Why this Sikh entrepreneur created a Jewish dating app
Oct 11, 2017
(JTA) — At first glance, KJ Dhaliwal and Sukhmeet Toor may be unlikely candidates to create the latest Jewish-themed dating app. After all, both men are Sikhs. And among the nine other members of their San Francisco-based team, there are exactly zero Jews on staff.
The pair are behind Dil Mil, described as a “Tinder alternative” for the South Asian community. Since Dhaliwal, 27, and Toor, 33, founded the app in 2015, they claim it has made more than 5 million matches — leading to about one marriage every day.
It’s only logical that Dhaliwal and Toor, two Indian Americans, wanted to build upon their success, and they launched Shalom on Wednesday. But why start with a dating app for the Jewish community?
“The reason we started with the Jewish community was we saw a lot of similarities in terms of the values around community, the values around family, the values around marriage,” Dhaliwal told JTA. “It’s a very tight-knit, high-affinity community, just like the South Asian community.”
In addition, Jews and South Asians both tend to be more highly educated and of a higher socioeconomic status than the average American, said Dhaliwal, a self-described “artificial intelligence/machine learning enthusiast.”
The similarities led the founders to conclude that the technology that had been successful in the South Asian community would also work for single Jews.
Shalom, like Dil Mil — which means “heart meeting” in Hindi and Punjabi — positions itself as a happy medium between apps for finding casual encounters, such as Tinder, and ones that are more focused on marriage like eHarmony and Match.com. It has some 15,000 active users from its beta mode run.
“What we’ve done from a branding perspective — we’ve placed ourselves very strategically right in the middle of the spectrum, where people are coming to our product to get a longer-term, higher value relationship,” said Mudit Dawar, vice president of growth and marketing.
The team picked Shalom because of its meaning (both hello and peace in Hebrew) and because it’s “a word that every single Jewish person understands,” Dhaliwal said.
“We solved a problem in that market where there wasn’t a user-friendly tool that was up to the times in terms of how the youth and our generation is using technology to find potential partners,” Dhaliwal said.
What sets Shalom apart from competitors such as Tinder as well as the Jewish JDate, JSwipe and SawYouAtSinai, they claim, is its use of technology and multiple kinds of data to suggest matches.
While many dating apps used by millennials allow for filtering for categories such as location, height and age, potential users are left with a largely random pool of potential matches on which to swipe right (if they are interested) or left (if they are not). Shalom and Dil Mil rely on algorithms that suggest matches based on user behavior and data, so that people are more likely to see profiles that are to their liking.
“We think we definitely have a better product and the back-end technology stacked to actually match people based on data,” Dhaliwal said. “We do a lot of work in making sure our algorithms are set up in a way that actually results in people matching with people they end up marrying one day.”
The app takes into account both external data, such as users’ social media profiles, and behavioral data, like how users have interacted with others on the app, in order to make connections. The result, Dhaliwal said, is “a really rich graph of what their intentions are.”
“That’s our secret sauce,” he added.
The app also allows users to integrate their LinkedIn and Instagram accounts in their profiles to build a richer picture of both their professional and social interests.
Users can access Shalom both by downloading the app from the Apple Store and Google Play Store, as well as through Facebook Messenger. On Facebook, users chat with a bot that asks them questions about themselves and suggests possible matches.
“The advantage [of Facebook] is it removes the friction of somebody who doesn’t want to download an app and sign up that way,” Dhaliwal said. “It also gives us more exposure if somebody maybe doesn’t have a phone that they use or they don’t have data on their phone, maybe they want to use the desktop version, or they want to use just Messenger.”
Conversing with the bot is counterintuitive at times. For example, users have to follow a specific format when giving their geographic locations.
I experienced some of that confusion while trying to set up a time to speak with Dhaliwal, and I corresponded with his assistant, who signs her emails Amy Ingram.
After a few emails back and forth, Amy said she didn’t understand my last message.
“I’m a personal assistant powered by artificial intelligence that schedules meetings via email and I am only able to respond to messages directly related to scheduling,” she wrote, suggesting I contact Dhaliwal directly.
The encounter with his scheduling bot left me a bit unsettled and wondering how I could have been fooled so easily, and whether bots are really the way to go.
Still, the bots are only a tool, and it’s up to humans to decide if the app has made the right match. That will be the real test, whether the Shalom app — bots and all — will have the success of its South Asian sister version, and whether Dhaliwal’s latest venture is an Indian-Jewish match, or shidduch, made in heaven.