- "Teens are no longer hanging out at the mall on the weekends; they're online. And the internet is a very powerful way to connect people." Tweet This
- "There are plenty of people who are actively involved in their communities and still feel like they can't find someone." Tweet This
- "Keeper is...not gamified. We're not trying to tap into your lizard brain. We are much more intentional." Tweet This
Even though Jake Kozloski was just a baby when his parents divorced, the loss of their marriage still had a major impact on him. Growing up with his single mom and seeing his dad only on weekends, he always wished his parents had stayed together. The stable family he lacked but desired as a child, along with his frustrating experiences with dating apps before he got married, are what led him to start Keeper, an online matchingmaking service with the goal of helping users get married and start a family. I recently spoke to Jake about Keeper, online dating in general, and what drives young people today to use these services to look for love (this interview has been lightly edited for clarity).
Alysse ElHage: Keeper is young, about a year old. What motivated you to start a matchmaking service?
Jake Kozloski: I started Keeper for a few reasons. I’m married. But [before that] I was on the dating apps for about a decade. I’m 29 years old. So, Tinder came out when I was a freshman in college, and I’m part of the generation that was first on the dating apps. I just felt like for people who wanted to find something serious, the mainstream apps, Tinder, Bumble, etc., were not really solving that problem effectively. I looked into matchmaking solutions as well, but it looked like most of the players in that space were pretty unethical or incredibly expensive—lots of services with fake reviews that set you up on blind dates, with people who have nothing to do with what you’re looking for. So I felt like there was a gap in the market.
Personally, the idea of creating families that are stable and strong is appealing to me [because of my parents’ divorce]. Frankly, I also think the fertility collapse is a pretty big issue. The marriage crisis is probably the primary factor in the fertility collapse because married people tend to have more babies than single people. So there are a lot of factors, but those are the main reasons I founded Keeper.
ElHage: Your web site explains that relationship science is used to help people find matches on Keeper. How do you incorporate relationship science into your services?
Kozloski: With our matching process, there are two fundamental principles. I would say that the core one is we respect individual preferences above all else, and at a much deeper level, than really any other product or service does. And so, what I mean by that is [mainstream dating apps] are gonna let you set filters on something like age, or height, or religion, or politics, whatever. And matchmakers will collect everything that matters to you, but very few have guarantees that they will actually match you with someone who meets all of those. That’s where Keeper is different.
For now, we have AI assisting humans; in the future, it's going to be completely AI. But what AI lets you do is take anything open ended that they care about, and so people literally tell us, whatever matters to them, whether that's personality or looks or values, and we will match them based on that preference. And so that element is, in my opinion, incredibly important, because people have a very broad range of things that they care about. In terms of sort of the categories of preferences that mattered to people, that was just not captured on most dating apps today.
Where the relationship science comes in is more in the second layer, which is we're going to make assumptions based on gender, or sex, as there are fundamental differences, on average, in terms of what men and women look for. Just call it evolutionary psychology—that and relationship science, these things overlap quite a bit. But basically, for men and women looking for a partner, if they don't tell us that what they explicitly are looking for, we will make assumptions based on gender. We’re baking in the male/female sex differences to our algorithm.
We are also doing psychometric testing. [We also use the] Big Five personality testing…sort of the gold standard in psychology for measuring personality….And then we match based on those and so put all that together. And we're at about 1 in 4 of every first date that we schedule [becomes] a long-term, committed relationship.
ElHage: That’s fascinating that you are able to do that. But for people, like me, who are skeptical of AI but also online dating or matchmaking in general, what would you say are the major factors that set Keeper apart from the other dating apps?
Kozloski: The main difference is we're only matching you with perfect matches, who meet everything that you're looking for. Personally, I think the reaction from more traditionally-minded people is that's just the downfall of humanity and consumer culture, sort of the ‘I want it all kind of thing.’ It's like I can go to the grocery store and get whatever brand deodorant or water I want, and I can tell this app [the kind of] husband or wife I want. I think that is just human nature; we do have specific preferences. We're sort of in this world where optionality has increased, right? We live in major cities and not to tribes; you're going to kind of have a higher baseline and a higher expectation and higher standards. You have to meet people where they are, in my opinion. I think it's actually better for everyone if you use a technology that exists today and give them what they want… So that's one core component. Another one is just our incentive structure. Every dating matchmaker out there will put you on a subscription. We don't do that. We only get paid if you have success with a marriage or first date; it's up to you which pricing structure you want to use.
ElHage: What do you think is driving the interest in dating apps? I'm old fashioned in the sense of believing people should look for a mate through church, family, friends, school. Real life. But I also have a teenager on Snapchat now. What do you think drives young people to look outside of sort of the more traditional means of finding a mate today?
Kozloski: For one, most of the social institutions for America don't exist anymore. Teens are no longer hanging out at the mall on the weekends; they're online. I don't want to make a moral argument here…I do think you have to meet people where they're at. I also think that the internet is a very powerful way to connect people. It just has a scale that you cannot achieve in real life. And there are plenty of people who are actively involved in their community and still feel like they can't find someone who is what they want. We are giving them an option that is better than the existing options—even if it's not sort of the traditional method. I think each side has its drawbacks. And so I would rather use the skills that I have to build a better tool that leverages technology.
ElHage: I think one of the lines on your website is "long-term mating not short-term gratification." So how do you ensure that's what people are doing on your site?
Kozloski: Yeah, that's definitely a big component. The fact that you pay, like there's money on the line, I think adds adds a bit to it. And kind of going back to the evolutionary psychology. Generally, men have equal interest in short and long-term mating; whereas, women tend to prioritize long-term mating much more than short term. What happens in practice? This is just sort of common sense. Kind of a cliché: men have much lower standards for short term, in general, than for long term. Whereas women's standards can vary a little bit between those, but they're just much closer together. In practice, what that means is, if a man swipes on a woman on a dating app, even if he is genuinely looking for a wife, unless he's religious, or just particularly socially conservative, he will either be looking for short term or long term, just depending on the woman. The woman doesn't know what he's looking for with her. So he might have on his profile, like "looking for a girlfriend," right, "looking for something serious." But guys in practice, even if they're looking for something serious, will still look for short-term relationships in the meantime—that's just biology. And so what happens is women go on dates with these guys, who know that they have no intention of doing anything serious with thes women, but they are not going to say that up front.
When we do user interviews with women who are on dating apps, they don't frame it in that way. But the way the women describe it it is , “Yeah, I go on dates and meet great guys, but, you know, I really just can't find a guy who [stays].” And then from the guy’s perspective, it's just like, “Yeah, I don't have trouble getting dates, but it's just really hard to find a woman [of] high caliber or quality that I would be willing to commit to.” The sad part about this is that in some cases, the more a woman goes on these dates, if she’s hooking up with a lot of these guys, it can have some negative effects for her future ability to find someone. It depends on the man, but the research is quite clear that men generally have a preference in a wife for a woman with less sexual history. So, it's just sort of this vicious cycle that's been made hyper-efficient by the dating apps.
We [try to] solve that problem, basically, because we capture what a man is looking for in a long-term partner. And we only match him with women who meet all of those things. There's also money on the line, and it's a very different user experience; it's not gamified. We're not trying to just tap into your lizard brain. We are much more intentional.