written by Tricia Louvar | featured photo by Beatrix Boros
Ladan Radafshar and Anne McDonald are speaking in tongues. They talk about super likes, swiping left, swiping right, Tinder traveling and other cultural codes.
“There are a lot of bad profiles out there right now,” said Radafshar, founder of the Portland-based startup Fern, a personal branding service for dating profiles. “Like the classic bathroom selfie without a shirt. There are a lot of photos of snakes around the neck these days. Men with baby tigers, too. Men with kittens.”
“The kittens bother me,” McDonald deadpanned. “I’ve seen men with baby elephants, too.” She sighed. They went on like this, entertaining each other and finding common ground. McDonald had reached out to Fern to see if she should be doing anything different with her online presence.
McDonald, 45, lives in Bend, travels the world, owns two label-makers, loves her dog, has ripped biceps (without flexing) and owns her own executive recruiting firm. She began online dating during the summer of 2016 and quickly realized how time-consuming it became. “Dating sites, like other social media thumbing activities, is a good time-suck,” McDonald said. Fern positions itself as a tool of efficiency to help its clients get better quality dates (not just more dates) by offering guidance with its profile management tools.
When Radafshar was single, she spent about thirty hours a week on dating sites aligning, filtering and finding matches. With all that field research, she understood what people were going through. “You have to understand, online dating is like another full-time job if you want to be effective and get the most out of it,” Radafshar said.
McDonald said she spends nearly twenty hours a week on Bumble and Tinder, the two dating platforms of choice right now, just to meet interesting people—not a husband.
Before her Fern assessment, McDonald sent Fern a series of screen shots of her online content and posted photos. Radafshar reviewed the dossier. Clients at Fern often have different needs. After the first consult, which covers basic background dating history and what the client wants, needs or is missing in the online dating world, Ladafshar decides if the dater could benefit from Fern. If so, Fern writes a detailed proposal outlining its services, such as photography, copywriting and personal styling.
“Fern really just sees the very best version of yourself,” Radafshar said. “And it helps you start or polish your personal brand.” Fern deciphers whether the client’s dating practices are more data-driven or spontaneous based on platforms, demographics and intentions.
Radafshar has liked playing matchmaker, or the more modernized term, “connector,” with her friends for ten years now. While working as a social media specialist on the Nike Women’s team, Ladafshar began searching for the right career move. She consulted with career coach Minda Redburn, business strategist Bill Horton, copywriter Molly Jones (formerly of Nike Women), designer Zoe PDX and photography producer Darren Utt. Fern spawned a “network of my badass people,” she said.
While Fern brings people together to make the dating process easier and enjoyable, it cannot envision everything. “Chemistry isn’t predictable,” Radafshar said. “Compatibility is (predictable) with all the filtering available, but chemistry and compatibility are not the same.”
After talking to McDonald for thirty minutes, Radafshar offered her final analysis. She liked that McDonald was self-assured, confident and willing to use the online platforms as a social experiment to see what might gain traction. Ruling: McDonald should continue her online voyage as usual without delving into Fern’s more extensive services of photography, copywriting, platform selection and personal styling.
“Right now I have 160 matches sitting in my queue,” McDonald said. “What you put in is what you get out.”