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College sophomores Jonathan Xue (left) and Joanna Shan (right) are the creators of a dating app called Monet. (Photo from Joanna Shan)

Credit: Max Mester

Two Penn students have taken a gap semester to develop a dating app after their project went viral on TikTok, attracting investors.

College sophomores Jonathan Xue and Joanna Shan worked with two students from other universities to create Monet, a dating app that asks users to respond to a drawing prompt proposed by their potential match. The platform launched for iOS on Dec. 16 with worldwide matching, and has already had more than 20,000 downloads. In the future, the team is looking to add location-based matching and a University filter.

The video, posted on Oct. 13, went viral within a day, attracting more than 570,000 views and 180,000 likes to date. Following the post’s rise, venture capital firms reached out to the team about investing in the app. By December, Monet had closed its first round of funding, allowing them to raise about $500,000 to date.

On Monet, users send drawings to each other to start a conversation. Once individuals match, they can send messages and drawings back and forth. The drawings created on the app can also be shared to the gallery for others to see.

“Drawing is a way people can express themselves more vividly," Xue said. "[With] Tinder and Bumble you don’t get that range of expression. It’s a different and newer way to meet a person.”

The founders created Monet to divert from other popular dating apps by eliminating the behavior of swiping left or right on a profile. The app is built to facilitate organic conversation, Shan said, and works for building friendships or relationships compared to other apps that may be used primarily to "hook up."

Unlike its competitors, Shan added that Monet has attracted a majority of female users, at close to 80%. According to Pew Research Center, 32% of men have used dating apps compared to 28% of women.

“Overall, it definitely feels a lot safer and more wholesome [than other apps]," Shan said. "The first impression requires more effort, so this is not just one person doing 100 swipes in one run — it’s personalized. It’s less 'hot or not' and more about making something personal for the person you’re trying to connect with.”

Partially due to the success of her TikTok, Shan said the app also serves an “overwhelmingly Gen-Z” audience. About 94% of users are between 18 and 24 years old, Xue said.

“I think young people feel more comfortable online and are open to new ideas about meeting people online in general because a lot of us have gotten used to building relationships in unorthodox ways,” Xue said. 

As Shan and Xue continue to develop their platform during their gap semesters, they remain grateful for the opportunities they received after going viral.

“We had entertained [the TikTok] as ‘oh yeah, we could go viral and that would be great.’ We were just trying to find a way to get a lot of people on there, but when it did [go viral] it was great,” Shan said.