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How a true-life 'Modern Love' story led a Louisville dating app

by Kirby Adams You don't have to be single or use online dating apps to appreciate the extraordinary real-life love story that led to the creation of Hinge, is the fastest-growing online dating site in the Western hemisphere.

Justin McLeod, the founder and CEO of Hinge, grew up about 11 miles east of Louisville in

Prospect, Kentucky. He was a kid who liked to be outdoors tromping around in the woods and climbing trees. During high school at Louisville Collegiate School, he still spent plenty of time outdoors as the captain of the school tennis team. The go-getter was also president of the student council and at 16 years old, had started his own web design and software company.

"I would build websites for small businesses," McLeod told the Courier Journal. "It was like 1999 and I would build software that would let (businesses) update their own websites like a restaurant that had a special dish each night or a car lot that wanted to advertise certain cars."

His entrepreneurship was encouraged by his father Ron McLeod, who owned a building supply company and his mom, Sandy McLaughlin, who was a district court judge. As McLeod's interest in computer technology grew, he went to several summer camps at Duke University where he took computer science courses and expanded his knowledge of coding. One thing worth noting about the young high school entrepreneur — he liked to party, a lot. "I got into a lot of trouble in high school. I was a pretty big party kid and drank a lot," remembers the 37-year-old. "Collegiate started a whole Parent Network thing because of the parties I would throw."

Is online dating draining?: Here's how to step it up with 5 tips from the founder of Hinge As an undergrad at Colgate University in upstate New York, McLeod continued the fast-paced lifestyle that had gotten him into trouble in Louisville. During his freshman year, he met his college sweetheart, Kate. But McLeod's bad behavior resulted in an 11-year on-again-off-again love affair ending with Kate moving overseas for another man. Edit ImageAfter college, McLeod worked as a consultant in the healthcare field and perhaps, most importantly, he gave up partying and got sober. He then went to Harvard Business School where he found his niche in the technology field. But something was missing. Kate had slipped away and he hadn't found anyone to take her place. "When I was graduating from business school in 2011, I realized that I didn't know three-fourths of my graduating class," McLeod told the Courier Journal. "The way most people socialize in school is by going out to bars but I wasn't comfortable with that anymore so it made it difficult to meet people."

So McLeod began working on a solution. He came up with an easy-to-use mobile dating app which he called Hinge.

"At the time, people my age weren't using dating apps," he said. "But I knew there had to be other people like me who weren't interested in putting in all the effort to build a profile for something like Match.com or eharmony.com."

He wanted to create an app to help people find others who shared social circles but didn't necessarily know each other — yet.

"I wanted it to be more like real life when you are out and meeting friends of friends," he said.

While promoting his new app, McLeod was interviewed by writer Deborah Copaken for Cafe.com. At the end of the interview, Copaken turned off her recorder and asked McLeod if he'd ever been in love — a reasonable question if you're talking to someone who created a dating site.

It was that conversation, rather than the Cafe.com article, which truly sparked the publics' interest in Hinge.

Copaken used the conversation she had with McLeod once she'd wrapped up the interview to write her 2015 New York Times "Modern Love" essay, “When Cupid is a Prying Journalist.” In the essay, Copaken recounted what occurred after she turned off her audio recorder and McLeod revealed his heartbreak.


He was 30 at the time and still pining over Kate. He had created the dating app hoping to meet someone new but four years later, McLeod explained he had yet to find someone as great as his college sweetheart.

Copaken understood lost love and told McLeod about her own missed opportunity with a man decades before. She convinced him that he would always regret it if he didn't give it one last shot with Kate. So the app developer flew to Switzerland to ask her to call off her wedding to the other man and move back to New York with him. Much to McLeod's surprise, Kate did and the two were married in Crested Butte, Colorado in 2018. In 2019, they welcomed a son.

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