Bryan Dunn interviews CEO and founder of uneepi, a dating service for autistics
By Bryan Dunn with Keri Bowers
I’m Bryan Dunn, a 38 year-old autistic with very little experience in the dating scene. In fact, I’ve had only one girlfriend. I would like to pursue a different kind of life where I seek relationships. Up ’til now, I’ve been afraid to pursue relationships due to my insecurities ~ but a dating site that might be able to lead me to connection? This could be very good for me and others in the same boat.
Sometimes past experiences can be harder for people like me to overcome ~ I can hold on to things real and imagined that get in my mind and sometimes block moving forward. The one relationship in my life that was good and real ended because I moved away. Now I’m ready to get out there. Could a site like uneepi help me?
In the past year, Keri Bowers, who works with me one-on-one, has supported me to stretch my boundaries and explore the things that hold me back from broader opportunities. It is in this spirit I sat down to write up questions for uneepi’s CEO and Founder, Thomas Sheil. Here are his responses to my questions.
I notice you have a “consultant” section on your autism dating site. Can you better explain how that works and the cost involved after the first free 15 minutes of consultation? It seems like a conundrum. Many autistics live on fixed incomes, but we need solid support to be healthy and choose healthy relationships. Please describe consultation supports and how it helps users to be safe and responsible in using a your dating site.
This is a really good question Bryan. It is something we considered when we came up with our pricing module for the coaching. Currently right now, we are offering an hour free of coaching and eventually will charge $40 an hour, offering packages for 5 and 10 hours which you will get a reduced rate. After doing research on how much coaches charge for this, I feel like our fee is very reasonable. Our coaches have the following experience.
When did you launch your site, and how many active members currently use your platform to meet others?
We launched Uneepi in November 2016. We currently have 79 active members on our site, but are looking to expand that and get the word out to new users to grow opportunities to meet others with like minds.
As the founder, what is your background; what inspired you to create this site? I know there must be a story as to why you started this site, tell us about it.
Yes, I do have a personal story behind why I created Uneepi. I graduated from Sacred Heart University with a degree in Computer Science Information Technology. But in order to receive a degree in Computer Science, you had to build something. My senior partner who I was paired with and I were trying to figure out what we could do.
She had brought up that her boyfriend’s sister has autism and how the autism community holds a special place in her heart. I had said two of my good friend’s sister has Autism, let’s do something for the Autism community. After some research, we had decided we decided on a kid’s game, which we called Khery’s game named after her boyfriend’s sister. The purpose of the game was to help kids from the ages of 6 – 13 recognize people’s emotions such as happy, sad, angry, excited, confused, and sleepy. When we completed the game, we sent it to a bunch of schools and got a lot of positive feedback. Fast forward a year later and I had started a website freelance company and my first client was Rebecca, a behavior analyst. I helped her make some changes to her website and update it. We remained in touch over the years while I helped her maintain her website.
Fast forward a few years later, I was watching a documentary called Autism In Love. After I watched it, I had did some research and saw there wasn’t that many resources for adults to help them with social interactions. I wanted to do something about that so I decided I wanted to build a dating and social media site for adults on the spectrum. I had been on dating sites on and off for a few years, it’s where I met my fiancé. I wanted to build a better one than what I have encountered, a site that will help users who might not know how to date or interact socially. I had told Rebecca and she loved it and wanted to come on board. When she asked, what’s going to be something that will set you apart and I said it will be coaching. I wanted a site that will help our users succeed when they came on our site. I had started working on the site in January 2016 and after putting together a team and building a site, we launched Beta in November 2016, which we are currently still in.
Because the autistic community can be a vulnerable group of individuals, how does Uneepi’s administration ensure safety and responsibility for its users beyond engaging a consultant?
When I launched Uneepi, I had known that people on the spectrum can be very vulnerable. I made safety the number one priority in creating the site. Myself and a few others on the team monitor all the people who sign up to our site. If we see any suspicious activity going on, we will delete them from our site. We have also emailed our members and told them what to watch out for. We are also writing blogs and will be talking about safety in our podcast we just launched called Loving With Autism.
Can you highlight a few success stories among your users and provide high-resolution photos for this blog?
Since our site is fairly new, we haven’t had any success stories that we know of. Our members tend to keep these things to themselves, which we totally understand and want to respect their privacy. All I can say for sure is that there is a lot of back and forth communications going on between our members.
Please add anything else that you feel will help users to understand the benefits of your site.
I believe Uneepi has a lot of benefits that most or all dating sites don’t have. We wanted Uneepi to be a site where we will help our members achieve their goals. We know how hard dating is and we want it to be easy. We offer a lot of resources to help to help make sure it is such as blogs, podcasts and the coaching. We want to be known as the go to dating site for the Autism community! We also are always open to suggestions on what our members want on our site.
Bryan Dunn is an autistic man who resides in Simi Valley. He was part of the Art of Autism AoA Live All Autistic Panel event this year.