Friendship has always had significance in Foura founder Tam Al-Saad’s life. When he was just ten years old, he took part in a documentary called ‘Best Friends’.
“A camera crew followed my best friend and me around for a few weeks to document our friendship. So, I guess even then, friendship was important to me,” he recalls.
So it should be no surprise that the London-born Sydneysider launched Foura, a meetup site that matches people for ‘mates, not dates’. While Tam gave birth to Foura during the pandemic, the site’s genesis began almost seven years earlier, when he first moved from the UK to Sydney.
“I found myself wondering how would I meet people and make new friends? So I started thinking up new ideas. I’ve never been a big fan of dating apps because I find you spend more time swiping and chatting online rather than actually dating, so I wanted to create something that took the admin away,” he said.
Initially, this led to monthly meetups organised by Tam at a local pub.
“I’d invite everyone I knew to come along and encouraged them to bring a friend or two as well. The idea was that it’s one day in the month where you know you’re going to be in the pub so you can catch up with old friends and make some new ones.”
The birth of a business
Then a year or so into the pandemic, as the lack of human contact began to take its toll on many Australians, Tam found his thoughts switching to how he could turn these monthly catchups into a business.
“I’d always wanted to start my own business from a young age and was waiting for the right idea and the right time,” he remembers. “Then I thought about the idea I had when I moved here and thought it would be a great time to give it a try, given how lockdowns made us realise how much we miss human contact, so I went for it, and here I am.”
The result is Foura. The winner of our 2022 Innovators competition. Tam describes it as a matchmaking service for mates, not dates. However much like a dating app, Foura gathers data from its members about their hobbies, interests, experiences and values.
“We then match members up with three people they share a lot in common with and then book a table for the four of them to meet in a pub or cafe. No swiping, no small talk over chat, no awkward bios and no admin. Rock up, be yourself and have a good time,” explains Tam.
The service is free, and so far, Foura has matched 1000s of happy punters.
While Tam says it is too soon to see if any lasting friendships have formed, there have been plenty of bromances and womances on the table.
“We hear from a lot of members who regularly catch up with people they met through us.
One pod told me they talked about Jamberoo water park on their first meetup and discovered they had never been. A couple of months later, they all went together and had been hanging out a lot more ever since.”
How Foura is helping ease social anxiety
There is little doubt that the pandemic has increased people’s social anxiety. Tam believes Foura has a place to play in helping ease people back into socialising once more.
“I think we saw during the pandemic that as good as digital channels are for communicating, they’re no substitute for face-to-face interaction. I haven’t met anyone who would rather hold a drink up to a webcam instead of cheersing someone in person and hearing the glass clink.
“But I also think we got used to being at home, so people almost need an excuse to go out. I think Foura can be that excuse, and because we match people based on common interests, they can be comfortable knowing that the people they are about to meet are similar to them, which can take away a lot of the anxiety.”
The science of matchmaking
And just how well does Foura match mates? Tam is pretty confident with his algorithm.
“Our members tell us about their hobbies, interests, experiences and values when they create a profile – there are 173 to choose from – and they also tell us which of those interests are most important to them.
“Next, they tell us when they’re available to meet people. They can choose specific dates or just let us know that they’re usually available on certain days of the week.
“Our algorithm then compares profiles and looks for commonalities, giving a lower weighting to really popular interests and a higher one to the rarer interests. Then we filter based on age and gender (our female members can choose only to meet other women) and look for people with high compatibility who are available on the same days. If someone can’t make it to that meetup, we draft in the next best match to ensure the event still goes ahead.”
Groups meet in ‘pods’ of four. Tam reckons this is the perfect number for a catchup.
“I think the biggest challenge of making new friends as an adult is that asking someone if they want to be your friend is awkward. Something about it makes people uncomfortable. So I knew we couldn’t match people up two at a time. With three people, it can be easy to get into a situation where one person feels left out if the other two are really getting along. Four people are enough to make everyone feel included (most of the time) while still feeling intimate enough that you get to know everyone,” he says.
Making friends is made easy with Foura
Tam believes the best thing about Foura is that it does all the leg work for you.
“Once you complete your profile, you literally don’t have to do anything else. We set you up and then tell you where and when to be so you can meet.
“Everyone is so busy these days that they can often neglect their social life just because they don’t have the time to arrange activities and events. You have to try and find a day that works for everyone and then find a venue that everyone likes and hope it all works out.
“Lots of our members have told us that they love how easy it is to meet people on Foura because you get to the pub and there are three other like-minded legends who are keen to meet you and already know your name.
Currently, Foura is available to Sydney users only, but Tam tells Kochie’s Business Builders that he has plans to scale and expand to other states.
“Sydney is our testing ground, and we’re making tweaks and improvements to the service before heading to Melbourne (and hopefully Brisbane) later this year. Then we’ve got our eyes set on international markets, and I hope we can make that a reality next year.”
While Tam has his eyes set on Foura’s global domination, his heart is still firmly fixed on friendships.
“I hope through Foura people can find others that they want to share awesome experiences and memories with over many years. I’ve been fortunate to have some great friends in my life, and I really want to help others find the same thing.”
Kochie’s Business Builders and PEUGEOT Professional are proud to bring you Innovators, a national competition to find Australia’s most innovative small businesses disrupting the norm in 2022. We asked you to nominate and vote for inventive, creative businesses that are disrupting the norm. From 1000s of votes you selected your winner!
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