HighBlood Founder Herbert Eng Answers Our Questions
“I’ve always valued speaking the truth over speaking with tact — that has always been my mantra,” claims Mr Herbert Eng.
The 30-year-old has been the subject of online furore over the past few days after the launch of his upcoming dating mobile application, HighBlood, was announced by a promo stating: “no banglas, no maids, no uglies”.
The controversial app, which utilises Tinder’s “swipe” concept, prides itself on targeting the elitist market.
Potential users will have to undergo a screening process by existing members, who will determine if the applicant’s looks, professions, income and educational background are desirable enough. Once admitted into the exclusive playground for the rich and aesthetically pleasing, members will then be presented with a catalogue of similarly vetted people to choose from.
MustShareNews chatted with the founder of the “world’s first accountant-verified dating app” in an exclusive interview, to get a better understanding about the app, find out what inspired him to build it, and whether he thinks the app will succeed following the massive backlash.
Who Is This Herbert Dude?
If he looks a little bit like a nerd, that’s cause he is one.
The app developer scored straight As during his schooling days and graduated from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) with first-class honors.
“Not that first class is a big deal,” he quipped.
After securing his Bachelor’s in Communication Studies, Mr Eng moved on to study for a PhD in new media when he turned 26.
Things weren’t as rosy as before, however.
Despite being on a “premium scholarship”, he left NTU on acrimonious terms due to his reluctance to conform:
Nanyang Technological University (NTU) kicked me out basically because they thought I needed to follow their research directions, and I thought I knew better than them, which I do.
Prior to HighBlood, Mr Eng founded Fessup, an app inspired by Whisper and Yik Yak — think of it as all your Facebook confessions pages compiled into one mobile platform.
Looks like he’s really into this honesty thing:
While Fessup managed to “achieve a decent detention rate”, Mr Eng failed to sustain the platform’s growth and has since taken down the app.
What’s The Fuss About?
Trouble started brewing when Herbert posted a the aforementioned teaser advertisement on HighBlood’s Facebook page in preparation for its launch. Read our story on the furore over the app’s advertisement.
While it’s undeniable that bots, fake profiles and escorts have tainted the experience on modern dating platforms, many netizens found issue with the ad’s negative racial connotations against “banglas”, perceived elitism against maids and just plain old mean-spiritedness against “uglies”.
After all, isn’t it discriminatory to shun a certain group of people based on their skin color or profession, and aren’t good looks subjective?
Well, Mr Eng offers an alternative perspective to that, saying that he is merely condensing the services of traditional matchmaking agencies into an app:
We’re decentralising the selection process of the traditional matchmaking agency by allowing people to perform their own appraisals instead of relying on matchmaking protocols these agencies use.
Quite simply, we’re moving control of objective yardsticks from the middlemen to the users themselves.
He also claimed that the ad was posted following “honest feedback” from girls who were “creeped out by construction workers”.
I wanted to take this opportunity to question political correctness — why shouldn’t we be honest about your attitudes towards a certain race instead of being pretentious about it?
Does having a racial preference in considering a life partner make one racist?
A fellow netizen seems to concur:
Acceptance Via The Community
Still, the post was considered tactless by many, and Mr Eng admitted that he could have done better in explaining the context of the post.
I asked him if HighBlood would accept a ridiculously gorgeous maid, or a filthy rich “bangla” — his reply was positive.
“We don’t actually delete profiles by basis of status or race,” Mr Eng explains. “The acceptance process is driven by the community, not us.”
“Theoretically, anyone can get into the app as long as they pass the community acceptance process,” he clarifies. “We assigned five existing users to vet new applicants, and if the majority deem them desirable enough, they’ll be entered into the system.”
What about those who fail to make the cut?
“They have to pay us $100 to bribe the covenant, or wait for 12 hours for another five users to rate them again.”
Will There Be A Happily Ever After?
Given the highly elitist nature of this app, will the quality of love on offer be superficial at best? With filters that allows sorting via race and income levels, what is stopping gold-diggers from exploiting rich guys, or horny males from hunting one-night stands?
Mr Eng quotes the Social Penetration Theory (SPT), which proposes that communication moves from shallow levels to deeper ones as a relationship develops, in his explanation:
Uncertainty reduction actually helps in deepening relations as posited by SPT. People are also mature enough as our users are above the age of 17.
HighBlood is meant to foster power couples. If a user is seeking non-committal relationships, other apps would be better suited for their needs.
Why Did He Build HighBlood?
Ironically, Mr Eng decided to work on the matchmaking application following a failed relationship with a girl named “Alicia”:
She was supposed to be one part of a power couple but decided I was too demanding and selfish. I really needed her to be my Harley Quinn…
Despite the massive online backlash, Mr Eng remains highly optimistic of his creation, citing the Streisand Effect and the amount of publicity the media coverage has brought.
In fact, sign-ups for HighBlood have tripled since this backlash started.
He estimates to break even within the next two years, and projects over $18m in profit by the fifth year.
As the launch date approaches, the 30-year-old is set to begin an aggressive marketing campaign.
I’m looking for three “Herbert’s Angels” now from the National University of Singapore, Singapore Management University and NTU to gravitate groundswell from the campuses.
Students verifying their identity by institute e-mail will get access to an exclusive co-ed group chat just for their school as well as a combined SG SCHOOLS channel.
Other ideas he originally proposed included “featuring pretty ladies and handsome guys” on the application’s Instagram page, incentivising users to share their desirability score on social media, and producing a YouTube reality show to further promote the app.
However, some of the ideas might have to be scrapped after this incident.
He has also raised a sizeable amount of money and is seeking for a marketing co-founder to join his venture. While 25 people have already applied for the position, Mr Eng confirms that he is still searching.
Not Backing Down
Is HighBlood being targeted unfairly? After all, similar apps are already on the market — Tinder Select, The League and Raya, just to name a few — which admits users based on their jobs, salaries, and even social media following.
Or are netizens right to chide to Mr Eng for his tasteless marketing tactics, which were apparently meant to shock and drive the app into relevance?
And should we pander to elitists and racists by creating an app just for them, or do the potential business benefits outweigh the obvious poor taste?
Whatever your views might be, he remains protective of his creation and sees it as a challenge to convert his naysayers to believers:
All your friends and family will not support you — the first people that do are strangers. In fact, the more people that dismiss you, the better.
The most successful endeavours are all similar in that people across the board dismiss them usually as it’s cognitively easier.
I’m using people as a soundboard for my ideas and decisions. The best decisions are the ones people would frown on.
Disclaimer: Some parts of Mr Eng’s responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Featured image from Facebook