Behind the Swipes: An Interview with JSwipe Founder David Yarus

By: Tova Muss  |  March 15, 2016
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As the saying goes, some ideas are more swipe-right-worthy than others. Such a sentiment has been made popular since the 2014 founding of JSwipe, a Jewish dating app created by David Yarus in 2014, is the quintessential example.

When JSwipe made its debut, those with knowledge of Jewish society and culture were reluctant to accept that JSwipe was the next heir to the throne of methods of finding love, and they betted against its success. The morality of dating apps in society at large is up for debate; factor in that it’s a Jewish dating app, and the distaste to the “hookup app” stigma gets multiplied by twenty.

It’s a traditional Jewish belief that dating should serve the purpose of finding a marriage partner. However, the observance spectrum is broad, and many Jews don’t practice such restrictive guidelines.

It seemed that those liberals were the target market for JSwipe. But even that specific demographic was reluctant to jump right in out of fear that their reputation would be tainted if seen by someone they know on a hookup app. “When I go on JSwipe, all I see are my camp friends and cousins,” an anonymous JSwipe user told The Observer.  The tight-knit nature of the Jewish world means that no presence on JSwipe goes under the radar.

The pool of possible users seemed shallow and insufficient to sustain the platform’s growth, and its death seemed imminent. But in recent months, JSwipe’s user base has grown exponentially. And that success is not a reflection of the community’s lowering of standards, rather that the hookup stigma of the app seems to be wearing off.

Some of the progress is a result of organic cultural acceptance over time. JSwipe’s marketing strategy has accelerated the process of turning online dating more mainstream in the Jewish community.

My fascination with JSwipe’s marketing strategy got out of bed early one Monday morning (very out of character) to stop by the JSwipe headquarters and chat with founder David Yarus. In addition to discussing JSwipe’s marketing strategy, conversation touched on product development, David’s personal career path, and advice to college students.

Observer: How did you discover your interests?

David Yarus: It started when I was in high school. I was throwing events and parties. I would rent out a venue and promote it to my peers in high school. After I graduated, I continued hosting parties in college. I would have hundreds of people a week come to these parties, and we would bring together college students from all over. I loved building community and space for meeting. That evolved into a marketing agency, because eventually the parties started getting sponsored. I loved working with the brands, but as I got closer to graduation I knew I didn’t want to be an event planner my whole life. What I did was, I just basically took out the event piece and kept the brand of marketing to students. I called it Buzz University which evolved into what I do today.

O: Marketing for JSwipe is sort of where your skills intersect. Can you tell me about how you marketed JSwipe when you first launched?

DY: My business partners and I had read a book called Contagious, which is about how ideas spread. It was inspiring to us in thinking through the way we designed the product and designing the marketing in a way that it would be talked about. Everything about it and everything related to the user experience was thought through in a way that we would get people to share it, either because it’s funny or because it’s ridiculous.

We launched it on Passover [of 2014]. And the entire year we used a lot of Facebook ads to boost it and get it out there while everyone was at home so that when they went back to their families or their college campuses, they would talk about it there. We would always use a playful, kind of funny, kind of ridiculous tone so it made people not intimidated, which took a serious thing and made it more of a cultural thing. By doing that, I think we got a lot of users who may not have otherwise downloaded it.

O: How did you deal with the stigma?

DY: We didn’t have big competitors, because JDate had not innovated in a while, and there was another Jewish swipe app, but it was poorly executed. But there was still a dating app stigma. Tinder has kind of paved the way for that to make it mainstream.We were able to ride their wave of funny, mainstream millennials using dating technology to connect and find love.

O: Does the tight-knit nature of the Jewish community affect growth?

DY: Seeing each other, seeing your friends from camp, was helpful for us even though people may not have enjoyed it. There’s a feature that we introduced right away that you can turn off friends. So you can be discoverable or not discoverable by friends—you can have your Facebook friends be able to see you or not see you. If anything, it’s almost socially validating of the platform when you see people that you know on it; it makes it less intimidating for you to be on it.

O: What are your feelings about the recent lawsuit and acquisition of JSwipe by JDate?

DY: They are genuinely good. They are just business people trying to protect their business. Is it my favorite scenario? Of course not. But everything that happens is for the platform to grow.

O: Is the product development still in their hands?

DY: We’ll oversee for the next two years.

O: What recent innovations have you made?

DY: Last week we introduced super swipes, which is a feature that will help people stand out and add personality to the user experience by adding an emoji to your swipe. There is only one a day, so as you’re swiping through and you want to show someone that they’re more than just a right swipe because you have unlimited right swipes, you can use your super swipe and personalize it to give your swipe personality.

O: Have you ever considered partnering with a genetic testing organization so that genetic compatibility is pre-screened before profiles come up on JSwipe?

DY: We talked a little to JScreen, and at first I didn’t realize what they were. I thought they were some kind of shot. I thought they were going to give me shots, and I’m scared of shots! But it turned out to be just a cheek swab, so it was less scary for me.

I do like the idea of the organization and what they’re doing. The challenge for us is how to do this in a way that doesn’t come off too intense. One of the things for us that is obviously different for the Yeshiva University community, is that other than having a Jewish dating app and being called JSwipe, we have no agenda. We don’t care what you know about Judaism, how you keep it, we don’t care really anything about your Jewish life other than you are using our technology to seek out someone Jewish. In that, we’ve been able to attract a really robust, really well-rounded sampling from unbelievably diverse communities in contrast to other organizations who alienate parts of the community.

If you look at our social media presence, you will see that we push the line, we say things that pretty much any other Jewish organizations could never say. Because of that flexibility we have with ourselves, we are able to attract a wider audience. Therefore, anytime companies reach out to us for partnerships, be it events or in this case [collaborating with JScreen], a more organizational partnership, the lens we think though is how this would impact our sort of mutual stance within the Jewish world and not come off as too Jewish or pushy.

We have thought about it and I’ve been interested in it, but now we are thinking about incorporating a way that’s not intimidating or scary.

O: What doesn’t come up when you Google JSwipe that you think is important to know?

DY: All the engagements and marriages that have been happening so far. Lots of people invite us to weddings. It’s tough because the only times we know [about them] is when people email us. But that’s a small fraction, because most JSwipe couples don’t think we want to know, but we do! When any other business is successful, they get repeat business, but when we’re successful, our users will delete us. And not all of them will reach out and let us know that they are dating. They will only reach out when they get engaged, but it’s definitely under 50 percent of the actual people who have. I wish there was a way to find that number out on Google.

O: Do you have any advice for college students?

DY: Go find alternate ways to land your dream job. I believe that everyone can land their dream job, they just have to A) believe that, and B) make it happen. And it’s not going to be through the job board or through the posting or through the career center. Maybe, but there are 6 million people a year trying to do that, versus getting creative and going out, meeting people, using networking opportunities or conferences and meet-ups to develop their network, to develop their understanding of the industry, and then leap frog everyone else who’s trying to go through the typical methodology.

O: Can you elaborate on the ways students can get creative with networking?

DY: One should follow a couple of steps to land their dream job. First, make your personal brand on social media look fresh. Clean it up, make sure you’re not posting anything stupid. Make sure you’re posting enough insightful articles to make people—at the very least—think you’re insightful. Then, systematically outreach the the executives of your dream company. So put together a list of your five dream companies and their top 10 executives’ Twitter accounts. Follow all of them. Retweet them once in awhile, favorite their tweets once in awhile. And then when the time seems right, go in for the kill by asking them for coffee, asking them for advice, asking them to answer a particular question you’re working with. Theoretically, 50-80 percent won’t respond now, but there’s still the remaining 20 percent of the executives of your dream companies who might, and that’s the way in.

If David is the executive of your dream company, you can find him on Twitter at @DavidYarus. Alternatively, you can go mainstream and email intern@mlln.nl to find out more information about summer internships.

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