“I want to start a dating app for people over fifty. I know a lot of hot guys over fifty,” one woman pitched to a small group last night.

She was in the right place to get feedback, at the Dating and Social Networks Startup Showcase and Digital Dating Etiquette Panel, hosted by Kevin Winston, Founder and CEO of the tech networking group Digital LA. The event was held at ROC, a shared office space in Santa Monica that's home to many digital startups and entrepreneurs. The event attracted industry professionals of all ages and a solid split of genders to pitch their startup companies, as well as a panel of experts to discuss social media startup tips and online dating etiquette, just in time for everyone's favorite holiday.

Digital dating is getting a makeover. No more trolling profiles, looking at photos of people they took ten years ago during their “super hot college years.” Gone are the days of reading a laundry list of interests and slugging through tedious paragraphs when you really just want to know if there is anyway you may have a coveted “connection.” The startups and experts on this panel are moving online dating to a more natural place — you may not be meeting these people in person for the first time but goddammit it is going to be as close to that as possible.

At the Pool's Facebook page

At the Pool's Facebook page

For example, Eden Dranger and Jason Hsin pitched their app, At the Pool, a people directory where you find connections with people in your area. You join a “pool,” which is a group of people with similar interests, and they match you with someone new each day in that pool with the expectation that you will get off of the computer and meet in person. “We encourage you to get out and not stay online,” Dranger explained.

It is less of a dating website and more of a meet-up app, so it helps takes the pressure off of potential romantic connections. Relationships can transpire organically or you could just meet a bunch of cool new peeps who like doing the same things you do. They stressed that At the Pool doesn't lock you in with people you already know the way Facebook does. “Facebook is closed and we're open,” Hsin explained.

Hank Leber pitched his app, Gonna Be, which is (literally) the social media of the future. It lets you tell users, publicly or privately, what you're “gonna be” doing anywhere from that next moment to infinity. Scroll the time bar to see what your friends (or people who post public events) will be up to on a specific date and make plans accordingly. Another option is to send out invites to specific groups of chosen people — “Who wants to go hiking on Sunday?!” — and hope that someone bites. There are already early adopters of the app posting about birthday parties next week, at SXSW in March, and in 2050 when they're dead. Comedic beta testers!

Nick Bicanic pitches Flikdate; Credit: photo by Jacy Wojcik

Nick Bicanic pitches Flikdate; Credit: photo by Jacy Wojcik

Finally, Nick Bicanic pitched his app Flikdate, which lets users go on 90-second live chats, or “dates” using their camera phones. Tired of the guy or girl within 10 seconds? “Flik” them and move on to the next.

Wanting to create a safe environment, they created what may be a dream come true for women everywhere — a “Perv Alert” button. If a guy says something completely inappropriate or sticks his camera down his pants (and you're not into that sort of thing) you hit the “Perv Alert” button and he is immediately suspended until the footage (a screenshot and an audio recording at the time of the alert) is reviewed to ensure he is a legit perv. If he is in fact deemed “Perv,” he is banned for life. You can add on more time if you are feeling into the person, which can cost a few “Fliks.”

The idea came from women Bicanic knew who complained about not being able to get rid of guys hitting on them. Bicanic explained that Flikdate is more than just a means to castaway unwanted suitors — it's intended to be emotionally engaging. There's something to the physiological response you get when a person laughs or smiles, or from just hearing their voice, that makes it more personal than hours of reading boring online profiles.

Up next: online dating tips

Credit: photo by Jacy Wojcik

Credit: photo by Jacy Wojcik

Later, a Social Media Startup Tips and Dating Etiquette panel of experts took the stage including Matthew Hussey, a dating coach from the UK, author of Get The Guy, and soon to be in the upcoming NBC Series Ready For Love; Julie Spira, founder of CyberDatingExpert.com; Serge Gojkovich, the vice president of marketing and sales at Grindr; and Dranger, social media director for At the Pool.

Some tips from the panel:

Startup Tips

-Don't be afraid to monetize early and don't be afraid to ask people for money if it's a service you're providing.

-Don't be so busy with branding that you forget about a revenue model. Have an exit strategy.

-Have a strong emotional hook. Don't overlook potential for partnerships.

-Embrace social media, limit to a few verticals and focus on real interaction

-Use social media to tell a story and use it to send people to a place where you convert an audience into revenue.

Online Dating Etiquette: Profile Pictures

-Spira: No sunglasses. None taken in the bathroom where we can see your phone in the mirror. If you can't afford professional ones, have a friend with an SLR take a few and pick the best ones. Look into the camera. People don't want a stock photo.

-Gojkovich: Don't use your best picture if everyone is bound to be let down. If you look bad in your picture, then when you meet up in person you're that far ahead!

-Dranger: No Instagram pictures or group photos. Show your face. Guys, don't post pictures with another girl. Just be yourself.

Online Dating Etiquette: Interests

-Dranger: Be specific with interests. Don't just say “travel,” because everyone loves to travel. Instead say “camping or backpacking through Europe.”

-Hussey: People go into huge essays but no one cares. Guys especially are skimmers of bios. No one fucking cares. All I care is could I be attracted to you. No lists. Show instead of tell. Instead of saying, “I'm a loving person,” write something that shows how you are instead.

-Spira: One paragraph max — it's a flirty tease.

-Hussey: The less you say the less people object to you. People are fussy online in a way they can't be in real life.

-Gojkovich: Put in unique things that are helpful. Short and sweet

When should you initiate that next step?

-Spira: Two to three emails max, then take it to the phone for 20 minutes maximum. Save some for the date. Also don't feel obligated to go on a real date if the phone date sucked.

-Gojkovich: There is less fear of actually meeting up in the gay community. Gays don't use phone calls as much — they like to chat and then meet in person.

-Dranger: Don't friend someone on Facebook after one date. And don't tell people of a date on Facebook. You're not dating your phone or computer.

-Hussey: Networks and sub-networks are proven ways of meeting people. Community-based organizations like work or church help you meet someone. Also, meeting another woman could be the best way to meet a guy. Use an expansive approach.

One single piece of advice for online dating:

-Spira: “Cast a wide net and don't instantly write someone off if chemistry isn't there. Be open to all possibilities, friends or business wise as well.”

-Gojkovich: “Treat people the way you want to be treated.”

-Dranger: “Don't be fake. Don't pretend to like something just because you're attracted to a guy. Be you.”

-Hussey: “Many people think, 'If I make the move I will look desperate or needy one.' Making the first move does not equal a loss in power.”

Follow Jacy Wojcik on Twitter at @JacyWojcik and for more arts news follow @LAWeeklyArts and like us on Facebook.

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