Business with benefits: How Tinder and other dating apps double as career boosters

February 13, 2014: 5:00 AM ET

Swipe right for love ... or money

By Paula Froelich

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FORTUNE -- Sarah Kunst was in San Francisco on business last year when she went on the dating app Tinder and "liked" a guy with whom the app said she had several mutual friends. "We started talking. He used to run a hedge fund and now runs his family's private fund and since we have mutual friends, I asked them about him," Kunst said. "They told me, 'Oh, you don't want to date him -- he's divorced and has kids -- but you should work together or something.'" And from that digital introduction, a business connection was formed. Since meeting on Tinder, Kunst has introduced her male friend to some investment prospects while he has connected her to several other funds -- a mutually beneficial relationship. Without the sex.

Tinder's concept is simple: You open up the app on your iPhone, take a look at the profile of a nearby potential partner, and make a quick judgment based on limited information -- name, age, pictures, and a list of mutual Facebook friends (if any). Swipe the profile left, and it goes into the dustbin of anonymous rejection. Swipe right, and the app connects you in a private chatroom -- assuming the other person swiped right on your profile, too.

When Tinder launched in the first quarter of 2013, it was assumed to be a Grindr for straight people -- a way for heterosexuals to meet nearby people looking for a physical relationship. But, as with most things, Tinder evolved. Instead of a pure hookup app, it became a dating app and took off among single people too hip for Match.com and too busy for OKCupid. Unlikely singles, like Miss USA or Olympic athletes, confessed to using it. More recently, Hinge -- which works similarly but limits your introductions to people you were connected to via friends of friends on Facebook -- launched as a way to play the Tinder game but with more security.

MORE: Hookup app Tinder wants to change its image

In the span of a year, the dating apps have evolved further as they are increasingly being used as a way to meet Friends with (Business) Benefits. And while Tinder, which was developed by IAC (IACI), and openly has aspirations of becoming a B2B connector, it hasn't yet built out anything specifically for that purpose. No matter, though -- users are leading the charge.

A recent, cursory glance at a few Tinder profiles found several people listing their Facebook (FB) page, Instagram username, or Twitter (TWTR) details on their Tinder profile while urging people to follow them, essentially using Tinder as their own personal advertisement. People like Adam Scott Taylor, whose Facebook profile describes himself as a "writer, comedian, actor, accountant, masochist," and resembles the Saturday Night Live cast member Bobby Moynihan. The pictures on his Tinder profile feature him popping out of a garbage can a la Oscar the Grouch and prancing on stage in a Superman outfit, as he exhorts people to, "Become a fan" before listing his Facebook page address and adding, "I said BECOME A FAN!" Similarly, "stand-up comedian and aspiring talk show host" Tom Kelly (who posts tamer snaps of himself on stage with a microphone) notes on his Tinder profile: "if you don't want to date me then just follow me on twitter @tomkellyshow."

While Taylor and Kelly are passive in trying to get more fans and followers, others aggressively promote themselves or their product. Case in point: the party promoters.

Sean Glass, the founder of the independent record label Win Music who also works as a DJ, has profiles on both Tinder and Hinge but admits, "I don't actually go out with people on these apps." Instead, Glass uses them to pass the time when he's bored, "Instead of playing a video game I'll do [Tinder or Hinge]. It's easy and its fun."

Glass also adds, "You can promote parties on it. A lot of guys do this -- they go on Tinder and 'like' everybody, and when people talk to them they say, 'Oh hey -- let's hang out -- I'm gonna be at this club if you wanna come, drinks on me or whatever.' I've guest-listed people from Tinder before."

But does actual business occur? Kunst says she uses Tinder for business "all the time."

Kunst found Tinder when it first started and the app was inundated with tech people. Kunst, whose profile lists her as "tech investor" found it to be a godsend. "I use (Tinder) for business so much!" Kunst said. "I've had guys respond to my profile and say 'Hey, you're an investor? I have a startup.'"

"There was one guy, we were just sort of chatting and it became obvious that it wasn't going anywhere, but he said, 'You know, do you just want to get coffee sometime and compare notes?' He was an investor as well."

MORE: Grindr's performance issues could doom its relationships

Another woman in tech, who asked not to be named, has had men take her out from the dating apps and then ask for (free) business advice. The woman, a co-founder of a startup, said she was out with a man who was in the process of building an app and wanted her to take a look and critique it for him.

"I'm sure that will come up again," she said, adding, "and I'll say if you wanna hire me, sure."

When she started talking business with another app date she admits, "we thought about working together, but we decided to pick one or the other -- so I dated him. And then I didn't."

While Tinder is more of a crapshoot, Hinge, because it lists where you work, where you went to school, and past job experiences, might be more beneficial for networking.

One Google executive, who did not want to be identified, says, "I've met two people who I might do business with on Hinge. I haven't yet, but I will."

Paula Froelich is a New York-based writer. Her website is abroadabroad.com, and you can follow her on Twitter at @pfro.

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