What’s scarier than the terrors of Halloween? For many people, it’s trying to find love on a dating app.
Computer science students from South Dakota Mines have built a new dating app, Lafdr, that matches people based on their taste in memes. After testing a prototype, the app for IOS and Android launched on Sept. 17.
Morgan Vagts and Debbie Liknes, who both graduated from Mines in May, channeled their frustration with existing dating apps by creating their own. Lafdr’s algorithm, built by Liknes, connects like-minded users through the memes they enjoy on the app.
“Memes are a great conversation starter,” Vagts said. “It keeps the conversation light and lets people be themselves. … If you can laugh at a meme together, you know you have something in common.”
Vagts said Lafdr is designed to help people find friendship or romantic connections, or users can simply browse the memes on Lafdr. Vagts and Liknes spent two years developing the app. It’s geared toward college-age students but could potentially appeal to ages 18 to 35.
“We were just sitting in Debbie’s living room, talking about the perils of online dating, and she joked about the idea of a meme-based app. And I thought, ‘Yes. That’s brilliant, let’s do it,’ and it evolved from there,” Vagts said.
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More than 90% of current college students have used a dating app, Vagts said, and there are more than one million memes shared on platforms like Instagram every day.
“There’s a lot of dating apps out there. They’re all the same idea of swiping on somebody’s profile and they’re based primarily on looks. You usually have to do an extra click (to get to their bio),” Vagts said. “It was interesting to find out we are the first people to try something really new, to take the idea of what a dating app is and put more of a spin on it.”
“While you’re on Lafdr, you don’t have to be thinking about all the people who didn’t like you and just having dry conversations. It’s a more fun and open atmosphere than most of the dating apps out there,” she said.
On the first day Lafdr officially launched, Vagts said it attracted double the number of users who’d been trying the prototype. A few weeks later, the Lafdr team promoted the app via an Instagram campaign and doubled the number of users again. They’re planning future campaigns to attract more users.
Liknes, who’s now in Minneapolis, works on the app full-time and monitors every match the app makes.
“We like to see what it’s doing. It’s like a quality control measure,” Vagts said. “A few weeks after we launched, we had our first relationship match. That was really exciting. … Two days later, we had our second relationship match.”
“We think there is a real market for this app,” she said. “Millennials brought dating online; Gen Z has brought memes into dating.”
Vagts said support Lafdr received from South Dakota Mines made the app’s creation and launch possible.
“Mines helped us with building a business plan and competing in competitions and getting funding to buy an Apple computer (which was needed to build the app),” Vagts said. “The school was able to pay for a lot of things we needed for prototyping.”
“Mines helped pay for a provisional patent on our technology, and they gave us prototype money to help develop our app. They also gave us the resources to do well at the Governor’s Giant Vision Competition,” Vagts said.
Vagts especially credits Joseph Wright, South Dakota Mines associate vice president for Economic Development, who served as the main business advisor for the Lafdr team. Vagts said she and Liknes entered the app in several competitions and lost multiple times.
“It was very discouraging. We kept going up against the best in the best competitions with life-saving biotech crazy amazing products,” Vagts said. “It was discouraging to go up against people that were saving lives. Joseph’s comment was ‘All of these other companies are saving lives, and you guys make life worth saving.’”
Finally in April, the Lafdr team won fourth place at the South Dakota Governor’s Giant Vision student business plan competition. Vagts, Liknes, and their developers — Keegan Burnett, a 2020 Mines graduate, and Dalton Baker, who will graduate in 2022 — put in months of 12-hour days preparing Lafdr for its September launch.
Vagts now lives in Rapid City and works for B9 Creations digital manufacturing technology in addition to her role at Lafdr. She’s maintained close ties with many people at South Dakota Mines who continue to offer assistance with the app.
The Lafdr team hopes to make pitches to angel investors in the next few months.
“We know that only a small percentage of venture capital investments go toward female-led businesses. We are hoping to break that trend with Lafdr,” Vagts said.
“Kudos to these computer science students for using the skills they gained at Mines to build their own company. We’re always proud when students use their education to change the world. This is exactly the kind of innovation and entrepreneurship we encourage at Mines,” said Mines President Jim Rankin.