A young entrepreneur from North Yorkshire has just launched a new app which is taking the dating world by storm. Ruth Campbell discovers how he managed to sign up 10,000 users in just three weeks.

DAVID Marsden got the idea for a new online dating app when he first arrived in London from Yorkshire and found his daily commute on the Underground a cold, impersonal and unsociable experience.

“In North Yorkshire, you say hello to strangers in the street. I didn’t realise until I moved to London how anti-social the Tube could be. There is a code of conduct on the Tube, you can look, maybe smile but under no circumstances engage with people.

“It’s been found it takes just 8.2 seconds for you to ‘fall’ for someone. Every day we see people who catch our eye, a real person who we all-too-often fail to speak to. It’s so public, you don’t want to put yourself in the humiliating position of being seen to fail. So you’re left wondering what might have been. I’ve experienced that myself.”

David, 24, and friend and colleague Gabriel Sharp, 25, decided to design a dating app that would work for them, letting them make contact with people on places like the Underground. So, unlike other dating apps, it had to work where there was no signal, as well as everywhere else.

Using a new, low energy Bluetooth rather than data connection, they created an app which could be used where there’s no WiFi or phone signal, while preserving battery life, then tailored it specifically to their needs: “We wanted to drag people away from desktop screens and profile pictures and make it easy to meet potential partners in real life,” says David.

And so, Spark was born.

Once word spread on Facebook , Twitter and other social media sites, 4,000 users signed up. And that was before it was even launched. In just three weeks, the app picked up 10,000 customers and numbers are still growing.

Users can only send one free Spark a day and the recipient only receives it once the two have parted ways, they then have 24 hours to respond.

Spark, which obviously relies on both parties being signed up and active, has a long way to go before it rivals dating app Tinder’s 50million users, but this is a good start. And David, who stresses Spark’s main attraction is that it does offer something new, believes there is still plenty of room for a number of smartphone dating apps in the market.

He feels using just one Spark a day encourages users to be a little more thoughtful than the relentless swiping that occurs with Tinder which can devalue the contact: “Our aim is to help people forge more meaningful, genuine connections. We want each Spark to mean something, which makes receiving one even more impactful.

“Conversations that aren’t active for a week will disappear, meaning you can only continue speaking to those who’ve truly caught your interest.”

David believes the key to Spark’s success is that the app is directed at people just like Gabriel and himself: “Being young, single, dating app users ourselves, we are our own demographic.”

Educated at Ripon Grammar School, David studied law at Keele University before heading to London to work for product comparison app company youVerify in operations and marketing: “I wanted to start my own business but knew I needed experience with a tech company first. It was my first taste of that world and I learnt so much.”

After nine months, he moved to brand consultancy and venture capital firm BBH ZAG, advising start-up companies on how to win and retain customers, and was poached by the online pet services marketplace, Tailster

This is where he and Gabriel, who David describes as a ‘tech guru’, met. Aware of just how popular the Metro newspaper’s Rush Hour Crush column - where readers write in to ask their crush out - was becoming, they discussed David’s app idea in the pub and reckoned they could go one better.

“Working in our field, you realise how ideas like this can become a reality. I know how to run a tech company and Gabriel knows how to code it.”

The pair kept it secret at first: “We wanted to keep our jobs, but we talked it over in the pub after work, produced mind maps and eventually a blueprint of exactly what we wanted to do.”

Having started work on the idea for Spark in July, they gave up their well paid jobs in September last year. It was a leap of faith: “It was massively scary,” says David. “We gave up good salaries, we had good positions in the company.”

The pair did secure a small investment, but were living off their savings for the first three months: “We didn’t have much disposable income. You just have to accept that you’re not going to go out every weekend, book any holidays, or enjoy meals out. But I have always loved beans on toast, so there was never any difficulty there,” he laughs.

David’s parents, dad, Richard, a retired pharmacist who ran a chain of North Yorkshire chemist shops, and mum Hazel, a former nurse, were extremely supportive: “They said I should just go ahead and do it,” says David.

It was working in a start-up tech company that gave him the valuable experience, and confidence, that he needed, he says: “We had a clear vision and belief and knew what we were doing.”

They comforted themselves with the fact that their hand-to-mouth existence wouldn’t last long: “We knew it was only going to be for a limited amount of time.”

The pair produced all their own eye-catching promotional material, with the help of a few friends, including photographer Dan Ross, from Ripon.

“He really helped us get our message across. Directing a photo shoot was a new experience to me, a real learning curve. But Dan’s images are brilliant and really get the story over, better than 1,000 words.”

David and Gabriel spent two weeks handing out flyers at Tube stations: “That was fun,” says David, who also managed to get an image of the Spark app out on Tinder: “We needed to reach young, single, London-based, dating app-friendly people. We got a great response from that.”

They also made a clever promotional film, which attracted a lot of interest on YouTube and on dating forums : “We wanted something that would make a big impression on a low budget. So we came up with the idea of amazing ‘love at first sight’ moments, that people weren’t able to act upon, from films and TV.”

They chose clips from Notting Hill, South Park and the Disney movie Aladdin:  It’s a theme that’s so entrenched in our culture. We used a wide range of clips, all of which appealed to us.”

Made In Chelsea reality TV stars Stevie Johnson and Binky Felstead posted photographs of the Spark flyer on their Instagram accounts, which gathered more followers. David also promoted the app to singles who use dating sites on Facebook.

Spark was finally launched at the beginning of March: “We wish we could have afforded a big launch party, but didn’t have any money for that,” says David.

They are thrilled at just how successful Spark has been in such a short time and are now talking with a number of big, potential investors. Although primarily designed with the Tube in mind and initially concentrating on London, Spark has already been picked up in Manchester and Bristol. David is hopeful of rolling it out to other cities across the UK eventually.

.“It has gone better than I thought,” says David. “It is building momentum. We have had 200 ‘sparks’ sent already. Whatever else happens we will have matched a few people who never spoke to each other before,” says David.

They also have plans for an app called Meet, which will help potential suitors organise first dates: “We have found the hardest thing with using dating apps is discussing how to meet when you don’t know much about the other person.”

Ironically, although David and Gabriel started out making a dating app for themselves, they have both been so busy setting up, promoting and running their business, that they haven’t had time to use it themselves yet.

“I really love the idea of being able to use it. And if I do meet someone special through it, we’ll have a really great story to tell…”