AUSTIN, Texas – On a warm March evening, sorority girls in sundresses and students in moisture-wicking polos lined up at Cain and Abel’s, a popular bar near the University of Texas at Austin, for drinks and a chance at eternity love — both courtesy of Ilios, a dating app that matches users based on their alleged astrological compatibility.
The students looked for their ID and downloaded the app to their phones (several had to ask for help spelling the company’s name) as they approached the bouncer, perhaps disheartened by the possibility of their soul’s twin flames at such a young age. discover age. But they were all influenced by the promise of a free Texas Tea, a cousin of the Long Island Iced Tea that contains about 78 different spirits.
Ilios is part of a constellation of popular apps, including Co-Star, Sanctuary, the Pattern, and Nebula, which aim to illuminate interpersonal connections using astrological signs. It had taken over the bar for two hours on Thursday night for the latest in a series of launch events as quiet and soft as a mouse tiptoeing over a Tempur-Pedic mattress. There was a “silent launch” in Los Angeles in May 2021, then a “limited launch” in Austin in November 2021, and a party Ilios hosted with the University of Texas branch of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity.
“We’ve been very subtle in our launch as we’re constantly trying to improve,” says Gracian Mariathasan, 47 (an Aries), who founded the app with his brother, Marion, 46 (a Leo).
For Cain and Abel, interest in the app generally fell along gender lines. Most men knew their zodiac sign, but that’s where their curiosity ended. “I think for a week in seventh grade I thought, Whoa, that’s me. And then I thought, ‘Oh wait, no, I don’t care,’ said Luke Anderson, 21, a Pisces.
Women in general were more involved with the concept, especially two who were emphatic about never dating Scorpio men again. “But Scorpio women are great!” Faith Barzilla, 21, assured this Scorpio reporter.
“It’s kind of a weird statistic, actually,” said Lexi Brooks, 23, an Aries who sworn off Scorpios. “It’s like the stock market — you predict what’s going to happen based on trends.”
At a crowded, beer-slicked table, a group of women expressed mixed feelings about Ilios. Some thought an astrology dating app would be good for hookups, but nothing serious. Swati Sharma, 21, described her relationship with dating apps in general as complicated. “Most of it is stuff for my stand-up,” she said.
This gender disparity is positive for Ilios, the Mariathasan brothers said: Where the women go, the boys will follow. “It’s great for us, from a marketing standpoint,” Gracian said. More restrictive for the company: the current battery capacity of smartphones, which is disproportionate to the data needs of the young scientists of this country. Two women said that although they were intrigued by the app, they couldn’t explore it now because their phone was about to break.
While the app assesses compatibility in several other (particularly non-scientific) areas — there’s a lifestyle compatibility score, a numerology score, and an overall compatibility score — Ilios plays out its astrological features.
Flyers for Cain and Abel’s event asked the invitees if they were ready to meet their “heavenly match.” The T-shirts that Marion brought to the bar to hand out were decorated with the question “Do our stars align?” on the backside. (Dating apps like Hinge, Bumble, and Tinder allow users to include their astrological signs in their profiles, but this is not their primary function.)
Bela Gandhi, a dating and relationship coach and the founder of Smart Dating Academy, in Chicago, said no clients came to her with astrological concerns or preferences. But she liked the idea of an astrology dating app, especially if it helped people connect or get a sense of romance. “There’s something beautiful about thinking that my love was destined by the stars,” she said.
The idea for Ilios first came to Gracian in 2018. He was dining with a fellow engineer, who complained about how shallow dating apps felt and how he didn’t have time to sift through all the profiles to find a promising one. to find a match. Gracian began thinking of ways to filter similarities that might encourage a more substantive connection, remembering his grandmother and aunt in Sri Lanka discussing the astrological compatibility of different couples when he was younger.
From a data standpoint, the idea intrigued him. “As an engineer, the challenge was: what do you use as factors?” said Grace. “How do you deal with the information people voluntarily send to an app without asking too many invasive questions?”
In June 2018, Gracian brought the idea of an astrology-based dating app to Marion, an entrepreneur who has invested heavily in cannabis businesses, and the two slowly began building Ilios together. (This means the app itself is a Gemini.)
Ilios is primarily funded by Ceylon Solutions, Marion’s venture capital firm, and by the brothers themselves, although Marion said they have attracted several private investors. “A lot of these family offices are older people,” says Marion. “They’re not on dating apps, but their kids are.”
While those millennials and Gen Zers may be optimistic about astrology, some experts are skeptical about its use in the dating world. They expressed concern about people summarily disqualifying potential matches based on an element of their birth chart, rather than taking the time to get to know each other and disqualifying them based on something more meaningful, such as their personalities.
“I’m a total astrology nerd. I use it and love it,” said Tara Aal, executive director of the International Society for Astrological Research. “What I’m not a big fan of is when we limit ourselves by saying, ‘If that person’s Venus is in that sign, then they can’t suit me.'”
In terms of complexity, synastry — the examination of the interplay between planets in two different charts — falls somewhere between an advanced placement calculus class and the moon landing. In Western astrology, each person’s astrological chart contains 10 planets, each with its own sign, and 12 houses into which each of the planets falls. Synastry analysis includes the composite chart, which: takes two graphs and throws them together to create one shared graph that contains as much detail about a relationship as there are grains of sand on Earth.
“It’s not just a conversation between two parts. It could be 50 different conversations between different parts of me, between different parts of you,” said Clarissa Dolphin, another astrologer and executive director of the International Society for Astrological Research.
The Ilios team isn’t getting into the astrological weed just yet. “We don’t want to go too deep,” Marion said. “For people who really want to go down the rabbit hole, there are plenty of horoscope sites. This is to educate yourself on a superficial level and if you are looking for a friendship or relationship.”
Marion said there are currently just over 6,000 users on the app. In the coming months, the company plans to expand to larger cities in the United States, such as Denver, Chicago and New York, as well as Toronto and eventually India.
At Cain & Abel, some customers questioned Ilios’ marketing tactics. One student, Santiago Faus, 22, a Virgo who was accompanied to the bar by his Dalmatian Pluto, wondered if it was wise for Ilios to target fraternities and sororities.
Mr. Faus said that many University of Texas students who choose to rush and make a promise have “certain priorities that are not in line with that introspection” that astrology offers.
While sipping his beer and contemplating his fellow students’ ability to be inward, Mr. Faus admitted he wasn’t Ilios’ target audience. He already has a girlfriend, and he’s not a big fan of astrology.
“It’s a lot to keep track of,” he said. “I can barely do my own dishes, you know.”