Megan Tappe, a first-year Cal student and brand ambassador for the new dating app Proxii, drinks some boba tea with Oski, the UC Berkeley mascot. Credit: Proxii

First-year Cal student Megan Tappe is so enthused by a new Berkeley-based dating app that she recently signed up to be a brand ambassador for it.

The app is called Proxii, and it’s not only based in Berkeley — it’s using Cal students as its test population.

On other dating apps, Tappe would sometimes find herself chatting with someone she matched with, who happened to be across the country.

“That’s really unrealistic,” said Tappe. “One thing I really like about this is that the radius is only [three] miles max, so I’m matching with people really close by in comparison with other apps.”

The app, which launched officially on Feb. 7, is actually a throwback to the not-so-distant past when people didn’t swipe to date but rather approached those they were attracted to directly. But it has a modern twist: It helps users discern whether that person might also be interested, sparing the user being rejected to their face if they’re not. Hence, like Tinder and Bumble, there is swiping involved.

“We’re trying to mimic traditional dating with a dating app,” said Connor Davidson, who grew up in Berkeley along with two of the other three co-founders.

The Proxii team: Leo Morris, Sean Scott, Connor Davidson, Shobhik Ghosh and Alok Acharya. Credit: Proxii
Credit: Proxii

According to the co-founders, the app is already doing much better than expected.

The team has been tabling in Sproul Plaza with offers of free food and drinks to get students to download it.

Davidson told Berkeleyside that nearly 5% of Cal’s student population had already signed up for the app. There were 2,600 active users and 2,400 unique sessions last week. Given that promotion so far has been confined to campus, the co-founders estimate that nearly all of the activity has been among Cal students, though student email addresses are not required to sign up.

“That’s pretty phenomenal,” said Sean Scott, another co-founder, who is also the CEO, and an alum of Cal and Thousand Oaks Elementary. “We’re hearing a lot of excitement, as students are telling us that they’ve heard of us. We’re already blowing through our initial projections.”

Davidson said Proxii is a response to all of those people who have wasted a lot of time chatting with people they match with on dating apps, only to meet in person and find there’s no spark, an experience that will resonate with most online daters.

Proxii gave away free java from Philz Coffee on Feb. 7. Credit: Instagram

While the team has been working on it since last July, they knew launching it during the pandemic would be a risk, as dating and going out has not yet returned to normal.

The way it works is as follows: Users fill out profiles and upload a photo. But unlike the other apps, which are designed to be used while at home, Proxii is designed to be used when out.

“When you’re out, you will see the profiles of everyone who’s active on the app, so you can choose from people who are doing the same thing as you,” said Davidson.

This means that if you’re bar-hopping, you might match with someone at another bar nearby within a few miles radius. If you’re at a large event like Outside Lands, or at a baseball game, you can set the radius to as little as .1 miles, to filter only those at the same event as you.

Noting that users have to give or receive consent before interacting with someone who would otherwise be a stranger, Davidson said “you can make your radius the size of that concert and meet people there, to create more human connections as opposed to connecting in a virtual space.”

This means that students can also use it, say, to scope out prospective matches in a lecture hall.

Proxii differentiates itself from other dating apps by trying to match users as soon as possible, said Davidson.

“All its features are geared toward immediacy since the radius only goes up to [three] miles,” he said. “If you matched with someone tonight, you probably wouldn’t go and meet them if they were 20 miles away. With Proxii, your likes and matches will expire in 24 hours. Just like in real life, if you see a cute girl at the bar, and you don’t go talk to her, you’ll miss your chance.”

Tappe said she liked that feature, because if she matches with someone while out and doesn’t talk to them, and then they show up again, “It feels like a deeper connection, to match with someone more than once.”

Davidson said the Cal population felt like the right size, and Berkeley was the right size in which to launch, but if successful, they hope to take it to San Francisco next, and then to the rest of the country, and perhaps, the world.

Given its newness, of course, the team can’t claim any love matches have been made … yet.

“I haven’t been on a date yet; I haven’t had the time,” said Tappe. “But after finals are done, I might look into it.”

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Alix Wall is an Oakland-based freelance writer. She is contributing editor of J., The Jewish News of Northern California, for which she has a food column and writes other features. In addition to Berkeleyside’s...