Derrick Morton is the co-founder and CEO of FlowPlay.

Love is in the air, and not only because it’s the month of Valentine’s Day. There’s a growing body of evidence that relationships — particularly a business’s ability to foster and nurture them for its customers — are becoming integral to success in the technology industry. 

Facebook and Twitter are widely viewed as holding all the power when it comes to influencing public opinion. And while it’s true that social media platforms have established unprecedented sway over society, there are other forces — such as social online communities and internet/app dating — playing an equal (or perhaps more significant) role in rewiring society and social behavior. 

Somewhat of a dark horse in tech, online love and friendship isn’t a new concept, but it remains a somewhat untapped business opportunity. And the opportunity has been underscored by the changes the Covid-19 pandemic forced in consumer behavior and preferences over the last year. Online games grew by roughly 20%, with the most social games outperforming traditional options. Apps that facilitated virtual first dates gained popularity. People began looking for more meaningful connections

I’ve always believed that communities and relationships are key to creating a successful product and business. With the events of last year and recent data that has come to light, I’m even more convinced this is true. As evidence, I’ve identified four trends that signal how love will impact the future of tech. 

First, online dating sites have a more profound and lasting impression on consumers’ lives than social media (would you rather scroll or find a love match?), and they are gaining momentum. Stanford research found that by 2017, more heterosexual couples had met online than via any other method, and with this, the online dating platforms and apps market is estimated to reach more than $2 billion by 2024

As dating habits shifted during Covid-19 lockdowns, singles expressed increasing interest in new ways of meeting and getting to know people, including “slow dating” as a way to form intimate connections. Companies that were poised for this shift have already reaped the benefits. For example, in January, the Dating Group purchased slow dating app Once for $18 million.

Second, people are increasingly interested in making connections in online games. A recent consumer survey commissioned by FlowPlay found that games have penetrated mainstream popularity, and one-third of players today have taken friendships made in online games into their real-world lives. Gamers fall in love in online games too. More than 65,000 couples have gotten virtually married in FlowPlay’s games — and the more they do, the more they stick around to keep playing. 

Third, couple-support apps are exploding as well. A relatively new category of apps that focus on helping couples make time for each other, share schedules, manage finances and receive counseling has received increasing VC and M&A attention. Case in point is Lasting, a couples therapy app that launched in 2017 and quickly gained traction with users. It was acquired by Talkspace in late 2020. 

Fourth, married co-founders are also finding VC love. A recent TechCrunch article reported on a growing roster of married couples who are co-founding startups together and winning over investors as a packaged deal. VCs are increasingly recognizing the potential of married co-founders to balance each other, bring shared passion and fuel more growth than lone founders or co-founders that lack strong personal relationships. 

As social media and other tech giants continue to face off with global governments and grapple with how to bring misinformation under control, the rest of the technology world can seize new opportunities. Startups can shift to a more positive and influential focus, tapping into new consumer habits and longing for meaningful experiences. In 2021, if you want your new tech idea to stick, lead with love.

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