To some people, dating comes as naturally as breathing. They have no trouble making new acquaintances, playing the field and flirting with potential partners before deciding if that person is worth having a serious relationship with.
But it is more difficult for people who are shy and don’t feel comfortable taking the first step to get to know someone. Walking up to a stranger in a bar to start a conversation might sound fun, but can be a seemingly impossible task to introverts.
Enter Kevin Aluwi and Razi Thalib, two friends and modern-day cupids, who are preparing to launch dating website setipe.com, which will be available in Indonesian and English, and is for now limited to Jakarta.
“Razi and I have been talking about starting an online dating site for almost two years, and we feel that right now is the time to get things moving,” said Kevin, who studied finance in the United States and came back to Indonesia in 2011, working as a data analyst for an online fashion store.
When Kevin and Razi met more than two years ago, they found they both had the same idea: to play matchmaker for lonely singles in Jakarta. They decided to go into business together.
“We began by thinking about what are somebody’s issues in Indonesia when it comes to meeting the right kind of people,” said Razi, who lived and worked in Australia for many years before returning to Indonesia in 2009.
“In Jakarta, I believe, there are a lot of groupings. Friends are friends of friends, and they will all just hang out within that group. But for someone like me, for instance, that came back to Indonesia after a long time, it would be kind of difficult to get into these groups. It takes a long time.”
Razi said the Internet is a tool that can help close this gap. But he is aware that online dating makes some people uncomfortable.
“One basic problem that we found is security,” he explained. “Some people don’t trust online dating, asking themselves, how do I know that person is real? How do I know that they’re not trying to trick me?”
Of course it is always possible that people who sign up turn out to be not who they said they were — something women especially worry about.
“There are no guarantees,” Kevin admitted. “But the same thing can happen to you when you go to a party and you meet somebody. There’s no way that you can know if that person is a psychopath without spending some time with them first.”
Kevin and Razi undertook research and found gender-specific problems: many women who use online dating sites get contacted by an overwhelming number of men, but men who try to get to know women via a website get few responses.
“Based on this observation, we decided to build a dating site that is more of a private experience,” Razi explained.
“You join and essentially, we curate the matches for you. Nobody would know you are using this site — your mom won’t know, your friends won’t know. The only people who know that you are using this site are the people you get matched with.”
To ensure that they can provide a match for those who have signed up, Kevin and Razi are working with two relationship psychologists. Together they have created a set of questions and an algorithm that will allow them to find two people who will probably get along with one another.
As such, they will act like a dating agency — albeit a virtual one .
“It’s like you would come into an office, where there is a questionnaire to get to know you better, and would then be called when someone is found who makes a good match for you,” Razi said.
Each person who registers will receive a dating personality report based on their answers to the questions.
“The report will tell you about your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to dating and the types of people you should be looking for, to give you an understanding of yourself,” Razi explained, adding that the process might be time-consuming but has one great advantage.
“We are hoping that the fact that everybody has to go through answering close to 100 questions when signing up and will be too much of an effort for a potential ‘psychopath,’ ” he said laughing.
“Hopefully, this lengthy registration process will weed out a lot of people that are not serious.”
Kevin said the dating personality report will come in handy no matter what.
“Even if you don’t want to pursue online dating, this report could be useful for you because it was created by two psychologists,” he said. “If you should decide that you are not interested in the service, you still might have learned something about yourself.”
Once a match is found — although Kevin and Razi are aiming to find more than one potential match — the man and the woman will receive each other’s profile information.
“After that, either one of you can initiate contact,” Razi said. “This initiation of contact is just to say, are you interested to have a chat with me. And if the other person says yes, you can open what I call a communication channel — which is anonymous and secure because it is all within our system. You don’t have to exchange phone numbers or e-mails, you can simply have a chat first.”
Only if the first virtual encounters go well and the potential couple wants to meet up, they will take it beyond the website.
Another advantage of using online dating sites, Razi said, is that it saves time.
“The dates you would be going on with the people we match you with would feel like a second or third date,” he explained.
“A first date would more look like this: you meet each other, and you are not interested in dating people who smoke but find out that your date does smoke, so you’d probably think, I might as well have not have gone on that date. But at setipe.com, we have already filtered that and we look at different areas, like age preferences, or religious and ethnic preferences.”
While these criteria cover the basics, the second layer of setipe.com relates to personality and compatibility: how open are you, are you quiet, what’s your sense of humor, do you like to say what’s on your mind, or would you rather hold back?
“All these things factor into whether or not you get along with a person,” Razi said. “That’s where the psychologists are helping us, in determining the factors that have proven to be successful in a long-term relationship.”
He added that many people initially feel attracted to someone different, because they get a feeling of discovering something new and exciting.
“But in the long term, a relationship is about negotiation, and you kind of want to be with someone who sees things the way you do,” Razi said.
“The theory goes, I think, that the less you have to negotiate, the higher the probability that you will have a successful, long-term relationship. That is what we are basing our theory on.”
Kevin and Razi also plan to develop some advice on approaching dates and maintaining a healthy relationship.
“Ideally, there will be two sides to setipe.com,” Kevin said. “One is the dating site, and the other one is to have interesting content regarding dating in Jakarta, like commentary and insights on dating in general.”
Kevin is in a happy, long-term relationship, but Razi, who is single, said that he had tried other online dating sites several times.
“As the product owner, it’s my responsibility to fully experience online dating, and I had good experiences but can also tell you some horror stories,” he said. “But the good thing is that I get to meet people I would not normally meet.”
Setipe.com will launch next month, but registration is already open.