Matthew Nolan is a techie from Detroit who founded several successful startups. His last startup, software-as-a-service company Speek, raised over $10 million in funding before it was acquired in July 2015.
Prior to Speek’s acquisition, Nolan, 32, had been working on Verona, a Tinder-like dating app aimed at bringing Israelis and Palestinians together.
The idea for Verona, named after the city where Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” takes place, was conceived when Nolan was at a post-Valentine’s Day party. He told Vice:
“My buddy, who’s Palestinian, brought a date who is Israeli, and he said, ‘We’re bringing the world together.’ I’m like, that’s hilarious! Maybe we should do a dating site, like J-P Date, Jewish-Palestinian date.”
A week later, Nolan sat down and starting coding the app himself, which he finished within a month and launched on April 2015. He told NextShark:
“When I was testing the app I had 10 test users in my database. Then I look one day and there’s 12 people, then 15, 25, 50, 100. Then the media started reaching out. Since day one it’s had a hockey stick growth curve.”
Seeing the app’s rapid growth, Nolan quickly realized that Verona could go beyond just romantic matchmaking.
“I started by calling it a dating app but then I received all this outreach and email from people in the Middle East saying that they’re in a relationship, have a family, or not interested in dating. They really want an app that simply connects to the other side, so I changed some things around and made it basically a friend-making app.”
Nolan says the app has been so impactful that that some of his users are even crossing the guarded Israeli border in Jerusalem to meet up.
“One of the metrics I’m most proud of is people swipe like 80% of the time. If you ask most people if there can be peace in the Middle East, people say, ‘No way, there’s nothing but hate over there.’
“However they’ll like each other 80% of the time on the app. After they connect, people tell me they get restaurant tips, they talk about nightclubs — very lighthearted normal conversations.”
Earlier this year in advance of the presidential race, Nolan opened up a new feature in the app that connects Democrats and Republicans.
“Since I opened up to pairing Republicans and Democrats, I’ve seen an acceleration of users. I think what that shows is that there’s a huge audience that just wants to connect with the other side.”
With roughly 50,000 users now on Verona, Nolan is currently focused on the American audience due to the election season. He plans to expand to other markets in Europe, India, Pakistan, the Middle East, and more.
“Our goal is world peace one swipe at a time. I’m trying to live up to our slogan. We’re trying to increase global empathy. We’re hoping to help people empathize with one another and make new friends across a complex divide.”