There is a notion within my previous career in filmmaking that constraints and restrictions can actually be invaluable, as they promote creativity. Without them, you can sometimes find yourself paralyzed by unlimited choice or trodding along on a well-worn hackneyed path producing tired, unoriginal work.
With my startup Kindra Connect, I learned that restrictions can also spark ideas and create opportunities in business and technology.
Kindra was formed out of the idea that there is something seriously broken with the current crop of dating apps. Studies showed that swiping apps are making people sick, depressed and lowering self esteem. One study showed that:
“...people who are on Tinder after a while may begin to feel depersonalized and disposable in their social interactions, develop heightened awareness (and criticism) of their looks and bodies and believe that there is always something better around the corner, or rather with the next swipe of their screen, even while questioning their own worth...”
Personally, I found dating apps like Tinder and Bumble frustrating. From a photo and a few words, you can determine physical attraction, but it was impossible to know if there would be any deeper connection. I couldn’t stand wasting hours on lousy dates trying to find out. There had to be a better way.
Kindra’s profile collages were designed to express a full person.
Profile collages would make it easier to tell if someone resonates with you before meeting them on a date, saving you both time. Each of the 5-11 boxes is created in response to one of Kindra’s 21 themes, which include Values, Personality, Mind, Arts, etc. Unlike swiping apps that promote a judging mentality, Kindra’s collages encourage curious exploration of another person.
Before investing in coding the Kindra app, we wanted to test the design. Would people like the collage profile style? Would people enjoy searching by theme? Would people even take the time to create collages?
Because many of my friends in Los Angeles are Burners, I reached out to the Burning Man community looking for beta testers. Immediately people asked me to make an app for the Burning Man community to help people meet and date each other in the default world.
By beginning with the Burner community, we could co-create a kinder and healthier dating culture.
We loved the idea of creating an app to serve a group of people who have already subscribed to a set of clear values (the Burning man 10 Principles) that we believed in. Moreover, we felt that by beginning with a group that embraces principles such as gifting and communal effort, we could co-create a kinder and healthier dating culture.
Tinder started in sororities and fraternities, and that beginning has informed its image-focused hookup culture today. By beginning in the Burning Man and festival communities, we could co-create a dating culture that values individuality, communication, consent, and authenticity. We could start a movement where strangers interact both online and offline with the same kindness and respect they use at Burning Man.
But like all dating apps, we faced the challenge of critical mass.
When we started beta testing Kindra, getting the first few users was easy. We just reached out to our friends and community. But like all dating apps, we faced the challenge of critical mass: we needed enough people on the app to make it viable.
Google ads didn’t provide us the interest-based targeting we needed to reach our demographic, so the obvious solution was advertising on Facebook and Instagram. Because of their powerful targeting, we could reach people who both identify as single and “like” Burning Man or other festivals. We thought that would make it easy to build and expand the Kindra Community.
We faced a huge obstacle: since 2014 Facebook has restricted advertising by dating apps.
It seemed that only dating apps owned by large companies with huge budgets were able to obtain approval to advertise on Facebook and Instagram. We applied for permission to advertise and got summarily rejected. We appealed and got rejected again. And we discovered that other dating apps may have curled up and died because of these restrictions. We were determined to make sure that didn’t happen to us.
Burners love a good party, so we decided we would spread the word about Kindra by throwing events. But we didn’t want our parties to feel like generic singles events, where it seems like everyone is judging each other and delivering pickup lines. Nor did we want them to just be a fun Burner party with great DJs.
Our goal is to create events that foster authentic human connections in line with what we are trying to do on the Kindra app.
We set out to create a playful event where people could authentically connect with each other with the possibility of dating or forming a friendship.
By clearly focusing on this intention, our events organically morphed into a phenomenon somewhere between a party and a workshop: one moment you are engaged in a connection activity, the next moment you are letting loose on the dance floor. Our Kindravals, as we began to call them, included:
Body Painting Shuffle. Since we want our activities to facilitate connection, our face painting friend Nicolette Spear went from adorning people with her professional designs to creating Body Painting Shuffle, where she guides people to paint each other. We discovered that people love the experience of observing each other, getting to know one another, and then being guided to create art on each other’s skin.
Guided Cuddling. Consent is an important principle for Kindra. We want to encourage people to snuggle in a safe, consensual space. Rather than having a free-for-all cuddle area, we asked professional cuddler Christina Myers Hepburn to lead Kindraval attendees in respecting boundaries as they ask for non-sexual touch.
Colored Clip-on Lights. Radical inclusiveness where everyone is welcome is important to us. People who aren’t currently dating are encouraged to attend our events, and we found a fun way to indicate who was open for dating and who wasn’t. We started giving out clip-on lights at the door: green for people open to dating and purple for wingpeople supporting their dating friends.
Kindra Connection Cards. The Kindra dating app provides prompts for each of the 21 profile collage themes to facilitate the profile creation process. We decided to turn those prompts into conversation cards to give each person at the door. We use the cards as a game: ask someone the question on your card, then trade cards and ask someone else the new question. Since we use the cards ourselves, over time we’ve determined which questions help to create an authentic connection, and which lead to a quick yes or no. We curated them, adding and taking away cards until we developed today’s deck of 150 questions that truly create a moment of reflection and bonding with another person.
Tea Lounge, HELD, Hand Massage, Costumes, and Crafting. We kept adding connection activities: Serendipty Lounge creates a chill space to sip delicious speciality brews and engage in authentic and intimate conversation. Aviva Mohilner began offering a mini-version of her beautiful HELD connection workshop, which encourages emotional intimacy. Our friends from Hand of Knowledge brought essential oils and connected with attendees through hand massage. Our party themes, from Pajama Party to Mad Hatter, encouraged people to express themselves with fun outfits and included creative activities like hat decorating.
When we first began spreading the word about Kindra, we decided to give-away branded koozies or can coolers. In retrospect, this promotional item, while functional for people who want to keep their drinks cold, didn’t express what the Kindra brand represents. We started giving away Spirit Tats and other temporary tattoos, as we felt this aligned with our mission to encourage people to express themselves. Recently our main giveaway has been Kindra Connection Cards. The cards give people a moment of meaningful connection: a glimpse of what we stand for and what we are trying to create.
The constraint of no Facebook or Instagram advertising had pushed us to creatively market Kindra using events and giveaways.
In our effort to make both our events and our giveaways reflect our values of connection and authenticity, we inadvertently created new products: Kindraval, a connection event that combines workshops and partying, and the Kindra Connection Cards deck.
Now we have a following of people who keep coming back to benefit from the connection container we co-create at our events, whether they are dating or not. People love our cards and have been asking for their own copy. We will soon sell card decks on our website and incorporate them into the Kindra app.
This spring we grew our community by taking our Kindra Connection Experience to festivals, including Lucidity and Desert Hearts. We set up a tent and offered guided cuddling, body painting shuffle, a tea lounge, and Kindra Connection Card exchange. This month we will set up our Kindra tent at Genius Loci Fest in Baja, and in July, we will recommence hosting parties in Los Angeles.
A recent study found that people’s moods improve when they have a positive interaction with a stranger. While swiping apps may be unhealthy, we hope that all aspects of Kindra, our app, our events, and our Kindra Connection Cards, will improve your mood and help you feel more connected with the world.