4. July 2017–
Tinder brought dating to the smartphone and now the Dortmund-based startup VR Dating World (German) is trying to bring it into virtual reality (VR). Founder Thorsten Engelmann is building an online portal that lets users flirt in computer-generated worlds.
How does it feel? “Crazy,” Engelmann says. The site is set to go live in fall.
Before VR Dating World, the 35-year-old started working with Philip Cappelletti on the startup MySugarDaddy, a dating website that connects wealthy men with younger women.
This became SDC Ventures (German), a company builder and investor for tech startups. SDC Ventures’ portfolio includes Monteurzimmer-1a.de, the VR computer game Dungeons and Treasure and also VR Dating World.
Soon they will launch an online shop focused on construction technology, and they recently dropped GoPepper (German), a travel assistance based on AI, after an unsuccessful test phase.
In an interview with Gründerszene, the founder shares his vision for online dating – and why he thinks little of hyped Berlin startups.
Thorsten you want to offer VR dating, but few people actually own VR headsets. Isn’t it a bit early for your idea?
The VR field is still in its infancy stages: headsets are expensive and clunky. But the first smartphones were also big and ugly. We want to get a foot in the door early and be the first to launch a product on the market, because in the next two, three years – this technology will develop incredibly quickly.
Why do you think your venture will be successful?
When VR headsets launched last year we immediately developed a game to see what is possible with this technology. Now, with more than a year of VR programming experience, we have the competitive edge.
You are already running the MySugarDaddy dating website. How do you plan on persuading these users to flirt in a VR world?
We can take advantage of MySugarDaddy’s large user base, which is why our VR dating world will first revolve around connecting wealthy men with younger women. But we want to build it as a dating world for all.
How will this look?
Users will answer questions about their dating preferences – asked by digital receptionists. Questions like, are you looking for someone academic or someone from a particular region of the world. Afterwards the user will move to a virtual world where they will meet other users. This is a modern version of a chat room.
Can people participate without VR headsets?
The 3D world was built so that you do not necessarily need to wear a VR headset. Users can also navigate the room with their keyboard and mouse – like a normal computer game. We envision our male users using VR headsets more often than female users.
What you mean is that wealthy men can afford to buy the headsets whereas young women, who might still be students, cannot. What does it feel like to flirt in VR?
As soon as you put on the headset you can interact with others. If you decide to use your voice, it is a crazy feeling. Interactions in VR are almost like in the real word. You quickly adapt to it. For example, I have often wanted to lean up on a bar, even though it is virtual.
What about gestures and facial expressions?
We plan to incorporate gestures and facial expressions. Right now there is the development that you can take a photo of your face with a mobile phone and using 3D modeling calculate the movement of the mouth and link it to the voice. This technology will be integrated soon. It would also be great if our users could enter the VR rooms with an image of their entire body. But in order to do that, we’d need a full-body scanner and they cost approximately 15,000 euros (17,000 USD). But as soon as new technologies are released, we incorporate them bit by bit.
Will meeting in person eventually lose relevance?
I assume as much because VR will replace in-person meet-ups. People will still rendezvous and get to know one another in the real world, but spatial separation will no longer be relevant. This means you can link up or watch a football game faster on a VR TV, for example.
From a business perspective, for your company it is best for users to spend as much time as possible in your VR worlds.
Yes, but we won’t be able to keep people from meeting in real life. Our goal is to connect and bring people together.
Aren’t there already digital relationships made possible through VR?
The real question is how VR will evolve. The Japanese, for example, are researching products capable of mimicking sex. Maybe that will be normal in 20 years. I hope not.
How do you plan on earning money with the platform?
When users enter into a private chat room, they can either be on a yacht or a Caribbean island. Users will eventually have pay to enter these rooms, but for now it is free. We have relatively few users at the moment and want to gather experience.
You also run SDC Ventures, a company builder and investor. How did that come to be?
Compared to startup hubs like Berlin, Munich and Hamburg, there is little happening in the “Ruhrgebietet,” an urban area in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. We kept hearing from other founders asking for financial support of if we share our experience with them. So we kept meeting good people and hearing new ideas, and since we wanted to branch out and start other projects besides dating, we founded SDC Ventures.
What is your approach with SDC Ventures?
We try to find niches where we won't burn through a lot of money. We worked hard for our money – really earned it – and are not part of the Berlin startup scene, which deals with millions and makes quick exits.
What projects are you promoting?
We tend to do bourgeois things, which are likely to succeed and be profitable. If a startup is not reaching its sales goals or is not mature enough then we leave it and move to a different project.
This text originally appeared on Gründerszene (German).