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I’ve covered the FIREDating app a few times now, once when I discovered it back in the summer of 2020 and again when I learned that two of our readers actually learned about the app on this blog, and then ended up getting together. But whoever made it always remained a bit of a mystery. Why did they build it, and what were they hoping to accomplish with it?
So I reached out to the site’s creator Viktor to ask a few questions. Surprisingly, he wrote back! This is what he said.
Wanderer: Viktor, we first heard about your app FIREDating.me last year, and I thought it was an awesome idea. Why did you decide to make it?
Viktor: The idea of a dating website for FIRE people was obvious to everyone. This was mentioned multiple times on Reddit and even Mr. Money Mustache tweeted about “Mustachian Tinder” multiple times. At the same time, I suspect it didn’t look attractive from a business perspective. There was even a comment on Reddit: “A FIRE dating app would be a great idea, except no FIRE people would ever pay for it…”.
So I wasn’t the first one to have the idea, but I think I was naive/ambitious enough to disregard this idea being not profitable financially. I remember this was mid-2019 and I wanted to do more side projects (partially to shorten my path to FIRE, but partially just because I intrinsically enjoy it). I attended a FIRE meetup “Financial Independence Week Europe” in Budapest. This was my first time talking to FIRE people in-person. Two crucial things happened there. First, the group (around 50 people) resonated amazingly well. I even asked organizers whether they filtered anyone out and the answer was no. Isn’t it amazing – you gather 50 people interested in this weird thing called FIRE and they are able to communicate so well and understand each other? Second, I jokingly mentioned the idea there and people were overall positive, but not like “take my money, I WANT THIS!!!!” Then I attended a second meetup, this time in Madrid, and mentioned the idea again. Another participant (Mr.Whatlifecouldbe) actually “volunteered” me by announcing to everyone that “Viktor is making a FIRE dating website” even before I actually decided anything. It felt awkward back then, but I am extremely grateful to them nowadays. As a result, I was able to form the initial focus group of ~10 people and bounce ideas with them. We even voted for the domain. I think firedating.me had 4 votes.
So the short answer: it was a weird coincidence.
Wanderer: Is this something you built in your spare time on top of your regular job, or is this your full-time passion project?
Viktor: This is unfortunately not a full-time project. I would love that, but I have a full time job, which is 99% unrelated to anything I am doing for firedating. This greatly decreases how much time I can invest into the project. However, the project is a huge passion of mine.
To be honest, during the recent GME craze, I caught myself thinking what I would do if I was already fat FIRE (e.g. due to miraculously FIREing by buying and selling GME). To my surprise I converged to “I would spend more time on firedating and hire a designer.” ?
Wanderer: You have a very different philosophy from other dating apps like Tinder. Tell us about that and where that came from.
Viktor: I am happy that you noticed the philosophy. I try to be extremely transparent (e.g. my statistics dashboards are public, so anyone can see exactly what I see), honest, and do what’s best for the users. One example of doing the best for the users is not trying to forcefully keep people on the site. For example, everyone is welcome to use other messengers. I don’t care about activity numbers, I care about people building meaningful connections.
Regarding the sources of this, I think I just wasn’t happy with Tinder myself and wanted to do something which felt right to me. Since I didn’t aim to make any money out of this, I didn’t have much to lose and no external pressure to be dishonest or optimize profits/stats.
Wanderer: You also made the app completely free. Why?
Viktor: As I mentioned above, it was obvious to everyone that this project is not for money. So I just didn’t question these vibes. There was also a very practical reason: building a dating website is a chicken and an egg problem. At first, there is no one here, so there is no point for users to register. Growing the site was already a challenge in the beginning, and it would be close to impossible to do this if I were also to charge people. So being able to say “this site is 100% free and even ad-free” was much better for growing the site. Even then, some people perceived this as a scam, since they didn’t believe that I would be making it for free. I learned a lot in the process and met a lot of wonderful people. Even though I didn’t get financial benefits, I benefited in many other ways and I consider this experience 100% worthwhile. This became especially obvious once couples started reaching out in more personal ways (e.g. with a photo). The feeling of making such a positive impact on someone’s life is amazing!
For proper perspective, the beginning was actually quite hard mentally. I wrote the first line of code in early December 2019. It was very hard to motivate myself, and I had long periods of not working on this, since I wasn’t sure anyone would find this project useful. On the 3rd of January 2020, I wanted to commit, so I decided to have a New Year resolution to spend at least one hour a day each day in 2020 (I had some rules for vacations though). This helped me to start consistently developing. I started promoting the site on 27th of February (yes, it was the 1 year anniversary recently). By that time, I’d spent around 100 hours of my time and almost each day I had a mental battle to continue doing this. It became much better after 50-100 users registering and giving me feedback and requests for more features.
As a funny fact, you might have noticed that the graph of registered users starts in December 2019, but the first values come only in February 2020. Actually my admin account was registered in December 2019 and it is actually shown on the graph. So it is funny and sad to see myself being the only user on the site for almost 3 months.
Wanderer: Do you have plans to monetize the app one day or is it your intention to keep it free forever?
Viktor: To be honest, these days I am considering adding donations. Recently I understood that while I don’t optimize for my financial gains, it would be amazing to FIRE sooner and just be able to spend more time on the project. Also having more resources would allow me to be less efficient in the development and try more stuff. Previously I paid for a $5 per month server. These days, I moved to $20 per month, but I don’t spend on anything else to keep the site’s expenses low. Perhaps I could hire someone to redo the design, since as you might have noticed, I am not a designer at all and there is a lot of room for improvement. I could also explore paid ads to bring more people.
Obviously I still keep my original goal of providing value to people, so I don’t consider paywalling the site. The more people, the merrier.
There was also one offer to sell the site, but I obviously refused.
Wanderer: The last time we featured you, your app had around 500 users. Now it’s over 3000. What’s happened since then?
Viktor: To be honest, your post alone brought around 250 users on the same day. Also the ability to say “FIRECracker wrote an overview of the site” when promoting the post was handy too. ?
Apart from that I don’t think there has been any extremely major change since then. I just talked to the users, and implemented what they asked for. When couples started reaching out in a more personal way and someone proposed to make an interview, this gave a boost of popularity. I think these interview posts with photos helped to add a face to the site. Also when reaching out to new potential users, it was very nice to show real couples meeting through the site. The old main page was done when I had 0 users, so I did a hackathon and redesigned it to reflect the fact that we are now thousands of users.
Wanderer: What part of this project are you the most proud of?
Viktor: Tricky questions. I am grateful for having made the site in the first place and all the people, who made this possible. Especially without the feedback, I wouldn’t be here. In terms of being proud, hm, I think from the technical perspective running the site on the cheapest server for so long and it also had probably 10 minutes of downtime in the last year (and just because I was migrating to a larger server). Apart from that, I don’t know. Working on firedating is just a lot of fun and can be addictive.
Wanderer: And what part of this project is your secret shame?
Viktor: As for every software engineer, I can feel embarrassed about my code. Let’s say I was learning on the go. But done is better than perfect. Also I am actually a perfectionist (might be hard to believe), so doing the design myself was tough. Perhaps that’s why I keep mentioning it all the time. I’m sorry for the design, folks!
On the second thought: it is a bit embarrassing that I understood why firedating.me works so late in the process. E.g. I eventually noticed that the FIRE community is very geographically dispersed and for many people just talking to someone else interested in FIRE is already magical. People don’t signal that they are into FIRE, as a result one can have a friend or an acquaintance and never find out that they are both into FIRE for years (this actually happened to me). Also I find FIRE to be a strong belief, in some sense it impacts many other areas of one’s life. So aligning on the “FIRE dimension” before forming a romantic relationship makes a lot of sense. I understood all of this only 5 months or so into the project. When I was starting I was quite oblivious: “sounds like a funny idea, let’s do it”.
Wanderer: Any interesting plans for FIREdating over the next year?
Reaching ten thousand users. Perhaps MMM mentioning the site somewhere (*wink wink*?). Ambitious goals… On a more serious note, I am toying with the idea of online FIREdating meetup or even speed dating events. I would also love to do in-person meetups eventually. As for site changes, I plan to redo the design on some pages to make them easier to use and understand.
Wanderer: Awesome! As always, I encourage our readers to check out this cool project. Thanks again for everything you do ?
Viktor: Thank you!
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