Today’s dating landscape can feel frigid, but Gators are gearing up to break the ice.
The new app polar baer is encouraging users to ditch the traditional swiping situation and meet where it matters — in real life. Gainesville is the first city where the app has been put in place, with the test run starting at the beginning of the Spring semester.
Charles Heitmuller and Courtney Fleurantin, both 31, came up with the app in July of 2017 after a night in a bar. The two were out celebrating Heitmuller’s first job in New York City when Heitmuller caught the eye of a woman across the room. Looks were exchanged, but ultimately, Heitmuller found it impossible to gauge her interest.
The would-be spark fizzled amid the uncertainty, and that’s when Heitmuller said the idea struck.
“I was like, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if there was an app that let me know that she was interested so I wouldn’t go over to her and bother her if she wasn’t?’”
The duo dove into developing the app soon after, but with Heitmuller’s background almost exclusively in sales and Fleurantin’s focus on business administration, they said they were missing the necessary tech expertise and hit roadblock after roadblock.
Putting the plans on hold to accumulate experience and put together the right team, Heitmuller and Fleurantin eventually returned to the idea of officially launching polar baer, relocating to Gainesville from their home states of New York and New Jersey and opening the app in January.
Heitmuller said the years of careful planning paid off.
“The universe moved out of our way,” he said. “We had the app built in two months.”
Where conventional dating apps see users rarely meeting their virtual matches, polar baer guarantees in-person interaction with people of interest. Users will “check-in” at popular gathering spots — restaurants, bars, concert venues or other public places — and their location will become public to other users.
Then, they can browse the profiles of other users in the area and “nudge” someone if they’re interested in connecting. After that, the matched pair only has three messages to exchange through the app, with the end goal of the matches meeting in person within minutes.
Though polar baer is technically designed for the dating game, Heitmuller and Fleurantin said the app is applicable to all kinds of interactions. They said its true purpose is to “break the ice,” to pull users away from the meaningless matches on virtual platforms.
Fleurantin said polar baer aims to solve the communication crisis that characterizes the current generation. In a world dominated by screens and swipes, Fleurantin said human connection is becoming increasingly uncommon.
“We’ve almost become avatars of ourselves,” he said
Gainesville is the first city where the app has gone live. Heitmuller said the college town was perfect for the 18-35 demographic, which represents most dating app users. Additionally, with Florida’s more relaxed COVID-19 restrictions compared to other states, Heitmuller said the in-person events that the app depends on were more plausible.
The host of connections both Heitmuller and Fleurantin have in Gainesville sealed the deal, the duo said. Heitmuller’s girlfriend graduated from UF twice, Fleurantin’s brother is graduating this semester, and the two are acquaintances with a number of business owners in the area.
In the midst of the pandemic, launching wasn’t an easy decision, but after months of discussion and debate, Heitmuller and Fleurantin made the move to Florida with the confidence that they could safely execute the polar baer experience. In-app reminders to wear masks and social distance were installed, and Heitmuller and Fleurantin themselves are present at each event with extra masks and hand sanitizer to distribute to attendees.
Heitmuller said this semester is an exercise in trial and error. What works, what doesn’t and where they can make adjustments are all determined by the feedback Heitmuller and Fleurantin are receiving in real time.
“It’s literally from the students,” Fleurantin said. “It’s literally from the people of Gainesville.”
For now, this means partnering with local businesses to host events with polar baer-specific promotions. Multiple events at Fat Daddy’s have included a free drink for users, and the new “Singles Night at The Social” on Thursdays will offer $1 drinks for downloading the app, as well as pre-banding for the first 50 attendees.
The future of the app is all about expansion, Heitmuller said. Though nothing is concrete, the duo said they plan to remain in Gainesville for a few more weeks, then relocate to other markets to introduce polar baer to a new pool of potential users.
A year from now, Heitmuller said they want to launch the app in four major cities, but for at least the remainder of the semester, Heitmuller and Fleurantin said they’re staying in the Swamp.
Their time here, Heitmuller said, has been invaluable to what polar baer will look like down the line.
“In a lot of ways, Gainesville has sort of shaped the future of polar baer.”
Contact Heather Bushman at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @hgrizzl.
Heather Bushman is a fourth-year journalism and political science student and the enterprise elections reporter. She previously wrote and edited for the Avenue desk and reported for WUFT News. You can usually find her writing, listening to music or writing about listening to music. Ask her about synesthesia or her album tier list sometime.