By Sophie Hagen
Plenty of 9-to-5ers have forsaken a steady paycheck for the siren song of comedy. But Brendan Alper managed to come out the other side with a new vocation entirely. The Pawtucket native and Brown alum began writing comedy sketches after some unfulfilling years in the financial world and alighted on the idea of a dating app based on mutual hatred. Then he founded a company to build that app, called Hater, and concocted the slogan to sell it: Love Through Hate. Aside from Brendan’s comedy sketch, the app is loosely based on several sociological studies demonstrating, he says, that “people who disliked the same things formed closer bonds than people who liked the same things.”
Along with almost 600,000 users to date, Hater’s concept has won it extensive press coverage with what seems to be the perfect hook: millennials, alone among all generations, can’t get enough of technology and irony – and have now combined them. But the app’s users are more diverse than that, Brendan points out; Hater has found purchase among both “old farts” and Gen Z, in addition to the vilified generation between them. “Somehow it rings true across the board.”
The company’s playful approach to marketing has also proved potent. This past February, Hater projected an illustration of Putin embracing a pregnant Trump on several buildings in New York City: a feat of seeming political cheekiness or performance art whose meaning collapses on further examination. “It doesn’t really make sense,” admits Brendan. Rather than representing a particular political stance, the image was meant to publicize the company, without being “corporate-y,” as “ridiculous and absurd and polarizing.”
Sign on to Hater’s website and you’ll be presented with the face of our 45th president: the first topic in a slideshow of them on the screen of an iPhone. “Look, there’s nothing more polarizing than Donald Trump,” says Brendan. “If everyone hated the same things it wouldn’t be fun. Everyone hates mosquitoes, bad traffic. The key is to find the thing that determines your personality, and that’s Donald Trump.”
Each swipe (users can choose between like, dislike, love and hate) on a topic “affects your personality spectrums in certain ways.”
“If you hated Trump, your liberal score goes up. If you hate microwave dinners, your classy score goes up. If you hate fine wines, maybe it’s in the other direction. We base those [scores] off leading psychological surveys that the experts have determined matter the most.” The staff scans social media and the news for inspiration on new topics.
Despite his insight into users’ romantic preferences, Brendan has managed to avoid the despair of other dating app designers who have observed, for example, widespread racism and fat shaming in the data they’ve collected – though it’s worth noting that the app’s staff members generate all topics. “I feared that maybe I would start to adopt some of that pessimism from looking at the data,” he says, “but in general I think I’ve been pretty pleasantly surprised.” Excluding politics, “we thought that people would hate the same things, but it’s amazing how different everyone is. Every single topic, even puppies,” he says, gets a range of responses. “There’s people out there who hate puppies, who love mosquitoes, whose least favorite thing in the entire world is apples. It’s funny to see this crazy diversity of personality.” There’s one topic, though, that meets almost universal opprobrium. “Slow walkers.”