Sneaky Algorithms, Video Calls, and Dick Pics: The Secrets of a Dating App Founder

Frustrated by her own experience as a busy person giving up precious weeknights on unsuccessful dates, Forbes 30 Under 30 winner(Opens in a new window) Created by Lizz Warner Glow(Opens in a new window) in 2019. In a billion-dollar industry crowded with dating apps, Warner sought to create a more productive experience for its users by leveraging video chat.

With Gleam, users uploaded their availability for dates into the app. When receiving a match, the algorithm automatically scheduled a 10-minute video chat when both parties are available, with the goal of directly accessing the most meaningful human connection, as soon as possible. If you matched, the app unlocked the text messages, avoiding the unsavory experience of texting a stranger for days, weeks, or even months before the conversation ended without a meeting.

“I wanted to create a real dating app, not a texting app,” Warner said.


In just a few years, Warner built Gleam from the ground up, saw couples who met on the app get engaged, and sold his company to an up-and-coming app with a similar mission called FROM(Opens in a new window)founded by Joe Feminella in July 2022. Gleam was previously available in Los Angeles and New York, but for now it’s offline while it merges with FROME, which is available on iOS(Opens in a new window) and android(Opens in a new window).

Warner has already founded his next startup, a video editing subscription service PopCut(Opens in a new window). But before she left the dating industry, she gave us some insight into how dating apps work and the secret sauce to finding a successful match in the seemingly endless game of online dating.

FROME dating app

FROME stands for “First Round On Me”. (Credit: PCMag/Apple)

PCMag: What do you think the top performers in your application were doing? What were their profiles like, how many dates did they have per week, etc. ?
: The most successful profiles had very clear photos. The dating coaches we’ve worked with told me that your profile should tell a story. It should have a bow and tell your life story. There should be a photo of you alone, one with friends, one doing an activity you enjoy – show yourself as well balanced. You would be surprised how many people upload blurry photos or all group photos.

But to be clear, a common misconception is that as the founder of a dating app, I was a master puppeteer who could see every conversation and action someone took on the app. In fact, to be approved by Apple and be in the App Store, you must have many privacy protections. You gotta have your shit together. Our CTO and lead engineer who built the app, Graham Wood, was very mindful of security and privacy. So most of the feedback I have from users comes from personal conversations and surveys.

What else did the dating coach tell you?
Many dating coaches have actually contacted and argued that clients go straight to a video call. There is even that video(Opens in a new window) by [dating coach] Matthew Hussey, who says the exact same thing. My friends were texting me and joking that it was an ad for Gleam.

I also learned how many people need advice on dating in general. We integrated a dating coach feature that would set up a 10-minute chat with a dating coach, and we made revenue from it. Each trainer had their own specialty – some focused on making our profile stand out, some worked specifically with men or women. If people liked the coach, they could continue. I think it helped people focus on what they liked and what patterns they needed to change. I would recommend it to everyone.

Was there any user behavior that surprised you after building the app and reaching a critical mass of users?
The cock pics. You hear about it, but it surprised me every time. We’ve made sure your profile is approved before it goes live on the app. And thank goodness we did, because people were uploading their dick pics and we had to take them down. Why does anyone think this is a good idea? I don’t understand. And every dating app has this problem. I looked at a TikTok from a guy who works at a dating app, and he said, ‘Yeah, I wake up every morning and look at 200 dick pics.’ It’s very shocking.

Are there any software-related reasons why many people struggle to find successful matches on dating apps?
If you’re having trouble with apps, don’t take it personally. Apps like Hinge, Bumble, Tinder, all the big ones, make more money when you stick with them. As soon as you are in a relationship, they lose you as a user. Tinder is one of most profitable apps(Opens in a new window) For a reason.

Top-grossing apps in the United States

Top-grossing apps in the US in 2021 (Credit: AppMagic, Sensor Tower via

They do all sorts of tricks with their algorithm to show you people in a lower desirability bucket than you to drag you down longer. Or you could say yes to someone, but the app will never show them your profile. I haven’t worked there myself, but I’ve spoken to people who work there…and that’s what they said, and what I’ve heard in the industry in general. “

So, are they urging you to pay for premium plans? Are they intentionally making the experience worse, so you’re paying to get the base experience you thought you were getting all along?
What I heard is that they try to do what they can to get you into the payment funnel. Once you pay to boost your profile, you get a lot more matches. They prioritize the experience of people who pay, and they want to inspire you to keep doing it.

Recommended by our editors

Hinge User Interface

Hinge interface example, ad for the paid plan on the right. (Credit: PCMag Hinge Review)

How do you think people can protect their sanity when using dating apps
Everyone must set their own boundaries and boundaries. I knew someone who was only going to schedule appointments the first five days of the week and leave the other two open. Other people will only use apps for 10 minutes a day. Something like that. If you don’t set limits, you get sucked into this hole of constant scanning, messaging, and death of message threads. It’s just deflating, tedious and tedious, so you need to figure out what actually works for you.

Dating apps were a $7 billion market in 2021 and expected to be an $11 billion market by 2028, according to an estimation(Opens in a new window). For all entrepreneurs, would you recommend dating apps as a good business startup idea?
I would say if you’ve worked in another dating app before, and you’re in a very senior position, and you understand what’s going on there, then for you, yes, this can be a good business opportunity. Because then you know what it takes – the ins and outs and complications of building something like this. But if you’re just thinking “Oh, I use dating apps” and want to make your own, then it’s a lot harder. Mostly fundraising and learning everything from scratch. It takes so long.

Popcut website

PopCut, Warner’s next venture, connects brands with top video editors at an affordable price. (Credit: PCMag/

Your trip seemed quick, though. You founded Gleam in 2019 and sold it in 2022.
True. And even though we started in 2019, we didn’t really launch until 2021, so it was about a year and a half. But other companies can build and launch an app in five or six months. Plus, I was working 12-16 hour days, staring at my computer in the middle of the pandemic. I was learning everything, and it was really intense. Yes, we were lucky to be acquired. But it was still a very long and tedious process.

Well, it’s great to see your success, especially as a female entrepreneur.
Thanks. That’s one thing I’ve learned: we really need more women entrepreneurs, more women starting businesses. There are so many problems that we need women to solve.

For more on dating apps, check out The 5 Best Breakup Apps to Soothe a Broken Heart and The best hookup apps(Opens in a new window).

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Sharon D. Cole