Vidya Madhavan: Swipe for a Good Laugh and Authentic Connection
Ladderworksis a publishing startup of diverse picture books with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews, by a character named Spiffy, with founders working on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Our focus for April is on SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being. There is so much at stake, so let’s see what’s being done!
Hi everyone, Spiffy here, your one and only interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth. I’m thrilled to be talking to Vidya Madhavan, the CEO of Schmooze. Vidya is an entrepreneur working to make the world a more loving and humorous place. Are you ready to be inspired?
Spiffy: Well Vidya, the name of your company has piqued my curiosity! Can you tell me what challenges you’re addressing through your start-up?
Vidya: As you know, Spiffy, the world is very polarized at the moment, even though human beings are craving social interaction. At Schmooze, we aim to make this human interaction fun and deep. Life is long and difficult, and in tough times we all turn to people who will make us smile. It is best when our partner takes on this role and walks along. Schmooze strives to help people find such partners and connect everyone based on levity and humor, instead of propagation, objectification, and polarization. Besides, humor is a great predictor of the depth and strength of relationships. At Schmooze, we keep levity and humor at the center by using memes. Our users swipe on memes, instead of people, and our algorithms find them a date to laugh with.
Spiffy: Okay, I’m listening! What in the world motivated you to create a meme-based dating app?
Vidya: Well, Spiffy, the concept for Schmooze comes from a deeply personal story. A few years ago, out of the blue, I sent an email to someone asking about business school admissions. That email quickly turned into a long thread of 150+ email exchanges. The primary content of all those emails were jokes—we both had a great time joking about a lot different things, and we continued our humorous conversations. Fast forward to now: I married the recipient of my cold email! Humor has been a very integral part of our relationship and it has made our long-distance relationship—across 8,000 miles and an 11 hour time zone—delightful. We wanted to extend the joy of having a humor-based relationship to everyone!
Spiffy: I’m so glad to hear that you’re spreading the love, Vidya! How would you say that you are working at making the world a more equitable place?
Vidya: Dating apps today are very skewed—they create a massive demand for “objectively beautiful and handsome” people, leaving others out. While some dating apps try to combat this by emphasizing “responses to personal prompts”, that only ends up rewarding the “wittiest” and most “well-rehearsed” users. Schmooze helps the remaining 98% of us find a date to laugh with. By removing objectivity from the selection process, we help everyone—across genders and sexual identities—find their dream match. We have already had hundreds of users experience delightful matches which have converted to online and coffee dates. We strive so our users don’t have to—so everyone finds a partner who loves their “unrehearsed” and authentic self.
Spiffy: I love the authenticity of this, Vidya! Can you tell me about a recent milestone you’ve achieved?
Vidya: We recently came out of beta-testing and extended our product to everyone. In line with our mission of being inclusive, we added pronouns and non-binary matching options. We are proud to report that 30% of the successful chats on our platform are non-heterosexual matches. While we have a long way to go in terms of our mission, we are extremely glad to be on the path of making non-objective connections available for everyone!
Spiffy: I’m always curious to find out how entrepreneurs handle failure. What about you? Have you experienced failure and what did you learn?
Vidya: It took two years and four products, experimenting with AI in photos, memes, and social media to build Schmooze. I have had a long journey. A major point of failure was right before Schmooze was born. I gave up everything: time with loved ones, great job offers, and the sought-after B-School (business school) social life. Transitioning from building products, to building a company and creating new concepts that users love was harder than I thought. Coordinating with my part-time remote team across multiple time zones didn’t help either. I was advised by many people to quit building a consumer company in the U.S., especially because I was a “recent immigrant”. But ever since I built Schmooze, users have been flocking to it, and we have been able to raise venture capital! My biggest lesson is this: failure gives up—if you fail to give up!
Spiffy: It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you today, Vidya! Let me know when you decide to match interplanetary creatures—I’d be thrilled to try it out! Over and out!
Vidya Madhavan is the founder of Schmooze, a meme-based dating company. Vidya loves to explore and do things not done before—her career as an international whistler is a testament to this. Vidya’s experience at McKinsey & Company, and an early-stage start-up leading growth, helped her to succeed at her “unprecedented” initiatives. (Nominated by Ulu Ventures)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s stories of founders building a more equitable world at www.ladderworks.co/blogs/spiffys-blog
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.