Gen Z Falls In Love With Homegrown Dating Apps

From being blamed for promoting 'hook-up culture' to the rise of homegrown dating apps, the online dating segment has surely found its foothold in India

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Digital dating is the new reality. The surge in the number of users on dating platforms since the pandemic authenticates the trend further. Once dominated by international players such as Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid, Happn, Hinge, Badoo, the online dating segment is today also witnessing the success of homegrown dating apps like Woo, andwemet, TrulyMadly, Quackquack, Aisle, among others.

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From being blamed for promoting "hook-up culture' to becoming more inclusive, dating apps seem to be slowly but steadily evolving. For instance, Glii is a dating app launched in 2020 that lets people from the LGBTQ+ community book a restaurant for a first date.

In a recent poll conducted by QuackQuack, a homegrown dating app with 15 million users, around 73 per cent of female users claimed that internet dating has saved them from awkward first dates. They expressed that they can get to know their match better through online dating before going on a real date. 82 per cent of male users said that internet dating has increased their confidence in approaching a girl since they know it's a fit.

Rising Investor Interest In Homegrown Apps

The push the dating segment received after the first pandemic-induced lockdown and the growth thereafter has made investors take note of the space, especially the Indian dating apps. For instance, TrulyMadly raised $5.7 million from Helion Venture Partners and Kae Capital, with participation by Inflection Point Ventures. Woo, on the other hand, is backed by Matrix Partners, Omidyar Network, and mobile technology company, U2opia. iCrushiFlush had recently raised an undisclosed amount in seed funding from IDG Ventures and Noida-headquartered Vee raised $1 million from Lightspeed Venture Partners.

"There is interest from investors to invest in this space as there has been a cultural shift in metros and big cities and Indians are now more open to having relationships, in comparison to a few years ago," said Ankur Bansal, co-founder and director, BlackSoil.

"Investor interest is growing which is visible from TrulyMadly's journey and participation from some leading investors and Angels already. Also, the response on IPO that Bumble received was overwhelming for the entire startup ecosystem. There have also been acquisitions in this space so the space does demand strategic investor interest as well. Overall, the investor sentiment in this space is positive and is only getting better," said Mitesh Shah, co-founder, Inflection Point Ventures. The firm first invested in TrulyMadly's seed round in July 2020. The app witnessed 4x growth in 6 months post the investment.

However, there is still a long way to go before the segment evolves as it has in the US and UK. This needs a change in mindset, feel experts. However, in this aspect, do homegrown apps have an edge over international apps?

The Challenge Stereotypes and Social Norms

"The segment faces many challenges in terms of acquiring the userbase and monetizing the application with paid advertisements that would lead them to profitability, due to these challenges these companies face, the realistic valuations of these companies will be much lower and in the near-term, Investor's doubt there will any unicorns in dating apps space," said Bansal.

Another important factor for entrepreneurs is the existing social norms in India wherein users prefer a platform on the lines of a typical matrimonial platform wherein the users can choose like-minded individuals based on their religion or caste rather than their likes and dislikes, he added.

"In our country, societal taboos create a sense of hesitation towards acknowledging and indulging in building a localized dating application from scratch. While a few may take the leap, the barriers curtailing growth are umpteen. Not to forget, the online dating industry deals with way more than finding compatible human emotions. The old school of thought severely restricts progressive thinking, and the varied behavioral shifts occurring daily due to fast-paced media make it tougher to create a unique online dating product for the masses. After all, change is a constant and we, as humans, are accustomed to restricting change," said Shalini Singh, founder andwemet.

Even though Singh lauds homegrown players for their efforts so far, she feels our society yet marinates in the traditional matchmaking norm of classified advertisements and swiping functionality based on images.

However, some feel that the rise of very few vernacular homegrown dating apps like Aisle can change it to some extent, as it will help them reach Tier II and Tier III faster. "Vernacular apps help in removing the ethnic barriers, this helps increase the customer base growth for these apps. This will help increase the quantum of investment in this industry as a whole due to the fact that 20 per cent of India's population is of the prime age of using dating apps," said Bansal.

He believes that going vernacular adds reliability to the app which smoothens the customer acquisition process. For instance, Truly Madly claims to see great traction in Tier II and III cities, which has led them to launch the app in vernacular languages like Hindi, Marathi etc. They will be live with 13 Indian languages by the end of January next year. "So, this space will see a lot more traction from different regions in the country," said Shah.

Overall, experts believe that since the Indian audience is interested in high intent dating, going vernacular and having a knowledge of the Indian market will help startups in the space break stereotypes and scale faster.