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The covid-19 pandemic may have impacted offline meetings and outings, but that did not stop India’s millennials and GenZ from forming connections online. As love bloomed during the pandemic, TrulyMadly, a homegrown dating app with nine million users and 35 million matches said this is just the beginning for love tech in India. Snehil Khanor, chief executive officer and co-founder of the platform, who drives the startup’s marketing function, explained in an interview why his platform is getting traction in smaller towns. Edited excerpts:

How did covid and lockdowns impact the dating app business and dating culture in the country?

The pandemic did not impact the business of serious dating apps. In fact, it further fuelled the need for having a serious, long-term partner because you were confined to your home. So, we have actually seen that people who earlier had some inhibitions about joining the platform, shunned them and came on board. Users realize there are not many natural avenues of meeting new people left as you are not going out. Work, schools, colleges, everything is now remote. They need a safe place to meet new people and we provided that.

We’re seeing that, even today, when things have opened up, people prefer to have first dates on Zoom. Ours is not an app for hook-ups or one-night stands where you have to meet a stranger tonight. Those were the apps that were negatively impacted. Our users anyway meet offline for the first time after some chemistry has been established after talking over the digital medium. Now, that has become a default behaviour.

Do you think people will go back to the way they were or continue to take the dating game slow?

I think people have realized that it (a dating app) is one of the best ways to meet new people. Ultimately, women are the drivers of offline meetings. Pre-pandemic, a woman would like 10% of the profiles that she would see and chat with five of them. For every 32 men that she would talk to, she would meet one offline. Now, (since there are fewer meetings offline), they are going out on first (virtual) dates with three men instead of one out of 32. Then, if things click and they feel comfortable, they meet offline. So everything is the same except for one additional step in between.

What is your brand positioning in a market that has so many services?

Most dating apps either offer casual (relationships) or one-night stands or hook-up services. We target singles who are 26 and above and our proposition is for them to start their love story. Even when you open the app, you will see pictures of couples who (met on the app) and got married, then we ask you what you’re looking for and match you. Only those people who are actually looking for something serious get matches. We block anybody who we believe is not a serious seeker.

How receptive are small towns to this whole culture?

We’ve seen immense uptick from small towns and not just during the pandemic. It started towards the end of 2018. People from tier-II and tier-III towns are not just coming to the platform but are also paying for it. In fact, in the next two years, our revenue from tier-II plus tier-III towns will surpass revenue from tier-I. Two years ago, 73-78% of our revenue used to come from big cities, which has dropped to 55% today. All segments have grown, but tier-II and tier-III are growing much faster than tier-I.

Where do you advertise?

We are a digitally native brand so we’re not looking at offline advertising or print as of today. We do a lot of brand films, influencer activities, Facebook and Google ads.

Do you see competition from international brands Bumble or Tinder or anticipate consolidation in the dating app business?

International players are not building an app for real India. They are just pushing the same product that they have built for the world, especially, for the West. It is working for tier-I, but it will never work for tier-II and tier-III towns, especially the women there for whom we are building (our service). These women are not looking for hook-ups and casual sex. That is the kind of product we are building so you can start your love story.

As far as consolidation goes, we have been approached by a lot of players in the past few months for either a majority buyout or outright acquisition. Some competitors have actually taken up these deals but we believe we are just getting started. This is going to be an amazing decade for India in terms of love tech.

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