The Secret World of Online Dating Consultants
For the cost of an Uber, these gig economy workers try to improve ‘shitty profiles’ on dating apps.
A college student wants to choose photos for your Tinder profile. A blogger wants to rewrite your Bumble bio from scratch. A former event planner is offering you his best opening lines, while an ex-journalist will run the whole date-seeking operation—from the first swipe to the number exchange—for $250 a week. Already in a relationship? Not to worry: A clairvoyant psychic is standing by scour Tinder for any traces of your significant other.
With dating apps now dominating the mate-finding market, the gig economy is rising up to meet it. On sites like Fiverr, alongside offers of cheap sound-editing or hourly data entry, an army of freelance workers are ready to help you find love, for as little as $5.
Fiverr is an online marketplace for freelance services, marketed as a way for entrepreneurs to get help for their start-ups without hiring full-time employees. But typing “Tinder” into the site’s search bar and selecting the “relationship advice” category turns up dozens of freelancers from around the world hoping to help with your love life. (The Daily Beast’s parent company, IAC, owns Match Group, which operates dating apps including Tinder and OKCupid.)
These are not the high-end dating services of the super-rich—services that have recently adapted to meet the needs of a dating app economy. (The New York Times has repeatedly profiled pricey services that offer professional headshots or one-on-one coaching.) These are quick and dirty solutions to help the instant-gratification generation get what they want—fast. Like ordering a Task Rabbit to clean your home or a Postmate to deliver your dinner, you can now hire a 25-year-old in Taiwan to spice up your dating life.
“I think it’s awesome,” said Shane Pollard, 36, a former musical festival planner from Australia who now sells his “best response-getting opening lines” on Fiverr. “We like Netflix, we like Uber, we like those things—it’s at your speed. It’s dates on demand.”
Many of the sellers who spoke to The Daily Beast offer other services on Fiverr—content writing, SEO strategy, resume editing—and none said they do this full-time. Several are students, some have full-time jobs elsewhere. Pollard is retired and picked up pick-up lines as a hobby. The price point for the services is low, and Fiverr takes a 20% cut of all profits, so none of them expected to make a living off Tinder consulting. Few had even bothered to advertise their services outside of the listing. Even so, they were shocked by the number of orders that rolled in.
“If you told me two years ago I would make a grand this year off of telling guys what was wrong with their Tinders, I would have laughed in your face,” said Camila Arguello, 22, a college student from Oregon who also works at an advertising company. “I never thought that this was real or possible. I did not think this was an actual thing you could do for work."
“I say this as a joke but I really do believe it,” she added. “My goal is to eradicate the world of shitty Tinder profiles.”
Speaking of shitty profiles, these freelancers have seen a lot of them. And most of them said they see the same mistakes over and over: Blurry photos, too many group pictures, or an overabundance of selfies. (“You gotta not look like all you do is sit at home and take selfies,” Arguello warned.) Pollard railed against shirtless or bikini shots, calling them “a dime a dozen” on the image-based apps. And all of the consultants suggested spending serious time on the bio section. A good introductory paragraph makes users stand out, and gives potential matches an easy opening line.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a serious relationship, it’s best to broadcast that early.
“Some guys do not understand what’s going to turn women off,” Arguello said. “Having a picture with Hooters waitresses when you’re looking for a relationship is probably not a good idea.’”
While many of the problems these sellers see are the same, their clientele varies enormously. Some buyers are the usual suspects: Boomers trying to understand the new technology, or awkward introverts who need help putting themselves out there. But others seem like they should have no trouble scoring dates. Arguello said she’s edited profiles for someone on the Forbes 30 Under 30 List, and another for a composer for her favorite TV show. Shortly after helping an immigrant from a developing country figure out how the apps worked, Pollard said, he advised a millionaire whose profile featured numerous photos of his jet. (“I told him he looked like an arrogant prick,” Pollard said.)
It’s been nearly a decade since the founding of Tinder, so why are these smart, successful people still struggling to make it work? Several of the consultants credited the lingering taboo around online dating. Your mother might tell you to always open the door for your date, or that flowers make the best gifts, but she probably won’t tell you what’s wrong with your Bumble profile. Likewise, asking your friends for help on your OkCupid profile can still be a source of embarrassment.
Jemma Miller and Alyssa Baker, two tech management consultants from Dallas, said they started offering profile reviews on Fiverr after seeing so many of their male friends make the same mistakes. They realized that most straight guys don’t get a chance to see other men’s dating profiles—which is probably why every guy thinks he’s being original when he writes that he loves watching The Office.
“People really don’t go around showing their friends like, hey, can you check on my dating profile? So there’s no sort of check on this of like, hey, that kind of makes me sound like a jerk,” Miller said. “You’re kind of working in this like vacuum to figure out what you think is great.”
But if people aren’t comfortable talking about dating apps with friends, it seems they’re more than willing to open up to a stranger on the internet. Miller and Baker said they were surprised by the level of intimacy they achieved with clients who paid $5 for a one-off profile review. One man shared that he was on a weight-loss journey and was using his Tinder profile to hold him accountable. (“He had in his head like, ‘Oh, once I would lose some weight, I'll be able to replace some of these pictures,’” Baker explained.)
Kendra Phillips, 24, a California-based content marketer who sells opening lines, said several clients had volunteered to turn over their passwords and have her run their entire accounts for them. She said no.
“Oh God, that’s scary,” Phillips said. “That could totally be how a catfish happens.”
For Sena Schmidt, that’s her everyday life. The 36-year-old works regular hours as a matchmaker at a more traditional service in Omaha, Nebraska. On the side, she spends 25 minutes a day on each of her Fiverr clients’ accounts, swiping through dating app profiles and making matches for them. When a match occurs, she converses on her client’s behalf until she gets a phone number. (She says it usually takes her two to three days.) Once the number has been secured, she turns it over to the client to take from there.
One client, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Daily Beast he’d been using Schmidt’s services for two months. She logs onto his account daily, makes his matches and passes along phone numbers. Ninety percent of the time, he said, she hits the nail on the head.
“Online dating, unless you’re 6’4” and look like Chris Hemsworth, you’re just up against it. It’s challenging,” he said. “[Schmidt] is saying everything truthfully about me and who I am. She’s just got the writing skills and the education to be able to accurately communicate what these women are looking for.”
“I don’t feel bad at all,” he added. “It’s the only way I can get an edge.”
Schmidt said she also doesn’t see the practice as misleading. She talks extensively with the client before swiping for them and tries her best not to misrepresent them in conversation. If she doesn't know the answer to a question, she asks the client. If she doesn't think she can represent a client accurately, she turns them down. And if it’s still a little deceitful, well, don’t we all engage in a little reputational sleight of hand?
“I think that’s what we’re all doing, no matter what we’re doing in life—whether it’s dating or going in to our job every day,” Schmidt said. “We all have to put on a kind of face and we have to represent the best part of ourselves.”
Aside from the possibility of getting catfished, sociologist Alexandrea Ravenelle says there are other risks to outsourcing your love life. If you’re not obsessive about online security, handing the keys to your Tinder account to a stranger could give them access to any other account with the same password. (Read: possibly your bank account.)
For sellers, Ravenelle said, the risk of being sexually harassed or assaulted if you meet clients in person is much higher when you’re working for yourself. Several women consultants told The Daily Beast they’d received messages from people who seemed to want more than the services advertised.
Ravenelle, the author of Hustle and Gig: Struggling and Surviving in the Sharing Economy, said she also wonders what it says about society when you can farm out your love life as easily as you can call a ride home from the bar.
“Historically, people have used family connections and matchmakers [to find partners]” she said. “And then dating became about individuals actually going out and finding someone for themselves, and this was a step forward—marrying for love as opposed to family connections or business connections.”
“Now we’ve just gotten to the point where people are so busy and they’re so used to outsourcing so many other things that they're outsourcing the opportunity to find love,” she said.
The consultants, perhaps predictably, put a more rosy spin on the endeavor. Miller and Baker said they were inspired by the hope they saw from their clients, no matter how unlucky in love they’d been. Pollard said he loved hearing from people who just needed a good opening line to in order to put themselves out there, and were now having great conversations on their own. (He’d once helped a dwarf score a date, he said, by suggesting he make a Game of Thrones reference.)
And Phillips said she was encouraged by the number of people who were actually trying to find quality, lasting relationships.
“People think that Tinder or Bumble or Hinge or whatever is all about hooking up,” she said. “And I mean sometimes it is, but I don’t know... People want help connecting.”
“If I could help someone talk to someone that they really want to talk to with just one message,” she added, “then I think that’s beneficial.”