Smartphone dating apps are a thing of the past as the Berlin-based Im Gegenteil unites love seekers with a more personal approach.
Meet Berliners Jule Müller and Anni Kralisch-Pehlke - founders of an online dating platform that has replaced the repetitive swipes to the left and swipes to the right with thought-through, polished profiles of Germany’s hippest singles. And there’s a good reason to stay alert - following a successful expansion to Switzerland, they’re soon spreading the love to other European capitals, too.
What Jule and Anni describe as ‘an online magazine with a techy novelty’ was born out of mutual dissatisfaction with the old-fashioned dating platforms, and also of an honest mission to help friends and fellow singles to find love...in their own desired pace. Combining an instant medium with in-depth user profiles, Im Gegenteil (‘On the Contrary’) allows love seekers to get together without the fuss of awkward profile photos and often mismatching self-descriptions. Although the story of the innovative dating platform dates back to the pre-Tinder era in 2013, the duo could foresee that casual dating sites, offering nothing but a quick hookup, were getting out of hand, and thus demanded an unforced, slower go for dating. “Even though Tinder wasn’t a thing yet, we still felt the urge to slow things down somehow and come up with something that gives the single more space, and overall looks less embarrassing than the average dating website,” says Jule.
“To get to know each other better, it takes more than a few pictures. That’s the reason why dating should go slower.”
According to Jule and Anni, Berlin’s real-life dating scene, heavily influenced by the rather raucous party culture, is following the only acceptable formula - if singles are after something at all, then it is a no strings attached one-off. “People go out, pick someone up, have sex - nothing to write home about,” says Jule. That’s when Jule and Anni decided to slam the breaks on the cycle of meaningless pleasure hunting. “On the other hand, we’ve met a lot of singles complaining that they are missing proper relationships,” the duo admits.
When it comes to regular dating platforms, their dependence on the shallow, appearance-based profiles without depth seems to come across as the main pain point, setting a barrier for those seeking real relationships. Chris, 25, a former avid user of the gay dating website Grindr, admits he turned to Im Gegenteil because all similar sites were slowly evolving into sex date platforms. “Without given any additional information about the person, you decide on the basis of one picture whether you would like to meet him or not,” tells Chris.
Karl Nowak, 29, county manager at the music startup Spinnup, one of the first users of Im Gegenteil, is still in search of the perfect partner. Tired of accounts that fail to deliver an honest picture of a person, he was intrigued by the 50 incredibly personal letters per week received from girls all around Germany. “Speed-dating platforms suit the life of young people in big cities. The key factor is getting to know as many people as possible, and the chance of cherry picking - who suits you the most when it comes to appearance,” says Karl.
On the plus side, Im Gegenteil brings back a more personal touch - seducing someone via the platform takes more time and effort than a few swipes. “With Im Gegenteil there’s a higher barrier for people to get in touch with you. They actually have to write an e-mail not just swipe right. It’s kind of natural selection,” says Lana, 30, an artist manager from Berlin.
“There is so much choice out there that some people find it challenging not to look for something better all the time - better job, better apartment, better clothes, better partners. The feeling of missing out seems to be quite present.”
Lana admits she was surprised by the people’s input that goes into composing lengthy love letters. “The best surprise was a young guy who wrote to me saying his boss and I would make a good couple. He described him to the minutest detail, and it turned out that we really have a lot in common. I met him once and I think I’ll see him again,” she says. Yet sometimes things do go a bit awry. “Perhaps the only mishap has been a guy who started with “Hi Lena, I didn’t read your profile but liked the pictures...” He obviously couldn’t even bother to read the headline as my name is not Lena."
The duo states that the site’s popularity grew almost overnight - a hype that manifested itself in the form of 1,500 Facebook likes and some investors getting in touch on the first day, that is. Both are now working on Im Gegenteil full time. But does team work make the dream work? Anni’s business sense is a measured yin to Jule’s creative yang - Jule is also responsible for all the über-polished images of the users and their creative nests up on the site. Yet the process of running a slow-paced dating platform is unexpectedly hectic. “Many underestimate the time and effort that goes into the website - answering e-mails, meeting people, marketing, press, coding, accounting, strategic planning, earning money,” admits Jule. “We’ve been very lucky since from the beginning everything has worked out for us.”
It takes only a few seconds on the site to realise that first impressions do matter a great deal - for Jule and Anni, pedantic presentation is as vital as the depth and honesty of the featured portraits. On average, the age range of the audience the platform attracts is between 20-40. When it comes to selecting the potential love-seekers to be featured, Jule and Anni confirm that they are open-minded “in regards to their profession, beliefs, looks and sexual orientation”, although with a few exceptions. For example, the duo considers “half naked men with cats on their shoulders or women in front of right-wing deco” a no-go. Luckily, of the 2,000 current open applications, these still form a minority.
Although Anni and Jule deny the overflow of stereotypes, “regular hipsterish types” do not pass unnoticed. Coincidence? Karl confirms that most of the users appear to be from the “‘cool’ industries with great and interesting jobs.” “Most of them get to know a lot of people every day, which makes them feel like taking it slower when it comes to the private life. If small talk is part of the daily business, relationships should be exactly the opposite,” he says of the potential popularity of the site. Although Jule confirms that bearded guys in their thirties are still trending, it takes more than good looks to be featured on the site. “The model type of girl does not necessarily get more attention than the others, although we would have expected it, to be fair.”
In addition to the unique, thought-through profiles, a bold assemblage of glossy images of its users in their own natural habitat appears to be the science of success. For the most truthful and personal approach, the duo travels to the city where the single is based and interviews them in their own home element, hence the enviable home decor inspiration.
Yet despite meeting the applicants in their own comfort zones, the duo confesses that the hardest part is to get the singles open up. After all, the whole process should be executed as a casual meet-up between friends. “When we visit someone at home we spend around three hours at their place. It’s nothing like an awkward job interview, but more like meeting up with friends for tea and cake,” says Jule, adding: “Most of the singles are rather nervous - to make them feel comfy is one of our biggest goals.” The profiles - along with shooting, interviewing and editing - take a day each to compose. “It is often better to let someone else tell something about you, because some people have a distorted self-reflection. There’s simply no space for any fake accounts,” confirms Sinje, a long-term user.
Contrary to other online dating platforms, where new-found love often goes missing, Jule and Anni avidly keep track of the successful matches, boasting a 30% success rate since its inception. The success stories are put up with the aim to inspire the present and future love seekers. “One of the most heart-warming one was the about a girl called Cherie. She led a long distance relationship with her new partner for quite some time. He now finally moved to Berlin and in with her. The two of them now have a partner tattoo. We also met them for a success portrait,” confirms Jule.
In this era of supermarket-plenty, ever-accessible choice, Jule notes that it is often difficult to remain persistent in the search of that one specific partner. “There is so much choice out there that some people find it challenging not to look for something better all the time - better job, better apartment, better clothes, better partners. The feeling of missing out seems to be quite present,” she admits, bringing out a common modern-day paradox - “When it comes to dating, people are giving up rather quickly, but are longing for being close to someone at the same time.” “To get to know each other better, it takes more than a few pictures. That’s the reason why dating should go slower,” adds Sinje.
Nonetheless, running a slow-go online dating blog has not ruled out Jule and Anni’s belief in true human values, such as togetherness and real love. “It has been an amazing experience to make people happy,” Jule enthuses over their altruistic triumph. “Love is the best you can give to people nowadays. Next stop will be world peace, I guess.”