FounderDating: Nice concept, dodgy viral mechanism

28 Apr

The other day I noticed that my girlfriend had posted to her Facebook wall about trying to “unlock Berlin” as a city on some dating website. Wondering why she was trying to access a dating website, when she’s meant to be dating me, I took a look at the website, FounderDating.

The concept sounds good – a matching website for entrepreneurs in the Internet startup space, with tight control on who gets to join and an emphasis on at least 50% engineers, presumably so it doesn’t get flooded with those annoying MBA-types with their ideas and “I just need a coder” attitude. Or as they put it:

Seems good. I’m looking for a technical co-founder, so I applied.

As part of the application process I had to link my account to LinkedIn and invite other people to recommend me as worthy for acceptance to this network. OK, that’s fine. Getting people to recommend me  makes sense, and obviously they want to spread their brand to good entrepreneurial people, so win-win.

At this stage I was told that the more people I invite the more chance I have of getting accepted to FounderDating. Hmmm, ok, that got my “slightly dodgy” radar twitching, but nothing too bad. I have over 500 contacts on LinkedIn, so how many should I invite to be sure I get in? I thought maybe 10 would be a good number, but in the end I could not be bothered scrolling through 500 contacts so I picked the first three of my entrepreneurial contacts, who I thought might be happy to endorse me.

A week later I get an email from FounderDating – my Application is incomplete. Oh. Really? I open the email to be told that 2 of my 3 contacts had not endorsed me yet, and that FounderDating  “can’t continue to review your application without their response

Hmmm. That seems to be a bit of a conflict. FounderDating tell me to invite as many people to vouch for me as possible, yet my application can’t proceed unless every single one of them replies. So If I had invited 10 people I would have more chance of getting in, but then logically less chance of all of them completing the application.

I tweeted them pointing out that this didn’t make much sense, but they thought I was just confused:

Well anyway, I decided to send a email to my two outstanding contacts. One of them replied saying they had tried but were unable to access the website. He’s a busy guy, so I didn’t want to push the matter any more seeing as he’d already tried twice. In fact my email to my second contact bounced. I had no way of knowing this as the original request was sent by pasting their email in to FounderDating directly – not by a message via LinkedIn, which might have made more sense. A message through LinkedIn later and she had managed to sign in and vouch for me.

Well, 2 out of 3 endorsed me (at least I hope they did!) – I guess that means I will never get in… shame.

Things got more interesting when I got an email from my girlfriend, saying she’d just got a strange email about FounderDating “from” a friend of hers:

Hey Anne,

I’m starting my next entrepreneurial project and looking for the right people to do it with. So, I’m applying to join FounderDating – a handpicked network of entrepreneurs. As part of the application process, I need people to vouch (aka act as a reference) for me. I’m hoping you can do this for me as they won’t look at applications without it. It’s quick, just click this link….

This is a really important part of the process, so thanks for your help,
[name redacted]

The problem being that she knew her friend would never have sent an email like that.

Oh, so FounderDating have been sending this email in my name to my contacts? That’s definitely not cool. As far as I can remember I was not told that my contacts would be sent reminders and I definitely never got a chance to review this text that they sent on my behalf. The worst thing is that they have written it to really sound personal – “Hey Anne”.

I’m protective of my network. I was probably a bit blasé about giving an unknown service access to my contacts in the first place, so I apologise to those people that I have now inadvertently hassled.

I love good viral mechanisms. They can really make a great company. One of my favourite’s is‘s, which I have… *ahem* studied in great detail. I’ve been pushing TransferWise loads recently and have got a few people signed up (if I get 2 more I get £50!). I also managed to get £15 of free bets from my friends at TradeChase the other day just by sharing my bets to Facebook (but they’ve removed their normal referral link! Guys – bring it back!).

Most importantly the company with the viral mechanism needs to respect the trust that you have put in them by allowing them access to your network. I’m sure FounderDating haven’t been malicious in their viral intentions. It’s just bad implementation. In fact it’s probably working well – I see loads of tweets about them, although I’m not the only one who is unhappy with their endorsing system.

I would like to be able to log-in and change the settings or something, but I don’t seem to even be able to log-in and when I use their “forgot password” link, I don’t receive anything.

Hopefully FounderDating will take this criticism well and change their system ASAP. And hopefully I get in soon too and find a nice technical co-founder for

16 Responses to “FounderDating: Nice concept, dodgy viral mechanism”

  1. Brian Morearty April 28, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    I’m the guy you linked to with your sentence near the end: “I’m not the only one who is unhappy with their endorsing system.” Since posting that a couple days ago, I learned that a friend of mine had previously attended a talk by FounderDating CEO Jessica Alter. In her talk, she said her experience is with building social networks and with FounderDating she wants to a build a trusted social network. Or words to that effect.

    I think they’re heading down the wrong path if the goal is to create a trusted social network. At this point, because I don’t trust the integrity of their viral loop, by association I can’t implicitly trust the network.

    • Steven April 28, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

      Yeah I’ve seen a few unhappy tweets. I think it is most likely bad implementation (aka MVP), but maybe I am just trying to see the best in people.

      It’s a shame – I really like the “unlock Berlin” mechanism going on, and with some more thought they could make the vouching system really work.

      Side note: I recall the site went on about recruiting “vouchers” – i.e. people who vouch for you. I’ve never heard anyone actually use the word in that way. I wonder if that is a US vs British English thing…

  2. Lorin July 16, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

    I’m stuck in a similar position – signed up a month ago, already have 6+ vouches – no response or updates from the site or proper method of contact. Then a slew of complaints from people telling me the site asked them to join after vouching, then a few odd emails here and there remind.

    Also, if you input the wrong email address there is no way to correct it. Very messy system.

    //EDIT// they responded after I complained on Twitter, seems to be the sad norm these days.

    • Steven July 17, 2013 at 9:16 am #

      Might be because you asked for >6 vouches. As I mention in my post my understanding is that you have more chance if you ask for and receive more vouches – but then every single person you ask has to vouch for you.

  3. indswe August 14, 2013 at 5:33 pm #

    Should have seen this before I signed up. I signed up and one of my contact responded they won’t vouch in this sight because they wanted to access their LinkedIn contacts as well. I was of the same believe as you Steve that they will only use the email I added for my vouches to contact and not my LinkedIn contact 😦

    I am very protective of my professional and social network. Their press releases and reviews from other sights seemed legitimate.

    Thanks for your post. I will tweet a complain if my network receive such emails.

  4. founderCTO September 21, 2013 at 3:21 am #

    I had a similar experience when signing up for this “dating” site. I also thought it was done unprofessionally and regret wasting my time. The emails they sent to my contacts were embarrassing. They wanted my contacts to provide them with full access to their LinkedIn contact lists. Several refused to do this.

    I greatly regret signing up for this and having them send their idiot emails to my contacts. Their emails say, “we’re not a dating site.” Ridiculous.

  5. founderCTO September 24, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

    FounderDating is also spamming Meetup message groups with the same email. This one comes from one-name “Gail”, but I have seen identical messages from similar anonymous senders. They all start with “Hey”.



    I know a lot of you have already started a side-project or company and a lot of you want to. Wanted to share about FounderDating (no, it’s not romantic) since I know finding the right person can be a big challenge. FD is an invite-only, online network for entrepreneurs to start side projects & to connect with cofounders. I see some of you are already on but let’s get more folks!

    Some highlights of the network:
    1) High caliber people – everyone is referenced/screened
    2) 50% engineers
    3) Reach – the network spans N.America, UK, Israel

    The NYC deadline is 10/22. Apply now (you don’t need an idea) >

    Hope that helps,

    • Steven September 24, 2013 at 6:05 pm #

      Ironic thing is – I have a highly-rated startup (Seedcamp finalist), and I need a technical co-founder, but as far as I am aware, I did not make the grade for Founderdating.

  6. matt September 29, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    I just joined, reluctantly, and may cancel based on these privacy issues. I asked a dozen people to vouch. Many complained, or were concerned it was a phishing attempt (which it really is!!!). I wrote a letter of complaint- no response. only 3-4 people “vouched” and then I was offered membership anyway. They want you to think 1) you should request lots of vouches, 2) you need them all to reply, so they can grow their social network faster. I consider this behavior stealing my social network, and I am not happy about it at all. If it doesn’t get fixed ASAP, I will withdraw from FD.

    • RickB January 28, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

      I was accepted after 6 out of 8 vouchers replied. I had to email them several times to get them to accept me.

      Now the fishy part; once you are approved you have to “join” which costs $50 a year. They never said anything about this during the vouch process.

      I don’t mind spending $50 to find a cofounder, however, I am very leery about wasting money on something that is so fishy. Has anyone joined? How many people do they have and what is the success rate?

      • Steven January 28, 2014 at 6:03 pm #

        hmmm something that already sounded pretty dodgy, now sounds even more dodgy. That’s impressive by itself!

  7. Tim Mitra August 8, 2014 at 10:52 pm #

    Hi, it seems that they haven’t changed their practices. I also received an email telling me my application was incomplete. However before I could finished I was also told that I was rejected. Shortly after that the people I asked to vouch for me started receiving the requests addressed as if I had sent them. Do you have any more insight on this network and it’s practices?

  8. Educated Squirrel December 4, 2014 at 12:13 am #

    Glad I read this before signing up. Are there any similar dangers with

    • Steven December 4, 2014 at 6:49 am #

      No idea tbh! Sorry I can’t be of more use!


  1. Finding a tech co-founder is like trying to get married | The wannabe VC - September 26, 2013

    […] I’ve looked at a couple of these founder-matching websites, but they seem to be a bit US-focussed, and of course I seem not to have made the grade for the..uhhh…. “illustrious” […]

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