AUSTIN, Texas – On a warm March evening, girls in sundresses and frat guys line up in moisture-wicking poles at Cain and Abel’s, a popular bar near the University of Texas at Austin, for drink tickets and a chance to win forever. Love – both courtesy of Ilios, a dating app that matches users based on their supposed astrological compatibility.
Students scrambled to find their IDs and download the app on their phones (many had to ask for help spelling the company’s name) as they approached the bouncer, perhaps intimidated by him at such a young age. From the possibility of discovering your soul’s twin flame. But all were promised free Texas tea, a cousin of Long Island iced tea that contains about 78 different spirits.
Ilios is part of popular apps, including Co-Star, Sanctuary, the Pattern and Nebula, that aim to illuminate intimate connections using astrological signs. It occupied the bar for two hours Thursday night in the latest in a series of launch events that are as quiet and gentle as a mouse hopping on a Tempor-Paddock mattress. There was a “quiet launch” in Los Angeles in May 2021, followed by a “limited launch” in Austin in November 2021, and a party hosted by the Elios University of Texas fraternity’s chapter of Zeta Beta Tau.
“We’ve been very intelligent in our launch because we’re constantly trying to improve,” said Grecian Marithasson, 47 (an Aries), who founded the app with his brother, Marvin, 46 (a Leo).
As with Cain and Abel, interest in the app often crossed gender lines. Most people knew their zodiac signs, but that’s where their curiosity ended. “I think for a week in seventh grade I was like, wow, this is me. And then I was like, ‘Oh wait, no, I don’t care,'” said Luke Anderson, 21, a Mass.
The women were generally more intrigued by the concept, especially the two who insisted on never dating a Scorpio man. “But Scorpio women are amazing!” Iman Barzilla, 21, assured this Scorpio reporter.
“It’s basically like a weird ring,” said 23-year-old Lexi Brooks, an Aries who swears by Scorpius. “It’s just like the stock market — you predict what’s going to happen based on trends.”
At a crowded, beer-filled table, a group of women expressed mixed feelings about Elvis. Some thought that an astrological dating app would be good for the fat, but nothing serious. Swati Sharma, 21, described her relationship with dating apps in general as complicated. “A lot of it is material for my stand-up,” he said.
This gender imbalance is a positive for Ilios, the Marithesan brothers said: where the women go, the boys will follow. “It’s a big thing for us, from a marketing standpoint,” Grecian said. More limiting for the company: the current battery capacity of smartphones, which remains disproportionate to the data needs of this country’s young scholars. The two women said that while they were interested in the app, they couldn’t find it at the time because their phones were dying.
Although the app evaluates compatibility on several other (mainly non-scientific) planes — there’s a lifestyle compatibility score, a stats score, as well as an overall compatibility score — Ilios plays up its astrological qualities.
Cain and Abel’s flight attendants asked the invitees if they were ready to meet their “heavenly match.” The t-shirt Marion brought to the bar to hand out was emblazoned with the question “Do our stars align?” on the back (Dating apps like Hinge, Bumble and Tinder allow users to add their astrological sign to their profile, but that’s not their main feature.)
Bela Gandhi, a dating and relationship coach and founder of Smart Dating Academy in Chicago, said she has never had a client come to her with astrological concerns or preferences. But he thought the idea of an astrological dating app was good, especially if it helped people connect or feel a sense of romance. “There’s something beautiful about the thought that my love was predestined by the stars,” she said.
The idea of Ilios first came to Gracian in 2018. He was having dinner with a fellow engineer who was lamenting how awesome dating apps felt, and how he didn’t have time to sift through all the profiles to find a great match. Grecian began thinking about ways to filter matches that might encourage more significant connections, and recalled her grandmother and aunt in Sri Lanka when she was young discussing the astrological compatibility of various couples.
From a data point of view, the idea intrigued him. “As an engineer, the challenge was, what do you use as an element?” Gracian said. “How do you take the information that people are willingly submitting to an app without asking too many invasive questions?”
In June 2018, Grishen brought the idea of an astrology-based dating app to Marion, an entrepreneur who has invested heavily in cannabis companies, and the two slowly began building Alves together. (This means the app itself is a Gemini.)
Ilios is primarily funded by Marion’s venture firm, Sri Lanka Solutions, as well as the brothers themselves, although Marion said they have lined up several private investors. “A lot of these family offices are older people,” Marvin said. “They’re not on dating apps, but their kids are.”
While millennials and Gen Xers may be up on astrology, some experts are skeptical of its use in the realm of dating. They expressed concerns about people disqualifying potential matches based on some factor in their birth chart, rather than taking the time to get to know each other and disqualifying them based on something more meaningful like their personality.
“I am a total astrologer.” I use it and I love it,” said Tara All, board director of the International Society for Astrological Research. “Where I’m not in favor is when we limit ourselves by saying, ‘If that person’s Venus is in that sign, then they can’t mate with me.’
In terms of complexity, synastry – the test of interplay between planets in two different charts – falls somewhere between an advanced placement calculation and a moon landing. In Western astrology, each person’s astrological chart includes 10 planets, each with its own sign, and 12 houses in which each planet falls. Synastry analysis includes comprehensive charts, which Takes two charts and combines them to create a composite chart that contains as much detail about the relationship as there are grains of sand on the ground.
“It’s not just one conversation between two parts. It can be 50 different conversations between different parts of me, between different parts of you,” said Clarissa Dolphin, another astrologer and board director of the International Society for Astrological Research.
The Ilios team isn’t wading into the astrological hay yet. “We don’t want to get too deep,” Marvin said. “For people who really want to go down the rabbit hole, there are quite a few Horizon sites. This is to educate yourself on a superficial level, and if you are looking for friendship or a relationship.
Marvin said there are currently only 6,000 users on the app. In the coming months, the company plans to expand to major US cities, such as Denver, Chicago and New York, as well as Toronto and eventually to India.
At Cain & Abel’s, some patrons questioned Elvis’ marketing strategy. One student, Santiago Foz, 22, a Virgo, who was at the bar with his Dalmatian, Pluto, wondered if it was wise for Ilios to target fraternities and sororities.
Mr. Foss said many University of Texas students who choose to rush and pledge have “certain preferences that don’t align with the spontaneity” that astrology offers.
As he sipped his beer and contemplated the potential of his fellow students, Mr. Foss admitted that he was not the target audience for Ilios. He already has a girlfriend, and he is not a big fan of astrology.
“It’s a lot to keep up with,” he said. “I can barely wash my dishes, you know.”