An Interview with the founder of POM

Image courtesy of Thred Media
Words by Rosanna Lewis

Vihan Patel is an events promoter turned entrepreneur who graduated from Cardiff University in 2020. He’s also the founder of POM, described as “the dating app for music lovers”. The idea came to him whilst he was running events in and around the city. The first lockdown then provided the perfect opportunity to focus on raising funds to get the business started. The algorithms have now been fine-tuned and the app should be launched this Summer, offering a new style of matchmaking,hopefully in time for the relaxation of covid restrictions. Unlike Tinder or Bumble, where you can display your most played tracks or artists, POM will be driven by music, factoring your listening preferences into the algorithm, so it’s not just a case of seeing someone with a similar music taste and deciding to swipe right. Everyone you see will have a similar “emotional profile” to you, a concept which Vihan explained when we met over zoom, ahead of the app’s launch. We chatted about the shared love of music, starting your own business and dating during a pandemic.

Quench: How did the idea for the app come about?
Vihan: In my first year I was one of those typical promoters, selling tickets to my mates to earn some cash. These guys in Cardiff were making so much money from the students but throwing very average events. Back home in London, I was seeing events which weren’t really like that, so I started to set up my own company, hosting events that resonated with me. For the first one, I booked a nightclub called Buffalo and it did really, really well. I kept hosting these events around Cardiff and then went to loads of other uni cities where I had a strong network of friends. The key thing I was noticing is that based on the different genres of music I was doing (one may be a techno event, one may be hip hop) the type of people that came were very different. And that’s what was really interesting; they were different in the sense of the way they were dancing, the way they interacted with each other, the way they dressed. And then at the end of the night, when I used to collect the bar tab, even what they were drinking was very different.

I didn’t really give it much thought until the end of second year, when I started thinking about what I wanted to do after uni. The events thing was a lot of fun, but it involved a lot of late nights. The rest of my time was spent catching up with friends, and then it was back to early morning lectures. It just wasn’t very sustainable, so I thought to myself: “I love the whole music scene, I love running events. What can I do?” Then one night after one of my final events of the year, I realised that a dating app based on music would be really interesting, but I wanted to go one step further. I didn’t really want to be like “you have the same music tastes— you’re going to be a perfect match”, so I wondered, “what does music represent?” And based on the differences I saw at these events, it’s who you are as a person.

“I realised that a dating app based on music would be really interesting, but I wanted to go one step further”

Q: How did you develop the idea from there?
I dug a bit deeper and did a very little study, asking about people’s music taste and how they feel. I got this really interesting information that showed music is more powerful than I once thought. I shared this with someone, and it didn’t really result in anything, but it kept popping up again. After deciding to give it a go, the only conclusion I had was that I needed a lot of money to build this app, develop the technology I wanted and take it as far as possible so I could put it on hold and focus on my exams. (Hosting all those events took a hit on my results.)

When third year and the first lockdown came around, with exams being online and the safety net policy being introduced, I decided I had two options: I could take these ten weeks to revise really hard, although I knew I was going to be fine, or I could use this time to do a bit of revision whilst building up a business plan, to figure out every avenue possible for where I saw the app going. So I did that; I focused for ten weeks, working away every single day, and I approached my co-founder. Although I consider myself to be the fun, creative one, I needed him for the accounts and the legal side— all the aspects that I don’t really prioritize but are crucial in running a business.

I came back to uni to move out and had a little month of fun before graduating, whilst everyone was still there. Then I was on my own. I decided to raise some money but I didn’t know where to start. I googled “how do you raise money?”. It told me I needed to find these angel investors, which I’d never heard of. So I went to the most formal place I knew on the Internet— LinkedIn— and I typed in “angel investor”. I made this big list of anyone and everyone who had “investor” in their bio or whatever it may be. I sat down, recorded a video, presented my pitch deck and said “look, this is my idea. Do you want to invest?” Within four weeks, we’d raised 250K.

“Within four weeks, we’d raised 250K.”

Q: How will POM work and how is it different to other apps, which already allow users to incorporate music into their profile?
V: It’s not as simple as “you have the same music taste”; just because you like Jay Z and I like Jay Z, it won’t mean we’re a perfect match. We use music as a vehicle for emotion. We believe that your music tells us a lot about your emotional self, so when you sign up to the app, you log in with your Spotify or Apple music—whatever streaming platform you use— and that’s for two reasons. Firstly, we get access to your music history, so there’s no changing it up based on what you want others to see. A classic example I like to give is when someone asks me who my favourite artist is, I say Travis Scott, but in the in the shower, I’m singing along to Lewis Capaldi. When you sign up, we’ll ask you a few questions based on different key points of your music taste like “how do you feel when you’re listening to this?” Eventually, that should be A.I. driven but for now, we need manual user input. It’s a very short quiz but it tells us a lot. You build up this emotional profile, and then we match you with others who have similar emotional profiles.

“We use music as a vehicle for emotion”

Q: Should we be concerned about giving the app access to our “emotional profiles”?
We are hyper aware about the delicate nature of having someone’s emotional profile. Emotions are a very personal thing, and in order for us to capture that and then use it to meet new people, we’ve thought carefully about our onboarding process (how we get users on to the platform) and our data policies. We’re not going to sell any form of data, and we are not going to have any sort of irrelevant ads targeted to you, so no third party will be allowed on our platform. Everything is owned by us and the IP is controlled within the company, although the long-term plan would be to move our data into an encrypted blockchain. Also, signing up is not as simple as downloading the app, putting your information in and you’re on; you need to have facial verification and then there’ll be an option for government I.D.

Q: Will it be a free-to-use app with adverts?
It’s free to use and there will be a premium tier where you pay a monthly subscription (offering more matches per day and other benefits to be announced). The adverts are not going to serve as an annoyance to you. So, you will be chatting with someone, and the adverts presented to you will be based on your mutual similarities. Say you match with someone who likes the same band as you, and this band are coming to London, if you both live in London, it will say “here’s 20% off, go together”. There won’t be any ads for irrelevant music artists who are not in your music library, or irrelevant products. There will never be an advert that you don’t want to see.

Q: Can you describe the team of people that you’ve got working on the app?
V: There’s a range of people working on the project. In our marketing team, they’re all music rooted, so the head of marketing was an artist manager for the past nine years and has relations with major festivals. On the other side, we have a Chief Technology Officer who comes from a music licensing company— still music related. But then most of our team right now is tech because, at the end of the day, we are a tech company and we need a good product. But there’s a lot of diversity regards music tastes and where everyone came from.

Q: Do you plan to venture into the festival market?
In terms of festivals, this summer there will be one or two activations at different festivals, but that’s not a huge priority right now. We do have some big plans, but in order for that to happen, we need a lot of other steps to go well first.

Q: Although the app hasn’t launched yet, the POM website currently features a playlist generator called “Your Mood”. What can you tell us about this?
That was sort of a solution in a couple of ways. We raised investment in October, and when you raise money, that’s more people coming into the company with expectations to launch the app, get users and make money back. For us, launching a dating app in the middle of a global pandemic wasn’t impossible but it definitely wasn’t a good idea, because POM involves meeting on the app but then experiencing real life together. It’s an end-to-end dating experience that we want to create. The playlist generator killed two birds with one stone in the sense that it pleased the investors and we’ve got the product out. And number two, it served as data collection for us. It was like a very infant test of our algorithm; by logging in with your Spotify and then selecting a mood, you test against our assumptions by selecting a few tracks. And then once we present your playlist, you can adjust certain criteria that we’ve defined (such as danceability and positivity) which is all taken into consideration when we look at your tracks, when you sign into the app. It was very much used for our technology.

“POM involves meeting on the app, but then experiencing real life together”

Q: So why the wait?
The app was ready back in October. We had a small window to launch back then, but we decided not to, because we wouldn’t have determined the actual matching algorithm that we were testing—the stuff that matters about how these emotional profiles fit together. But at this point, we do know because of tools like the mood playlist generator. We figured out what algorithm needs to work, so the app is kind of ready. It’s getting a few cosmetic tweaks because as our brand has evolved, the app’s user interface has evolved.

Q: Is there an artist or genre of music which you would consider to be a deal-breaker for you?
My music is very interesting; I get a lot of stick for it. I have a very diverse music taste and it depends on where I am or what I’m doing. I wouldn’t like to say deal-breaker, but some music that I really just don’t align to is heavy metal. I tried it. I have given it a fair go. But again, the app is brilliant because if I don’t like that, it doesn’t matter. The app caters for everyone and we all have our own music taste. If you like something and someone else doesn’t, you’re not going to cross paths.

Q: What about opposites attract?
The first preference is emotional compatibility. And then obviously there’s another layer which is sort of broad; so if you are into electronic music, you’re not going to get as far out as something like heavy/punk metal. But you may go as far out as synth-based classical, for example. That’s very unlikely, but that could work.

Q: If anyone studying at Cardiff at the moment is in a similar situation to you, where they’ve got an idea for a business, have you got any advice for them?
I think the biggest thing, although it is very cliché and very obvious, is just to start. You know, if you don’t start, you’re never going to have a chance to do well. Just start it and make the mistakes. You can also find out a lot from Google. I think Google is your best friend at that point. It’s very good for just figuring out what to do.

Q: Is there anything you wish that you’d done differently in this process?
Probably not valuing other people’s opinions as much as I did. Also, in a contradiction, I think one of the best pieces of advice is: surround yourself with great advisers. Ultimately, it’s your new idea, so asking for someone else’s opinion is not beneficial and you shouldn’t rely on that. What I was very guilty of is that if someone said they didn’t like something about the branding, for example, it would put a seed of doubt in my head, when, at the end of the day, the whole vision was from my head. So, you’ve got to know whose advice to take or listen to and those who you respond with “Okay, that’s interesting” but you carry on.

“I think one of the best pieces of advice is: surround yourself with great advisers”

Q: What do you hope to have achieved in the first six months of the app launching?
The goals for the first six months… I want users to enjoy not only the platform and the visuals, but to enjoy the experience—our onboarding process. We’re not going for anyone and everyone. We’re launching locally in London and the app capacity will be set so that no more than 10,000 users will be allowed on the platform at any time. That’s to ensure quality, so we’re not going to know everyone on the platform personally, but we know the user. It also ensures safety because again, emotional data is very valuable. And the fact that we’re actively encouraging you to meet up in real life, means we need that element of safety there.

Q: Will London act as the guinea pig for the app? Are you hoping to expand into Cardiff and elsewhere?
The Guinea pig stages will happen before then. We’ll do localized small launches, testing the actual app. But we want to have a strong hold of London. And then as soon as we’re satisfied with London, my first stop will be Cardiff. It will be in Cardiff soon because it’s where the idea was born.

“As soon as we’re satisfied with London, my first stop will be Cardiff. It will be in Cardiff soon because it’s where the idea was born”

Q: As things are starting to open up and people can meet to go on socially distanced dates, do you have any tips for the singletons of Cardiff?
I think I would say: brush up on your social skills before you go out. I really forgot that. Luckily, I’ve had all these Zoom calls but yesterday when stuff opened up, I went to go play golf with a few mates and realised I’ve just lost all my social skills. I also think now probably more than ever, people will be wanting to stay outside. Before the pandemic, it was very easy to slip into having a very virtual relationship where you’re just texting a lot. You know, you’re just texting. And I think, because we’ve been forced to only text now, people will be craving that sort of human interaction, that real life contact. And I think that’s kind of important. I think people are going to move away from virtual dating and being stuck behind phone screens. There will be more “Let’s go for a walk. Let’s do this. Let’s go to that festival. Let’s go to that event”.

Q: A lot of people have met partners through a love of the same music, or they’ve met at concerts and events. I think people are really excited to be able to do that again.
Yeah, and that’s what we’re here for. We’re going to start creating these amazing events for our users.

Q: Finally, will we find you on the app?
Yes, I will be on the app. You’ve got to be on your own app, right?

There’s an air of secrecy surrounding the specific details of POM, but it’s clear that the app won’t be launched until it’s been perfected and the timing is right. I could tell that Vihan and his team have exciting plans for the future and are destined for big things. POM has the potential to change the landscape of dating apps and challenge our approach to finding romance. You can find out more details about the app, and follow its progress, by visiting their website, twitter, and instagram, or checking out Thred’s fantastic interview here.