Last week, American dating app Bumble announced its foray into India, a move that will further heat up competition in the country’s crowded market.
Besides its American rival Tinder, which dominates the Indian market, Bumble will compete with homegrown players like TrulyMadly and Woo.
Winning over India may not be easy, since dating apps here are not exactly used the way they are in the West.
Take, for instance, how TrulyMadly localises its business.
Launched in 2014 and seeing a 100% monthly growth in its first year, the dating app today claims to be the market leader with a monthly download rate of over 65,000.
Quartz spoke to Sachin Bhatia, CEO and one of the three co-founders of TrulyMadly, about the Indian dating market. Edited excerpts:
Is there any difference in the way Indian millennials use dating apps compared to youngsters in other parts of the world?
The uses of a dating app are pretty standard across the world. But there are a couple of differences in how Indians use them. When we look at the 18- to 21-year-olds, a lot of them get on to a dating app just to make friends. This is common particularly for girls who are new to a city either for work or to study. Their social networks are fairly limited in the new cities, so they use dating apps to make friends, get to know people, and obviously, if something results in a relationship, so be it.
The 26+ (years) audience uses dating apps pretty much as the first step towards matrimony. These are the more independent-minded girls. So unlike a matrimonial website, where it’s a lot of siblings and parents making profiles and initiating conversation with prospective matches, these youngsters use dating apps for long-term, serious relationships. That is clearly different from how these apps are primarily used in the West.
Are most of the people looking for more serious relationships women?
There are some guys also, but a lot of women of ages 26 and older look for more serious relationships. Below 26, it’s the same number of guys and girls as a percentage who looks for casual, one night stands, short-term flings, or whatever. The older crowd obviously looks for something a little more serious.
Bumble has just announced its launch in India. The app allows women to be the only ones to make the first move. Does that make Bumble more attractive?
It seems like a feature for a very evolved urban audience. But then, India is a complex market with many niche mini-markets, so I am sure this will appeal to some.
With the business getting overcrowded, how do you monetise?
I don’t think there are tonnes of casual dating apps in India currently. Besides Tinder, there’s no other player working on a big scale.
At TrulyMadly, we’ve Indianised monetisation rather than blindly copying Tinder or other Western dating apps. We have a product called Spark with which you can message your matches, which I think every dating app does. But how ours is different and very Indian is that we tell the guys what to say. Say, you’re messaging this girl, who likes Atif Aslam; it prompts: “Why don’t you talk about that? Both of you like the same artist or the same band or the same movie.” We’ve Indianised that interestingly and we’ve monetised that.
Then we have another product called Select, which is for slightly older, 26+ audiences, who are looking for more intent-based matching, where they’re looking for serious or long-term relationships.
A major part of the revenue for many dating apps is still coming from ads, not memberships. What about TrulyMadly?
Ours is not a membership- or ad-revenue-based model, it’s more micro-transactions.
We have very little ads. Our revenue is mostly from micro-transactions, we don’t call them memberships. You buy a pack of Sparks, and you can approach someone a number of times. Or buy Select and you can get matched with the similar type of profiles.
How do you make your platform safer for women?
That’s one of our key pillars. We’ve got something called the trust score. You have to get Facebook-verified, and we check if your Facebook account is genuine and not recently created. We do verification of your picture so that your profile picture matches either your social media photos or some physical ID. Also, you can give us a physical ID, you can log in through LinkedIn, and you can even get other friends to refer you. In the last four to five years, our positioning has become such that very few married men actually even try to create profiles on TrulyMadly, or create profiles with pictures of Hrithik Roshan or Tom Cruise.
There are still close to around 10% such people who try to make a profile on TrulyMadly, but we don’t let them on to the platform. Most of them are men. Sometimes there are married women also who come on to the platform. Sometimes, obviously, there are escorts, etc. who try to come on. Even if these people get in the system, we very quickly weed them out in four-five days.
How has the acceptance of dating apps evolved since you started out?
It’s still early days because it’s a bit of a cultural shift. It’s well accepted in urban centres and among the English-speaking audience. Now we’re seeing some trickle-down into vernacular audiences and regional audiences. It’s going to take time. One has to have a fair bit of staying power to catch the growth of this market. It’s still not happened.
When will this market become profitable?
I don’t know, it’s societal change, right? It could take four or five years. But it’s happening. One indicator is that for the last one year we haven’t spent a rupee on marketing, and all our traffic is organic. So these are people who are not getting enticed by advertising, they are coming on their own. Now, 40% of our audience is not even from the metros. It’s from smaller cities. And varied people are coming from different backgrounds. So that’s really encouraging.