Paul Trichon went through the same heartache that many people go through after a breakup.
Rather than let it get the best of him though, Trichon decided to use the experience to fuel an idea that combined his marketing degree from the University of Pittsburgh and his current computer science coursework at Pitt: a judgment-free online dating application.
“The dating scene had changed a lot since I last started dating,” he said. “I tried other dating apps currently on the market and went on a couple dates, but I was not happy with the experience and thought I could develop a better app.”
The result is Inrstellar, a dating app that gives people looking for love an opportunity to connect first through shared interests and values rather than physical attraction.
Here’s how Inrstellar works: Users create two profiles — a “public profile,” which can include text and images that reflect who that person is but cannot show their face, and a "private profile" that must contain at least one portrait.
After setting their preferences, users then rank the public profile of potential dates on a sliding “level of interest” scale, rather than swiping left or right. When two people rate each other positively, they match on the first level and enter each other's “galaxy.” They can then chat, and if the conversation goes well, a “Let’s meet?” button appears. If both parties push the button, they move into each other’s “solar system,” which provides access to their private profile.
“It's a lot like singers on the TV show ‘The Voice,’” said Trichon. “The first thing someone votes on is what makes you special, not what you look like. No matter who you are, or where you come from, you have an opportunity to present your ‘inr’ self first. People just want to be loved by someone who understands them.”
Trichon said the idea for keeping photos of potential matches initially hidden came from being set up on a blind date himself.
“We didn’t know what we looked like before we met in person, but we knew that the other was a motivated person who had goals and values,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to replicate with this app. Instead of ‘Am I really attracted to you?’ it’s ‘Can we have a good conversation?’”
Trichon graduated from Pitt in 2009 after completing his obligations with the U.S. Marine Corps. He then worked for the American Automobile Association and DirecTV in California and taught himself computer coding. However, without a computer science degree, Trichon felt his career progress had stalled, so he returned to Pitt to pursue just that for a second undergraduate degree.
He has been working on Inrstellar since 2018 and gathered friends and colleagues to work on the app, which is free to download on the App Store and Google Play. The team also consists of computer science students Josh Jaslow, Bryan Malumphy and Ian Hesner. The team works on the app in Sennott Square during their down time.
“We sacrificed our winter break and spring break to work on this,” Trichon said. “We usually meet up on Sundays and work until we can’t look at a computer screen anymore. Anytime a bug or crash has popped up, we would drop everything to fix it and get the app back on track.”
About 250 people are currently using the app, and the male-to-female ratio is pretty evenly split, Trichon said. The app is also LGBTQ-friendly, allowing users to choose from multiple genders.
“We know that physical attractiveness is typically a pretty important factor in people's romantic decision-making, in addition to qualities like warmth, shared values and sense of humor, of course. By allowing people to converse and get to know each other as a first step, it sounds like this app could allow people to establish a connection or give people a chance to engage in self-disclosure and increase their sense of closeness and liking for each other, as well as to identify areas of similarity.”
Forest said by allowing this conversation element before providing any physical attractiveness information, it “could be that you're increasing your chances of finding people that you really ‘click’ with.”
“At least initially, you're not limiting the pool of possible partners to people whose photos seem highly attractive to you,” she said.
“So, letting people interact and get acquainted might decrease the degree to which physical attractiveness is emphasized in people’s decisions about whether to begin a relationship with a particular partner,” Forest said.
Inrstellar took fourth place at the 2019 Randall Family Big Idea Competition at Pitt, and the team is looking for investment funding to spread the app’s reach beyond the city of Pittsburgh.