ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Are you lonely? Bored? Trying to deflect questions about that special someone from Mom, Dad or your friends because there’s nobody romantic in your life?
Maybe you need an Invisible Boyfriend.
Yes, the Internet has a solution for everything, and Invisible Boyfriend (or Girlfriend, they’re not fussy) can take care of those pesky privacy-invading questions by supplying an actual person to call you, text you and leave you messages. They’ll even send you handwritten notes.
Why, that’s sometimes better than an actual boyfriend!
Matthew Homann, who describes himself as a “recovering lawyer” with “idea surplus disorder,” came up with the idea several years ago after a divorce and bought the domain InvisibleGirlfriend.com for $7. He filed it away until late 2013, when he pitched it to a St. Louis hackathon. A long weekend later, he and his team won the contest.
That probably would have been it except for BuzzFeed, which picked up the story from a local alternative newspaper. Suddenly Homann–who already had a full-time job running his company, an innovation-strategy firm called Kendeo–realized that, thanks to the attention, Invisible Boyfriend had better be good.
The result is a web service, launching in beta this week, which allows you to invent your potential partner.
For $24.99 a month (for starters, which includes 100 text messages, voicemail and handwritten notes), you get to make up a story about how you met (the homepage includes a nice Mad Libs-style paragraph) and pick out an image, name, age and interests.
Who’s at the other end? Though Homann says some of that information is proprietary, he’ll allow that the St. Louis-based company has partnered with a service that has real people responding to your messages. (Yes, they’ve been trained, so watch your language.)
“There has grown this amazing multinational workforce of people willing to do microtasks for a very small amount of money,” he says.
Not even he knows where they’re all located, but he expects that the work will be scalable with demand. A Business Insider writer observed that her Invisible Boyfriend came from the city she requested, based on area code, and she praised the “attention to detail.”
Eventually, Invisible Boyfriend expects to offer gifts sent to you at work and other real-life services, says Homann. Not even Pygmalion had it so good.
Ideas like Invisible Boyfriend have been fodder for generations of stories, of course. Think of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” who supplies poetry to the lunkheaded Christian to woo Roxane; or the movie “Her,” in which Joaquin Phoenix’s sad sack falls in love with a computer operating system.
What lonely person wouldn’t like someone understanding to talk to, even if just through a device?
Homann admits he’s thought about it. “There’s a very real possibility that people might grow attached, though that’s not what we’re trying to go for here,” he says.
But he believes his service can be useful to build customers’ confidence.
“We had a user who was at dinner on a date. His text message went off, he texted her back, and all of a sudden the woman across the table from him asked who it was,” he says. The real-life date, he says, wasn’t upset at all, but became more intrigued.
“What we’re seeing is potential user cases are all over the board,” Homann says. “It’s not just, ‘I want to convince my parents I’m in a relationship.’”