Helen Grossman and Aliza Kelly Faragher, two best friends since college, were at a Korean spa in Los Angeles one day complaining about boys. "We had just started dating these two guys and we were wondering why they were being the way they were," says Aliza, a former art dealer. "Helen and I are both Leos and we realized there was no efficient way to find out who we were compatible with."
Later, they continued the conversation at a Korean restaurant and began commiserating over their dissatisfaction with existing dating apps. "Tinder is such a meat market and we felt that there were no platforms that made us feel comfortable and not shameful to go on as single women. We wanted to know about compatibility and a place where we could start a real conversation before spending time with these bozos," says Aliza. So they came up with an idea for an app that would provide a more holistic approach to finding another half.
This month, Align launched in New York and San Francisco, after beta-stage testing in L.A. Through a magical algorithm and a mystical starry purple interface, matches are presented to users in accordance with their astrological compatibility. Every day, a new constellation of profile pictures appears (the larger the image, the better your chances of hitting it off), annotated with useful notes like, "Once you accept the unchanging fact about each other, it'll make things a bit easier to comprehend" and "Sagittarius and Aquarius enjoy a remarkable chemistry." If you choose to "align" you can then start talking through an in-app messenger.
Over the phone from their office in Downtown L.A. (in the same incubator space where Helen worked before creating Align), the app founders explained why astrology is more popular in 2015 than it has been since 1983, and how we can harness its power to find love - with a little help from our iPhones.
Did you have any tech experience before starting the app?
Aliza: No, but we had plenty of dating experience. We had used every single app and site - the stoner one, the farmer one, all of them. The advantage was it let our imaginations run wild. We really thought about the experience we wanted, and how to make something that held true to our values.
Helen: We wanted the app to be a soulful experience. Which is why we have the constellation: instead of having to swipe through your matches you are presented with all of them, so it's really a choice. You're part of our constellation because you are involved in this process, we want you to be represented.
How much did you know about astrology beforehand?
Helen: We knew the basics. Like Leos often do, we'd say, "I'm a Leo and that's really good," but we didn't know anything else.
What are the defining characteristics of a Leo?
Helen: You're an Aquarius, right? Leo and Aquarius are opposite on the chart. So there is a really cool dynamic where a Leo is concerned with the top issues and an Aquarius is concerned about the people issues. Leo attributes are confidence, egocentricity, leadership. It's a dramatic, theatrical sign.
How is working together as two Leos?
Aliza: Astrology has been an amazing professional tool for us as business partners. It provides a language for recognizing the fact that people are different. We approach it from a Myers-Briggs perspective; we understand the fact that we have common interests, but that we are going to approach them differently.
What other research did you do?
Helen: We are so lucky to have Annabel Gat as our advising astrologer. She writes the horoscopes for Broadly, and she gets our vision for Align because she shares our passion for making astrology accessible.
We've also read every book that's been written on it, classics by Linda Goodman, everyone. What we did was take that information and make it open to millennials on an accessible platform.
Aliza: We also realized that astrology is at the height of its popularity right now. The last time astrology was this popular in American culture was in 1983. So most of the source material reflects a more 70s approach, it's a little chauvinistic, there are too many psychedelic drug references and it's a little too freaky. We wanted to modernize that.
Why are people so interested in astrology in 2015?
Aliza: If you look at the climate in 2015 and the climate of the 70s, they are actually quite compatible. In both situations, you are dealing with a generation of young people that had been expected to do better than its parents, but then when that generation reaches adult age, there is a recession, a war - all of these components that bring young people to realize that the more traditional solutions are not providing answers. So people turn to non-traditional approaches.
Helen: And I think it also has to do with being connected. We are more connected than ever - that's what we're told. But the more you're scrolling through your Instagram feed, the less connected you actually feel. I think astrology provides a way for people to come back down to earth, or rather, to go into the cosmos.
What's next for Align?
Helen: By January, we'll have weekly horoscopes. We're also going to add more in-depth charts, more filters and in-app purchases. One of the things that we wanted to do from the beginning was make Align about education. We want to think about how astrology can fit in with all the different aspects of your life.
Aliza: We are also very excited to do collaborations. This holiday season, we're making limited-edition astrology pins with DEERDANA. Each one will include a 2016 horoscope.
Text Alice Newell-Hanson
Images courtesy Align