I was listening to a podcast where the former CTO of Coinbase was explaining why some great products fail. He explained that there are two distinct parts to successfully launching a product. First, a product has to be good. Second, it must also have good distribution.
Most engineers fail to understand the importance of the latter part. They think that if they build a good product, people will come. The reality is that distribution is just as important, if not more so. Anyone who has watched a viral cat video will immediately know this to be true. The best product in the world won’t be successful if nobody sees it.
A little later that same day, I got a call from my friend, Matt. He was a little frustrated with his dating life.
“I don’t get it. I love the guy but he’s really not all that special. Yet, he’s on a hot date every other day. Why isn’t that happening to me? What gives?”
Matt was talking about our mutual friend, Raul. Matt continued, “There’s the woman from the festival, the woman from the farmer’s market, and the woman he met on the bus.”
“Oh! And the woman I set him up with!” I chimed in. I could practically hear Matt’s teeth grinding through the phone. I could see where Matt was coming from. Matt was certainly a better catch on paper. He was more conventionally attractive, more financially successful, a better conversationalist, and more emotionally articulate.
Then the lightbulb went off in my head.
Raul was a good “product” with great distribution. Matt, on the other hand, was a great “product” with awful distribution. While Raul leveraged every part of his life and put himself out there — Matt made the mistake of thinking that if he was a great “product,” good dates would eventually just appear. His distribution methods were limited to Friday nights at the bar.
When I shared my revelation with Matt, he agreed but didn’t really know where to start.
“I just don’t know where to go to meet people. I hate online dating. I can’t find the things I value through curated profiles.”
The irony is that Matt is actually remarkably good at talking to strangers. His problem is that he meets strangers, has a great conversation, and then struggles to keep a connection going after that. After talking to a few more single friends, I realized that this problem was actually incredibly common.
Combining a great product with the right audience.
Being the consummate problem solver that I am, I decided to research the key factors that lead to building sustainable connections with strangers. I discovered that avoiding online dating may be a wise move for Matt. While it solved the distribution problem, researchers found that couples that met online had a far higher breakup rate than couples who met in real life.
Another key point about distribution is this — it isn’t just about meeting as many people as possible, it’s about meeting the right people. Your target audience should be the people who want to date you and whom you want to date. Being distributed to the target audience, not just anyone — is key. That’s Marketing 101.
For example, if Matt met a lot of women he wanted to date, but they were all married — that wouldn’t work well for him. Conversely, if he met a lot of his mother’s friends who all thought he was the bee's knees but were not people he wanted to date, that wouldn’t work either.
So, how do you combine a great product (i.e. you) with a great distribution that stacks the deck in favor of you meeting your target audience (i.e. your dream partner)?
1. Proximity and frequency of exposure
For many people, their closest and longest friendships are from high school or university. There is a simple reason for this — it’s because these were the people we saw all day, every day. In social psychology, this is called the “Proximity Principle” and it has been documented for decades. This principle basically states that people who see each other more frequently form stronger relationships because we are attracted to things that are familiar.
This means you should try to meet people that you are likely to see or run into frequently — either because they have the same routines as you or because they live nearby.
- Public transport — If you take the same bus to work every day, you’re likely to see the same people.
- Uber pool — There is a rising phenomenon of people who are using the UberPool feature as a supervised date with an easy way out. The plus side is that the people you meet will likely live near you and frequent the same places.
- Gym or fitness classes — Most people have pretty fixed routines around working out and recreation.
- Dog park, coffee shop, bars, running trail, farmer’s market — While these places are less reliable timing-wise than public transport, most people still have fairly regular habits around these activities.
- Work or coworking spaces— You should always proceed with caution here. It may be prudent to meet people outside your immediate department.
2. Shared friends/social circles
According to a survey of 500 singles and 550 married people by ReportLinker, 58% of people who did not date online met people through friends. eHarmony’s Chief of Advice, Jeannie Assimos, says that this is because you not only get a good picture of what the person is like but you already have the stamp of approval from the people you care about.
- Host a dinner party — You can host a party where you encourage your friends to bring one new person outside your usual social circle. If you make it a recurrent party, you will have the added benefit of regularly catching up with your friends.
- Asked to be set up by your friends or family — A third party can be excellent objective filters for who might suit us. You might discover some surprising matches that you wouldn’t have chosen for yourself but might actually be just who you need.
- Make friends with your neighbors — I have seen people successfully match with friends of neighbors (who have a convenient excuse for being close by) as well as with the neighbors themselves.
3. Shared values/lifestyle
Alignment of shared core values is one of the most underrated factors in looking for a partner. Core values are what a person considers important in life such as adventure, freedom, stability, connection, etc.
Having shared core values minimizes friction and is important for effective conflict resolution. For example, if one of you is a staunch Christian Republican while the other is a strict Muslim Democrat, you’re probably off to a rocky start. Because core values are more unchangeable than interests, it is important to align them early. This also applies to lifestyle choices such as living in a van or being a vegan.
- Authentic relating groups — There is a movement now that is centered around facilitating meetings to teach and practice the core values of honest, non-judgmental, and authentic connection.
- Religious or cultural groups — Most churches or religious institutions have social events that you can attend.
- Rallies or volunteer organizations— You can try this if you have a cause that you are especially passionate about such as climate change, a political party, or even vanlifing.
4. Shared interests/passions
In a survey by Pew Research Center in 2015, 64% of couples said that they remained married because they had shared interests. Additionally, psychologist Dr. Ann Buscho states that one of the most common causes for divorce is a lack of shared interests. Simply put, if you could meet someone who already had a shared interest, it would greatly increase your chances of building a successful relationship:
- Classes —Classes often provide you with many conversation openers. An art class could easily segway into talking about favorite galleries and be followed up with an invitation to go visit them together. Foreign language classes also often require people to pair up. Acro yoga and dance classes are a safe way to accelerate physical intimacy.
- Hobby clubs, Meetups, or professional groups— These clubs often host events that you can simply attend. They also provide a shared social network and regular meetings which are both conducive to building a relationship.
- Races or festivals — These events often have a social component at the end.
- Tours at local breweries or restaurants — Many cities have food and/or craft beer tours that are a great way to discover local delights while also meeting people in a casual setting.
- Facilities or areas — Hanging out in your favorite habitat is also a great way to meet like-minded people. The key here is to allow some time in your schedule for organic interactions to occur. Don’t rush to complete your session. Instead, allow time to linger around.
5. Available conversation topics
If you have just moved to a new city or are currently in a limbo state where your social networks, routines, and even hobbies have been disrupted (which is just about everyone right now)— there is still hope! Usually, the hardest part about meeting new people is having a topic of conversation to break the ice. So, here are some ideas of venues that offer you just that:
- Book store — You can comment on a book they appear to be interested in or ask for a recommendation.
- Art gallery, exhibit, or museums — People tend to wander through these spaces alone or in smaller groups. Often they also tend to move slower, giving you the chance to engage on specific pieces.
Matt tried most of the methods I listed up above and eventually started dating a girl he met at ultimate frisbee. The funny thing is that I had made a bet with another friend that frisbee would be where Matt would meet his match.
I knew this because anyone can see that Matt is transformed when he is playing frisbee. He’s in his element, surrounded by friends, and in a place that is a second home to him. On the field, Matt can simply be himself.
Here is why the ways above work in your favor — they are all about maximizing the places where you will be the best version of yourself. You are likely to feel more comfortable at a place you frequent, amongst your good friends, doing something you love, or anywhere where a relationship can grow organically. Turns out, the best distribution is a method that maximizes the product as well.
So, be brave and put yourself out there. If you’re a great product that only your mom and cats get to know — well then, that’s on you.
Face to face, just you and me, with no rules. Just like you, I get lonely too — Drake