The business of dating apps is disrupting Indian culture

Finding love.
Finding love.
Image: AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal
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The success of Tinder in India has encouraged several Indian entrepreneurs to try their luck at matchmaking. A raft of dating apps has come up in the last few months, attracting both handsome funding and an ever-increasing user base from across the country.

“Now dating apps have become mainstream,” Sumesh Menon, CEO and co-founder of Woo, a Gurgaon-headquartered dating app, told Quartz. “Just like e-commerce sites, now there are celebrities throwing their weight behind the dating space. There are investors, and there are consumers.”

Much of this success can be attributed to changing social norms in urban India, a huge population under the age of 30, and the willingness of Indian entrepreneurs to tailor their products according to the needs of young men and women in the country.

“Much like how Flipkart singularly focused on customer service, newer dating apps are working towards the right product market fit, verified profiles, ensuring that no married men got on the app, assuring women of safety and security,” Sachin Bhatia, co-founder of TrulyMadly, another popular dating app, told Quartz.

It was in 2013 that Tinder—the Los Angeles-headquartered location-based dating app—made inroads into the country, and became an instant hit among legions of urban youngsters. Two years on, India is Tinder’s top market in Asia, the company’s spokesperson Evan Bonnstetter told Quartz.

Tinder is often considered a win for non-serious relationships, where a user can swipe right when she or he is interested in a profile, or swipe left to indicate rejection.

But Indian dating platforms typically promise to connect urban singles who are not just looking for casual relationships, but also sometimes a potential spouse. However, unlike typical matrimonial platforms, they ensure a more liberal approach to India’s prevalent arranged marriage culture, wherein the singles can choose like-minded individuals on the basis of their likes and dislikes rather than religion or caste.

Still, many—including Woo—count their success in terms of relationships that culminate in wedlocks. Another example is Bengaluru’s Floh, which doesn’t consider itself a dating service, because it caters to men and women in the age group of 25-35 years who join the platform with a more “serious intent” of finding a spouse, explained CEO Siddharth Mangharam.

Floh allows people to subscribe to the platform, meet prospective partners online, as well as offline at events organised exclusively for members.

On TV and everywhere else

In the last few months, dating apps have started spending a lot of money on TV—similar to the kind of marketing storm that was unleashed by e-commerce firms in the last few years.

Woo—which marketed itself through print and radio campaigns when it launched last year—released its first television commercial in August 2015.

The same month, online and mobile dating company TrulyMadly’s TV advertisement went live. “We have only targeted English (speakers) to avoid spillage and overexposure,” Bhatia said. ”We plan to aggressively continue with on-the-ground grass-root activation through mixers and a comedy tour, along with content marketing through our partners like Miss Malini, All India Bakchod, POPxo, among others.”

“Everybody is putting advertising money out there, and that’s really helping create some awareness,” Menon said.

Woo says that its mobile app has more than a million users in just a year, and it does about 10,000 matches a day. TrulyMadly, which also started last year, has seen a 100% month-on-month growth in terms of downloads. The one-year-old company had some 150,000 active daily users.

On Tinder, “there are more than 7.5 million swipes in India each day on average,” Bonnstetter told Quartz. “In fact, Tinder users in India also boast the most messages per match globally.”

Quartz could not independently verify these numbers.

Future of dating

Dating apps have caught the attention of investors, too.

In March 2015, TrulyMadly raised $5.7 million (Rs35 crore) from Helion Venture Partners and Kae Capital. Woo, on the other hand, is backed by Matrix Partners, Omidyar Network and mobile technology company, U2opia.

“The Indian society is fast transforming and online dating is increasingly becoming acceptable,” Helion’s Ritesh Banglani told Business Standard newspaper.

This year has already seen several other dating apps raise funds. In July, iCrushiFlush had raised an undisclosed amount in seed funding from IDG Ventures in July. In November 2014, Noida-headquartered Vee raised $1 million from Lightspeed Venture Partners.

“There has been a cultural shift in metros and big cities and Indians are now more open to having boyfriends or girlfriends, in comparison to a few years ago,” Pragya Singh, vice president—retail and consumer products at Technopak Advisors, told Quartz. “So going forward, I think, the sector will take off and see a fast growth.”

As is true for most technology businesses, the entry barriers are low. Moreover, dating websites worldwide is a highly monetised business—with revenues coming in from advertisements to paid premium services.

“We spent a lot of time to avoid monetisation to understand the user. However, monetisation is definitely on our roadmap,” Menon said. ”At some point next year, I would expect us to be revenue positive.”

No unicorns

Technopak’s Singh, however, said that the growth of these apps may be low in smaller cities and towns—and that will reflect in the companies’ valuations.

“Investors who are betting on this segment will understand the challenges that these companies face and so the realistic valuations of these companies will be much lower,” she said. “So in the near-term, I doubt there will any unicorns in dating apps space, but then in the long-term, perhaps we see a big player emerge.”

So, is Tinder concerned about competing with homegrown companies? “We really don’t keep tabs on other companies,” the spokesperson said. “We’re focused on our own mission and let our users guide what we focus on.”