Dating app Wingr aims to take the digital search for a soulmate beyond surface-level

The Black-owned app allows users to suggest potential matches to friends and express moods through features designed to mimic in-person dating processes

Dissatisfied with the conventions of popular dating apps, two Houston natives are looking to change the game with a new platform designed to better translate conversational nuances to virtual methods of communication.

Wingr, launched by Jaeron “Jay” Cooper and Howard Edwards in January 2022, is a free dating app with features aimed at adapting more elements of the in-person dating process into the digital space, ultimately fostering clearer, more natural interactions.

Photo credit: Stephanie Rowe Photography

Cooper, 34, told theGrio he devised the concept nearly five years ago during an “aha moment” after noticing a pattern of surface-level conversations with dating app matches and determining that meaningful human connection “doesn’t come from swiping left and right.”

“It happens in a more organic way,” he added, “when you can actually take time and process things, not try to just get as many likes as you can, or try to get as many swipes as you can in one day to try to maximize your results.”

Using Wingr, friends can help their friends identify potential matches based on their personality, and additional features allow users to express their moods through visual cues throughout their conversations.

Edwards, 32, said these features are designed to foster transparency and trust between users and better reflect the subtleties of an in-person chat.

“It’s taking those processes and trying to translate them into an app to mimic what’s going on in the actual process of meeting, getting to know someone, and then moving that on to a date,” Edwards said.

Cooper, whose professional background is in business and technology, first discussed the possibility of co-launching the app with Edwards, whose background is in biochemistry and marketing, while the two were out for a drink as the city of Houston began reopening from the initial COVID-19 lockdown.

Finding themselves in alignment regarding frustrations with dating apps already on the market, the two then began brainstorming ways to add more human elements to the online dating experience. Over several months of development, they additionally sourced feedback through virtual focus groups and surveys — on top of their full-time careers, which they both still maintain.

“It was really us trying to dive in and figure out, for people that are using these apps and are actually in the dating scene, what is it that they like about dating and what [are] the challenges?” Edwards said.

“What we found to be one of the bigger challenges is that people aren’t connecting because they can’t pick up on subtle cues, and then there’s miscommunications,” Cooper said, adding: “It became increasingly obvious that apps were just focused on creating the matches and getting people on there, but the added value after a match was created didn’t exist.”

Through the app, Edwards said that users can sign up as a “Wingr” to play matchmaker for their friends and suggest potential matches for them as a trusted source, similarly to something that might occur between friends during casual conversation.

“Friends often times know what your dating style is and who you like sometimes better than you actually know for yourself, or they can see something that you might not necessarily see,” Edwards said. “What better way than to have someone that you know and trust go through and suggest people for you?”

The app’s “Set the Mood” feature allows users to indicate to matches how they are feeling, whether that be joyful, amused, hungry, or a range of other mood signals that when selected, instantly change the chat room’s color — which Cooper said can help users navigate around the absence of body language cues.

“Even though I can’t see them, I can feel their expressions, I can feel their mood and that allows me to know how to perceive the conversation in a much better and clearer way,” Cooper said.

Via Wingr Dating Website

Online dating, which studies show was already on the rise prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, is now the No. 1 way to meet a romantic partner in the United States, according to Liesel Sharabi, assistant professor in Arizona State University’s Hugh Downs School of Human Communication and director of the Relationships and Technology Lab, in a February 2022 report from the school.

According to an August 2021 Tinder survey of Gen Z users, 76% of respondents said they were dating more frequently than in the year prior, with average daily swiping and messaging activity reportedly up 13% and 12% respectively, and conversation length up 38% compared to April through June of 2020.

Edwards said that as dating apps have increased in ubiquity, he has noticed that it is easier to “devalue the process of actually building relationships,” because so many of the popular apps facilitate speeding through the courting process without committing effort to each interaction.

“I find that because of the virtual world that we’re in now, when you have this idea of, ‘There’s all these people I think I could potentially match with,’ you don’t ever put that effort into getting past that surface level,” he said.

“With Wingr, we’re on a mission to basically flip that back, and help get back to trying to build that human interaction and actually enjoy that nuance that people bring to the conversation,” he added.

Cooper and Edwards said user feedback has been “very positive” so far, with the team continuing to market the self-funded app in target cities across the country, while locally testing the app’s success among the multiple diverse communities residing in Houston, the fourth-largest city in the U.S. by population.

Photo Credit: Adonis Asberry

Cooper said he and Edwards hosted a launch party for Wingr in February which had an “amazing turnout,” and in the months since, they have continued to do strategic outreach and workshop ways to improve and expand the app’s features, which Edwards said may have utility beyond just the dating scene.

“The goal is, at the heart of this, is for more effective communication, for you to be able to actually understand the other person online,” he said. “So we’ve definitely been thinking about how we can translate this over to things like helping you find a new career, or having a better interview and things like that.”

Cooper and Edwards, who are both Black, said that another main goal of theirs as they progress in their entrepreneurial careers is to inspire others from similar backgrounds to never doubt their ability to pursue their passions.

“I want to make sure that I use Wingr or any of my time that I have here, with anything I do, to also make sure I’m inspiring people out there, especially people that look like me, that need that push or inspiration to believe in themselves,” Cooper said.

Edwards added: “Especially with people in tech — because Black folks are really, really underrepresented in the tech field, as well as women,” he said, continuing, “I don’t think there’s a major dating app out there where anybody on the development board is Black at all.”

“If we can get this successful, and be able to put out that ‘Hey, we created a successful dating app that appeals to everybody,’ I think more people will want to be interested in developing things and understand that they can get into this industry,” he added.

“One of the amazing things is knowing that [Wingr] is, right now, fully funded, fully created by people of color,” Cooper said. “No matter where things fall with Wingr, whether it becomes the next Tinder, or not, or somewhere in the middle; the evidence is there that we can come together, and we can do things together.”

Wingr is available for free on the App Store for iOS devices

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