When I’m asked about what we do, I start by saying — “We’re a dating app”. But before I continue, I’m usually greeted back with a un-intrigued handshake and the words “Ah! you mean like Tinder” — ending either with a full-stop or an exclamation, and almost never a question mark.
Unless you are a conservative luddite, you’d know that Tinder is the revolution that took the western world by storm. Their culture and values being different from ours, were able to embrace it with a fervour that is now catching on in India.
Our matchmaking market leaders had stopped innovating, Tinder blew up in parts of the world and I was 26 and ready. While I had (have) absolutely nothing against arranged marriages or matrimony sites, they simply didn’t meet my tastes and aspirations. And Tinder, well, I guess it inspired me enough to think about creating a middle-path between the existing matrimony market and the plethora of casual dating apps out there. Let’s talk about Tinder.
If I was a conspiracy theorist, I would draw parallels between Tinder and the chat rooms from the 90’s (that most of us may have forgotten) where our first words to greet a stranger were, “ASL please”. Tinder is much like those private virtual rooms but with a face in addition to the user’s age, sex and location. I distinctly remember how both youngsters and adults took interest in trying to make virtual girlfriends through these chat rooms at the Sify iWay cyber cafe where I used to draw and close the shutter. Thanks to the gestures that we’ve widely adopted since the advent of the iPhone, we needn’t double click on the prettiest animated avatar anymore, rather swipe across faces that we most fancy. Like how your chances of successfully engaging in anonymous conversations were proportional to the times that you ask for ASLs, on Tinder the gestures are more often a right swipe. This results in 26 million matches in a day.
26 million matches a day would make the world a better place, right? It would solve the real world problem of finding true love, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, the answer is a big emphatic no! While the media sheds light on the brand in every dating related piece they print, Tinder doesn’t claim to be a dating application at all. That’s intentional. A smart, for profit, business decision. Result — an opportunity to achieve astronomical scale.
A user needn’t have a meaningful purpose to use Tinder, thus making its market size as big the world itself. It’s like Facebook for strangers. Though they have data about the marital status of their users (through Facebook authentication), they make no effort in trying to stop the growth of married folks on it. Why would a sincere dating app admit married people? Do they feel the need to eat into the market share of Ashley Madison? Here’s where I give props to it’s Indian clones who block out married folks from joining their platform. But they also use this as a marketing stunt by claiming to have verified profiles simply based on data gathered from the big blue social network. I must add the shocking (to some) fact that the minimum age to get started with the habit of swiping across faces on Tinder and some of their counterparts in India is just 13. That’s right, they understand that sex sells and they even catch them young. I leave it to the experts to publish a study on the long terms effects of using these applications from such a tender age.
Tinder is among the top grossing apps in the US and even in India. Simply unlock your smart phone and open the app store to find out for yourself. But that hasn’t cannibalised our market. We know, because with limited resources and in little time, Aisle too is among the top grossing apps in the Indian App Store today.
The difference is, members on Aisle buy Invites with the intention of meeting that special someone. While, paid users on Tinder are those who wish to swipe across more faces than the given free quota. Think about it, what kind of a person is impatient enough to not wait, rather pay to continue swiping? The market has spoken — in a short span of time we’ve managed to attain better success ratio among singles, better ARPU, and our Revenue per Employee is far more than any Tinder clone in India. As Mahesh Murthy implies, Tinder will be the Tinder of India, not their clones. Tinder lookalikes are hard to monetise (apart from ads) as they add little value to it’s users. When online services are free, it’s users are not the customers, they are the product — establishes Mr. Cook. They may never successfully sell an offering on their product as long as Tinder maintains its dominance.
The success of Tinder has given rise to copy-cats that lack imagination with the only difference in their product being either its packaging or the messaging. It even tempted, rather scared, traditional dating apps enough to bake in Tinder-like functionalities into their UI. But you see, the underlying problem with an application that matches people anonymously is the way the application works itself. And yet, we see these clones being showered with VC money. And that’s fine, until they claim to be backing brilliant founders with world changing ideas. C’mon! And then there’s the press. We rarely see journalism that is beyond a catchy title like ‘The top five dating apps that will change your life’. It pains us to be compared with Tinder clones in the same article. That’s because the exclusives are for those who pay.We’re confident that what we’ve built is everything that Tinder isn’t and the best bet for modern India to find love while making the least number of mistakes.
Much like in e-commerce where you have Flipkart, Myntra and Zivame co-exist, the online dating world can and will have those who facilitate to every need (from marriage to casual encounters), fewer needs and a very specific need like Aisle does. Market correction or not, recession or not, there will always be a need for love. Zomato is right, there’s indeed two kinds of people in this world. There are those who wish for true love and the other kind who look for free love. An application that works on the philosophy of ‘hot or not’ best suits the latter. We at Aisle will continue to build for the lonely and not the horny.
While judging a space based on numbers on a spreadsheet is not wrong, it is not enough. It is worth understanding the real pain points of today and of years to come. While we’re often asked about the number of downloads that’s widely considered as the best indicator of success, nobody has ever inquired about how we deal with issues that really plague online dating likeghosting or catfishing. Applications that match people anonymously for free is a cultivator of these issues. The largest online dating company in the world apparently has over 5000 moderators worldwide to curb these problems. Problems which our business model almost always eliminates.
The use of Tinder results in casual affairs or companionships. I doubt if the intentions of a Tinder user is ever to meet their future spouse. This is exactly what we wanted to cut out of the equation; the unestablished or perverted intentions behind connecting with a member. We pay close attention to our identity, on-boarding, pricing, functionality and design to induce seriousness in our users and hence increase one’s chances of meetingthe one.
We as a nation have for the longest time subscribed to the notion of monogamy as a culturally and traditionally accepted form of relationship. Now, what was lacking in traditional methods of finding a partner was a platform where one could meet a person who was like minded without the pressure of having to settle down before getting to know each other. Aisle addressed this pain point while also tackling the issue of being frivolous about the whole matter.
Make no mistake about it — Tinder works. The market has spoken for them loud and clear. But it leans towards that end of the spectrum where the resulted matches go on to become casual affairs or companionships (yes, there sure are those odd Tinder couples). The hardest thing that we’ve managed to do at Aisle is to resist temptation to dilute our values to become yet another dating app born out of India to do what Tinder does pretty darn well.
You see, most of us wouldn’t have heard about concepts like OYO andAirBnB if they weren’t discovered by the right people at the right time. And who knows how many ideas are discouraged each day for being unfamiliar. But sometimes it’s those products that isn’t a carbon copy of proven business models that become household names later. So the next time we meet, let’s have a firm handshake. Because no, we’re nothing like Tinder 🙂
Only dead fish follow the stream.
This article first appeared here.
Author: Able Joseph
Able Joseph is the founder and CEO of Aisle.