When Cameron Smith bought his first lottery ticket shortly after his 21st birthday, he couldn’t help think about his experiences with online dating.
Both the lottery and online dating “are kind of a crapshoot,” he recalled thinking. “That was the bingo moment.”
A year later, Smith and Dennis Nayandin, both senior computer science majors at George Mason University, introduced SpecUdate. Users of the dating and friends app play the simple game of “two truths and a lie,” and “truth or lie” with prospective partners, something Smith said helps break the ice and improves potentially awkward first conversations.
The app has been live for about a month, and is approaching 500 users, over half of whom are Mason students. Smith and Nayandin plan to expand to other universities and colleges around Virginia.
Because of its origin, Smith originally called the concept LottoDate. When he learned the name was already taken, he quickly rebranded to focus on the speculative aspect of online dating.
Smith and Nayandin said they see gamified dating as a niche that no other app on the market has tapped into, and believe the idea brings something new to the crowded and cutthroat field of online dating apps.
The co-founders met as teammates on Mason’s club hockey team. Smith told Nayandin about his idea for a dating app based on his own — sometimes disappointing — experiences with online dating. Nayandin agreed the idea was a winning one, and development began.
“It turned out it would be way sooner than I thought,” Smith said about the app’s development. “I thought this would come way after my degree. But then I met Dennis and we became the ultimate team.”
Building an app from the ground up has been educational for both its creators. Nayandin said he mostly taught himself the technical skills needed to create the app.
“I’ve never really built a full stack app before, so each step was basically a learning process,” Nayandin said.
Smith was known around campus as “the SpecUdate guy” for hustling to pass out flyers between classes, while Nayandin worked behind the scenes on coding and development.
They have worked with Mason’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) and the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), receiving support and tools and tapping into Mason’s entrepreneurial community.
“More than anything, both of these groups, CIE and the SBDC, are just cheering us on,” Smith said. “Cheering us on when it’s hard, because it’s not easy, as students trying to do something big and promote and do all that and with school and everything.”
“They’re part of the community,” said David J. Miller, the CIE’s executive director. “We give them tools and platform[s] and resources and just a community to be part of as they keep moving forward.”
Smith and Nayandin have invested a lot of work, time and money into developing SpecUdate, and said the main focus now is growing the number of users.
“Monetization is something that comes after a few years of building the user base and then potentially partnering with someone,” Smith said. “We’ll see where it goes. If it was about the money, why would I be doing this? It’s totally about helping people have fun while finding meaningful connections online and have better conversations with people they meet.”
SpecUdate is free to download on the App Store and Google Play.