“There are no strangers here, only friends you haven't met yet.” - William Butler Yeats.

In today’s digital age, people rely heavily on the convenience of social media and messaging apps to maintain relationships.

But is there really a replacement for real-world, face-to-face interactions?

Eatgether is a social networking app, developed in Taiwan, that invites strangers to eat meals together.Within three months of launching in 2016, some 25,000 people had used the service to meet new people and now the app is seeing 50,000 users every month.

The News Lens met Mask Wu (吳崟睿), CEO of Eatgether, to find out more.

TNL: What is Eatgether and what does it do?

Wu: Everything is possible during a meal. Eatgether is a social media platform that gives people a chance to create all kinds of relationships in restaurants. While many other dating apps just match people up and let them talk online, we pull them out of the chatrooms and take them to the restaurants.

We believe a face-to-face conversation in a the restaurant is not only safer, but also more efficient. People won’t waste their time online talking to strangers, they can have a true human interaction in real life.

All you need is four simple steps: host, choose, chat and review. First, users can decide to either go on a “date,” or “host” a party. After setting up a specific topic, date, time and restaurant for the meetup, the users can select applicants to eat with and start online conversations. After the meal, you can write a review and rate each other’s performance.

Some people criticize us because they think of us as a dating app, yet we are more than that. We help users with all kinds of needs - a romantic dinner, group meetings, business meetups, study sessions, workshops, - you name it.

TNL: Do you think there are any safety concerns with your platform?

Wu: We have a very thoughtful peer review system and a strict account system.

One account can only be used once and must be verified by phone. Also, the peer review system lets users rate each other. Say a person is always late or behaves badly during the meal, our system will expel the person and cancel any parties that he or she may host. Right now we have hosted over 10,000 parties, and no safety issues have happened yet.

TNL: What inspired you to start Eatgether?

Wu: Two years ago, I joined an organization that matched up some entrepreneurs and let them mingle at lunch. I remembered I had seven or eight lunches with those people in two to three months. This experience amazed me, all the conversations and discussions were deep and intellectual.

Also, our surveys have shown 60 percent of diners go out for networking, only 40 percent go out for the food. That’s why I turned my attention to the product. I hoped my personal experience could be replicated for other people. I believe Eatgether could help see the introduction of all kinds of opportunities.

TNL: How big is the team and how are you funding the company?

Wu: We are in “series C” financing led by existing investors, including United Daily News Group and some other local investors. We have eight employees, and half of them are engineers.

TNL: Could you share some interesting stories that happened at Eatgether?

Wu: There are so many of them. One couple got married just three months after they met at a Eatgether event. Fans have met with their idols for dinner. Young people with same music interests have met and started a band together. Others have found mentors and started new businesses after meeting people from giant tech companies. It’s far beyond our expectations. Each experience is unique; that’s the fun part.

TNL: How will Eatgether impact society?

Wu: While technology has distanced us from each other, Eatgether wants to create the possibility for more face-to-face interactions.

When a photographer meets a director, they may produce a movie; when an investor meets an artist, they may open a gallery; when a writer finds new inspiration, he or she may create an epic. The possibilities and combinations we can provide on our platform are endless.

TNL: What are the future plans for Eatgether?

Wu: We hope to go global so we can reach out to people all over the world. Our next plan is Hong Kong, as well as increasing interactions between Hong Kong and Taiwan. We hope to connect travelers with locals, so they can really immerse into a new culture. We will also launch a paid service for people to place bids to have meals with anyone. We hope that people can find exactly who they want to meet with.

TNL: Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs?

Wu: Be ready to fail on the very first day when you start your company. Once you are ready to fail, you will be more careful. It is a cruel world out there. You need to have a strong mindset.

Editor: Edward White