Ahead of appearing at World Retail Innovation Week, former WeWork advisor and Match.com strategist Lakshmi Rengarajan talks to PSFK about applying lessons from her work creating genuine connections in online dating to all relationship and community building, personal and professional alike.
PSFK: What attracted you to building connections between people, and also how did you evolve from your time at Match.com?
Lakshmi Rengarajan: It's pretty simple. I've been on the planet for a while, and I'm sure everyone has noticed in the past 20 years or so, just how much our relationships have changed, and just living through that and understanding that something that was being lost was our ability to connect with each other.
I started seeing it first in the dating world. It was most apparent in the dating world. Slowly over time, it was very evident that those behaviors were really spreading everywhere.
What overarching insights can you share about what people are looking for today, in terms of engaging in new and different ways, and yet, in many ways, the same way?
The biggest thing is that how we relate to each other as humans is pretty much the same. All of the inputs, all of the obstacles, all of the new technology, how long we're able to stay in touch with someone, or how easily we can reach out to someone, all of those are being layered in ways that have never existed before.
A lot of it is just that it's new. We've never had to deal with a lot of this stuff before. Sometimes people are overwhelmed, rightly so. It's easy to think that maybe something's wrong with you, when it's just that all of this has never happened before.
How does data analytics play a role in that? How does it capture the play between people understanding one another and developing that sort of community?
The best way to answer this is not necessarily what we do but what we're careful about. There's actually not a lot of data in this area because human connection is a very, very hard thing to measure.
Could you describe your past development Project Me so far and how that translated into your own work experience and into the dating and relationships sphere?
That was the basis for all of my work and going into the dating category. I started at about 10 years ago, I don't do it anymore.
It was in response to the fact that online dating was turning everyone into a consumer of each other as opposed to giving people the time to build a relationship and see if you like somebody. Everybody was turning into consumers with snap judgments, and like I said, treating people like products.
I started designing events to almost offset or counteract that where people actually had the time to learn about people, hear their stories, and get to the things that actually make people attractive. Not just what makes someone appealing online but what makes someone appealing once you get to know them.
What lessons would you give to different companies and services looking to build a community, based on your prior experience?
Don't expect it to be easy. Don't expect simple tips and tricks to be the key to unlocking community. It needs to be a strategic investment and like anything else in your company, it needs to be looked at with rigor and care.
There's a tendency people want really easy answers to this stuff, like, “Tell me how to do it now,” or, “Send me a deck,” or, “Give me a book.” That's not really how it works.
You have to spend the time and get to know the people in your community, in your company, understand what their needs and wants are, understand what's already happening. How can you build on top of that? How can you support people? It's definitely not one‑size‑fits‑all.
In a nutshell, what do you plan to share at the upcoming Future Retail Conference?
I plan to tell the story of my attempt to make the dating world more human and story‑centric, and how those lessons actually found their way into developing a workplace connection practice that we work.
One of the misconceptions, when people hear that I'm going to be speaking, is they think that it's going to be about dating and if they're not single, that it may not apply to them or there's not something to be learned. It's actually quite the opposite.
Dating is actually not something that only single people do. What I always say is we're all dating all the time. We're all trying to get to know each other, trying to feeling each other out. You want to represent yourself well. If you've ever had that feeling, that's the feeling of dating, and that happens everywhere. It's an interesting lens through which to look at all relationships, not just romantic ones.
To hear and see Lakshmi in a lineup of inspiring innovators and future-forward creators, RSVP for her (and many more!) live video session taking place the week of March 30 during PSFK's virtual World Retail Innovation Week!