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The Thaw team, from left to right: Miles Ranisavljevic, Nate Rankin and Cooper Crosby. (Thaw Photo)

For years, people have lamented the “Seattle Freeze” — the chilly reception that sometimes greets those looking to make friends in this area. Now a Seattle startup called Thaw offers an icebreaker for adults looking for new connections in the Northwest and nationwide.

The business follows the standard dating app model of building profiles and making matches but with Thaw’s own twist, most notably the option of choosing more nuanced answers to questions about your interests that have the added bonus of being somewhat funny and clever.

The goal was to make it “actually fun to build out a profile, which is something that is usually pretty tedious and unappealing,” said co-founder and CEO Nate Rankin.

Thaw also lets people to look for friends of the opposite sex. Other friend-matching sites such as Bumble BFF only allows you search for friends of the same gender and Hey! Vina, an app affiliated with Tinder, is only for women. The connecting site Shapr has more of a networking focus.

Rankin officially launched Thaw near the end of 2018, but has been working on the project for a couple of years. Before Thaw, Rankin co-founded Wanderled, a digital marketplace for artisan goods from Guatemala.

Nate Rankin, co-founder and CEO of Thaw. (Thaw Photo)

Other Thaw co-founders include designer Cooper Crosby, who does design work for Ally (which has also been featured on Startup Spotlight) and previously worked at Pro.com, and engineer Miles Ranisavljevic, the iOS developer at Dolly, an online moving and delivery company.

Rankin wouldn’t share their number of active users, but said there are a few hundred downloads a day. Thaw recently began running ads promoting the app. It’s currently only available for Apple devices, with plans to build an Android version.

For revenue generation, Rankin said they’ll likely offer a basic service for free and eventually provide premium services as a subscription. They could also offer targeted advertising or partner with restaurants and event organizations to provide deals to users based on their profile interests.

Social networking and the misuse of personal data are hot topics in the news these days as Facebook and Google, in particular, are facing serious criticism for some of their business practices. While these are early days for Thaw, what will the business do to avoid these sorts of missteps?

“It’s something we’re going to need to think really hard about, and we’ve talked about already,” Rankin said. “I don’t exactly know what we’re going to do, but it’s something that is certainly very top of mind.”

Rankin’s first startup shuttered in 2014 after two years. From the experience, he learned that while people might like your business idea, that doesn’t mean they’ll actually buy it. With Thaw, Rankin started with something people explicitly said that they wanted — a better tool for making friends — and then developed a product to meet that need.

“If you ask someone, ‘What do you think of this idea?’ that’s not very helpful,” he said, “It’s a lot more effective to ask people very straightforwardly, ‘Would you use this, would you spend money on this, would you spend your time and energy on it?’” Rankin hopes that increasing numbers of people will continue to answer “yes.”

We caught up with Rankin for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Thaw matches potential friends according to interests. (Thaw website)

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Thaw is an app that connects people looking to meet and make friends nearby. Making new friends as an adult is hard. Thaw makes it easier.

Inspiration hit us when: I moved to San Francisco after graduating from college and had a really hard time making friends. Aside from my co-workers, I didn’t have the common connectors I had previously relied on to meet people: dorms, classes and sports teams. The more I talked to other people, the more I realized this was a problem I wasn’t experiencing in isolation, and Cooper and I got to work!

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Staying bootstrapped has allowed us to launch and transition into working on Thaw full-time on our own terms, but we’ll be looking to raise a seed round in the not-too-distant future.

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Constantly talking to our users to better understand what’s hard about making friends, which features would help, and building them quickly. Other apps do a fine job of matching potential friends based on age and proximity, but it turns out there’s a lot more to making friends than that. For example, it can be tricky to initiate conversations and transition from chat-in-app friends to hang-out-IRL friends. Getting that feedback has allowed us to build features that directly address problems people face throughout the friend-making process.

You say you like camping, but how much really do you like it? Thaw let’s users get precise in their preferences. (Thaw Image)

The smartest move we’ve made so far: Turning some particularly “honest” feedback into the feature that really differentiates us from other apps in our space. We had planned on matching people using interests on a binary yes/no scale (for example, you either like snowboarding or you don’t), and the feedback we received showed us that approach was too limiting. Now you can indicate whether you hate snowboarding, snowboard a few times a year, or basically live in the mountains during the winter. Not only does this help us match potential friends better, but it takes something boring — setting up a profile — and makes it fun.

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Initially we only launched in Seattle and users who downloaded Thaw outside of Seattle were put on a waitlist. We did consider that users who downloaded the app and had nobody nearby to match with would get frustrated and delete the app. And as it turns out, that’s exactly what happened. We opened Thaw to the whole U.S. and retention has gone up considerably.

Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? Between his time as a founder and investor, it’s hard to imagine someone being able to add more value than Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. There’s a fair amount of overlap between Thaw and Reddit, where he built a strong community and helped connect people who didn’t previously know each other. It would be awesome to pick his brain about what he’s learned from the companies he’s invested in, and he’d be an invaluable resource as we start the fundraising process.

Our favorite team-building activity is: Team dinners with our partners.

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Communication and initiative. We often work out of our respective homes, so it’s important for us to be in contact throughout the day and take care of what needs to be done without much oversight. We’ve only hired one person so far, but the bar has been set high!

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Don’t ask people if they think your idea is good. Ask people if they would use it themselves, and why. Also, talk to users constantly, iterate quickly and be willing to admit when you’re wrong.

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