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Toronto-based dating app helps foster connections within the Asian community

Alike founder Hanmin Yang on his experiences developing the platform
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Alike is a Toronto-based dating app for the Asian community. CAROLINE BELLAMY/THE VARSITY
Alike is a Toronto-based dating app for the Asian community. CAROLINE BELLAMY/THE VARSITY

The platform Alike is a dating app and social network made specifically for the Asian community in North America. Based in Toronto, it was founded by Hanmin Yang, who immigrated to Canada from South Korea when he was a young child. 

The Varsity spoke with Yang about why he started the app and his experiences running it thus far. 

A different kind of dating app

Yang told The Varsity that the inspiration for the app came from his lived experiences as an Asian man in North America. Alike is Yang’s response to the way that Western media has historically portrayed Asian people. If they are not completely invisible, they are portrayed as insulting caricatures like Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles.

The impact on people like himself, Yang described, is not trivial. “That’s how the world sees me,” he said. “And I internalized a lot of that through most of my life.” 

Instead of writing a bio, as with apps like Tinder and Bumble, Alike allows users to upload videos introducing and talking about themselves. Yang knew he wanted this feature from the beginning. “The only way that we’re going to fight negative representation is with positive representation,” he explained.

Similar to the dating app Hinge, Alike gives users prompts to get the conversation going. Many of these prompts, such as “what I love most about being Asian,” “I knew I was Asian when,” and “the best noodle soup is without a doubt,” clearly encourage users to embrace and explore their Asian heritage. 

Fostering a sense of community

“It was very clear to me that [Asians in North America] were seeking a sense of belonging and community,” Yang recounted. In the research and development process, he surveyed and interviewed individuals in the community, learning about their dating app experiences and their views on a project like his.

Navigating the dating world is complicated, Yang described, as Asian fetishism and emasculation are always hanging over one’s head. Popular dating apps often bolster this difficulty. “[A sense of belonging and community] was what’s missing in today’s lineup of mainstream dating apps,” Yang said. “There’s no sense that [Asians] are valid, and that they’re accepted.” 

The idea of a network just for Asians is not without controversy. Yang emphasized that the purpose of Alike is not to promote “in-group dating” or cater toward people who only want to date Asians. In an email to The Varsity, he wrote, “We’re happy even if a user comes to Alike and finds community and belonging and that allows them to open up in other areas of their life and meet whomever outside of Alike. If we help them develop self-love and become happier, we’ve accomplished our mission.”

Moreover, the question of defining who counts as Asian can get contentious. The FAQ page on Alike’s website is dedicated to addressing such concerns. Specifically, it affirms that South Asians, mixed-race individuals, and trans-racial Asian adoptees are welcome. As long as a person self-identifies as Asian, the website says, they can join the app. There are no stated guidelines or policies for reporting or taking down accounts of non-Asian individuals. 

The entrepreneurship journey

Yang did not hide the fact that being an entrepreneur is lonely and difficult. Several partners have had to leave the company because they needed more financial security. “It’s an emotional roller coaster; the highs are higher and the lows are lower than if you’re working for somebody else. It’s not stable,” he said. 

Working on a new venture means “working for the promise of something in the future,” Yang explained. According to him, entrepreneurship means knowing how to convince people that your venture is worth working for. To do that, you must be a good storyteller and leader. 

Alike’s website makes it clear that the app is about more than going on fun dates and making friends. Self-love, as Yang portrays it, is not something to be taken for granted. For Asian-Canadians like him, it’s something that many discover all too late in life. When they do, he said, “It’s a whole new world. It’s like stepping out and seeing the sun for the first time.”