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Serial entrepreneur Zhang Miao on using a personality test as a solution for dating in China

Written by Julianna Wu Published on     4 mins read

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Nine is a dating app that helps users find compatibility by matching personality archetypes.

For dating apps to match us with potential partners, we typically need to answer a series of questions or provide personal information. We may mark our height (truthfully), or say what we may do on a lazy Saturday afternoon. The goal is simple: to reduce us down to data points.

Yet these superficial qualities may not truly reflect who we really are. To describe our personalities, one way is to refer to the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a popular index that assigns 16 personality types to us. If you’ve seen people describing themselves using four letters—INTJ or ESFP, for example—then you’ve seen people who have taken the test.

In 2020, when Zhang Miao was in school pursuing an MBA, he decided to use the MBTI to build a dating app called Nine, which was launched in April 2021. Oasis sat down with Zhang to hear his thoughts on what is stopping young men and women in China from finding the right match, and how his app might overcome this problem.

The following interview has been edited and consolidated for brevity and clarity.

Oasis (OS): Why is your app called Nine?

Zhang Miao (ZM): When my business partner and I began this project in 2020, we codenamed it Project Nine. It was very arbitrary. Then I realized that in Chinese, the number nine carries the meaning of eternity. And, if you input “nine” as Mandarin pinyin, it means, “What about you?” That’s a question that you could ask when you’re on a date. So everything fell in place with this word.

Of course, it’s also related to the core feature of the app. Every day, we recommend nine people to you.

Left: Users need to answer a series of questions to determine their MBTI personality type before getting started on Nine. Right: The “Pebbles” feature on Nine that lets users post pictures and messages for public viewing. Image courtesy of Nine.
Left: Users need to answer a series of questions to determine their MBTI personality type before getting started on Nine. Right: The “Pebbles” feature on Nine that lets users post pictures and messages for public viewing. Image courtesy of Nine.

OS: Nine divides a person into three layers. There’s the outer layer, which is the appearance and basic information about a person. Then there’s the secondary level, a person’s value system. The third, inner layer is the personality of the person. What’s the consideration behind defining these layers?

ZM: First of all, humans are visual animals. We’re wired to look first and then study that person. We cannot get rid of that fully. So the outer layer is important, but we want to make sure that it goes deeper.

We don’t ask people to swipe left and right, instead, we use the 16 MBTI personalities to present a person’s inner layers alongside their photos.

OS: How does swiping left or right impact the user experience of a dating app?

ZM: After Tinder launched in 2011, there were many derivatives of dating apps where users have to swipe based on the photos they see. China is no exception. A lot of users have no chance because their photos may not look great. Another thing is that all dating apps exist online, and users may feel weary after a while. There’s the cycle of registering, swiping over and over again, deleting the app, and re-registering again because maybe you feel like you’ll be able to find somebody this time.

More importantly, we have this idea of building a community both online and offline. It’s not just dating events, offline speed dating, but also knowledge-sharing through classes on MBTI and relationships. We are also developing curricula on understanding yourself, your personality type, and your value system.

Sample user profiles on Nine. Image courtesy of Nine.
Sample user profiles on Nine. Image courtesy of Nine.

OS: Nine has been online for more than a year. So far, what are some of your observations about dating in China? 

ZM: It has been a fascinating anthropological journey for me.

A point of interest for me is realizing how inexperienced a lot of users are when it comes to dealing with the ups and downs of online dating. Some of them have messaged me to report other users because the conversation stopped. Or if the other party deleted them, they might say, “Hey, you know, I am really into this person, but they deleted me, can you put us back together?”

For me, that’s an eye-opener. Users in the US are probably more experienced when it comes to online dating. They may have a higher tolerance for ambiguity and understand the possibility of getting your heart broken.

OS: What are your insights based on this observation?

ZM: It helps us understand our users better. Sometimes, they don’t need direct guidance, but they need a place where they can talk about the issues that come up in online dating. We’re currently rolling out our paid membership for Nine. It will include one-on-one relationship coaching as an option. It could be just a 20-minute check-in where you can talk to a certified coach about the feelings that you have.

WRITTEN BY

Julianna Wu

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