Shivaun Moeran and Adam Raff met, married and started a company — thereby sparking a chain of events that might, ultimately, take down this age of internet giants as we know it — because they were both huge nerds. In the late 1980s, Adam was studying programming at the University of Edinburgh, while Shivaun was focused on physics and computer science at King’s College London. They had mutual friends who kept insisting they were perfect for each other. So one weekend, they went on a date and discovered other similarities: They both loved stand-up comedy. Each had a science-minded father. They shared a weakness for puns.
In the years that followed, those overlapping enthusiasms led to cohabitation, a raucous wedding and parallel careers at big technology firms. The thing is, though, when you’re young and geeky and fall in love with someone else young and geeky, all your nerdy friends want you to set them up on dates as well. So Adam and Shivaun, who took Adam’s last name after marriage, approached the problem like two good programmers: They designed a dating app.
The app was known as MatchMate, and the idea was simple: Rather than just pairing people with similar interests, their software would put together potential mates according to an array of parameters, such as which pub they were currently standing in, and whether they had friends in common, and what movies they liked or candidates they voted for, and dozens of other factors that might be important in finding a life partner (or at least a tonight partner). The magic of MatchMate was that it could allow a user to mix variables and search for pairings within a specific group, a trick that computer scientists call parameterization. “It was like asking your best friend to set you up,” Shivaun told me. “Someone who says, ‘Well, you probably think you’d like this guy because he’s handsome, but actually you’d like this other guy because he’s not as good-looking, but he’s really funny.’ ”