An Interview with Ian Bell, Founder & CEO of Tingle

By | November 23, 2011 at 9:00 am | One comment | Interviews, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Looking for a relationship, but constantly on the go?  Many people face this problem today, what with busy work schedules and equally busy personal lives.  It’s hard to find the time to go searching for something new and exciting.  Sure, there are tons of dating websites available, but with little privacy in a bustling city like, say, Toronto even a handy laptop won’t save you.  You could also go on blind dates, but that’s just as much of a gamble.  So what’s a single man or woman supposed to do with all of these limitations?  Ian Bell might just have the answer for you.

Meet Tingle, the newest way to date.  Ian Bell, CEO of Vancouver-based AppSocial Media recently launched this mobile dating/singles lifestyle application specifically for those busy people looking for a little bit of excitement in their lives.  After a successful trial period in Vancouver and Toronto, Tingle now turns any iPhone  into an essential social networking and discovery tool for singles all across Canada.  Tingle connects singles in an engaging, safe, and serendipitous way and is designed around the needs of busy urban-dwelling professionals.

Tingle is available exclusively for the iPhone, which according to research is the most gender-balanced mobile device, and other iOS devices.  The company canvased thousands of singles and conducted in-person interviews and tests with more than 300 online daters to design Tingle.  Versions of Tingle specifically designed for iPad, BlackBerry and Android devices are in the works.

I recently got to speak with Ian about Tingle, its features and his aspirations for the future.

Erika Szabo: First off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do? What’s your experience in mobile app development?

Ian Bell: I’m a Product Manager who goes by many other titles. Right now I’m CEO of AppSocial Media, creators of Tingle, but I continue to think night and day about the product side of the business and about creating a unique and enriching experience for users. I have built a number of successful online businesses (all services) and first started building mobile apps in 2005, when that was a pretty daunting enterprise. I build products I’m passionate about and don’t have much to offer when I’m not. I designed a service called BuzMe, and later RingCentral, because I was passionate about toppling the oligopoly of the telecom business and I saw ways to make communications better for people – and Tingle is no different. I started thinking about what would become Tingle when I was a single guy, using online dating. Despite now being married, I am no less passionate today about toppling the online dating business and replacing it with something far more enjoyable and engaging.

ES: There are plenty of dating sites available today but very few on smartphones. What inspired you to want to start Tingle and why specifically for the iPhone?

IB: At the time we embarked on creating Tingle, literally the only platform which could empower the kind of service model I had envisioned was the iPhone. We actually incorporated the business and began writing code in 2009 — 7 days after Apple made Push Messaging, which is essential to creating an engaging app that allows people to call and exchange messages in realtime, available to third-party developers like us. Until that moment, Tingle would not have been even remotely possible. The iPhone remains far and away the best platform for us to build on, but we will eventually support other devices like Blackberry and Android devices.

The design for Tingle was borne of my experiences as an online dater, and those of the women I met — every one of whom expressed exasperation with the process and some kind of horror story. It became quite clear to me that the business models of every major online dating site are antithetical to the enjoyment of their users — particularly of women. This is a model that is unsustainable and the deflating effect of the emergence of free online dating sites are good evidence of that.

ES: Can you tell me a little bit more about Karma/Karma points and how they work?

IB: Karma is a currency that we created for Tingle users that does a bunch of really great things in Tingle. First, it acts as a natural governor which attributes a cost to sending messages or doing other actions within Tingle. Second, it acts as a rewards system we can use to encourage users to do good things, like checking in at a restaurant or uploading photos of themselves. It’s one of the ways we can keep Tingle free to use for folks who want to participate actively in our community, while still discouraging people from blasting messages to everyone in the community. So in essence you earn Karma for being a cool person and helping us make Tingle a vibrant, active place and you spend it when you call people and/or chat with them. Down the road you’ll probably be able to buy a drink at a bar using Karma points. As a founder of Tingle I have a lot of Karma so this will make me very popular on Friday nights, if nothing else.

ES: Much like mobile app FourSquare you have a “check-in” option available in Tingle. Why include this feature in the app?

IB: Checking in is a fun way to discover people who are at a place by seeing who’s there now or sharing stories with other people who have been there / will be there later. The process of checking in also helps singles discover what’s happening around them, and we have some very cool features in the works that will make this fun, allow people privileges like skipping the lineup to get into clubs or bars, and allow them to find places near them that perhaps they’ve never been in before. Checking in has as much to do with discovering places as it does meeting people.

Our Radar function, coming out really soon, doesn’t require you to check in and when you and another person pass within a few hundred metres of each other the system checks your search preferences to see if you’d like each other. If it determines you’re a match it will notify both of you that you’re not far away and from there you can get acquainted and take it wherever it wants to go. Despite having been an online dater, some of my best meetings as a single guy were totally serendipitous and based on shared circumstance. With Tingle we can take the sense of shared circumstance from the real world into the online world, and of course make that happen more often.

ES: There’s been some bad rep with some dating sites in terms of the kinds of people interacting on them. How do you plan on moving away from those problems and creating an app that is safe and secure?

IB: We already have. Right now our wink process acts as the big gateway function for communication. You can’t just message anyone on Tingle. You have to send them a wink first. If they like you, they’ll accept your wink or wink back… then you can talk to each other. Now let’s say that the person you’ve met turns out to be a creep or you’re no longer interested… no problem. Block them and *poof* you both cease to exist in each others’ universes (at least as far as Tingle is concerned).

There have been a handful of hookup apps in the App Store that haven’t done very well, except in the gay market. Even where users aren’t interested in building a long-term relationship just right now they don’t want to be pestered all day long by suggestive solicitations from random strangers, particularly creepy ones who know exactly where they are. Tingle is designed to avoid this. Unless you’re already in the same place as someone new they can’t see where you are, and unless you’re friends with someone on Tingle they don’t get to see your activity.

ES: So what are your long term goals with Tingle and what do you envision it be like in, say, 2-3 years?

IB: The goal is for Tingle to be deeply woven into the lives of single people in large cities all over the world. Part of this is the commitment to keep pushing the envelope and finding more ways for people to meet serendipitously. Then we can add lots of ways for them to enhance the way they get to know one another and keep track of their friends.

I have a list of features we’d like to add to Tingle that would keep our engineering team occupied for years. Your mobile phone knows a lot about you. It’s rarely more than 10 feet away from you and mediates a huge proportion of your communication. We have barely scratched the surface in terms of finding ways to discretely and safely utilize the stuff your phone can share to make the lives of single people more enjoyable.

Here’s an experience that I’d like us to empower:

You head out with your girlfriends for an evening on the town, you load up Tingle to see what’s happening. You discover within our app that there’s a drink special and a way to blow past the lineup by showing your Tingle barcode at a great new night club, so you go. When you’re in there there’s a big projection of the Tingle Activity Stream on one wall showing different people coming and going and chatting and sharing photos within the club, and when you check in and join the conversation, you see a bunch of really interesting guys are also there. You pick one, send him a wink, and he gets right back to you. Even after you leave the club, you keep the conversation going on Tingle, exchanging messages and calling — because it’s better than sharing your phone number — until you’re comfortable enough to meet his parents. Months later when he’s moving his furniture into your apartment you login to Tingle and suspend your account for now — you can reactivate it later, just in case.

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