that perhaps a physical encounter would induce in real life, the one she experienced with Vivek.
"We want to be just like in real life that you would meet somebody at a party, at a bar, in a workplace.
"The avatar is actually an opportunity for Swooners to visualize one another without being superficial or judgmental.
"They can even personalize these avatars, which can be quite fun."
Having launched in the US and some parts of Europe, Tanvi has her eyes set on her homeland India which, she believes, has tremendous potential.
Apart from being fun, it could be a great option for the millions of users who rely on the images of Bollywood icons as their DP.
A great idea, for those who do want discretion and don't necessarily want to be found on these dating apps.
To keep their identity concealed from relatives and colleagues who may chance upon a picture profile of you on the regular dating apps.
She shares her excitement about her product that was created in the midst of the pandemic in 2020, as the first avatar-based dating app that creates an opportunity for singles to date in the metaverse.
If that's not enough, it also helps you break the ice and get you through the initial awkward moments of interaction through icebreaker games on the platform which gives way to give way to contextual conversations without feeling awkward.
"People spend about four or five minutes on average personalizing avatars, putting on colored hair, or hat or lipstick or earrings and things like their voice introductions, letting their personality shine by answering prompts that we give you that that resonate with them."
The majority of the users of SwoonMe in India are in the 18-25 age group, live in India's metros, with almost everyone recording their voice notes in English.
Tanvi and her team are currently working on finding ways of encouraging people to record in their native languages.
Currently the trend shows that people are set on recording in English, which they may not speak too well.
"A little bit of a problem there is that people feel this need to speak in English.
"Somehow people who speak English are considered like sophisticated and elegant and that's why there's pressure to speak the language," the CEO reveals her understanding of the Indian market.
She has help in her younger brother Rishabh Gupta, also the CTO and co-founder of the company, who has worked in the IT sector in India and has now moved to the US.
The CEO and founder of SwoonMe has big plans for India, not just limited to the big cities alone, but with plans to target tier 2 cities as well.
The app provides a private and safe platform especially for women who are afraid of stalkers, their families getting to know and just empowers them to find love, while maintaining privacy, and integrity of their identity.
The couple who found love while speaking to each other over the phone and who now have a 3- month-old daughter, through their other baby -; SwoonMe would like others to experience the same joy without the pressures of looking good.
Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com