Call them the anti-Tinders. A new crop of dating apps and websites is helping people find true love in some rather unconventional ways.

Instead of dates, some match you with therapists and trainers. Others let you reach out to people who hate the same things you do. While their methods might be unusual, all of them focus on making authentic connections, prioritizing long-lasting compatibility over appearances.

Ona

Co-founder Mark Zuppe will tell you he created this app after seeing his brother struggle to find a date.

“My brother John has been failing at online dating for over 10 years,” says the WeWork Grand Central member. “He’s 40 now and for him it’s a big game. When I ended up talking to friends, I saw his situation being replicated.”

Zuppe says that Ona is about making online dating human again. Instead of swiping to connect with other singles, you’re actually swiping to connect to a specialist who can help you get better at dating.

“Think of Ona like a trainer, someone who can coach you like a personal trainer or nutritionist would,” says Zuppe. “We take a very different approach. You download us to work with a dating coach, licensed therapist, matchmaker, or dating consultant, and we broker the services.”

Services like that of a dating consultant, who can tell you what to wear on a first date and how to improve your profile, can range from $75 to $200 for one to two sessions.

“There was a time when meeting someone new was fun,” says Zuppe. “Courting used to make your heart race, but today when you ask someone what dating is like in New York, they say it’s terrible. What it comes down to is that people are socially isolated.”

Hater

Brendan Alper had a great idea for a comedy sketch: a dating tool that matches people based on things they can’t stand. He transformed his idea into Hater, a brand new app that matches people who share dislikes.

A former Goldman Sachs employee who quit his job to follow his dream of becoming a comedy writer, Alper was familiar with Tinder. He thought it was boring, and figured he’d try to create one himself.

“I had no idea what I was doing, but at WeWork I was surrounded by designers, legal experts, and marketing people,” says Alper. “Little by little I kept learn and doing.”

Hater, which launched on February 8, displays randomly generated topics like “dogs,” “slow walkers,” or “the election of 2016.” Users swipe in one of four directions to register their dislike, hate, love, or neutral feelings. Based on how you swipe, the app computes your personality profile.

That might sounds unscientific, but studies shows that hating the same things is a better predictor of compatibility than liking the same things. “You are more likely to feel a closer bond with them,” says Alper.

The three topics men and women most dislike on Hater might surprise you. They are “drain hair,” “bad sidewalk etiquette,” and the “presidential election of 2016.” The most polarizing topics for users? Buying expensive toilet paper and taking butt selfies.

Ferndate

Branding is a word most often associated with business, but Ferndate is applying it to dating profiles.

“Oftentimes people will come in and say ‘I feel like I am a pretty normal guy, why aren’t I meeting the right person?’ We help people put their best image forward and best photos online,” says founder Ladan Radafshar.

Radafshar will look at a new client’s internet dating profile, ask them to talk about themselves, and go from there.

Many people don’t have enough photos for their profile, or they only have one from 10 years ago. Her team sets up a professional photo shoot for people in their element, whether that’s hiking or going to a favorite spot.

“It’s giving them a little bit of a helping hand and making them more visible online,” says the WeWork Custom House member. “It’s been a passion of mine, and I have been helping friends and coworkers for the past 10 years.”

The former social media specialist for Nike met her boyfriend on the internet and noticed while her experience was a positive one, many of her friends found it a struggle.

“I want everyone to be happy,” Radafshar says. “And if I can lend any insight, it is something I love to do.”

Blur

The location-based dating app keeps the profile picture of someone you’re interested in out of focus until you answer some simple questions that measure personality, interests, and compatibility. After answering five to seven questions, you can clearly see your potential Romeo or Juliet.

“We wanted to create an app that would lead to meaningful connections,” says Justin Jia, founder of Blur. “Since I’m an engineer, I think people connect best based on their inner, not outer, beauty. My wife and I have a lot of shared interests—we are big foodies and love to snowboard—but I always joke we would never have met on Tinder because she’s really beautiful.”

Jia also wants dating to be fun. The app is “built like a game,” modeled after Buzzfeed-style quizzes with questions like “Are you a cat person or a dog person?” and “Do you prefer NY or LA?” (Beware New Yorkers: some 91% of people on Blur answer “LA.”)

Launched last December, the platform already has about 2,000 users, 60 percent male and 40 percent female.

“I came from here from China to get a Master’s degree in computer science,” says Jia, a WeWork Gas Tower member. “So many of my good friends have good incomes and good educations, but they feel lonely and can’t find someone compatible. The idea for Blur was to help them.”

Seven years ago, Allbirds co-founder Tim Brown was living a very different life. A professional soccer player in New Zealand, Brown was on the brink of retirement from the game with only an inkling of what might come next. But that inkling became a product that is the backbone of a reportedly $1.4 billion business.

While playing soccer, Brown found himself yearning for a sneaker that was simpler than the ones he wore on the field—one that was as straightforward in its design as it was to manufacture. As it turned out, it didn’t exist. Could Brown create one?

“I literally went on Google, found a shoe factory, and visited it in the middle of one of my off-seasons, just because I was curious,” Brown told Benjamin Landy, senior editor at Vanity Fair’s The Hive, during a recent talk at Made by We in New York. “This whole thing really started as a curiosity project—to solve a problem that was only my own.”

Enter Allbirds, which in just three short years has spearheaded the direct-to-consumer (DTC) retail disruption. For Brown and his co-founder, biotechnology engineer Joey Zwillinger, less has always been more. The sneaker startup launched with just one product (its now-signature Wool Runners) largely composed of one material (wool) sourced from Brown’s native New Zealand. It didn’t release a second shoe until a year later, and a third and fourth a year after that. Today, Allbirds has grown to more than 200 employees, moving into a 13,000-square-foot headquarters in San Francisco’s Jackson Square neighborhood last fall.

Brown says none of this would be possible if Allbirds hadn’t committed to simplicity from the beginning. But no matter what stage a business is in, entrepreneurs can incorporate that mind-set into their own operations. Here’s how.

Benjamin Landy (left) and Tim Brown (right) pose together after their discussion about building Allbirds’s business from the ground up.

Seek answers to simple questions. Brown stumbled into the world of footwear when he wondered why the simplest things were the way they were—and wasn’t satisfied by the responses he received.

“I started asking really, really simple questions, and no one could give me a good answer, like, ‘What’s a size 9?’ ‘Well, it depends. It’s different for Adidas and it’s different for Nike,’” he remembers. “I was going down this rabbit hole of understanding the industry through fresh eyes.”

Brown claims that his and Zwillinger’s inexperience became a competitive advantage as they worked to clarify some of the more convoluted aspects of traditional footwear, like, yes, sizing.

Don’t overcomplicate gut decisions. Before teaming up with Zwillinger, Brown enrolled in a 10-week entrepreneurship course at Northwestern University, where he began to hone his idea for a wool sneaker. His professor wasn’t convinced by the concept but, witnessing Brown’s drive, encouraged him to pursue it.

“‘For whatever reason, of all the other 50 young people in this class, you seem to be driven to try to solve this particular problem, so you should throw it out into the world,’” Brown recalls him saying.

That gut-check led Brown to move past his initial doubts, but it wasn’t until he teamed up with Zwillinger that the pair decided to build Allbirds full-time. They made the decision to launch the company over the course of just one weekend spent together in San Francisco.

“It was one of those quick decisions—usually the best ones are,” says Brown. “We made that decision without raising any money, but we decided that the vision was big and we wanted it to have a maximum impact.”

Live or die by doing one or two things exceptionally well. In retail, the direct-to-consumer experience is all about specialization. Allbirds brand launched with just one shoe and sold that same one shoe for the first 14 months. To even get to that point, though, Brown recalls the product going through “more than 200” tweaks and variations.

“That insane focus is probably something more akin to a specialist butcher, or a florist, or a cheesemonger,” he says. “We were coming in to solve a particular problem and we were going to curate our experience in a very, very specific way. We were going to live and die by that solution.”

Do more by delegating. When Allbirds raised its first round of funding in 2015 and the company began to scale, Brown and Zwillinger were still touching every nook and cranny of the business, from answering phones to packing shipments. That couldn’t last.

“The idea is that you hire really smart people who know what they’re doing better than you, and you’ve got to somehow find a way to do more by letting go,” says Brown. “I think anyone who’s been through that process probably finds it a little bit hard. “

Make business decisions simply because they’re the right thing to do. Allbirds’ shoes are sustainably crafted throughout every step of the process, from the Merino wool that’s sheared in New Zealand to the final pair of shoes that hit the shop floor. But Brown argues that’s hardly the most interesting thing about the company.

“Don’t make a sustainable product. Make a great product and make it as sustainable as possible, and look for the competitive advantages where you can do that,” says Brown. With the reality of climate change, Brown believes businesses must be part of the solution by finding better ways to make the things we use. “If we can put a man on the moon, we can find a way to make a T-shirt more sustainably.”

Get comfortable with the word “no.” Brown attributes the brand’s success to saying no to “97 percent of things”—97 percent of opportunities and partnerships and meetings and coffees—so as not to stray from the path he and Zwillinger forged back in 2015.

On the micro level, that includes setting up boundaries between their work and the rest of their lives. Particularly because both co-founders are new fathers, this has been of utmost importance as Allbirds has scaled. “There’s always going to be too many things on your to-do list, says Brown. “Work out which ones you should be doing and give it your best shot throughout the week. When it comes to the end of the day on Friday, park it. Try to keep something that’s very, very complicated very, very simple.”

Photos by Liz Devine/The We Company

The odds didn’t start out in Marcus Samuelsson’s favor. Orphaned at 3 when a tuberculosis epidemic in his birthplace of Ethiopia took his mother, Samuelsson and his older sister were eventually adopted by a Swedish family. But, as the chef and restaurateur put it during the “Team Awesome” session at WeWork’s Global Summit in Los Angeles in January, “sometimes the worst thing that ever happened to you can be the best thing that ever happened to you.”

Not only did this life-changing event take him from a place where food was scarce to where it was abundant, Samuelsson says, but he and his sister found a home with an eclectic brood of different faces and personalities (including a grandmother who taught him to forage and use the best parts of the land for sustenance). This environment forever put him at ease around people of different backgrounds, and also instilled in him a lack of fear of failing or asking for help—which proved useful when Samuelsson eventually launched his restaurant business.

Samuelsson says his upbringing is why he gravitates toward open-minded and forward-thinking people. As a young man, he worked his way up the ranks in some of Europe’s toughest kitchens before breaking into the New York City restaurant scene. There he connected with Andrew Chapman, his eventual restaurant co-founder and investor. When the celebrity-chef trend hit big in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the two of them hatched a plan to open an eclectic comfort-food restaurant in Harlem that was about more than “filling your restaurant with more than the 1 percent of the 1 percent,” he says, a place “where people of all colors and beliefs can come.”

“Entrepreneurship is about how high are you willing to dream, how low are you willing to go, and can you execute?” says Marcus Samuelsson.

So Samuelsson made the leap—going from executive chef at Aquavit to opening Red Rooster uptown on Malcolm X Boulevard. “Entrepreneurship is about how high are you willing to dream, how low are you willing to go, and can you execute?” Samuelsson says. “Urban America operates with tons of entrepreneurs. Living in the community made me extremely aware of this.”

Samuelsson was more than willing, but he admits there were rough spots: He remembers being intimidated to seek out an established architect or designer because of their limited budget. So he reached out to other small-business entrepreneurs, asking for their help with these searches as a cost-cutting measure that would yield exposure and clients for everyone involved.

Samuelsson and Chapman knew it wasn’t enough to have delicious, innovative food—with Red Rooster, they also wanted to move the media needle. So they hosted dinners for brands like Nike and Bon Appetit magazine. They also started a food website, Samuelsson says, rather than wait for the occasional drop-in from The New York Times and other mainstream outlets. “Most black narratives and conversations aren’t told by us; they’re told by others,” he says. “It was important for us to do our own storytelling.

Red Rooster opened in December 2010, and in short order, it became a favorite destination for locals and celebrities and created jobs for the people who live there. Nearly 10 years later, Samuelsson says that 60 to 70 percent of Red Rooster’s staff still lives in the area. Attributes he looks for in team members include “passion and a level of attitude [that they] bring to the table.”

“You take the staff with you on your journey,” Samuelsson says of his team. “Building the tribe [is important], but also taking people with you is key. And listening to the staff.”

Samuelsson notes that Red Rooster and the WeWork Harlem location have something in common: “WeWork isn’t just improving your community; it’s about building other communities,” and likewise, “the good thing about a restaurant is you touch more communities. Breaking bread will always be a fresh idea.”

“As [society] gets more tech-savvy and as we get more people on the fringes not talking to each other, this idea of making stuff, telling stories through food, and listening to different narratives—that is still an incredible idea,” Samuelsson says.

It’s one that keeps Samuelsson busy. “You can never sleep on your business,” he says. “You have to have this constant idea of ‘how can I work in my business?’”

Luckily, Samuelsson can always find the good, even in the bad.

While its millions of customers were looking for romance, one of the largest online dating apps in the U.S. changed its status to “in a relationship.”

Hinge, a dating app that says it’s “designed to be deleted,” announced a couple of days before Valentine’s Day that it is now wholly owned by Match Group. The terms of the sale were not disclosed.

This news means that almost all the big-name dating apps—including Match, Tinder, and OkCupid—are now owned by the same company. The only major player Match Group hasn’t scooped up is Bumble, where women are the first to swipe right. (Match Group sued Bumble last year, alleging that it stole its intellectual property; Bumble countersued for harassment.)

All this consolidation isn’t necessarily bad news for those looking for love. Match Group has been hands-off with the companies it acquires, encouraging them to maintain their own cultures. Each of the companies it’s bought attracts a certain demographic—Hinge, for example, does well with urban, educated millennial women—that Match Group wants to capture.

Tim MacGougan, chief product officer at Hinge, says Match Group made it clear it wants Hinge to be distinctive from the rest of its portfolio.

“Tinder celebrates single life,” he says. “Match feels matrimonial. Hinge is different. Our members are people in their 20s and 30s who are looking for meaningful connections with other people.”

Breaking away from the pack

In two separate panel discussions held this week at WeWork—one hosted by Flatiron School, the other co-sponsored by the nonprofit Out in Tech—engineers, executives, and founders of a range of dating apps talked about how they distinguish themselves in an increasingly crowded field. Hinge, for instance, considers itself an expert on what makes a good date. It even reimburses its employees up to $200 a month if they’ll post about their dates on the app.

“People here have been very creative,” McGougan says. “They try something new and share it with our members.”

Hinge, which has had an estimated 3 million downloads, even sends followups to members who have met through the app, asking how things went. This information will eventually allow it to make better matches.

At OkCupid, the staff puts a lot of effort into making sure members are compatible before they even meet. It asks members hard-hitting questions that might be a deal-breaker for others scanning their profile. One example: “Is climate change real?”

“In the past few years, people have shown they care a lot about politics,” says engineering manager Jordan Guggenheim. “So we have been asking members questions like, ‘Do you prefer that your date shares your political views?’”

It’s a hot-button topic, but one that reveals a lot about people. “These simple questions carry a lot of weight in terms of who people choose to date long-term,” Guggenheim says.

Guggenheim—a graduate of Flatiron School—says he’s proud that the company remains ahead of the curve on issues like gender identity.

“We absolutely take the stance that we support more than the binary gender options,” he says. “We were one of the first apps to offer 22 different genders and 12 different orientations. We want you to be able to best express how you identify.”

Creating a safe space

As the larger apps are all being gobbled up by the same parent company, smaller apps see a chance to distinguish themselves.

Morgen Bromell, CEO of a newly relaunched dating app “for queer people of all genders” called Thurst, appreciates that mainstream platforms are becoming more inclusive. But being able to check a box isn’t enough.

“I was bummed that there wasn’t a platform for queer people, trans people, and nonbinary people,” says Bromell. “We needed a place where people didn’t feel fetishized, where they wouldn’t be targeted for who they are.”

“I want to dispel the idea that the relationships you make on an app are less important than those you make in person,” says Thurst CEO Morgen Bromell.

Bromell launched a beta version of the app in 2016, but almost immediately, trolls lashed out at users. The team spent the next year working on creating a more secure space for their community.

As the app has developed, it’s also become a social network where members create close friendships.

“I want to dispel the idea that the relationships you make on an app are less important than those you make in person,” says Bromell. “A relationship you start online can be just as valuable.”

Eric Silverberg, CEO of Scruff, says that the gay dating app fulfills several different purposes.

“Is Scruff a hookup app? Yes, absolutely,” he says. “Is it a social network? Yes, absolutely. And it’s everything in between.”

When the platform launched in 2010, Scruff was among the first gay dating apps. The field has gotten a lot more crowded since then, so Silverberg has to keep attracting members with new features.

“We’ve been beta testing a live queer quiz show on its app called ‘Hosting,’” he says. “When we saw HQ launch a little over a year ago, it got us excited about the notion of doing something live. What if we got everyone on Scruff to log on at the same time and have a shared experience?”

Silverberg says that the app’s most important function is perhaps to be a kind of virtual community center, providing its members with access to information they might not otherwise know how to find.

“We’re very proud of the fact that Scruff has partnered with thousands of LGBTQ nonprofits and health organizations to get their messages in front of our community,” he says. “One of our responsibilities to the gay and queer community is to forge those connections.”

Photos by Frank Mullaney

It’s not every day that the assistant who welcomes you to a meeting is furry and walks on all fours. But on the day I meet Marigay McKee inside her bustling WeWork space on Manhattan’s Park Avenue, McKee’s 4-year-old black border terrier named Sutter greets me just before her owner.

It’s a warm welcome, but I’m really here to catch up with McKee, whose two-decade-plus career as a corporate retail executive changed course in 2016 when she decided to launch her own luxury consultancy, MM Luxe Consulting, and later, venture-capital firm Fernbrook.

No stranger to the demands of a busy schedule, the British expat worked as the president of Saks Fifth Avenue for just over a year, leaving by 2015 due to cultural differences. Before that, she spent 15 years as chief merchant at iconic London department store Harrods. (Fun fact: During her time at Harrods, McKee makes a cameo on the U.K. version of “The Apprentice”—season one, episode four, should you be interested.) Those roles are part of the reason McKee welcomes the move away from 14-hour workdays to those perhaps slightly shorter, with more flexibility, and on this particular day, dog-friendly workspaces.

At first, MM Luxe brought her to “small-scale endeavors,” as McKee describes them, in the beauty and fashion retail worlds.. Eventually, she landed larger, more lucrative accounts, like the $25 billion Hudson Yards redevelopment project, which includes commercial and residential properties.

It’s fitting that our conversation is taking place inside a glass conference room, acting as a sort of reverse fishbowl; we see other WeWork members jaunting from their offices to take phone meetings and coffee chats in the lively kitchen area. The commotion is just the kind of energy rush she lives for these days. (It also happens to be a place better suited to take meetings than her townhouse, where she started MM Luxe. In 2018 alone, MM Luxe met with 200 companies inside WeWork and invested in 11 of them.)

“I said to my team—they’re 25, 26, and 27, ‘Let’s go to this building on Fifth [Avenue,]’ which is tiny and very expensive, and they said, ‘Let’s go to WeWork,’” McKee remembers. By 2017, the MM Luxe team (and soon after, Fernbrook) would set up shop in there. “I love being able to work with young people, surrounded by young people, where someone will knock on the window and ask me to give them advice,” she says. “For me, 50 is the new 30. I lead a younger life now than I did 20 years ago.”

How so? For one thing, she’s spent the past six years adding to a list of athletic accomplishments that would make anyone feel lazy, including trekking through the Himalayas and climbing Mounts Kilimanjaro and Everest. She’s an avid SoulCycler, has traded in her morning scones for organic granola, and insists that transcendental meditation is a requisite for her mental health.

She’s also a fan of any number of shorthand mnemonic devices and acronyms to help her keep track of to-do tasks and decide in whom and what she’d like to invest. There are the five “P’s” she manages at Fernbrook: “People, positioning, pricing, place, and of course, product.”

There are also the “E’s” and “S’s” of retail: “experience, environment, and emotion,” plus “selection, service, substance, special, and streamlined, together with a solid digital backdrop.” Finally, the five “H’s” of people in whom she decides to invest: “hard work, humility, honesty, and sense of humor. Oh, and humble, too.”

These are the kinds of principles McKee, who said she wanted to go into business for herself after spending decades serving the needs of billion-dollar companies in which she wasn’t figuratively invested, applies to her work today. Taking the plunge toward self-employment would be daunting for anyone, but McKee says she had three or four clients ready to work with MM Luxe before she even left Saks, making the transition from corporate to startup life frictionless.

After MM Luxe found its footing in early 2018, McKee decided her consulting work, generally limited to the retail world, also limited what she could have an impact on. McKee’s husband, an investment banker and lawyer, planted the seed. “‘Marigay, you’re generating cash and you’re doing well, but you’re not creating wealth,’” she remembers him saying. “I thought, he’s right. I need to do a fund where I can invest in all the young brands and young talent that can’t afford to have me as a consultant, but where I can be a free consultant to them if I invest in their brand.”

Although McKee has broadened her scope as a venture capitalist outside the retail world (Fernbrook invests in everything from vegan cafés to artificial intelligence), her retail consulting work allows her to keep her finger on the culture. McKee believes the traditional department store won’t totally die off, though it will need to be reinvented; and while retail will move primarily online, brands will need to exist in the physical world (see the three “E’s” for the reasons why). Concept stores that are “destinations” will flourish, she says, and stores that exude a private-club feel will be better off than those that don’t.

If MM Luxe is her firstborn, Fernbrook, she hopes, will solidify her legacy. McKee co-manages Fernbrook with Bill Detwiler, her partner, and the two are raising a round of seed funding to support their portfolio of a little over a dozen companies.

“I’m in the middle of raising a $50 million fund, and that just sounds so grownup to me,” McKee says. “I never even thought I was grown up enough to go on a board,” noting that she serves on two in New York: cultural center the Shed and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, commonly called The Center. “When they asked me, I thought, ‘Am I old enough to do this?’”

Age notwithstanding, McKee has not only reimagined where she sees herself going—with at least another 10 to 15 years building Fernbrook, she says—but how she plans on getting there.

“Gone are the days someone works in an office from 9 until 6 for 30 years, takes their two-week holiday every year, and goes to the same supermarket,” McKee says. “Variety is the spice of life, and life is getting more spicy.”

Photo courtesy of Marigay McKee