In March, an MBA edition of Love Is Blind, called MBA Blind Love, began among students of some of the top business schools in the U.S. These schools included Stern, Columbia, Wharton, Yale, Kellogg, Booth, Sloan, HBS, Stanford, and Yale…just to name a few.
Two single Oppy Board members decided to partake – for journalistic research purposes, of course – and then had the pleasure of interviewing the founder, Anna Li.
So how exactly is it done? B-school students from across the U.S. can sign up on the MBA Blind Love website with their school emails. Then you have to create an anonymous email so that you can receive and begin corresponding with your matches without disclosing your identity. I won’t lie. I panicked and went for something along the lines of…bschoolboo. I know, very creative. You select your sexual preference and preferred location after business school. This last week also included age group and interests.
Every week, you sign up for that week’s round and are given 4-8 matches with other MBAs across the country. You can either message them first or play hardball like me and wait for them to come to you. Full disclosure, you may be waiting for a while. You can talk about whatever you want for a week, either via email or on the phone. However, you cannot exchange any personally identifiable information, that includes no photos of you. After one week, you are free to disclose your identity. No one is enforcing these rules but it’s the whole point of the social experiment so why break them? Overtime, it is up to the couple to decide at any time to take things to the next level.
I must say that I am really enjoying the experience. This week will be week 7. I am not overwhelmed with the amount of emails since I don’t make the first move but I have had some great conversations. Do I think I am going to meet the love of my life by doing this? Who knows? But one thing is for sure: it is a great distraction while sheltering and a wonderful way to get to know a perfect stranger at another top business school in the country. Networking at its finest, people. I’m swooning just thinking of the professional connections I’ll make for life. My LinkedIn is going to be on fire.
“I see you know my boss. How did you meet her?”
“Oh, bschoolboo? We had a cross-country, weeklong, virtual fling back during the Pandemic of 2020.”
Some email encounters have been more entertaining than others and it is interesting to see the range of conversations that ensue. One of my matches and I answered “The 36 Questions that Lead to Love.” It is an unusual experience to share such personal information with an absolute stranger. It wasn’t until I had to be anonymous for probably the first time ever that I realized how much I rely on profession and other blanket labels as my identity. Anyway, my match and I took on the challenge, and I hate to break it to everyone but the New York Times lied to us. It does not lead to guaranteed love. (I would like to point out that we, at The Oppy, would never lie to you). However, my Wharton match and I are now good friends, even after he realized who I was and what I looked like. Go me!
I had the wonderful opportunity to interview the founder of MBA Blind Love, Anna Li, via a Zoom call. Anna is a MBA2 at Wharton and incredibly impressive. She is poised, eloquent, and intelligent…everything you’d expect of a student from a competitive MBA program. Nevertheless, I finished the call with a strong suspicion that I had just interviewed the future CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
Anna, it is a pleasure to meet the person behind this MBA social experiment! Thank you for taking time during finals week. How does it feel to be finished?
Hi! No problem at all. Finals went well but I am not actually finished yet. Because of COVID-19, Wharton is offering graduating students an extra semester, so I’m planning on further developing MBA Blind Love over the summer and taking advantage of the school resources!
Oh wow, that is a great idea by Wharton. Speaking of MBA Blind Love, how did you come up with the idea? How did word spread so fast throughout business schools in the U.S.?
My roommate and I had recently returned from Kenya and it was around the start of sheltering due to the pandemic. We were binging on Love is Blind on Netflix and thought it would be a great idea to start a similar experiment at Wharton since we were all isolating. I posted about the idea on Wharton’s social media platform and set up a matching process so students could anonymously sign up. Before I knew it, the link was being spread across the country, to different business schools. March 18 was the beginning of the first round and within, I believe it was 3 days, we had 1,800 people sign up from the top business schools across the country and Time Magazine wanted to interview us!
1,800 MBA students signed up in the first week! That is incredible! Did you have any correspondents at other business schools to help facilitate this?
I knew one person at HBS, who helped spread the word there but there were no formal partnerships with students in other MBA programs. Everything was through word of mouth and organic growth.
Random question. Have you heard of people answering “The 36 Questions that Lead to Love” in email exchanges.
Yes, a lot of Wharton participants have been using it to get to know their matches.
Ok, starting to feel less special now. Is the process of matching all automatized or does it require manual labor?
It’s a combination of both. I created an algorithm using excel VBA, matching people by gender, sexual preference, and location. Business school students are a natural selector to begin with since MBA programs tend to attract intelligent and driven people. However, it’s pretty low-tech right now and I’m looking to build a better product over the summer.
So you’re saying that MBA Blind Love will continue to expand?
Yes, that’s the plan. Right now, during COVID, there is so much uncertainty. A big part of business school is the social factor and now that we have to be indoors, this is a great way to keep people smiling and socializing. The feedback I have gotten so far is that people love it and want to keep it going over the summer. I find that reassuring and invigorating.
My hope is to expand over the summer but I need to scale the operations first. And like any start-up, we are learning as we go. Something we learned, for example, is that we have to make it a little difficult by requiring participants to sign up for each round to show commitment. When we do expand, my goal is to first expand to include MBA alums and then different grad programs, such as med and law schools. There will also be further criteria in the future for better matching. We got a lot of feedback that users would like an app so I am working towards that so stay tuned!
That’s awesome! So what are your thoughts for MBA Blind Love going forward?
I definitely got lucky…it started as a small idea in our apartment, but gained so much traction with just word of mouth. I think it’s because this offers MBA students a unique experience that is different from the other apps out there. I don’t know if you use dating apps but a lot of them are driven primarily by looks.
I may be privy to one or two but go on…
As you know already, for most dating apps, the picture is the first thing you see. For many people, that’s the only thing that determines a left swipe from a right — which perpetuates this fast/casual type of dating. The existing dating apps focus more on the superficial and less on what the person is truly like. MBA Blind Love highlights people’s inner qualities other than the superficial factors by removing them from the equation.
We fall in love with people with imperfections all the time, but dating apps give us these false expectations of needing to find someone who is perfect both in appearance and values. Meeting someone is the easy part but how can you ensure that it’s going to work? MBA Blind Love flips the model and allows us to truly focus on values and get to know someone without letting appearance get in the way. This values-focused approach is really important in dating, especially with MBA students because they are typically at a stage when they are ready for something more serious.
If I hadn’t already been sold, I definitely would be now. May I ask, are you partaking and what’s your personal experience been like?
I am! It’s been really fun. It is refreshing to get these long letters from my matches. I am learning so much more about a person through longer email exchanges than short text messages. I have received letters (via email) and poems. It’s been a different experience from dating apps, which focuses more on providing you with a lot of matches, rather than creating romance. I think the letter format and anonymous exchanges create a formula for romance. It feels less like a transaction and more serendipitous when there is a mutual connection.
Are there any good success stories that you can share?
Actually yes! I’ve been hearing multiple success stories: zoom dates, Netflix parties, 4 hour phone calls, etc. These success stories are from across the country and not just Wharton.
In general, it’s a fun social activity. Friends agree to do it together. There is some investigative work by asking people about their experiences and it almost turns into a game, trying to figure out who your matches are. It’s funny to see how much business schools are connected. We came here for the network and this is another opportunity to broaden that network. But dating friends in your group of friends is high-risk. Dating a classmate is similar to dating in the office. If it doesn’t work out, there are so many complicated factors. The good thing about the anonymous factor is that you have an opportunity to learn about a person’s values before commiting.
People are also a lot more open when it’s anonymized. There is no public social image to portray and you can be who you really are and let your guard down. As opposed to the public side, this gives you an opportunity to see a person’s private side, that you don’t usually get to see until you’ve been dating for a while.
I don’t know if you know this but The Oppy has a regular feature called “Stern Singles.” We typically reserve it for NYU MBA students but we could make an exception. Would you consider being our honorary bachelorette this month?
Oh fun! I typically don’t feel comfortable being in the spotlight but since it’s COVID-19, why not!
Describe your ideal first post-quarantine date?
I love having deep intellectual conversations and getting to know someone through that. Since you guys are in New York, you’ll appreciate that I also developed a love for cocktail lounges while living there. So an ideal first date post-quarantine might be one where we explore hole-in-the-wall cocktail places in the city and end with an engaging conversation over a nice drink (or two).
Describe the worst date you’ve ever been on?
One person took me to the Box, which I’m sure your readers know is NOT a date spot. It was entertaining though!
And the best?
Biking across San Francisco, walking down the beach and randomly finding a Korean restaurant that blew our minds.
What are you looking for in a partner?
Someone who is supportive, patient and ambitious but also knows how to have fun. Someone who is smart but doesn’t take himself too seriously. Someone who likes giving hugs.
Do you have any deal breakers in a partner?
Lack of integrity.
Favorite quarantine song/artist/album?
Lizzo. She’s my new Beyonce.
Favorite song to dance to?
Body by Loud Luxury.
What’s the first 1st song you want to party to when the quarantine is lifted?
Good as Hell by Lizzo
Favorite karaoke song?
Sk8ter Boi by Avril Levine
Favorite self-isolation podcast?
Oh so many, but one of my favorites is “How I Built This”.
Anna, it has been an absolute pleasure to make your acquaintance and learn more about MBA Blind Love.
Sternies, if you are interested in participating in this MBA social experiment…and possibly finding the love of your life (no pressure), sign up here.