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Indians Prefer Meaningful Relationships Over Hookups: Indian Dating Apps India is the second-largest revenue market for dating apps, after the US, with $323 million in revenue in 2020 and is expected to reach $454 million in 2021

By Debarghya Sil

You're reading Entrepreneur India, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.


The concept of dating is fairly modish in India. Indians were introduced to dating in late 70s by Bollywood where a tall dark actor with long hair is attracted towards a conservative girl, who has no say in her family. After perseverance, the girl falls for him and they continue to date in secret, until their parents are informed. These types of films inspired an entire generation who were thrilled with the surreptitiousness of dating. However, in most scenarios, even after falling for each other, matters ended in two ways: either they were married, or the family of the father would find some other "suitable' guy and marry her off.

Fast forward to the 21st century, things have changed. People are meeting online to find love. Social media was the first place where people started coming together to know each other better. You would easily see screenshots floating on various social media on how couples met and are now married. To spice up things, the Internet saw the inception of dating sites or apps, exclusively for people to date. Tinder became the go-to place for people across the world. The 2012-founded app entered the Indian market in 2016, garnering massive response. The entry of Tinder was followed by many other foreign dating apps along with Indian dating apps which aimed to target 81 million singles present in India, according to the 2011 census. Currently, India is the second-largest revenue market for dating apps, after the US, with $323 million in revenue in 2020 and is expected to reach $454 million in 2021, as per the Statista report.

To understand what Indian dating apps are doing differently from the international giants and what problems they are facing as well as addressing, Entrepreneur India spoke to founders of four Indian dating apps.

Arrival Of International Players

In India, much before social media was introduced, matrimonial sites enjoyed a heavy market share. Bharatmatrimony.com, Jeevansathi.com, Shaadi.com, were among others where more than the singles, their parents were glued to find a perfect fit. In most parts of India, marriage is a parameter which scales a person's ability to handle responsibility, irrespective of financial constraints. However, this very notion has changed with growing literacy and the advent of social media and dating apps. When Tinder made its entry in India, a lot of adults signed in out of curiosity and to emulate what they saw on western movies/series. Download numbers soared, with participation from both the genders. Seeing this, gradually other international dating apps made inroads in the country such as Happn, OkCupid, and Bumble and are now enjoying the largest market share. However, these have only pushed Indian entrepreneurs to come with dating apps which are tailor cut for Indians and offer long term relation rather than casual hookups which international apps are known for.

Indians Swipe Right For Meaningful Relations

Able Joseph, founder chief executive officer (CEO) of Aisle, an Indian dating app, points out that international dating apps present in India miss out on the key preferences specific to India.

"Most dating apps are based on "Yes and No" swipe snap judgments of prospective partners and are designed to discourage relationships," he added.

Joseph, who himself was looking for a partner and was tired with the swipe culture during his time in Dubai, realized that there was no dating app that catered to the Indian market and understood the population in all its sensitivities.

While it is true that one-night stands, which is a concept of western world, is not quite popular in India, it won't be wrong to say that the current generation hate the idea of arranged marriage and rather want to spend time with their partner before tying the auspicious knot. This is where most of the Indian dating apps are playing a key role.

Snehil Khanor, co-founder and CEO of TrulyMadly, believes the probability of finding love on platforms designed for casual sex and hookups is rare. "They need a platform, where they can find a compatible life partner for themselves, by themselves," he added saying that his platform TrulyMadly envisions to become a go-to platform for 26 years and older singles to find a long-term meaningful relationship.

Shalini Singh, founder of andwemet.com, a matchmaking website which was founded in 2019, said the current industry comprises image based or societal based dating services, which requires transparency. Taking inspiration from her own past experience, when despite doing well in her career, she was rejected by many boys and their families due to her complexion.

"Most people on dating apps want to have a relationship but the swipe algorithm of casual dating apps discourage it," added Joseph. He said casual dating apps are helping people find love online but the user intent on most of these casual apps remains unestablished. "This is what we solved for, by building Aisle. A platform meant for meaningful connections where the intent of users is established." Aisle currently has over 5 million downloads across Play Store and App Store.

Targeting Tier II, & III Cities

Interestingly, dating which woo the urban population and was considered for city dwellers have paved its way in tier II and III cities as well. Ravi Mittal who is the founder of Quack Quack noted that during the lockdown, their platform saw 70 per cent of new users coming from smaller cities while only 30 per cent from metro cities. The dating app currently has around 12 million registered users, 7 million app downloads and around one million active users.

Joseph's Aisle saw a 7 per cent point increase in revenue generation from tier II cities in 2020 when compared to 2019's 38 per cent.

"There's an increasing inclination of young people to experience online dating. However, what we have to understand here is that the way love works in India is quite different from other parts of the world. People in India or Desis are inherently romantic and keep a partner at the center of all life decisions," he added.

TrulyMadly which has more than eight million registered users is noticing a significant share of revenue generation form tier II and III cities. Khannor said that the majority of the Indians, especially women and users from tier II and III aren't interested in casual hookups and look for platforms where like minded users with the same intention of finding something meaningful are present.

Even international players such as Tinder and Bumble have also felt strong demand for dating in tier II and III cities with latter witnessing a 300 per cent increase sign ups in smaller towns as compared to metro cities.

Why Do International Players Still Dominate?

While, Indian dating apps seem to have hit the right chord by claiming to offer long and meaningful relationships, international players such as Tinder and Bumble still enjoy the majority of the market. According to a Statista report, Tinder which is the most downloaded app worldwide has over 100 million downloads on play store, followed by Happn which has over 50 million downloads. OkCupid and Bumble boasts of over 10 million downloads.

QuackQuack's Mittal believes that dating startups which have failed or are failing are due to lack of funding, no proper revenue model in mind, and are building a lacklustre product without having a clear understanding of the needs of Indians.

Joseph said that international brands have large advertising budgets and have incorporated influencer marketing into their marketing strategy. Apart from this, there are huge spends made on ads and social media campaigns, to raise brand awareness to attract new users.

Tinder has raised $50 million from venture capital. Its parent company Match Group which is also the parent company of OkCupid raised $400 million in IPO back in 2015.

Bumble, which was deemed to be the antithesis of Tinder, in 2020 amidst the outbreak went public with a $2.15 billion IPO on February 10, 2021, when the company was valued at $8.3 billion.

According to Singh, the biggest barrier is access to capital.

"These international brands have enough and more to burn. They can attract members by building awareness through smart marketing gigs. If you look around most of the Indian dating apps are bootstrapped, which becomes one of the barriers to success," she added.

However, it is not to be overlooked that some of the Indian dating apps are closing the gaps organically, which only reveals their true potential. For instance QuackQuack added more than 3.4 million users in 2020 which is more than some of the international brands present in India. In terms of weekly installs, TrulyMadly are ahead of Bumble and neck to neck with Tinder according to AppAnnie. Aisle claims itself the leader in the high intent dating market in the country.

Debarghya Sil

Entrepreneur Staff

Former Correspondent

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