Arrival of the inevitable: elitist Tinder

“You’re smart, good-looking & successful. You don’t need a dating app to get a date – you’re too popular as it is. But you should join The League.”

This the tagline and pitch for a mobile dating app released early last month in private beta by a recent Stanford MBA graduate, Amanda Bradford.

The main value proposition for the app is to enable singles from prestigious institutions and professions to connect with each other. The genesis of the idea came from the belief that current dating apps like Tinder do not meet the needs of those individuals at the supposed higher end of the socioeconomic and intellectual spectrum who are looking for someone of the same background.

Currently to become a new member you must either be referred or you can be taken off of a waiting list through an algorithm that examines education and work history. The company promises to keep the community “high-quality” and that no fake profiles will slip through. Furthermore, the app allows users to select a relatively detailed list of preferences for potential dates to help refine match results.

There are a few other interesting features that help differentiate The League from other apps. For instance, the app appears to put a bigger emphasis on privacy. Namely, it allows the user to hide his or her profile from coworkers, immediate Facebook friends, and LinkedIn connections ostensibly so you can avoid the potential embarrassment of being caught using the app. Another small tweak from regular dating apps is that The League “punishes” in some way users who ‘like’ a match but don’t ever message. This would add value by incentivizing seriousness and pickiness in choosing matches, which in theory should promote a better match for both parties.

Like any online dating service, The League’s success will depend principally on mobilizing enough users to capture network effects. In other words, this service will only be as strong as the number and identity of the singles who are actually on it so it’s key that the service successfully recruit enough engaged users. Right now, the company has decided to do a very limited release in only one location, San Francisco, and plans to very gradually release the app in New York later this month. Given that its value is derived solely from the selective and elite status of its users, it’s clearly choosing to be careful about who it brings on. This mobilization strategy bears executional risk most especially at the onset as The League would need to balance the dual priorities of starting off with a sizeable enough base of engaged users and getting the ‘right’ users.

However, that being said, The League is built to serve a real need for a particular niche of users. Namely, it’s focusing on a set of ‘elite’ users who are frustrated with the plethora of users on other platforms and want to specifically find other ‘elite’ users like themselves. When looked this way, the scope of the challenge for The League to reach its critical mass of users seems manageable.

Indeed, it seems likely that the League could recruit enough users. However, could The League be the dating app for elites? With the myriad of easy-to-use dating apps in existence, it’s dubious that users of The League would use the app exclusively for all their dating needs. Moreover, given the lack of barriers to entry for development, clones will inevitably emerge. However, first mover advantage can be extremely powerful in the online dating world. Indeed, first movers can quickly capture consumer mindshare, especially when it comes to products with specific purposes. Few people can probably think of any direct competitor to JDate, for example. Moreover, for businesses, like online dating, that exhibit strong network effects first mover advantage can be all the more crucial in boasting the kind of sizeable user populations that attract additional users. Indeed, we can now only observe if The League is able to exploit its first mover advantage to the fullest.



  1. Donnie Benjamin

    Hi Jon. Interesting post, thanks. My biggest question for this company is what testing they did to validate that this would be a service people from "certain" schools and professions would even want to be a part of. For many, humility is a desirable trait. There's something about wanting to be a part of a "special group" that I venture many would find undesirable.
    I think the value that an app like Coffee Meets Bagel provides is that it, according to my knowledge, tries to match people based on education level. That makes a lot more sense than a narrowly defined list of schools and professions. I think we all know great people who didn't get into certain schools and many who we might consider "admissions mistakes."
    I do think that their decision to "punish" users who like somebody but don't message is a novel one. That is one of the annoyances of many current dating applications. Still, given the small market size of their intended user base and the fact that a company eventually needs revenue, I would bet that this company expands beyond its narrow fields at some point.

    • Caity Begg

      Hey Donnie — I agree that the decision to "punish" users who like somebody but don't message could prove quite useful for the League. I have suspicions that since they are targeting such a specific user base that they may introduce premium, paid features to either lessen this effect or increase visibility for the user in some manner.

  2. Marie Rowell

    Hey Donnie – agreed with you on the negative aspects of elitism… the tagline rubs me the wrong way. That said, Facebook proved that the campus-by-campus mobilization strategy (starting with only so-called "elite" schools) can be very effective. The League may be able to quickly penetrate its core user base and then hop outside of it when it needs to grow revenue, assuming they build in product functionality that still optimizes matches according to your description of the Coffee Meets Bagel model. Will be interesting to watch!

  3. Michael Ma

    I think apps such as Hinge are interesting in the sense they allow all users to join but basically create these same elite groups by connecting people based on their friends circle. I wonder if that approach may be better since you'll capture all sorts of different groups without having to build an individual app for each group of people.

  4. Caity Begg

    The League's strategy of utilizing a waitlist seems to be an effective for mitigating network effects from the start; that is, to not immediately turn away potential users because the dating pool is too small for their liking. As of this week, the League has over 7,400 people on its waitlist. Since none of its features are currently live, only time will tell whether it will outlast other dating apps like Hinge, Tinder, and smaller counterparts like Coffee Meets Bagel.

  5. Sophia Lambert

    An alternative way to market the app is being tried by "mbrace" – a very similar Berlin version that was launched early this year. Rather than talking about intellectual superiority or the user's popularity – mbrace takes a lighter approach and says their mission is to connect interesting people in a fun way. It is a invite-only service, but it does not have educational or work requirements. An interesting twist to their app: they are integrating gaming to the dating experience. Users can propose small "challenges" to people they want to meet, giving them an icebreaker and increasing interaction on the app. mbrace announced a seven figure funding round in February.

    A warning to The League though, despite Berlin's overall openness to these kinds of services, mbrace has a 3.3/5 star review from Android – which is inflated because several of good comments come from the management team. I also couldn't find it in the Apple store, so it might have been removed. Their website says that they are working on a 2.0 version.