What’s Hitchoo? How about dinner with Yinghan Hu…

hitchoo founder:  Yinghan Hu

Remember the sob tale of how I had no guts to talk to that lady in the bus? If only I had met Yinghan sooner…

Even though I saw so many new faces at BlogOut, his stood out the most. Yinghan was seated at our “Citizen Journalism” table where I had everyone first introduce themselves. The minute he presented himself and what he did, the entire group became glued to what he had to say. Yinghan had given up a comfy investment career to pursue his dream of making people happy. How? As inspired by the movie Hitch, he wanted to bring couples together. Bring in a new twist to an old idea and shazamHitchoo was born (oooh!).

hitchoo card (back)hitchoo card (back)
The front and back of the Hitchoo cards… it’s what I call “the missing link” to hooking up!

While he had explained in theory on how his service worked back at BlogOut, I was intrigued by how it would work in real life. Coincidentally, he contacted me today and asked if I wanted to do dinner. Since I was spending my day at the downtown museums recording videos for my blog (last day of International Museum Day 2007!), I offered to meet him at City Hall at 7pm.

At the basement of Raffles City, we chatted as we dined at Ding Tai Fang, then moved onto Ben & Jerry’s for dessert. Life seemed serendipitous around him as the cute girl serving us was exceptionally cheery and extremely helpful, especially to two confused souls trying to pick our flavors for the evening. Under normal circumstance, I’d have thought to myself, she’s cute, paid, and walked off thinking how a loser will always be a loser. Under Yinghan’s Hitchoo-powered circumstance, he whipped out his wallet, took out the familiar brown card and in a genuine manner, told her “you made my day” as he gave her the card.

She was flattered.

I watched from a distance, not wanting to make it seem like I was in it as a joke. I felt like I was in a movie, in a perfect scene, where whipping out my camera would have ruined it entirely. Just my luck, my wearable Archos cam was sent to France for repairs (charging unit busted). Regardless of that, I was pretty amazed. The girl didn’t seem to think that he was trying to be weird with her, which was the point. The brown card he gave seemed to be the missing link someone like me would need. I had asked Yinghan earlier why someone would be motivated to give a hitchoo card instead of a regular name card, to which he responded with two rationales: privacy and mystique (not mutually exclusive).

First of all, privacy is very important in the dating game. Giving a regular name card entails giving away where you work and your contact information. While guys might not think twice about this, the loss of privacy would be more challenging if a girl were interested in a guy. Note that the hitchoo cards contain very brief information, simply the Hitchoo URL, username and passkey, which is a unique code for each and every person you meet. It also expires after a while to protect your identity in case the card gets passed around (e.g. graffiti-ed on toilet walls). After logging in with the card’s details, the card receiver can then look up the profile which the giver has shared, and can then choose to contact him or her if they were interested. In relation to this, I also thought of another reason, that is sometimes your profession might put you in a particular stereotype which may be unattractive at first glance. Perhaps this allows users to sort of glance a few pages of a book first, instead of solely relying on the cover. As an added bonus, Yinghan indicated how he has plans for Hitchoo to check registered users with local agencies as a safeguard to their members (e.g. using Singaporean I/C to check married status, criminal records, etc).

Second of all, the mystique he referred to was something I call “game-like”. Understanding user motivations and the significance of self-discovery, the chances of getting attention returned to the card giver would likely be higher if some non-invasive form of investigation were involved. For instance, a regular name card might contain your name and cellphone number. For someone to learn more about you, a certain level of commitment would need to be staked. He or she would likely have to call or email you, which might be a risk not worth taking since the receiving party would have to inadvertently trade their contact information, without giving a chance to know the interested party first. Using the Hitchoo system, entering the username and passkey would feel like your given exclusive access to this person’s life. I think it would be as interesting as redeeming a mystery prize, where the unique passkey entices you to complete the puzzle. This totally leaks elements of performance art and of ARG, or Alternate Reality Games, as introduced to me by Christy Dena at AoIR ’06.

I’ve actually captured a video of Yinghan explaining “how Hitchoo works” from BlogOut, but I’ll share this in about two weeks. I’m planning to shoot and edit in some “behind the scenes” action from his office, where he’ll introduce his talented team members. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, hitchoo.com has started to allow registrations where you’ll receive eight cards to begin with. Apparently, these Hitchoo cards are expensive to produce.

Update: Drat! For some reason, commenting was closed. Thanks to MrBig, I’ve reopened the floodgates. Tell me what you think of Hitchoo, especially you’re so single.

  • http://decayonnet.blogspot.com DK

    Interesting concept. I’ve signed up already. Still too early to give any comments.

    Kevin: Do you have the hitchoo cards? Now, the next step is giving out the cards. Which I guess can be equally challenging.

    How about like this, after I got my card, we do an exchange. Then I’ll help you give out the card to a gal that I think you will like, and you’ll help me give out to a gal that you think I would like. What do you think of this idea? haha.

    But don’t sabo me give this to an old lady hor.

  • nuMetal

    So when are you going to make your day?

  • http://harmlessbananas.blogspot.com brian

    well, one thing i don’t get is how are the cards expensive? materials, printing? some new fangled interactivey bar-code that scans a person’s dodginess level?

    i love the concept, i think personal name cards have been neglected for awhile. but i guess that’s why i made moo cards, that have my online information written onit, plus mysterious profile picture! (if mystique is indeed the name of the game)

    but all in all, it does sound rather exciting, hope to see some developments soon -)

  • http://rinaz.net marina

    Question : Are men so afraid of rejections?

  • http://decayonnet.blogspot.com DK

    Rinaz: It is not only guys. Its human. Most human are afraid of failures. Think it has something to do with our education system.

  • nuMetal

    I’m still waiting for someone to write my profile for me.

  • http://www.bureau-de-mischief.net Arthur Case

    What happens when every shy geek in town usses these cards? Imagine how many of these a hot waitress would be given in one week. A Hitchoo card would end up signalling you were shy and scared – girls might end up stereotying guys that used it as losers.

    Maybe Hitchoo should allow you custom design your cards, and remove those fugly Hitchoo logos and branding and put your own design on instead. But then you still have the Hitchoo URL that needs to be typed in. Hmmm.

    If I was single I would just smile, talk and offer to take her out for some very strong cocktails ;)

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    Good thoughts guys! I was actually sharing the Hitchoo concept with some tech PR and VC friends, when we all came to two similar questions:

    Qn1. If the Hitchoo cards get too popular (e.g. if I get receive too many), would there still be enough motivation for the receiver to act on the cards? It may become a chore.

    Qn2. What’s to stop anyone from creating a similar service?

    Ans2: . According to Yinghan, the service tries to make hooking up fun, without the loss of privacy. In fact, other than their patented dynamic passkey system, they are also looking into verifying users profiles with local agencies. I don’t see this going well with Americans, but in Singapore it’s less of an issue (low privacy laws here). In other words, hitchoo becomes an identity trust bank for relationship-based transactions.

  • http://www.bureau-de-mischief.net Arthur Case

    “… hitchoo becomes an identity trust bank for relationship-based transactions.”

    sexy!

  • http://www.hitchoo.com Yinghan

    Hi DK,

    That’s another fun way to use the hitchoo card! A current member suggested that when girls go clubbing, they should carry the hitchoo card…..n when guys ask them for their number, girls could give out their hitchoo card instead of their actual number!

    Sort of a reverse use of the hitchoo card, which protects a girl’s privacy, while allowing her to keep in contact with the guy who’s interested!

    Yinghan
    Founder of hitchoo.com

  • http://www.hitchoo.com Yinghan

    Marina, I guess both guys and girls are afraid of rejection, that’s why we came up with the hitchoo card to solve this issue. 2 great things about the card are that:

    1. the hitchoo card is a discreet way to express interest in someone else, hence, our members, especially girls, love it! The favourite way now (amongst our female members) to use the hitchoo card is that just before leaving the MRT train, they would simply hand out the card to the cute guy, smile, and walk away. Easy and classy (and of course, their hearts are pounding when they did this, but no one knew! =P )

    (oh, to come to this discreet, compliment nature of the hitchoo card, we rejected 40 over phrases like “hey babe” before finally arriving at “you made my day”! we would be launching a competition for the best phrase to use soon! Watch out for it!)

    2. essentially, giving the hitchoo card is paying the card receiver a compliment (“you made my day!”). Hence, what the hitchoo card says/ projects about the card giver is that “I find you interesting/ attractive, and hope to get to know you better. But if it’s inconvenient – eg, u r already married – that’s fine! I won’t be moping around my whole life just because you did not reply to me!”

    As such, we believe that giving of a hitchoo card actually projects an image of gentle confidence, rather than shyness. And of course, the card receiver will sub-consciously know this! =)

  • http://www.hitchoo.com Yinghan

    Hi Arthur,

    Well, the good thing about the hitchoo card is that it projects what I term “gentle confidence” in oneself, hence, it will be used by such people, whether they are surfer dudes, clubbers or “shy geeks” =) (hitchoo cards work best in clubs, when it’s often too dark and too noisy to get someone else’s contacts)

    And, we certainly hope that “every shy geek in town” uses our hitchoo card! =) Why? Because they will hand out these cards to every hot waitress in town, who will love the idea (as they hate giving out their number to strangers.. they will rather give out their hitchoo card), and sign up for free to receive 8 hitchoo cards….

    these waitresses will then slip the cards to guys they find attractive (perhaps just beside the beer coaster?)…. who will in turn, sign up for free to contact the waitresses….. hmm, seems like a great way to get a community of confident and interesting people!

    Yinghan
    Founder of hitchoo.com

  • http://www.hitchoo.com Yinghan

    Hey Kevin,

    with regards to Q1, that’s an issue that we tot of… that’s why we set a value (not cheap. To purchase additional cards after the initial 8 free will cost $1.5/card) on the card so that giving/ receiving a card means something, and both parties know it. We too wouldn’t want the hitchoo card to end up as a common flyer. Btw, we have put in place security measures to prevent users from registering multiple free accounts =)

    Q2. Besides seeking legal protection, hitchoo.com will also be recognised as the ‘original’….we believe that ‘copycats’ will have to face the shadow of hitchoo.com =P

    That’s not all: the hitchoo card is not the only product in hitchoo.com. To cater for our users, we will be launching equally exciting products in the future! But I can’t mention too much, or else my patent lawyers will scream at me tomorrow morning!

    Yinghan
    Founder of hitchoo.com

  • nuMetal

    “you made my day”! works.

  • http://www.bureau-de-mischief.net Arthur Case

    Thanks for the reply Yinghan. You seem really enthusiatic which is great to see, and if some happy couples hook up as a result thats great job satisfaction.

  • http://ironiesofwhatis.blogspot.com Priyanka

    i personally think this idea is GOOD! but the question now is how to get the general masses to convene to this idea? also sometimes in a club, you do not want some guys to even know you, so when you give these cards it gives some leverage to the guys per say….well my thoughts!

  • http://decayonnet.blogspot.com DK

    But how can you be sure that the person is really the person he claims he is? What if he is already married, but he sign up using another person’s NRIC number?

    If hitchoo wants to be a identity trust bank, it has to do more to verify its member.

  • http://www.hitchoo.com Yinghan

    @Arthur Case: yup! was very inspired by Will Smith in the movie Hitch… tot that having fun and matching people up is a great way to live…. do watch the movie if you have the time!

    @priyanka: thanks for your support, and if you like hitchoo, do tell your friends about it! Watch out for hitchoo in the media, online and in the universities soon… If you have any further ideas on how to get the general masses to convene to hitchoo, do let us know!

    @DK: hey, great point. The type of identity theft you mentioned is a serious problem, and is endemic to many sites because it is one of the hardest to solve. hitchoo is committed to additional security measures so that we will eventually offer a higher level of security/ verification than the usual dating/ social networking sites. For starters, unlike other dating sites, users on our site can only be contacted by people who have access to their 8 unique passkeys (i.e. people whom they have an interest in meeting).

    if u have any advice on how hitchoo could further improve our security/ verification system, I will be grateful if u could advise us =) thanks!

  • http://thegreatsze.blogspot.com thegreatsze

    This is a pretty good idea. The entire premise of the Internet as a superior communication tool is predicated on how it insulates us all from direct (and hence awkward) contact.

    Arthur Case said: “What happens when every shy geek in town uses these cards? Imagine how many of these a hot waitress would be given in one week. A Hitchoo card would end up signalling you were shy and scared – girls might end up stereotying guys that used it as losers.”

    I know Yinghan has responded to this, but his response was an optimistic one (naturally). More realistically, I foresee Hitchoo card users to remain rather niche and hence in the minority. Which is not to say it’s a bad thing; the guy will feel like he’s doing something different as opposed to something pedestrian (which is the reason why none of us bother to use the line “Can you be my friend?”). The girl, in turn, will not be jaded.

    marina said: “Question : Are men so afraid of rejections?”

    Yinghan has responded to this with tact. DK tried to divert the tension to our educational system. I will just add that I find the motivations behind marina’s – unmistakeably rhetorical – question suspect. Consider the two possible responses to her question –

    “Yes, we are afraid of rejection.” Takeaway: So we are cowardly and spineless.

    “No, we are not.” Takeaway: Then why do you have to resort to this cowardly and spineless method of courting girls?

    This sort of questioning is unconstructive. It would be better if marina assailed the concept of Hitchoo.com directly. No man can answer her question definitively, since it is framed so broadly. Unsurprising, since she never meant for her question to be answered – it was rhetoric.

    What I do not understand, however, is why marina isn’t rejoicing in the development of Hitchoo.com. A perceived erosion of the female mandate? In a way, Hitchoo.com does give men slightly more bargaining power in the love trenches. But I do not see how it undermines the female; if anything, they will be chief beneficiaries under the system (more men to choose from, since more will have the courage).

  • http://www.thedogsname.com Indiana

    While the concept is good in giving guys who are that shy a dose of courage…how does it go, while you wait for days to see if she actually checks your profile then even bothers to get in contact with you, rather than just laughing about you with her friends and then truning you into her Friday night blog post.

    If you want it to work, get your own cards printed, then actually talk to the girl, then give her the card…if you are really brave let it link to your blog so she can have a real insight into you, not some slick advertising profile you have created with hours of editing, and carefully chosen words…let her see part of the real you.

    Personally I can see the concept working, until too many people are doing it, at the moment it will work because its different, its a mystery, when the day comes a girl at MOS gets 10 cards in a night, then we will know that men truly have lost the courage and ability to just talk to the girl, and that will be sad.

  • http://thegreatsze.blogspot.com thegreatsze

    Getting your own cards printed will hint of desperation, or worse, method (read: player, albeit not a very good one). Hitchoo.com might just work because it lends not just mystique, but social proof. A lone Friendster-like profile on the Internet will not work because it is too outstanding; but blended into an institution that houses a million other profiles, you become accepted. Likewise with Hitchoo.

    As with all tipping-point related fads, until you hit critical mass, you’re sordid; once you’re past that point, you’re cool.

  • http://www.hitchoo.com Yinghan

    @Indiana: there is no single ‘right’ way to use the hitchoo card. In fact, there are loads of different ways (prev comments), so it’s up to the individual to choose the way he/she is most comfortable with (Veron, on mentioned a great point: sincerity always works).

    For example, one could use the hitchoo card as a conversational ice-breaker, because, as u correctly pointed out, it’s mysterious right now. Who knows, after using the hitchoo card to start a conversation, u could jolly well get his/her number in the end! So use the hitchoo card before everyone knows about it! hahah.. =)

    @thegreatsze — interesting name, insightful comments.

  • http://www.thedogsname.com Indiana

    But if you are using it to simply break the ice, then the value behind the profile is diminished, since if you walk away with her number, you don’t really want to waste the card on her.

    I think it sounds a littel to much like a prop from The Game for me, and while I hope it works because it will then help the genders actually start connecting instead of remaining so distant, I have reservations…

    And I think Marina has a different take on it because she is a girl (and this is important)…for this to work it doesn’t matter how cool, or great guys think it is, what matters is how women react too it and whether they are intrigued enough to find the idea cute and then pursue it…the positive comments on this post come from guys and as guys, what we think of it as a meeting strategy doesn’t matter at all, it’s success or failure lies with the women…so the fact that Marina asks a broad question is irrelevant, the fact that her initial response was one of negativity although is, her response to recieving a card would be not the response the guy giving her the card would be hoping for…and I wonder how many women will react the same way she did.

    But as to her question it could be reconstructed and maybe a better thought would be: where has society failed men to the point that they lack the courage to engage and interract with women on a conversational level while displaying interest?

  • http://coolinsights.blogspot.com Walter

    Its an interesting concept and I just thought of a way to extend its use.

    Why not go beyond just BGR scenarios to other positive people-to-people encounters too? For example, I am sure we have all experienced excellent service from somebody or had a good conversation with a stranger at a hawker centre. Perhaps somebody may have come to our rescue, given up a seat or helped us pick up stuff from the floor.

    With a wider range of uses, it may be less intimidating for people to hand out these cards to those whom they are more positively predisposed towards. Of course, it could be for dating and BGR purposes too, but if we make it just one of many factors, the take up rate may be better. While love is important, it is sometimes fun to know people just because of a positive encounter. And they need not be from the opposite sex.

  • http://www.exampaper.com.sg Miss Loi

    The hot babe that you gave your card to may be too dumb/bimbotic to possess the ability retrieve your info from the website (simple though it seems!)

    Instead, just a very preliminary thought, I predict a community of “Hitchsters”, organizing meetups and exchanging Hitchoo cards amongst themselves!

    Sounds like “Introverts of the World Unite!!”

    Hmmm … maybe my teenage students can benefit from this. Read: still too young, too shy but very computer savvy and open to all sorts of novelty. Your niche perhaps?

  • http://ian.onthereddot.com Ian Timothy

    I read somewhere that one of the trends is dating as gaming. Not sure if http://iminlikewithyou.com/ was the first site to popularise this concept but it is great to see a Singapore site with its own angle on this trend. The best thing is, I don’t even need to think of my own lame pickup lines now. I think the phrase that was used is a really good choice. Can be expanded to many more uses and not just confined to dating like what Walter suggested. I’m attached so I won’t be able to use the cards for its original purpose, but maybe I could think of something soon.
    Anyway, from the same article, another trend was virtual gifting. Maybe you could offer something for couples? A non-traditional way to surprise a mate.
    All the best for your endeavour! Hopefully, we can hear success stories…

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    I’m quite amazed by the depth of discussion on the topic of dating, with regards to Hitchoo. Some of the folks I met at the recent Geek Terminal party love the idea, but wonder if it’d really work.

    I think the sentiment is shared and until some of us start using it, we won’t know if it’s really something phenomenal. What would be interesting is the “newsworthiness” of Hitchoo encounters… encounters that would be worth blogging about.

    Let wait and see for real-life stories to pour in. Looks like Hitchoo cards are the new Moo cards!

  • http://uzyn.com uzyn

    Sorry I just read that the passkey system is _patented_?

    It’s appalling to see people still patenting simple ideas thinking that it is unique and would help the biz in the long run.

    I have nothing against the idea and I admire the Yinghan for starting up this biz, but patenting ideas is so out-dated, worse when the ideas are the utterly obvious ones.

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    @uzyn: I know what you mean. To be fair, I’m not sure if it’s really patented, or protected under some IP, but he was explaining how it was different from typical password scenarios. Should find out more.

  • http://keropokman.blogspot.com keropokman

    Hmmm…. to patent a product, one would have to totally disclose the details of the invention to be able to be granted the patent. The disclosure would also be publicly published by the patent office.

    So, patenting a passkey… err…

    But patenting the idea is a different thing.

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    @keropokman: I’ll clarify this “patenting” notion with Yinghan. I’ll be doing a video interview with the team at his home office tomorrow! :)

  • http://thegreatsze.blogspot.com thegreatsze

    Lawyer mode on.

    The passkey system is probably different from the state of the previous art. Obviously they’re not patenting the key itself – that would be daft. An appropriate analogy would be the patenting of the Google algorithm – it is a search algorithm, sure, and many have been patented before, but the Google one is different in such a way that it qualifies for independent protection.

    In a way, you are right to say “patenting the idea”; but more accurately, they are patenting the specific execution of a particular idea. Ideas, on their own, are non-copyrightable, non-trademarkable and non-patentable.

  • http://www.hitchoo.com Yinghan

    @Ian Timothy: virtual gifting would be interesting, especially on the hitchoo site…

  • http://jeremyyew.com/ Jeremy

    I like the comment which Walter made on #24. I think this Hitchoo concept can be extended to the people whom you have positive encounters with, and not be limited to just BGR kind of purposes.

  • Nemesis

    uzyn,
    i think most probably the idea is patent-pending rather than been already patented. Just have 1 year provisional patent to test if concept is working and has monetary potential. But I really yet to see if the business is sustainable given that the investment cost is escalating due to tryout. The cost of logistic and printing and operational cost means that Hitchoo need to test the concept out fast and see if it worth continue its current strategy.

    Despite Hitchoo’s concept is good, but in additional to what Kevin say, it’s not only psychology factor, but also cultural barriers that have to be resolved.

    But still, it’s good to see Hitchoo really try something new despite the risk factor and against the odd. Afterall, no risk no gain.

    Afterall, no one really can tell the success of anything until that thing is put into real marketplace and tested. It is the consumer that determine the thing not expert or guru.

  • Nemesis

    Yinghan,
    Hitchoo can be improved by becoming a social dating system. When real people place testimonial of the success dating of the system. The success metrics probably should be about dating that result in marriage probably rather than just making friend because of high cost of Hitchoo.

    People tend to be shy, but if Hitchoo become popular, everyone know that if I give a card to someone else, that someone will know I interested. If that’s happen, it is better to go direct otherwise people probably to put exaggerated or misleading information on Hitchoo just to attract the female. For example, claiming to own a porsche, where in fact, it is just a scale-down model of porsche (Just to make them feel humorous), which eventually becoming very annoying to the opposite sex.

  • http://www.hitchoo.com Yinghan

    @Nemesis: thanks for your comments, much appreciated.

  • http://www.activeinvestorsblog.com/ Henrik Soke

    Hello, Yinghan :)

    What a great idea! And the website is very cool too.

    If you don’t mind, I would like to ask you a question. For example, if I would want to start such a web service in Slovenia (a very small country in Europe, with about 2.000.000 people living here) and in localized language (no international stuff…), would I be violating any Hitchoo copyright laws, patents or anything like that?

    I really, really like your idea and I guess this is a small revolution in world of dating.

    Best regards,
    Henrik

  • http://www.hitchoo.com Yinghan

    Hi Hendrik,

    It should be fine to use the general idea (for a firm answer, I would have to check with my lawyers), but it would not be possible to use the Hitchoo logo, tagline of “You made my day!” etc etc.

    Good luck with ur upcoming biz! Slovenia seems like a very interesting place!

    Yinghan