The Austin Chronicle

New Speed-Dating App Developed in Austin Doesn't Want to Waste Your Time

The Round wants you to seize the date

By David Sotelo, September 11, 2020, Screens

Zachary Casler has a question for single Austinites: How much of your time these days (especially during doomscrolling quarantine) is dedicated to swiping left or right?

The Austin-based co-founder and CEO of the new dating app, The Round, hopes to break the endless cycle of back-and-forth chatting and potential ghosting that plagues online dating. Where other services prefer to keep your attention on their app – hours of swiping, messaging, or obsessively adjusting your profile to perfection – rather than on potential dates, The Round hopes to cut to the chase. "I almost see our application more as a utility than entertainment," describes Casler.

It's simple enough: At 2pm every day, local users of The Round can log on and browse through the profiles of fellow speed-daters for 10 minutes. After indicating your preferred candidates, pick a time and area that you'll be available for a date the next day, and The Round will take it from there. The app pairs you with another user who best matches your interests and availability, and presents a menu of curated first date suggestions; anything from a casual walk in Zilker Park over smoothies, to take-home meal kits to cook together over a virtual date.

The Round is currently offered only in Austin, with rollouts planned in more cities next year. But with the city enforcing social distancing guidelines even for first dates, "Traditional options are not available," Casler admitted. "Going to crowded bars, going to festivals, concerts, meeting people that way. It's a lot harder." However, his small upstart startup was able to nimbly pivot its focus toward virtual, distanced experiences, partnering with well-known local establishments – including The Peached Tortilla and Via 313 – to offer these localized, tailor-made excursions. However, this isn't about shuffling customers to preferred clients. Casler added, "When job security is at an all-time low and there are people who are unemployed ... free, if not lightly paid options – smoothies, coffees, ice creams – we favor those."

Casler has some experience in the online dating game, having previously launched the dinner date app Dindr in 2018. It's an ambitious gambit though, especially during a pandemic, to gently nudge users away from the comfort of an infinite chat window, and out into the in-person dating world. Even more surprising is The Round's marketing language, which earnestly emphasizes an ethos of "intention" and "accountability" – words you might expect to find in a mindfulness tutorial before a dating app. But in a modern dating culture that often values the ability to remain casual and commitment-free, Casler is instead betting big on the promise of an equally valuable commodity: time. "You're in and out," he explains, likening the experience to calling an Uber when you need it. "If both people start off well-intentioned and are straightforward with what they're in for ... then being accountable and actually going on the date shouldn't be too big of a hurdle."

The Round is already accepting guest-list signups ahead of future launches in additional cities, but for now, the focus is on spreading the word throughout Austin, and cultivating a community of people who are eager to get out and seek human connection in a new way. "In less than 10 minutes, you get into the app, you find a great person to go share an experience with," Casler posited. "Can we get people to buy into the idea that their time is valuable?"

The Round is available to download for iOS.

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