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The online dating market is one of the areas that has been actively growing during the pandemic and is not planning to stop. At the end of 2020, Tinder topped the list of apps where users spent the most time. Meanwhile, the developer of another dating application Bumble closed up 63.5% in their initial public offering. According to experts’ expectations, the profit of the online dating market in 2021 will reach $3.2B. Along with the growth of this market, the transformation of the dating platforms themselves is taking place. Dmitry Levkovets, CEO of dating app waka, talked about how we meet online, what is wrong with all dating apps we know and how they got from the first research to tens of thousands of users in a couple of months.
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waka is a mini-application inside the Telegram messenger that uses the”swipes” and “matches” principle, the common mechanics of dating applications. After the alpha version of the product was released in March 2021, waka raised $125 000 in April at an estimate of $1.5M, as well as the first 10 000 users, and their next goal is 300 000.
When I broke up with my girlfriend and decided to try dating, as a systemic person, I chose to go beyond Tinder and installed twenty applications. I was curious to see what other dating apps are out there because Tinder is good on the one hand, but on the other, it has some drawbacks, which I didn’t like. It would bombard me with seemingly random people and I could not figure out the algorithm that chose to show them to me, nor did I understand why the platform limits some interactions.
That was when I realized that the only reason Tinder leads the market is that it has a large user base. Most apps offer basically the same thing but with fewer users and different positioning for specific target audiences. After I talked in Kyiv with Gabil Tagiev, the СЕО of Rocket DAO ecosystem, who has extensive experience in apps in social networks, I had an idea of integrating dating in a messenger. 97.9% of users have messengers and social networks installed, and they spend 50% of their time on a smartphone scrolling them. I researched the dating market and realized that the idea is promising to say the least.
An analysis of all the swipes led me to believe that it’s not just me: applications like Tinder do not meet the needs of a large number of other people, while the number of people meeting online is steadily growing. This partially has to do with the pandemic that allowed Tinder to grow several times, without nearly any effort. They just got the users who were forced to stay home and needed additional socialization. Hence, I got the idea to make our own dating app that would work better than any other.
Yes, the main function of dating is to introduce people to each other. But the main function of business is to make money. Therefore, applications of this kind are made in a way that the user constantly returns to them. Tinder provides very little information about the person you like — the application makes “matches” so that users have a dopamine jump, but it does not encourage people to initiate a dialogue and deepen communication. Tinder and similar dating apps benefit from users spending as much time in them as possible — thus, dating apps do not fulfil their primary function.
Unlike most of the existing apps, we focus on a kind of “anti-dating”: we’ll be adding functionality that will improve the ways you can meet a person with each update. This is aimed at ensuring that people get to know each other for real, and not get stuck in swipes that never convert into full-fledged communication. Thus, personalization and the speed of the transition to dialogue in the familiar interface of the Telegram messenger will help people get acquainted better and faster.
There is a lot of research and data, even Tinder’s latest report, that says people’s behaviour and the way they get to know each other has now changed. People stopped dating with the goal of starting a family for life. They start mentioning phrases “See where things go” and “Open to” into their profile descriptions more often (by 17% and 19%, respectively). And 50% want a “no particular type of relationship” — that is, they do not expect meeting a person in the app to lead to a relationship, marriage and children till “death do you part”. Instead, serial monogamy begins to prevail. People meet each other, spend some time together, and then move on.
At the same time, there are now even more reasons why people meet. Whereas dating apps used to involve only love relationships, now there are many other options. For example, when you move to another city, you need to socialize as you want to spend time like a local. And at the times of pandemic when you can work from anywhere in the world, this will only keep growing. Today people do this not by downloading a guide, but by getting to know the locals. For both parties, this is a great pastime: a new person means new emotions and a new journey.
For me, meeting a new person is always a mini-trip, because you go into the world of another person, get to know them and yourself, look at everything around you from a different angle, and it becomes a little more interesting.
Also, many people start getting acquainted in the professional sphere. Despite the lack of offline conferences during the pandemic, the translation of all business communications online is still unusual to many, since the way of interacting with the screen and with a person is completely different. There is a lot of data on why Zoom does not do so well with the communication function: when working with a screen, our eyes behave differently, and information is perceived differently. When you are close to a person, everything is much more interesting.
The market used to mainly copy the innovations of the western segment, but now the situation is changing. In 2017, mini-apps were launched in Chinese WeChat. In three years, the number of mini-programs inside the messenger has grown to 3.2M, with at least 746M MAU using them, which is 64.8% of all users of the application. Most Western competitors started copying this model because it is effective and helps develop the ecosystem around the messenger. Something like that previously happened with social networks.
When we were creating MVP and making the interface based on “swipes”, we tested the hypothesis of whether people would do it in the messenger. Therefore, the prototype was as simple as possible, easy to use and similar to existing apps like Tinder, Badoo, Bumble and others. The dating messenger worked, so now we will work on our competitive advantage.
We chose Telegram because we needed to make an MVP, and it allows you to do it quickly thanks to a simple API. Besides, we are currently testing our application on the CIS market, where Telegram seems to be the most promising messenger. WhatsApp, of course, is the leader in Russia, but at the same time, it has a very closed ecosystem in terms of API. By the way, Facebook is now actively looking in this direction and adopting the Chinese experience, so, hopefully, this messenger will allow for creating applications, too. Big rounds also add confidence: for example, in September 2020, Play.co raised a $100M investment to create applications within social networks. Yes, at the stage of testing hypotheses and launching MVP, Telegram was the simplest and most inexpensive way, so we started with it, but we don’t limit ourselves to it.
We also looked at the specifics of the Telegram audience and how quickly the messenger is developing, introducing updates one after another: audio chats, an internal payment system, and soon the advertising exchange. But if you look at the older audience of WhatsApp users, it becomes clear that there’s a clear lack of offers for them. There is a “younger” Tinder and “older” Mamba. And the users of the latter also have an interest, maybe even more, to ensure that the dating application is integrated into the already installed messenger, and does not require additional downloading and discovering new functionality. Take WeChat, for example, their gadgets are more often used in small towns, where people are more conservative and less willing to try new things. So the audience of Viber and WhatsApp is great, and it would be interesting to work with them. If we can help them get to know each other — why not?
Working inside the messenger gives us additional advantages over conventional applications. Inside Telegram, there is already a chat and video chat, payment services, user verification, a ready-made API. In February, Match Group bought the video and audio chat application Hyperconnect for $1.7B. I am sure that with the help of such purchases they also want to improve the messenger within their products. We don’t need to do anything for this — we just integrate into the best instant messengers in order to supplement their functionality and focus solely on matching options.
We’ll see how messengers will develop in the future, but for now, we are focusing on working with Generation Z — they switch from familiar dating applications to new ones more easily, they want to travel and set goals. Besides, we in the team are also Zoommers, so we understand their needs much better than others.
After we tested the first hypotheses and launched the MVP, everything broke on the very first day after purchasing the ad. But we got good numbers and realized that there is a quite good Retention Rate, there are users who come back and who are interested. Then we began to raise the first investments and raised the Pre-seed round. We did it with the help of angels — thanks to the Rocket DAO ecosystem where I pitched the project and which helps to find, among other things, investors. Plus, I reached out to some people I knew, so we closed the round quickly — it was not too difficult thanks to our product numbers and the cool team. This is how we found our first investors Alexander Shugaev and Gabil Tagiyev, the latter is also a team tracker and helps to see the big picture.
We have a strong team of 7 people, including the Product Manager, CTO, Product-marketing manager, Product Designer and an SMM specialist. We didn’t know each other until this year, but we all believe we can bring online dating that has not changed for many years to the next level. I met some guys thanks to dating apps, and this in itself undermines the established paradigm that these kinds of applications are intended exclusively for love relationships.
I think we shouldn’t be afraid to try. Even with a low-quality MVP, we received a bunch of insights and understood where to go next. It is better to start and check, because you may have a concept in your head, but in reality, it may turn out the market needs something different.