Amanda Bradford, founder, CEO and lead engineer of selective dating app and social networking community The League, was straight out of a five-and-half-year relationship when she realized she “had never actually dated in the wild.” At the time, swiping in search of love was increasingly en vogue, so Bradford decided to give it a shot herself — and discovered that many of the apps lacked features that were important to her.
“I remember writing a support ticket to one of the dating apps, being like, ‘You should really integrate with the LinkedIn profile,’ and as I’m writing this, I’m like, ‘Maybe I should look up who runs these apps,'” Bradford tells Entrepreneur. “Then I found that many of them were run by people with even less technical background than me.”
Image Credit: Courtesy of The League. Amanda Bradford.
So in 2014, at 29, Bradford opted to build and launch a dating app of her own: The League, which aims to unite users looking for love who have “ambition and a drive to succeed.” Where other dating apps permitted people to reveal as little information about themselves as they chose, Bradford’s would make certain details, like education and career, compulsory to help its “vetted community” find long-term partners without wasting time.
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The League also presented its users with just three matches a day to reduce the “transactional” nature associated with many other apps, particularly those that are swipe-based. Bradford’s app sold to Match Group for $29.9 million in 2022. Today, it also offers monetized features, including the option to pay to see all of your matches at once, starting at $99.99 per week. It might be a nice-to-have perk, but it’s not necessary for users to get high-quality matches, Bradford says — because you can “trust the algorithm.”
What does that mean, exactly?
As much as dating app users have control over their profiles and the parameters they set for potential matches, at the end of the day, it’s the invisible algorithm behind every app that determines which people will be shown to each other. And many popular apps aren’t forthcoming about how that happens. A spokesperson for Bumble told The Verge that its algorithm learns from user histories to produce matches; the former design and product vice president of Hinge informed the outlet that it uses a variation of the Gale-Shapley algorithm to pair compatible users.
“One of the things I didn’t like about the other apps is that…they would just give you everyone that fit your preference.”
Fortunately, Bradford, who’s continued to serve as The League’s lead engineer since its sale to Match Group, was willing to shed more light on what goes on behind the scenes and share how users can better position themselves for success — in terms of high-quality matches that just might lead to great first dates and long-term partnerships.
It’s important to note that, unlike a number of other apps, The League relies on “double preference matching,” where a user only sees a profile if their preferences match the other user’s and vice versa. It might seem like a no-brainer, but research suggests that men are more likely than women to be using dating apps, and the uneven gender ratio might cause some algorithms to be less discerning.
“One of the things I didn’t like about the other apps is that partially because they’re giving you so many people, and they just need to be able to give you more profiles, they would just give you everyone that fits your preference,” Bradford says. “So let’s say I only wanted to see men 35 to 40. That doesn’t mean they’re not showing me to men 18 to 60.”
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Double preference matching “narrows down the pool significantly,” Bradford admits, but she stresses that they’re called “preferences” and not just “filters” because they’re precisely that: a user’s desires. The League isn’t “inventing” people, so if there aren’t enough profiles that meet all of someone’s preferences within a given radius, things “get a little more complicated” — and the algorithm has to prioritize the user’s desires.
Nowadays, users can choose which preference is most important to them in the app, Bradford says, but naturally, there’s still a lot more that goes into pairing people up.
“In general, women are just more picky than men. So I guess it is easier for a woman to get scored higher than a man on average.”
One of the most significant factors is the “like rate,” or overall “desirability,” of a profile. “So if three people see me and only one likes me, then I’m [at] a 33% like rate at that point,” Bradford explains. “And so if there’s another person that three out of three like them, that’s a 100% like rate. So that person will probably be shown more than the person who isn’t liked as much because we’ll get more matches.”
The idea is to “put people close to people that are performing at the same level,” grouping them into so-called “cohorts” or “quintiles,” Bradford adds — though that doesn’t necessarily mean physical attractiveness. More than anything, the overall quality of a user’s profile is key.
So that’s the first hack for people searching for better results: Make your profile the best it can be. You should have high-quality photos with a mix of close-up and full-body shots and fill out all fields completely.
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“In general, women are just more picky than men,” Bradford notes. “So I guess it is easier for a woman to get scored higher than a man on average. I also believe that this is because men do put less time into their profiles or maybe are not as good at marketing themselves. There’s never a man that’s a 100% acceptance rate, whereas there are women that might move up into that range.” That’s why the algorithm also normalizes for gender.
Additionally, the app rewards users who send the first message, always respond and are active every day.
“If you’re a little bit more open-minded, open to men that maybe are a little bit shorter, those people actually will help your score.”
Although the app does its best to take into account a user’s “explicit preferences” — or what they say they want in a match — it’s also capturing “shadow preferences” — or the way someone actually behaves when presented with a profile that doesn’t check all the boxes. For instance, a user might say they want someone within a one-mile radius, then proceed to like profiles for people 15 to 20 miles away.
That leads to Bradford’s second major tip for people hoping for high-quality matches: Keep an open mind and consider how restrictive your settings are. She uses the example of a theoretical woman who opts only to see men ages 35 to 37 who are at least 6’2″ and live in New York City’s West Village.
“So you’re basically saying, I only want a very competitive and very small cross-section of these men to see me,” Bradford explains. “You’re asking yourself to be scored or ranked by a high-caliber group, a high-demand group. So you’re actually kind of doing yourself a disservice because if you’re a little bit more open-minded, open to men who maybe are a little bit shorter, those people actually will help your score because they might be more open to your profile.”
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And if users relax their settings and see someone they’re on the fence about, Bradford encourages them to give them a “like.” Because although The League’s mantra is “never settle,” taking that chance can pay off in a couple of ways. Not only could that match “sweep you off your feet with a really charming first date invitation,” Bradford says, but it will also boost your own profile.
“People would rather have that [person] meet all their other preferences and be in another city than not meet their preferences but be next door.”
And a final secret to success? Consider broadening your settings to include people in other cities — it’s an increasingly popular move.
“We are seeing more openness to distance, which used to be one that people would be like, ‘Oh hard no, they’re in a different city,'” Bradford says. “Now we’re seeing that’s not as big of a deal. People would rather have that [person] meet all their other preferences and be in another city than not meet their preferences but be next door to them.”
According to Bradford, if you’re open to multiple cities, “you can pretty much double your matches” — upping your chances of finding The One for this Valentine’s Day and beyond.