Asian dating app start-ups think they’ve cracked the code to disrupt Tinder and Bumble

Asian dating app start-ups think they’ve cracked the code to disrupt Tinder and Bumble

Asian dating app start-ups think they’ve cracked the code to disrupt Tinder and Bumble

When Singaporean entrepreneur Douglas Gan launched his dating-focused mobile platform YouApp in 2023, there was little to differentiate it from established players like Tinder and Bumble – then a major revamp changed everything.

In January, Gan added a number of personality tests targeting specific demographics and cultures, helping YouApp to stand out by solving a problem that most dating apps still struggle with: the fact that men greatly outnumber women.

The update included an artificial intelligence-based tests that draw traditional Western and Eastern practices to generate horoscopes, Myers–Briggs Type Indicator results and BaZi, an ancient Chinese fortunetelling approach linked to the time and location of one’s birth, among other things. When there is a match between two profiles, which must be verified using official identification, YouApp generates a compatibility score based on those results.

Dating apps with Chinese characteristics draw Gen Z and millennials

The approach has proven particularly popular among female users. Of YouApp’s roughly 20,000 monthly active users, 62 per cent are women, Gan told the South China Morning Post in a recent interview. Its largest markets are Singapore and Malaysia, followed by the US, Greater China – which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan – Mexico and Spain.

“We are lucky because most of the apps have more men, but we have more women,” said Gan. He said YouApp’s new approach gives women information that they often make an effort to find themselves.

When chatting with a potential partner, a woman may “ask for his birthday, then she will go check the horoscope and Zodiac”, Gan said. “We automate the compatibility part and break down the difficulty. Because of that, we got a lot of ladies who joined the app, and they really liked it.”

A report by the Pew Research Centre last year, based on a 2022 survey, found that 54 per cent of women in the US felt overwhelmed by messages on dating apps, while 64 per cent of men expressed the opposite.

Roxanne Wong, co-founder of another new dating app called DayOne, said that some women avoid using dating apps because they are “afraid of getting hurt emotionally”. This is in line with the Pew survey, which found that “women are more likely than men to say online dating is not too [safe] or not at all safe”.

Although DayOne, launched in May 2023, has not been able to resolve the gender imbalance yet – women account for just a third of its users – its focus is on addressing another pain point for internet daters: actually meeting in real life.

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Young Chinese singles turn to AI-generated partners

Young Chinese singles turn to AI-generated partners

While traditional dating platforms focus on facilitating matches then leave the rest of the process to the users, DayOne does not allow users to chat with each other before confirming a date in the real world. The app asks individuals about their preferred dating activities and suggests venues. Wong said that the team plans to launch special lunch sets and drink menus in collaboration with restaurants and bars.

Wong came up with the “meet more, text less” strategy after five years of online dating left her with just one date for every 100 matches.

“I’m not good at texting,” she said, adding that DayOne helps to “reduce possible frictions caused by virtual conversations”.

Based on DayOne’s relatively small pool of 1,400 registrants, one in 10 matches result in a date. The app, given its location-oriented features, is currently only available in Hong Kong, but it is preparing to launch in Macau within the next couple of months, according to Wong.

The rise of innovative apps like YouApp and DayOne are examples of how start-ups are trying to disrupt existing online dating culture while the industry giants that created it are struggling. Match Group, the owner of Tinder and Match.com, and Bumble have together lost more than US$40 billion in market capitalisation since 2021. Both have announced lay-offs in the past year.

Meanwhile, as a recent report in The New York Times pointed out, the typical users of entrenched dating apps are Millennials – most of whom are past their prime dating age. There are fewer Gen Z users to attract to these platforms, and these younger users have less disposable income.

Tinder owner Match Group and Bumble have seen their market capitalisations plummet in recent years. Photo: AFP

Beyond just dating, YouApp helps people find matches for business, friendship, and attending events. It also provides advice on lucky items and numbers of the day. Gan is planning more additions like personality matching based on blood type and divination tools like I Ching Coin Toss and Tarot Reading. Consultation with masters in these fields could be another potential source of revenue, he said.

For now, YouApp’s only source of revenue is subscriptions, which offer greater profile visibility, remove messaging restrictions and offer access to more content. Gan, who is seeking venture capital, estimated that the company would break even at 5,000 subscribers. So far, it has amassed “a few hundred” paid users since the premium service was launched a month ago, according to Gan.

DayOne is planning a paid subscription of its own, but it also intends to integrate other sources of revenue such as charging venues for referrals. Wong projected that her start-up can break even with 50,000 registered users.

Wong sees DayOne’s commercial interests as better aligned with those of its users than on traditional dating apps, because the more real-world dates it facilitates, the more referrals it drives to venues. “We’re not just about keeping users online,” Wong said.

The important thing for these new-generation dating apps is to look beyond the algorithm to offer a more human touch. Gan said YouApp users should not try to force high compatibility scores. Only 0.15 per cent of all matches have scores of at least 90 per cent, he said. More than two-fifths of its users land somewhere in the 60 to 69 per cent range.

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