CxO of the Week: Zach Schleien is the co-founder of Filter Off. He has run a dating blog, a paleo muffin company with his mom and a non-profit in the mental health space. He likes to create things that he's really passionate about. Currently, he is creating a dating app. Because creating connections and things that people find valuable is super important to him, and everything is going digital today, his online speed dating app helps in creating authentic connection through digital technology. On the side, he loves nutrition, working out and creating cool things.
We had a conversation with him about his recent venture. Here are the excerpts of the interview
Tell me about the app, Filter Off and its unique features?
Filter off is a video speed dating app. How it works is, let's say you're in India, you may have a local event, a virtual speeding event in Mumbai, and then there may also be an interest-based event around, let's say cricket. So you could get into any of these events. What happens next is, say the event is at seven. So you are ready before seven, and beforehand you can't see their photos. They are blurred, but you can see your date’s fun facts.
And when seven o'clock rolls around, you click on start video and you go into a video chat with your date for 90 seconds. So it's a speed date. At the end of the 90 seconds you choose if you want to pass or if you like them and if it's mutual and both of you like each other, you're entered into a match where you could then send text messages or video messages.
So what makes it unique that it's video first and it's an efficient way to date as it allows you to see whether you romantically connect with this individual and really vibe just from the start.
How did you come up with the idea of Filter Off?
I would go on dates and quickly realize that I didn't vibe with that individual. So I started asking women if they wanted to video chat before going on the date. And many actually said no, but, it was important to me to see if I'd do it. So I just wanted to create a safe dating app where it was the norm to video first and that's how Filter Off was born and the inspiration behind it.
Online Dating can be time and energy-consuming, how does the app solve that problem?
That's my point. For other online dating apps, you swipe and match. You have first of all have to get ready for the date. Then you may have to take the subway or Uber to get to your date spot. Later you have to pay and all of this takes a minimum hour. It is a long process and if you quickly realize you are not a fit, it is a waste of time. You could have been doing something else, hanging out with friends, hanging out with family, going on another date.
So filter off just is very efficient cause there's no swiping, there's no back and forth messaging. It cuts all of that. And it's video first and there's really no hiding behind your profile. You have to show who you really are and see if you vibe with that individual on your speed date. So I think it really does allow for a really efficient way of dating.
The app came out in India in February 2020, how are you competing with competitors that already have a large market?
There are lots of dating apps on the market and many people have more than one dating app. Here, we are an option in video dating. We want to be known as the app in the video dating space because we are creating authentic connections and providing efficiency.
And how do we compete with large markets? We create a great product.
I think now is the perfect time to embrace video. With this pandemic, people are now more culturally comfortable being on video with strangers as well. So I think now is the time. We've really seen a lot of growth during these last couple of months.
How do you plan to capture the hearts of the Indian consumer?
I have a strong connection with India. Even though I am from New York City, a lot of my friends were from India. I really got to know the culture when I was in college. I loved it and the values of family and strong, authentic relationships and connection. And that's really what Filter Off is about.
I have travelled all over the country. India is very important to me. And I wanted to bring filter off to India because I think our values are very relatable. So I'm really excited to bring a chair to the country. We have people now actually using the app in India.
India will be relatively new to the app, how do you plan on reaching out to the people who don't have anyone in their locality?
India is a huge country and a lot of our events are location-based. If you're in Mumbai, you could date other singles in Mumbai. But we're really excited about launching a new feature in the next one to two weeks- Quarantine Dating.
This allows anyone throughout the world to date romantically, even if no one's around them. So you could join this event and you will have speed dates all around the world. And it is really important, especially during this time that you can connect with anyone, anywhere you are. And that's a value of Filter Off. The hope is, as Filter Off continues to grow you can still join local dating events. But since we are relatively new, we are going to rely on these large global events.
People are captured inside, what do you think online dating can lead to something serious or is it just teasing boredom?
Wherever you are, whether you're Indian or not Indian, everyone wants connection. And even with online dating, I think it will lead to a romantic connection. Because that is important for all people. And seriousness is to be determined, right? Because that's the hope that after the pandemic and after the lockdown ends you will meet in-person. And that’s the whole point of Filter Off. Obviously right now it is all virtual but even in normal dating, it’s not about just jumping on out of boredom.
It is not just quote-unquote swiping to see if people swipe back on you. It takes a little bit of effort to go on video and actually talk to someone. You can't just do this like in your bathroom like on a typical swiping app. So I think it really will lead to serious relationships post lockdown.
Online is still not as safe as people would like. How are you making social encounters safe?
Safety is super important to Filter Off. But again, it's user discretion. Like, go with your gut feeling. If you're meeting someone in person, you should share your information with your friends. If you are going somewhere, meet in a public setting when the lockdown ends. That's just a couple of tips. But, when it comes to safety, Filter Off is a video first. You can't hide behind an old photo of yourself or an edited photo of yourself because it is video. There is no filter. That's why it's called filter off.
So I think I can't pledge that it will lead to safety, but we do everything in our power to try and make it the safest dating app as possible. And I think with video first it allows you to see who that person is. There is no catfishing when it comes down to us. Again just going with your guide and being smart, that's on the individual.
Still, safety is really important to us. And we also have like reporting features and we're adding more robust reporting features as well. If you have a date that does some type of misbehaviour, you can report it to us.
How do you make sure that the app is Privacy-first and not compromising user data?
We encrypt in transit and at rest.
Tell us about your user base.
We don't disclose specific numbers, but the app has had a 300% increase since the pandemic. The ratio is 55% men 45% women. Out of the total numbers, 48% of the users are on the app every week.
While a lot of companies will be struggling, what are your views on the online dating industry?
Online dating has never been more popular. I also see a new paradigm is coming into place: which is video dating.
For example, when Tinder first came out, most people were uncomfortable sharing that they're on a dating app. Then Tinder really pushed that culturally along and allowed for social acceptance of online dating. And with this pandemic, as bad as it is, it has pushed the culture around video and video dating. People are now adopting and feeling comfortable going on video dating.
So, I think now is the time for video and I think the video is here to stay because people love connection when it comes to dating in general or friendship in general.
What is your monetization model? Tell us about the events.
We charge organizers and brands to sponsor or host private speed dating events on the app. There are 500+ people on some events. Once we roll out global dating quarantined singles date night, we expect that number to even be much higher.
What is your success mantra?
I think it's just to live a very balanced life. Eat really well, sleep well, and meditate. It's having a planned life but allowing you for spontaneity as well. I think it comes down to friendships, relationships, dating, health, nutrition, all of that. It's a full circle.
And I work on myself every day. You don't know what the end result is going to be, but you have the control on the process of things. Once you take responsibility for your life, you feel powerful. So, it's really important just to be a good person and live a balanced life in all areas.
How do you learn, Zach?
I learn best by just doing so. Theory is hard for me. I need to actually do a real problem, work on a real project and that's how I've learned best; by being curious.
What do you do in your spare time?
I like to cook. I like to work out, I like to read, to travel, listen to podcasts, learn, and spend time with my dad.
What are you currently reading?
I was currently reading the book “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight. I really like memoirs and to see people that have struggled and been able to make it.
Have you found your better half through Filter Off?
Not yet, but once I do, I'll let you know. (and he chuckles)
What are your opinions on digitalisation and how did you drive the digital vehicle to success?
Everything is now going to a digital world. I mean, pre-pandemic, it was an outpost even more so. I think people, of all ages, are just getting more comfortable with digital. So I think especially with dating apps, video dating on filter off people are just more comfortable.
It was good to know about the app. If you are using the app, (or plan to), let us know your views below.
For previous week's CxO interview of Manoj Kohli, Soft Bank, click here.