UNC grad launches location-based dating app Catalyst

rbutt@newsobserver.comNovember 6, 2013 

Peter Simmons, founder of Catalyst

Peter Simmons first got the concept for his new mobile dating app while he was an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Simmons met his fiance in Deep End, a basement bar on Franklin Street, during his sophomore year. He only knew her first name, but they managed to keep in touch after she scanned the bar code on his Blackberry smartphone, which added him to her instant messenger contact list.

“Since then, I became interested in the idea of peripheral connections that allow people to develop new relationships,” the 24-year old said.

On Wednesday, Simmons is launching Catalyst, a free location-based app that allows users to find potential matches nearby without exchanging private contact information. Users who check in can view recent photos of other Catalyst users in the same location and “like” potential matches. Private messages do not occur until both users become friends upon request.

“There’s no fear of harassment or stalking,” said Simmons, a South Florida native who earned an undergraduate degree in public policy in 2012 and is now pursuing a joint law degree/MBA from UNC’s law school. “Privacy is a huge concern in dating services, so we really made that our focus.”

How it works

Here’s how Catalyst works: When users download the app, they can choose to log in using either their Facebook or Twitter account. Catalyst will then update their name, email address and gender by accessing their information on those social media platforms.

Catalyst will not post anything to Facebook or Twitter without a user’s permission. The app has a toggle switch that allows users to choose if they want to post their check-in and status updates to Facebook and Twitter.

Catalyst users can only use pictures that are taken through the app, a feature that Simmons said will ensure that users are represented more accurately on their profile pictures. Catalyst also encourages users to take a “selfie” – a self-portrait taken with a smartphone camera – on a daily basis and create a photo journal.

With Catalyst, Simmons is targeting a lucrative and crowded market.

One in 10 Americans has used a dating app, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey that was the center’s first on online dating since 2005. Respondents who have used sites or apps to find a spouse or other long-term relationship rose to 29 percent in the October survey, up from 15 percent in 2005.

Mobile apps are expected to represent up to 12 percent of the online dating industry’s $2 billion in revenue this year, according to IBISWorld.

Catalyst faces stiff competition from other location-based dating apps, including Grindr, Blendr, Dallya and Twine.

All of those apps are now available on Apple’s iOS operating system and smartphones running Google’s Android operating system. Simmons said he eventually plans to make Catalyst available on Android, but for now he’s focused on perfecting the functionality and user experience on iOS.

Positive outlook

Simmons hired Worry Free Labs, a New York-based mobile app design firm, to develop Catalyst. Since 2005, Worry Free has launched more than 100 mobile products.

Paul Choi, Worry Free’s founder and a graduate of UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, said the company’s developers usually take three to five months to design and roll out an app to the public.

“The outlook for the mobile app industry is very positive,” Choi said. “The number of iOS app downloads recently surpassed 50 billion and continues to grow.”

Worry Free is responsible for maintaining and updating the app after it launches. Simmons said he is reaching out to investors now with the goal of building his own in-house development team.

Simmons is still exploring how to make Catalyst profitable. To date, the project has been funded by his family and friends. Most app makers generate revenue by charging for downloads or by offering a subscription-based service.

“We haven’t set in stone on what route we want to take, but we have lots of ideas to create new features,” he said.

Catalyst is available for download from Apple’s app store starting Wednesday.

Butt: 919-829-4523

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