Amy Baglan, co-founder of the online dating platform MeetMindful, is convinced that technology has disrupted the way human beings are supposed to connect with each other.
“Social media and technology in general has taught us that it’s okay to connect on really surface-level, quick ways, and that’s not how I think we’re wired as humans,” Baglan says. “There is an underlying anxiety that it’s not enough, that something’s missing.”
That underlying anxiety is what MeetMindful, her Denver-based startup, set out to address. Baglan wants her niche dating site to be a tech fix for tech stress — enabling people to connect in meaningful ways with others who are also interested in “mindful living.”
That term might bring to mind yogis and vegans, but according to Baglan, MeetMindful is popular with a wide audience of people who are dedicated to holistic health and personal growth. “This stuff isn’t just fringe hippie shit anymore,” she says.
The origins of MeetMindful date back to 2006, when Baglan was the vice president of a New York City startup, Ez Texting. She started to practice yoga and meditation, and found that they “filled a void” in her personal life. In 2010, she quit her job, sold all her stuff, and embarked on a journey to India and Southeast Asia. “It was very Eat, Pray, Love,” she says, laughing. “I wanted to take life by the reins and create something that was in line with my values and my passions.”
While abroad, Baglan studied partner yoga and Thai massage, and met communities of ex-pats who were invested in various ”mindful living” practices. “It didn’t matter what somebody's practice was or what they were studying, because that ebbs and flows throughout someone’s lifetime,” Baglan notes. “What mattered was this similar dedication to the integration of mind, body and spirit.”
In 2012, Baglan returned to the United States and moved to Denver, a city she'd visited once, on a whim. Right off the bat, she founded a company called Yoga Dates, which hosted events like “Yoga Speed Dating” and “Vinyasa and Vino.” The events were instantly popular, Baglan recalls, and they were a hit not only with yogis, but with people who were tired of trying to meet potential partners on sites like eHarmony and match.com. Baglan realized that the community of singles interested in some kind of holistic wellness practice was larger than she'd assumed, and it got her thinking about an online platform that would not only reach a wider audience, but provide a more consistent way for yoga aficionados to meet each other — and also save Baglan from having to coordinate meet-up logistics herself.
In 2014, Baglan met Adam Taylor, and together they created a successful prototype of the site she'd envisioned. The next year, Baglan and Taylor launched a beta version and were accepted into Techstars Boulder Accelerator. The Techstars program, which Baglan says was a "big catalyst in our growth," was co-founded by gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis; it provides mentorship, networking opportunities and seed funds for a selective class of startup entrepreneurs each year. MeetMindful has been growing ever since, nearly doubling the size of its team over the past six months and recently raising $5.5 million in a round of investments.
Although marketing efforts are concentrated in seven major cities, MeetMindful is now available worldwide. Although Baglan declines to share how many singles have joined the site, she notes that the Denver/ Boulder area is the most active on MeetMindful.
One of the challenges Baglan faces is that MeetMindful is a social network designed for and marketed toward people who might be skeptical of meeting potential romantic partners online, seeing online dating as inauthentic.
As a result, the company has had to look beyond the usual social-media platform strategy of “hooking” users with almost addictive features. Baglan has paid close attention to how Tinder and other swipe-to-date apps have changed the dating scene for millennials — adversely, she thinks, noting that most people end up using the apps for superficial conversations or “mindless swiping” rather than real connections.
A 2016 study by researchers in the Netherlands indicated that while millennials might be using Tinder to find love rather than no-strings-attached hookups, they were getting sucked into another primary motivation that surfaced in the study: "self worth and validation." And when consumer-financing company LenEdu analyzed data compiled from polls of college students, 44 percent of Tinder users said that their main reason for using the app is “confidence-boosting procrastination.” But Tinder may not even fulfill that motivation: A study by the University of North Texas revealed that men who use Tinder have lower self-esteem than men who don’t, and indicated that all Tinder users tend to have a more negative perception of their own body image.
Profiles on MeetMindful are much more comprehensive than Tinder’s allotted six pictures, location, age and short bio. Users are asked to share a “mantra,” a favorite quote that appears on the top of their profile along with the mindfulness practices to which they are most dedicated. The next section asks users to share how their friends would describe them, then describe themselves in their own words. The remaining questions on the profile, according to Baglan, are meant to both establish open honesty and offer opportunities for users to make the move: suggestions for what potential partners should ask about, and “imperfections I’m embracing or changing.” Users can also identify their diet, religion, level of physical activity, and whether they smoke, use drugs or drink. Then they can select and publicize their “dealbreakers” (i.e. “Vegans aren’t for me,” or “Previously married people aren’t for me”).
This approach struck a chord with Longmont resident George Morris, who joined MeetMindful in February 2017. “I was highly skeptical when I was first using it,” Morris says. “I thought, ‘Another dating site, been there done that.’” But Morris was pleasantly surprised by how many women on the site were just the type of person he’d been looking to meet: “mindful, athletic, live an intentional type of lifestlye.” He soon met his current girlfriend; they've been dating for a year and a half.
Even though they enjoy many of the same activities, Morris thinks it's unlikely that they would have started dating without the app. “You’re not going to yoga class thinking you’re gonna find someone to date; you’re going to be mindful. It’s kind of the last place you want to go to meet someone,” he explains. But MeetMindful saved him from having to think of a pick-up line while trying to meditate in his satsang class. Through the site, he was able to make a deep connection quickly, he says.
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That's partly because MeetMindful has integrated features into the site and app that gently urge people to date mindfully, keeping in sight their goals of making meaningful connections and taking them into the real world. “We want people to actually do this with intention,” Baglan says. To further that, the company plans to roll out a new pricing model this fall that actively works against the typical Tinder tendency of mindlessly swiping. Right now, MeetMindful users must purchase the premium version in order to message their matches. The in-the-works free version prioritizes communication over mindless swiping: Users will be able to message their matches for free, but can only see a limited number of profiles each day, and they must view each profile for a certain amount of time before deciding whether to “like” them or not. “We’ve made it so you have to actually look at the person before you make a decision, and not just their picture,” Baglan explains.
MeetMindful publishes a dating advice column on the website, where mindful-dating gurus post articles ranging from “How to Make the Move from Online to a Real Life Date” to guidelines on addressing holistic health seekers' deepest concerns, such as “How Can I Tell If My Partner Has Genuine Self-Love?” Community guidelines are in the works, as is a feature that will allow users to politely say “Thanks, but no thanks” to decline a date, rather than ghosting their matches by simply not responding to them.
Baglan hints that even bigger changes are on the way, which may lead MeetMindful to expand beyond dating. “We want to be the place for anyone who's interested in learning about this stuff. This is the place they can go for making inspiring connections both online and offline in real life,” she says.
If all goes well, Baglan envisions MeetMindful facilitating the kind of community-building she saw in her travels abroad. “The mantra that we've been saying recently is that personal growth shouldn't happen alone," she concludes. "That's going to be our guiding light."