NORTH ATTLEBORO — Kevin Murray wants to be your dating coach.
While the online-dating market is flooded with apps like Tinder, Bumble, OKCupid, Match.com and more, each promising their own angle at a chance at love, Murray, an experienced online dater himself, says no app has mastered a key tool needed for daters in today’s day and age: A step-by-step guide on how exactly those daters should date.
That’s where he steps in.
“Most people have no idea what they’re doing online,” Murray said. “I used to be the exact same way.”
But with his new app, Icebrkr, and an artificial intelligence tool nicknamed “Hootie,” Murray promises a real-time wingman to help daters fumble through every step of online dating with ease, from putting together a successful profile to breaking the ice with a potential love interest. Icebrkr will even provide local suggestions for a first date.
“The goal with Icebrkr is to build confidence and reduce uncertainty in online daters,” Murray said.
The way to do that, is to give users the tools to help themselves.
“People always say online dating doesn’t work, but most times the problem isn’t the app, it’s you,” Murray said.
A Mansfield native and North Attleboro transplant, Murray, 35, studied online dating through a communications master’s degree at Rutgers University before spending years as an online matchmaker of sorts at Eflirt, a digital dating expert service.
There, Murray said he got an extensive first-hand look at the lives of every kind of dater, from 30-year-old women to 60-year-old men, providing profile assistance, ghostwriting and connection services to some of the wealthiest online daters out there. Services ranged from $150 to $4,000 a month. But through both experiences, Murray found a common problem: Daters in general struggle to find a happy medium between their ideal self and their actual self.
“Dating is all about trying to sell yourself, but you actually have two first impressions when it comes to online dating: The one you have online and the one you have in person,” Murray said. “If you’re not accurate online, when you meet, that’s what people don’t like.”
The problem is, most daters aren’t even aware of these problems — or are unsure where to start in fixing them. That’s where Murray’s app comes in. Icebrkr provides suggestions to curb common online dating mistakes and help users build a successful profile. The biggest mistakes? Group photos and a lack of conversation starters to get things going.
When users log into the app they’ll find “Hootie,” a dating owl that helps with the onboarding process by asking quick survey questions in a conversational style complete with jokes and gifs to help keep the user engaged. Hootie collects information on dealbreakers, hobbies, qualities and interests and puts that information together in a ready-made profile.
Then the AI-tool helps users pick profile pictures — a key part of the profile where users typically fall short. Hootie guides users toward photos that capture their personality, facial features, full body and hobbies to create a well-rounded image of who the dater is.
If a user tries to upload a group picture, Hootie might even be able to stray them away from the common dating mistake with a gentle reminder: “Group pictures can cause confusion and draw attention away from you,” Murray says.
“People can ignore these tips, but if it’s right there in your face — if you know better — it might make you do better.”
But the help doesn’t stop there. Once daters match with other users, they can still turn to the dating bird for advice on how to get a conversation going.
Murray tells users to avoid generic intros like “Hey,” “How are you?” “How was your weekend?”
“Those questions lead you to nowhere land,” he said.
Instead, Hootie can look at hobbies or interests both users have in common and suggest opening lines that will spark something more meaningful.
“We’re trying to solve the pain points for people looking for serious relationships in online dating,” Murray said. “The most common questions are, “I don’t know what to say next” or “What do I put down in my profile?” “When do I ask them out?” We’re promoting accurate profiles, building confidence and reducing uncertainty on what to do when users actually match.”
These are tools Murray says platforms like eHarmony, Match.com and Coffee Meets Bagels — presumably his biggest competitors because of the demographic they target — lack.
And, as the program grows, Hootie can record questions from users that it doesn’t have answers to, flagging attention to dating areas that need to be addressed.
The app isn’t live just yet — but Murray is beta-testing the program by providing assistance to users on other dating platforms through an SMS service, responding to questions himself.
“I am Hootie before we have Hootie,” he said.
The data collected from his conversations will help feed common questions and answers to the AI application, which will come to life as soon as Murray and co-founder Mark Brehaut garner the $200,000 worth of funding needed for development of the dating platform to commence.
Once development starts, they believe Icebrkr could be on the Boston market within three or four months.
In the meantime, the SMS service is open for online daters, who can solicit free advice for five days after first signing up. After that, the service charges $20 a month.