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Searching for quarantine love? Filter Off founder Zach Schleien gives advice

If you weren’t seeing someone before social distancing became a requirement or you stopped seeing someone amid the stay-at-home orders then you might be feeling discouraged with the dating scene.

Filter Off is here to take out the unnecessary and frankly uninspiring aspects of online dating apps, to offer a more real-life translation into romantic chemistry. I got a chance to talk to the app’s creator Zach Schleien about the app’s innovative structures that allow for real connection.

It might feel like there’s no imaginable way to meet someone beyond swiping through profiles with the hopes that a pre-quarantine photo will strike your fancy. And even after matching you might spend days or even weeks messaging someone you may never really meet up with.

Filter Off removes that ‘wait and see if chemistry moves off-screen’ hassle.

Rundown of the app

Zach explained the basic premise of the platform as a video speed dating app. When you sign up, Filter Off offers you date nights on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. The app will ask you whether you’re free for a date tonight and then you can choose your time.

“And it’s literally like no work, like no friction for the user.”

Your dates are scheduled back to back, each lasting 90 seconds. The incentive is to vibe with someone in a short amount of time, and if you want more time you match with each other and can continue the conversation.

The Inspiration

Schleien decided to create Filter Off after a string of unsatisfying dates and a lack of immediate chemistry via traditional online dating apps. Going on dates after meeting online and exchanging conversations via text can be quite disappointing.

We’ve all been let down by connections that made sense via the app, but just didn’t translate to real life. Zach was always fascinated with dating apps and the journey from online messaging to in-person chemistry.

“I used to run a dating blog — and it covered apps — and it was just frustrating getting on a date and doing a swipe and everything and actually meeting them and going for a drink and in two minutes, you understand that it’s just not a fit.”

Most people just soldier through that date, wasting more valuable time on someone they know they’re likely to never really talk to again. But Zach decided to take a different approach to avoid that awkwardness altogether.

“I just started asking women if they could facetime, and most actually said no, probably thirty percent actually said yes. I wanted to face time before time so that we could just see if we vibe. And if they weren’t into me, save them their time.”

The focus on video chatting helped Zach recognize a way to avoid the lackluster dates. Like many million-dollar ideas, Zach saw a solution to a problem that so many were having and decided to share it.

“I realized that this is what I enjoy — that authentic human connection where I can do that, and I realized that no one was doing it. So, I just did it myself. And that’s just kind of how Filter Off was born.”

Filter Off started before the pandemic and had a somewhat rocky beginning. Many potential users weren’t comfortable with the video aspect or took issue with other structural ways the app worked. Growth was slow.

“We started this about a year ago and the first version, it was difficult to attract users.”

But Zach and his team knew they had something and didn’t let up. They spoke to hundreds of users and potential users asking for feedback and how to improve the app. As a result of their research, they renovated the whole app.

The premise stayed the same, and a relaunch happened at the end of February of this year. The growth was decent until the stay-at-home orders went into effect.

“Then the pandemic happened, and then it really exploded.”


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During stay-at-home orders, the app fits in well with some of our primary ways of communication and connection: video chats. But what makes the app even more attractive is its other parameters.

Innovative selection without the limitations

“We have tried to make it feel like you don’t have unlimited dates. We wanted each date to feel like a date, to feel special.”

So why the 90 seconds. Zach explained that you can usually know if you hit it off with someone on a basic vibe level in a short amount of time. The flip side of that is to consider is that you want to avoid that time-wasting,  ‘soldiering through’ phenomenon.

“And what you realize when you’re hitting it off, ninety seconds is not enough time. But when you have a date where you are not feeling it, I could get off before ninety seconds.”

But how do those dates get selected for you? Dates are chosen based on your preferences, such as radius, location, gender interest, music preference, you name it there’s probably a preference choice.

filter off dating app

Zach assured me that despite all of those parameters, the app won’t reject a potential date just because they don’t align with some of your preferences. Love isn’t a checklist. Plus the way it works also avoids the lack of incentive found when you have unlimited choices.“

The concern with unlimited choices can go so far as to affect mental health. Zach explained that with an abundance you feel you are just one of many, not important and without human connection, you stop seeing the humanity in others too.

“You forget that every profile you swipe left, that’s a human. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t swipe left, but you should experience, an authentic connection.”

The solution to this is to change the availability of too many options and add back in that undeniable human component, face-to-face interaction.

“You give yourself the opportunity and then you give yourself a moment, the ninety seconds, to see if you are a fit”

The other awesome thing about Filter Off is that it’s a blind date. So you’re not able to reject someone beforehand just because they might not look like the person you would date.

“But they are blind, and the fact that when you get them, you can see their fun facts but their photo is blurred.”

This action addresses the issue of stereotyping within the online dating world. We’ve all seen the stats broken down by ethnicity or race and how some identities are simply rejected from the onset. Filter Off avoids this with the way the platform operates in terms of preference-based date selection along with blurring photos for blind dates.

“We don’t want to be a swiping app, because there’s an option that you can cancel that date, and I don’t want people canceling because of how someone looks. Our tagline is going beyond the profile, and so again, it goes beyond the profile, race, ethnicity because you never know.”

Pushing Innovation

Filter Off is continuing on features that are most important to users such as providing international dates. While some are content to date within a small area radius, others especially during social distancing orders, are finding out of state and international connections far more possible. Filter Off is currently available to everyone around the world. Filter off regularly runs global date nights if there aren’t enough people in your area for their weekly event or interest-based events. Global date nights allow you to connect with anyone around the world.

“Let’s say, you are quarantined in Chicago and you want to date in New York City, we will be providing that. In the next couple weeks, I think there will be an increase in people connecting romantically all over the world because everyone is quarantined.”

Filter Off also curates speed dating events, both on and offline. The event allows attendees who have chosen one or more specific filters to speed date each other. Those in person events are curated in NYC, Chicago, SF, and LA as well as the UK.

Zach explains that anyone can create an event based on virtually any filter or interest. There’s flexibility with the event as well, you can charge a small fee to enter the event or keep it completely free to attendees. Companies can create and run events.

Zach spoke fondly of several events Filter Off made happen. In a religious event, over two thousand dates occurred to fill a demand from an orthodox Jewish community who felt there wasn’t a platform for them.

Zach also looked forward to an LGBTQ event, and mentioned that events can be curated with as specific and as broad parameters as needed. He mused that you can run a vegan event where all attendees are vegan for example.

“These are the things that you can’t find in an app — and its tough in real life to find someone romantically, like who is specific.  It’s  fun to be able to attend an event like one of those.”

The ability to curate online events has been a big deal for organizers who because of the pandemic cannot operate events in real life. As a result, they’re losing an avenue of income and support. Zach was adamant about providing those people an avenue to continue growing their communities’ engagement while also being able to sustain themselves.

“Considering that a lot of these event organizers have been affected by this pandemic, so like how could I help them create their own events where they could get paid? So, it’s a really special project.”

Zach still emphasized that while it’s possible to create events that are really specific and have one or more set filters, the app itself doesn’t guarantee that every filter you set will be a non-negotiable, or limit all potential dates that fall outside of it.

“You may have an idea of what you want, but when it comes to love and romance, I don’t think many people have an idea of what they want. The divorce rate is almost over fifty percent, so we are not that savvy when it comes to choosing our partners.”

Advice for App Developers

Zach’s advice to app developers looking to launch their own platform is clear: confidence in your goals. Find out what interests you and what you’re passionate about and what you want to achieve. Beyond that Zach emphasizes that you should be open to feedback and advice as long as it comes from an informed voice, and that would be your users. Flexibility with taking that advice is also important.

“Listening to your users is important and being true to your goal is also super important. So yea, be nimble.”

photo cred: Stephanie Diani for Johnson & Johnson

Advice for using Filter Off

But if you’re interested in trying out the app, what should you know? Zach parted with some good advice on how to approach the video speed dating platform. The first being, look presentable for the dates.

You can be more or less casual, but the goal is to treat it like a real date. The other thing to consider is the time frame and making the most of it.

“You have ninety seconds. You can’t just talk the whole time. That’s why you have fun facts […] use the ice-breaker, if you are nervous or if you don’t know what to say. Even from a place of curiosity, ask: “How are you holding up, how has it been?”

One thing is true, there’s plenty of connections to be made via Filter Off, and they’re likely to be a lot more valuable than mindlessly swiping within and outside this pandemic.