When University alum Nathan Reynolds graduated from the University of Michigan in May 2021, he said he looked around at his classmates and realized how few of them he had met. After over a year of fully virtual classes and extracurriculars, Reynolds said he wanted to help future students form new friendships across campus during the transition back out of the pandemic. So Reynolds tossed his cap in the air and set out to create an app that would do just that. That fall, Dabl was born.
Dabl CEO Reynolds worked with co-founders Aadish Shah, a 2021 U-M alum, and 2021 Ithaca College graduate Alex Elconin to launch the app on the Apple App Store. After its pilot launch, Reynolds and Elconin added new features and re-designed the app for its relaunch on Dec. 31, 2021.
Dabl is a social media app where U-M students can create a profile and find other students to chat with. The interface displays the physical distance between the user and other Dabl profiles, allowing users to see their proximity to other students. Profiles contain pictures, basic facts — including the age, gender identity and academic major — and more specific information about the user’s classes, extracurricular activities and hobbies.
Reynolds said “Dabl” got its name from the word “dabble,” which Reynolds said he believes captures the essence of the platform.
“(Dabble) literally means to dip your toe into something (…) there isn’t emphasis on really anything besides your willingness to try and do different things,” Reynolds said. “We like this idea that Dabl is a place where you just go try to meet cool people, where there’s no expectation for what you do (…) it can connect you with other people (who have similar interests).”
According to the app’s promotional website, Dabl is “the app for meeting the people around you.” Reynolds, who graduated with a degree in computer science, said he was inspired to use what he had learned at the University to build a platform that would allow students to connect with each other easily.
“I just came up with this idea for a platform that just connects you with people as you go about your day,” Reynolds said.
LSA junior Christina Lai has used Dabl for several months now. Lai said the app has been crucial to her social experience as a transfer student and has helped her make friends on campus despite the physical limitations of the ongoing pandemic. Lai said she especially likes that the app helps her connect with other students studying similar subjects.
“I like how you can see what (other students are) studying because … say someone is a psychology major, because personally I’m studying BCN,” Lai said. “I (would think), ‘Oh, we might have the same class together,’ so I would reach out and then say, ‘Hey, what classes are you taking?’”
Engineering freshman Derek Miller was one of the first users of Dabl following the initial launch in the fall 2021 semester. He said he first found out about the app when Elconin and Shah were promoting it within the Innovation Living Community in East Quad. Miller said he appreciates that the app was created by U-M alumni who are familiar with the campus culture and the social media habits of U-M students.
“(Elconin and Shah) came to where I live in the Innovation Living Community (and) everyone was very happy to support the entrepreneurship they were doing,” Miller said. “If you’re going to have a social media app in college, (Dabl) is much more college-oriented … in terms of social media, it’s very optimized for U-M students.”
Shah got his degree from the University in data science. He said his education prepared him to do data and marketing work for the Dabl project, but his experience being a part of the U-M community was possibly even more important.
“There have been a ton of ways that Michigan has helped me, tangible ways with the technical skills and building a solid foundation of what the engineering process looks like,” Shah said. “But the community at Michigan is also just phenomenal. I mean, you throw a stone in the air and it might land on an excellent business student, it could land on a talented programmer, designer, lawyer; that’s the most valuable thing (the University) can provide.”
Elconin, who studied international politics and economics at Ithaca College in New York, said he has known Reynolds since elementary school, and was happy to join the Dabl team when he and Reynolds reconnected last fall. He said the main goals of the project include encouraging students to use technology to support in-person connections.
“Our core vision is about living face-to-face,” Elconin said. “We’re trying not to play on people’s addictions to their phones. All we’re trying to do is give people a really easy, fast way to connect with the people in their immediate vicinity. Hopefully, (Dabl) can produce some spontaneous interactions that would happen just going about your day, pre-COVID.”
The Dabl founders all said they have received positive feedback from student users since the app’s launch and they look forward to hearing what students think about the changes they have made with the relaunch.
LSA junior Isabella Rukaj said her experience using Dabl has been overwhelmingly positive. She said having Dabl a tap away has been a useful way to find study buddies in in-person classes since she can no longer use the Zoom chat to connect with peers in virtual classes.
“I think honestly, the great part about this app is that you can use it any way you like, whether you’re looking for a long term relationship or just somebody to study for your next econ exam with,” Rukaj said. “I think the ability to search for and pick friends and acquaintances based on your own needs is probably the best part about this app.”
Daily Staff Reporter Carlin Pendell can be reached at email@example.com.