Love in the time of casual? India’s big dating app data points

With app-based dating’s quick growth, matrimonial brands—which still hold top shelf in India, with 3x more matrimony brand searches than dating brand searches—don’t appear to be growing as fast. According to Google’s 2019 report, online dating search is growing at 43% against matrimony in India, which is growing at 13%.

Make no mistake. Marriages in India are still sacred. If anything, dating apps are starting to inch away from their casual dating or hookup association to brand themselves as platforms for finding “true love”. Gurugram-based TrulyMadly, which identifies itself as a ‘dating and matchmaking’ platform, is now focussing on a whole new business with ‘love marriages’. TrulyMadly is one of India’s few VC-funded online dating apps.

As things stand, each app is finding its niche between Tinder on one end of the spectrum and Jeevansathi and Matrimony.com—which owns BharatMatrimony.com and other marriage websites—on the other. For most of them though, to have the edge over the next app, they need to attract more women to their platform.

And that’s no cakewalk.

The sex-ratio problem

Bumble, therefore, has consciously positioned itself as a female-focussed app. Priti Joshi, Vice President of Strategy at Bumble, Joshi, claims that the app has achieved the best sex ratio among dating apps in India with about 30% of women using the platform. The average is 10-15%, most recently according to a survey done by the dating app Woo.

Most dating apps, says Joshi, are polarised. They either cater to casual dating or straight up marriage. “What we realised was that there is this big space in the middle” for women looking for potentially serious relationships or finding personal and professional social connections, she adds.

The other dating app to boast a 30% female population is the Bengaluru-based Aisle, according to its founder and CEO Able Joseph. Joseph adds that Aisle has been able to maintain this ratio by filtering its users, keeping only those with the right intent on board. For instance, the app checks on users via their Facebook profiles—Aisle can check if the person on the app is married by going through their profile details as well as photographs.

Balancing the sex ratio keeping revenue in mind is not easy, says Snehil Khanor, co-founder and CEO of TrulyMadly. The first step to ensure that women stay on the app is to detect and remove accounts that are either fakes or spam. “Married men creating fake profiles is a common occurrence and so are accounts for escort services,” he says. TrulyMadly requires users to verify their accounts using ID proof and photos and gives them a trust score. Around 25% of male accounts and 7% of female accounts get removed.

One significant point of differentiation for these apps from, say, a Tinder or a Happn then is strong filters. For the casual dating apps have no filters, and Tinder, for one, has only a 10% female population.

“We check the photographs to see that you are not using fake photographs,” says Khanor, adding, “You will never encounter a dog or cat or good morning profile picture.”

Bumble

Despite the relatively high population of women (and a growth trajectory to the fourth position when compared to other apps), Bumble is still pretty small in terms of revenue, as compared to Tinder. And 30% is no ideal percentage either.

“This is what keeps me up at night,” says Joshi. “How do we take our message to more women in India and how do we make them feel even more confident and comfortable on the platform? I will be the first to admit that [the sex ratio is] not where we want to be, but I also know that it is better than where most players are,” she adds.

Meanwhile, Aisle, which earned Rs 3.5 crore ($0.49 million) in the year ending March 2019, makes a significant chunk of its revenue from women. 25%, claims Joseph.

That’s bang opposite TrulyMadly’s reality.