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Swedish Start Up Hopes Users Eat Up App Matching Lunch Partners

Lunchback, a Swedish start-up, is hoping to pair interested users for lunch — but people will have to put faith in an algorithm to make the match.
Lunchback App
Lunchback App

For many Americans, working lunches conjure up images of fast food or eating at your desk.

But Lunchback, a Swedish start-up, is hoping to change the definition of what a working lunch means by pairing interested users with a new networking lunch partner every week.

Here's the catch: You'll have to put blind faith in an algorithm to make the match.

"We want to create an artificial intelligence based service. We understand people's needs and we have people who want to give that help," Jimmy Zhao, Lunchback's founder and CEO told NBC News.

Lunchback was launched after Zhao, who said he moved to Stockholm from Shanghai a decade ago, found it difficult to make effective professional connections.

"I want to help entrepreneurs. Everyone wants to learn form someone who has been there, done that," Zhao said.

Mentors can offer their time to interested parties, letting people control who they meet. However, Zhao said he sees the AI matching service as a future revenue stream for the company, letting people pay a small subscription fee to be fixed up with potential mentors or people to help.

"We are trying to build a recommendation engine, but it takes a lot of metrics," Zhao said.

People in Stockholm, where the algorithm is being fine-tuned, can sign up for the AI service, which Lunchback calls "Magic."

The algorithm takes into account a person's professional history, which is pulled in from LinkedIn, along with skills they've tagged for themselves, what they say they're hoping to get from the service and location.

Every Sunday, users get a notification asking if they're free for lunch on Thursday. If they opt in, they're matched with a partner and given a restaurant.

The algorithm isn't perfect yet, but Zhao said they're learning from their lunch "experiments."

"After, we will ask, 'How did it go?'" he said. "Then we can learn and build a baseline when it comes to recommendations."

Lunchback launched earlier this year in Stockholm, where Zhao said it has 2,000 users. He spoke to NBC News from Shanghai, where he said the app is on pace to reach 10,000 to 15,000 users in the next month.

The company is now setting its sights on the U.S. market, beginning with beta testing in Chicago, followed by New York City and San Francisco. The beta testing does not yet include the AI feature and instead focuses on letting people choose their own lunch dates.

Natalie Söderberg, head of new market development at Lunchback, told NBC News she also sees the service becoming a tool for networking within large companies.

"Usually you eat by your desk and you don't hang out with your colleagues," she said. "We are trying to push that into the corporate America a little but and I think it will be a great hit."