LA's Dating App Startups Had Big Plans Post-Lockdown — But a Return to Virtual Dating Will Do Just Fine

Katherine Abando
Katherine Abando is a lifestyle writer and social media producer from Los Angeles. Her coverage interests include internet culture/tech and Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) identity. She enjoys learning about emerging entrepreneurs and digital trends that pop up on her social media feed. Follow her on Twitter @kaband0.
LA's Dating App Startups Had Big Plans Post-Lockdown — But a Return to Virtual Dating Will Do Just Fine

Summer 2021 was supposed to be the time for a post-pandemic romance. Dating apps in Los Angeles had plans to launch, reveal new features and get users back to meeting one another in real life.

Then came news that the U.S. wouldn't hit its vaccination targets and a new wave of infection emerged with the delta variant. As of July, it's still not clear when dating will return to normal. The rapid shift has left a number of new L.A.-based dating apps rethinking their approach.

Here's a quick look at some of the apps that have emerged from the pandemic, and some of the dating trends they've sparked.

A Social and Dating App For Gamers


If there was a winning industry in the pandemic, it was video games. The industry surged during lockdown, and began to develop many of the characteristics of social networking and streaming sites.

San Fernando Valley filmmaker and avid gamer Sebastian Slaughter argues gamers, sometimes stereotyped as lonely homebodies, are the most social people in the world. That's where the idea for the dating site he's founding, PlayerTwo, came about.

PlayerTwo's community feature melds dating and streaming into a Facebook-style feed. Gamers worldwide can show off gaming clips, post about their favorite games, like someone's profile and comment on each other's videos.

"Hopefully, this app is something that can give people a middle ground to either stay indoors, and chat and play, or it can give them a platform for them to meet someone and go out and see them in person," said Slaughter.

It's not the only gamer-focused dating site out there, though. L.A.-based Kippo has been matching gamers with the help of cards that display users' favorite games, personality traits — even their astrological signs.

Slaughter said he hopes to differentiate his app by providing more community-building features.

"It's a stepping stone for people to begin chatting," he said. "Maybe there's a spark, maybe you're just looking to play with someone and you have free rein to find whoever, do whatever you want to do with the app."

PlayerTwo, which Slaughter bootstrapped himself, launches in August.

Blind Dating Goes Virtual

The idea for Blink was born out of an experience at a blackout restaurant in 2012.

"Literally, you can't see your hand in front of your face," said co-founder Taly Matiteyahu. "We were seated with other people at the table and had a conversation with them without having any idea what they looked like. And it was just an amazing conversation."

Later, when she met her dinner guests face-to-face, Matiteyahu realized she would have assumed they would have had nothing in common.

"I'm really passionate about helping people get past the implicit biases that they have without even realizing it," she said.

Matiteyahu and Laura Ciccone are working for other startups by day, while moonlighting to create their dating app.

With a focus on social audio, Blink schedules 10-minute speed dates with partners based on your age range, proximity and sexual orientation preferences. The app reveals only your date's name, and gives you a time to connect.

At the end, users are shown three pictures and have to figure out which one features the person they talked to, in order to test their assumptions. Ciccone sees the app as a kind of antidote to the current crop of dating apps that encourage fast-flipping through profiles to find a mate.

"Studies used to say that people swiped in four seconds. Now it's down to only one second of swiping," she said. "It's incredible, really. But like, is that really how you want to find love?"

Blink hopes to delight its users with unexpected matches, and serve an audience that hasn't been tapped by other apps.

"There are communities marginalized on other dating apps, we are definitely trying to kind of connect with as well. For example, Black women, Asian men, and people with various disabilities — they're not serviced very well by traditional dating apps," Matiteyahu said.

It got its initial funding through a Kickstarter campaign and is now seeking pre-seed funding.Their beta is scheduled to launch on August 6.

Dating Apps as Trust-Building

Graze takes the idea of virtual speed dating to video.

Launched last March at the start of lockdowns, the app lets users schedule five-minute Facetime calls after matching as a way of ensuring that they've found a good match before heading out on an in-person date.

The app evolved out of child actress Heather Hopkins' dating advice podcast. She said she was seeing so many dating apps promise, and fail, to find users the right date based on an algorithm. Hopkins said she was looking for something more organic.

"There is no science," she said. "It's about, you know, loving yourself. And then being in spaces where you increase that opportunity of meeting lots of different people and having real conversations and seeing what fits that's going to help you find the best person for you."

Though the app is available worldwide, Graze's core users are mainly Gen Z and millenials in Los Angeles and New York.

Graze has so far raised $1.5 million in pre-seed funding and is planning a big transformation, including a new name and a larger leadership team. Despite the challenges, Hopkins said she's looking forward to getting Graze's online conversations translated into real life connections with the upcoming changes.

"Another cool thing that happened to the pandemic is people definitely expanded their preferences, because they're like, 'well, I can't leave my house'. We had loved stories that happened because they were willing to expand those and they traveled to go see each other and hit it off."

TikTok Meets Tinder

You'd be hard pressed to find a dating-app pandemic success story bigger than Lolly. The video-dating app that sees itself as TikTok-meets-Tinder has exploded in popularity after a soft launch earlier this year.

But co-founder Marc Baghadijian says its success had little to do with lockdowns.

"It doesn't change much — pandemic or non pandemic — people are using any apps. The pandemic actually had no change on our metrics," he said.

Still, Lolly's Gen Z co-founders are bringing in big tech names and celebrities as partners to help in hyping the app.

They include Disney actor Milo Manheim, Mike "Big Mike" Mijalk and "Too Hot to Handle's Harry Jowsey. Baghadijian said the company is also partnering with TikTok and has raised funds from former Ticketmaster executive John Pleasants.

"What is super important is that a lot of the social thought leaders are here. For a lot of the people that make things cool live in L.A. And we have a cool product. So naturally, this is like marriage," Baghadijian said.

Just as TikTok has, Baghadijian said, "made Instagram boring," so Lolly hopes to leverage social video to blow past dating apps like Tinder..

"Gen-Z doesn't like to do a lot of work. And they want to win," Baghadijian adds. "They want to meet people quickly."

Lolly, he said, aims to take all the friction out of online dating and inject more personality into users' profiles. The app is available in the app store, but hasn't yet officially launched, Baghadijian said. He plans to put a marketing budget behind it once a couple pending deals are finalized. "It's gonna be sick," he said. "We're going to be all over the place."
🤠Musk Picks Texas and 🔥Tinder AI Picks Your Profile Pictures
Image Source: Tinder

🔦 Spotlight

Tinder is altering dating profile creation with its new AI-powered Photo Selector feature, designed to help users choose their most appealing dating profile pictures. This innovative tool employs facial recognition technology to curate a set of up to 10 photos from the user's device, streamlining the often time-consuming process of profile setup. To use the feature, users simply take a selfie within the Tinder app and grant access to their camera roll. The AI then analyzes the photos based on factors like lighting and composition, drawing from Tinder's research on what makes an effective profile picture.

The selection process occurs entirely on the user's device, ensuring privacy and data security. Tinder doesn't collect or store any biometric data or photos beyond those chosen for the profile, and the facial recognition data is deleted once the user exits the feature. This new tool addresses a common pain point for users, as Tinder's research shows that young singles typically spend about 25 to 33 minutes selecting a profile picture. By automating this process, Tinder aims to reduce profile creation time and allow users to focus more on making meaningful connections.

In wholly unrelated news, Elon Musk has announced plans to relocate the headquarters of X (formerly Twitter) and SpaceX from California to Texas. SpaceX will move from Hawthorne to Starbase, while X will shift from San Francisco to Austin. Musk cited concerns about aggressive drug users near X's current headquarters and a new California law regarding gender identity notification in schools as reasons for the move. This decision follows Musk's previous relocation of Tesla's headquarters to Texas in 2021.

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Top LA Accelerators that Entrepreneurs Should Know About

Los Angeles, has a thriving startup ecosystem with numerous accelerators, incubators, and programs designed to support and nurture new businesses. These programs provide a range of services, including funding, mentorship, workspace, networking opportunities, and strategic guidance to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and scale their companies.

Techstars Los Angeles

Techstars is a global outfit with a chapter in Los Angeles that opened in 2017. It prioritizes local companies but will fund some firms based outside of LA.

Location: Culver City

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: StokedPlastic, Zeno Power


Grid110 offers no-cost, no-equity programs for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, including a 12-week Residency accelerator for early-stage startups, an Idea to Launch Bootcamp for pre-launch entrepreneurs, and specialized programs like the PledgeLA Founders Fund and Friends & Family program, all aimed at providing essential skills, resources, and support to help founders develop and grow their businesses.

Location: DTLA

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: Casetify, Flavors From Afar


Idealab is a renowned startup studio and incubator based in Pasadena, California. Founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Bill Gross, Idealab has a long history of nurturing innovative technology companies, with over 150 startups launched and 45 successful IPOs and acquisitions, including notable successes like Coinbase and Tenor.

Location: Pasadena

Type of Funding: Stage agnostic

Focus: Industry Agnostic, AI/Robotics, Consumer, Clean Energy

Notable Past Companies: Lumin, Coinbase, Tenor

Plug In South LA

Plug In South LA is a tech accelerator program focused on supporting and empowering Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the Los Angeles area. The 12-week intensive program provides early-stage founders with mentorship, workshops, strategic guidance, potential pilot partnerships, grant funding, and networking opportunities to help them scale their businesses and secure investment.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed

Focus: Industry Agnostic, Connection to South LA and related communities

Notable Past Companies: ChargerHelp, Peadbo

Cedars-Sinai Accelerator

The Cedars-Sinai Accelerator is a three-month program based in Los Angeles that provides healthcare startups with $100,000 in funding, mentorship from over 300 leading clinicians and executives, and access to Cedars-Sinai's clinical expertise and resources. The program aims to transform healthcare quality, efficiency, and care delivery by helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative technology products to market, offering participants dedicated office space, exposure to a broad network of healthcare entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity to pitch their companies at a Demo Day.

Location: West Hollywood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage, convertible note

Focus: Healthcare, Device, Life Sciences

Notable Past Companies: Regard, Hawthorne Effect

MedTech Innovator

MedTech Innovator is the world's largest accelerator for medical technology companies, based in Los Angeles, offering a four-month program that provides selected startups with unparalleled access to industry leaders, investors, and resources without taking equity. The accelerator culminates in showcase events and competitions where participating companies can win substantial non-dilutive funding, with the program having a strong track record of helping startups secure FDA approvals and significant follow-on funding.

Location: Westwood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Health Care, Health Diagnostics, Medical Device

Notable Past Companies: Zeto, Genetesis


The KidsX Accelerator in Los Angeles is a 10-week program that supports early-stage digital health companies focused on pediatric care, providing mentorship, resources, and access to a network of children's hospitals to help startups validate product-market fit and scale their solutions. The accelerator uses a reverse pitch model, where participating hospitals identify focus areas and work closely with selected startups to develop and pilot digital health solutions that address specific pediatric needs.

Location: East Hollywood

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed, early stage

Focus: Pediatric Health Care Innovation

Notable Past Companies: Smileyscope, Zocalo Health

Disney Accelerator

Disney Accelerator is a startup accelerator that provides early-stage companies in the consumer media, entertainment and technology sectors with mentorship, guidance, and investment from Disney executives. The program, now in its 10th year, aims to foster collaborations and partnerships between innovative technology companies and The Walt Disney Company to help them accelerate their growth and bring new experiences to Disney audiences.

Location: Burbank

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Technology and entertainment

Notable Past Companies: Epic Games, BRIT + CO, CAMP

Techstars Space Accelerator

Techstars Space Accelerator is a startup accelerator program focused on advancing the next generation of space technology companies. The three-month mentorship-driven program brings together founders from across the globe to work on big ideas in aerospace, including rapid launch services, precision-based imaging, operating systems for complex robotics, in-space servicing, and thermal protection.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Aerospace

Notable Past Companies: Pixxel, Morpheus Space

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🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.

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