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Dawn creators Vincent Kwong and Ernest Tsui in the e@UBC space at the Graham Lee Innovation Centre

UBC innovators launch new friend-finding app

Dawn offers UBC students a unique way to make friends online

By Victoria Mann , in City , on November 30, 2021

A new app developed by University of British Columbia students to help people make friends on campus without revealing their names or photos has already attracted more than 1,200 users.

This large influx is likely the result of students hoping to regain a sense of connection after spending more than a year feeling isolated due to the coronavirus pandemic. In spite of this, many students were anxious about starting to socialize in person again according to Dawn’s creators, Vincent Kwong and Ernest Tsui.

“A lot of users have told us that it feels like we’ve given them training wheels to really ease back into socializing with different people,” said Tsui.

Dawn, in the works since 2016, was designed to combat the superficiality of other dating and friend-finding apps. Dawn users’ profiles display their interests and goals without any personal information like name, age and occupation, encouraging users to find common ground and discover new hobbies.

The app uses geographical location, as well as users’ listed interests, to generate potential matches. Users can then respond to a match’s profile and begin messaging.

Vincent Kwong and Ernest Tsui working on the Dawn app

The creators also wanted an inclusive platform where race, gender, and appearance would not pose barriers in making friends. This has drawn in a lot of users who have said that they prefer Dawn’s approach to those of other friendship-finding apps like Bumble BFF, where photos are the first thing users see.

“I think it removes insecurity for some people,” said first-year engineering student Kevin Cui, “It’s useful for more introverted people or people looking for different pathways.”

The second season of Apple TV’s Ted Lasso featured a similar, photo-free dating app, Bantr. But Dawn’s creators are adamant that their app is for forming friendships.

Stephanie Lau connecting with friends on Dawn

When it was piloted in March 2021, the app, whose name was inspired by the expression “a new dawn,” only drew in around 300 users. However, as students returned to UBC for on-campus instruction for the Fall 2021 semester, it was relaunched and gained an additional 950 users.

In September 2021, at the same time as the relaunch, Dawn was also one of 18 ventures accepted onto CORE, a program run by entreprenurship@UBC. The program provided Dawn’s creators with 10 weeks of mentorship and helped them to develop their business skills and user-experience. Now they’re hoping these lessons will lead to more growth for the app. 

We’re reaching out to UBC right now about working together to turn Dawn into an official community-building initiative,” said co-creator Vincent Kwong.

Stephanie Lau, a second-year student who was one of Dawn’s earliest users, credits the app with helping her become less introverted and more open to socializing.

“We live in a society that places too much focus on appearance, so it’s been such a nice change,” she said.