All posts in “dating apps”

‘This is Your Life in Silicon Valley’: The League founder and CEO Amanda Bradford on modern dating, and whether Bumble is a ‘real’ startup

Welcome to this week’s transcribed edition of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley. We’re running an experiment for Extra Crunch members that puts This is Your Life in Silicon Valley in words – so you can read from wherever you are.

This is your Life in Silicon Valley was originally started by Sunil Rajaraman and Jascha Kaykas-Wolff in 2018. Rajaraman is a serial entrepreneur and writer (Co-Founded Scripted.com, and is currently an EIR at Foundation Capital), Kaykas-Wolff is the current CMO at Mozilla and ran marketing at BitTorrent.

Rajaraman and Kaykas-Wolff started the podcast after a series of blog posts that Sunil wrote for The Bold Italic went viral. The goal of the podcast is to cover issues at the intersection of technology and culture – sharing a different perspective of life in the Bay Area. Their guests include entrepreneurs like Sam Lessin, journalists like Kara Swisher and Mike Isaac, politicians like Mayor Libby Schaaf and local business owners like David White of Flour + Water.

This week’s edition of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley features Amanda Bradford – Founder/CEO of The League. Amanda talks about modern dating, its limitations, its flaws, why ‘The League’ will win. Amanda provides her candid perspective on other dating startups in a can’t-miss portion of the podcast.

Amanda talks about her days at Salesforce and how it influenced her decision to build a dating tech product that focused on data, and funnels. Amanda walks through her own process of finding her current boyfriend on ‘The League’ and how it came down to meeting more people. And that the flaw with most online dating is that people do not meet enough people due to filter bubbles, and lack of open criteria.

Amanda goes in on all of the popular dating sites, including Bumble and others, providing her take on what’s wrong with them. She even dishes on Raya and Tinder – sharing what she believes are how they should be perceived by prospective daters. The fast-response portion of this podcast where we ask Amanda about the various dating sites really raised some eyebrows and got some attention.

We ask Amanda about the incentives of online dating sites, and how in a way they are created to keep members online as long as possible. Amanda provides her perspective on how she addresses this inherent conflict at The League, and how many marriages have been shared among League members to date.

We ask Amanda about AR/VR dating and what the future will look like. Will people actually meet in person in the future? Will it be more like online worlds where we wear headsets and don’t actually interact face to face anymore? The answers may surprise you. We learn how this influences The League’s product roadmap.

The podcast eventually goes into dating stories from audience members – including some pretty wild online dating stories from people who are not as they seem. We picked two audience members at random to talk about their entertaining online dating stories and where they led. The second story really raised eyebrows and got into the notion that people go at great lengths to hide their real identities.

Ultimately, we get at the heart of what online dating is, and what the future holds for it.   If you care about the future of relationships, online dating, data, and what it all means this episode is for you.

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Sunil Rajaraman: I just want to check, are we recording? Because that’s the most important question. We’re recording, so this is actually a podcast and not just three people talking randomly into microphones.

I’m Sunil Rajaraman, I’m co-host of this podcast, This is Your Life in Silicon Valley, and Jascha Kaykas-Wolff is my co-host, we’ve been doing this for about a year now, we’ve done 30 shows, and we’re pleased today to welcome a very special guest, Jascha.

Jascha Kaykas-Wolff: Amanda.

Amanda Bradford: Hello everyone.

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Amanda Bradford. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

Kaykas-Wolff: We’re just going to stare at you and make it uncomfortable.

Bradford: Like Madonna.

Kaykas-Wolff: Yeah, so the kind of backstory and what’s important for everybody that’s in the audience to know is that this podcast is not a pitch for a product, it’s not about a company, it’s about the Bay Area. And the Bay Area is kind of special, but it’s also a little bit fucked up. I think we all kind of understand that, being here.

So what we want to do in the podcast is talk to people who have a very special, unique relationship with the Bay Area, no matter creators that are company builders, that are awesome entrepreneurs, that are just really cool and interesting people, and today we are really, really lucky to have an absolutely amazing entrepreneur, and also pretty heavy hitter in the technology scene. In a very specific and very special category of technology that Sunil really, really likes. The world of dating.

Rajaraman: Yeah, so it’s funny, the backstory to this is, Jascha have both been married, what, long time-

Kaykas-Wolff: Long time.

Rajaraman: And we have this weird fascination with online dating because we see a lot of people going through it, and it’s a baffling world, and so I want to demystify it a bit with Amanda Bradford today, the founder CEO of The League.

Bradford: You guys are like all of the married people looking at the single people in the petri dishes.

Rajaraman: So, I’ve done the thing where we went through it with the single friends who have the app, swiping through on their behalf, so it’s sort of like a weird thing.

Bradford: I know, we’re like a different species, aren’t we?

Muzmatch adds $7M to swipe right on Muslim majority markets

Muzmatch, a matchmaking app for Muslims, has just swiped a $7 million Series A on the back of continued momentum for its community sensitive approach to soulmate searching for people of the Islamic faith.

It now has more than 1.5M users of its apps, across 210 countries, swiping, matching and chatting online as they try to find ‘the one’.

The funding, which Muzmatch says will help fuel growth in key international markets, is jointly led by US hedge fund Luxor Capital, and Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator — the latter having previously selected Muzmatch for its summer 2017 batch of startups. 

Last year the team also took in a $1.75M seed, led by Fabrice Grinda’s FJ Labs, YC and others.

We first covered the startup two years ago when its founders were just graduating from YC. At that time there were two of them building the business: Shahzad Younas and Ryan Brodie — a perhaps unlikely pairing in this context, given Brodie’s lack of a Muslim background. He joined after meeting Younas, who had earlier quit his job as an investment banker to launch Muzmatch. Brodie got excited by the idea and early traction for the MVP. The pair went on to ship a relaunch of the app in mid 2016 which helped snag them a place at YC.

So why did Younas and Brodie unmatch? All the remaining founder can say publicly is that its investors are buying Brodie’s stake. (While, in a note on LinkedIn — celebrating what he dubs the “bittersweet” news of Muzmatch’s Series A — Brodie writes: “Separate to this raise I decided to sell my stake in the company. This is not from a lack of faith — on the contrary — it’s simply the right time for me to move on to startup number 4 now with the capital to take big risks.”)

Asked what’s harder, finding a steady co-founder or finding a life partner, Younas responds with a laugh. “With myself and Ryan, full credit, when we first joined together we did commit to each other, I guess, a period of time of really going for it,” he ventures, reaching for the phrase “conscious uncoupling” to sum up how things went down. “We both literally put blood sweat and tears into the app, into growing what it is. And for sure without him we wouldn’t be as far as we are now, that’s definitely true.”

“For me it’s a fantastic outcome for him. I’m genuinely super happy for him. For someone of his age and at that time of his life — now he’s got the ability to start another startup and back himself, which is amazing. Not many people have that opportunity,” he adds.

Younas says he isn’t looking for another co-founder at this stage of the business. Though he notes they have just hired a CTO — “purely because there’s so much to do that I want to make sure I’ve got a few people in certain areas”.

The team has grown from just four people seven months ago to 17 now. With the Series A the plan is to further expand headcount to almost 30.

“In terms of a co-founder, I don’t think, necessarily, at this point it’s needed,” Younas tells TechCrunch. “I obviously understand this community a lot. I’ve equally grown in terms of my role in the company and understanding various parts of the company. You get this experience by doing — so now I think definitely it helps having the simplicity of a single founder and really guiding it along.”

Despite the co-founders parting ways that’s no doubting Muzmatch’s momentum. Aside from solid growth of its user base (it was reporting ~200k two years ago), its press release touts 30,000+ “successes” worldwide — which Younas says translates to people who have left the app and told it they did so because they met someone on Muzmatch.

He reckons at least half of those left in order to get married — and for a matchmaking app that is the ultimate measure of success.

“Everywhere I go I’m meeting people who have met on Muzmatch. It has been really transformative for the Muslim community where we’ve taken off — and it is amazing to see, genuinely,” he says, suggesting the real success metric is “much higher because so many people don’t tell us”.

Nor is he worried about being too successful, despite 100 people a day leaving because they met someone on the app. “For us that’s literally the best thing that can happen because we’ve grown mostly by word of mouth — people telling their friends I met someone on your app. Muslim weddings are quite big, a lot of people attend and word does spread,” he says.

Muzmatch was already profitable two years ago (and still is, for “some” months, though that’s not been a focus), which has given it leverage to focus on growing at a pace it’s comfortable with as a young startup. But the plan with the Series A cash is to accelerate growth by focusing attention internationally on Muslim majority markets vs an early focus on markets including the UK and the US with Muslim minority populations.

This suggests potential pitfalls lie ahead for the team to manage growth in a sustainable way — ensuring scaling usage doesn’t outstrip their ability to maintain the ‘safe space’ feel the target users need, while at the same time catering to the needs of an increasingly diverse community of Muslim singles.

“We’re going to be focusing on Muslim majority countries where we feel that they would be more receptive to technology. There’s slightly less of a taboo around finding someone online. There’s culture changes already happening, etc.,” he says, declining to name the specific markets they’ll be fixing on. “That’s definitely what we’re looking for initially. That will obviously allow us to scale in a big way going forward.

“We’ve always done [marketing] in a very data-driven way,” he adds, discussing his approach to growth. “Up til now I’ve led on that. Pretty much everything in this company I’ve self taught. So I learnt, essentially, how to build a growth engine, how to scale an optimize campaigns, digital spend, and these big guys have seen our data and they’re impressed with the progress we’ve made, and the customer acquisition costs that we’ve achieved — considering we really are targeting quite a niche market… Up til now we closed our Series A with more than half our seed round in our accounts.”

Muzmatch has also laid the groundwork for the planned international push, having already fully localized the app — which is live in 14 languages, including right to left languages like Arabic.

“We’re localized and we get a lot of organic users everywhere but obviously once you focus on a particular area — in terms of content, in terms of your brand etc — then it really does start to take off,” adds Younas.

The team’s careful catering to the needs of its target community — via things like manual moderation of every profile and offering an optional chaperoning feature for in-app chats — i.e. rather than just ripping out a ‘Tinder for Muslims’ clone, can surely take some credit for helping to grow the market for Muslim matchmaking apps overall.

“Shahzad has clearly made something that people want. He is a resourceful founder who has been listening to his users and in the process has developed an invaluable service for the Muslim community, in a way that mainstream companies have failed to do,” says YC partner Tim Brady in a supporting statement. 

But the flip side of attracting attention and spotlighting a commercial opportunity means Muzmatch now faces increased competition — such as from the likes of Dubai-based Veil: A rival matchmaking app which has recently turned heads with a ‘digital veil’ feature that applies an opaque filter to all profile photos, male and female, until a mutual match is made.

Muzmatch also lets users hide their photos, if they choose. But it has resisted imposing a one-size-fits-all template on the user experience — exactly in order that it can appeal more broadly, regardless of the user’s level of religious adherence (it has even attracted non-Muslim users with a genuine interest in meeting a match).

Younas says he’s not worried about fresh faces entering the same matchmaking app space — couching it as a validation of the market.

He’s also dismissive of gimmicky startups that can often pass through the dating space, usually on a fast burn to nowhere. Though he is expecting more competition from major players, such as Tinder-owner Match, which he notes has been eyeing up some of the same geographical markets.

“We know there’s going to be attention in this area,” he says. “Our goal is to basically continue to be the dominant player but for us to race ahead in terms of the quality of our product offering and obviously our size. That’s the goal. Having this investment definitely gives us that ammo to really go for it. But by the same token I’d never want us to be that silly startup that just burns a tonne of money and ends up nowhere.”

“It’s a very complex population, it’s very diverse in terms of culture, in terms of tradition,” he adds of the target market. “We so far have successfully been able to navigate that — of creating a product that does, to the user, marries technology with respecting the faith.”

Feature development is now front of mind for Muzmatch as it moves into the next phase of growth, and as — Younas hopes — it has more time to focus on finessing what its product offers, having bagged investment by proving product market fit and showing traction.

“The first thing that we’re going to be doing is an actual refreshing of our brand,” he says. “A bit of a rebrand, keeping the same name, a bit of a refresh of our brand, tidying that up. Actually refreshing the app, top to bottom. Part of that is looking at changes that have happened in the — call it — ‘dating space’. Because what we’ve always tried to do is look at the good that’s happening, get rid of the bad stuff, and try and package it and make it applicable to a Muslim audience.

“I think that’s what we’ve done really well. And I always wanted to innovate on that — so we’ve got a bunch of ideas around a complete refresh of the app.”

Video is one area they’re experimenting with for future features. TechCrunch’s interview with Younas takes place via a video chat using what looks to be its own videoconferencing platform, though there’s not currently a feature in Muzmatch that lets users chat remotely via video.

Its challenge is implementing richer comms features in a way that a diverse community of religious users will accept.

“I want to — and we have this firmly on our roadmap, and I hope that it’s within six months — be introducing or bringing ways to connect people on our platform that they’ve never been able to do before. That’s going to be key. Elements of video is going to be really interesting,” says Younas teasing their thinking around video.

“The key for us is how do we do [videochat] in a way that is sensible and equally gives both sides control. That’s the key.”

Nor will it just be “simple video”. They’re looking at how they can use profile data more creatively, especially for helping more private users connect around shared personality traits.

“There’s a lot of things we want to do within the app of really showing the richness of our profiles. One thing that we have that other apps don’t have are profiles that are really rich. So we have about 22 different data points on the profile. There’s a lot that people do and want to share. So the goal for us is how do we really try and show that off?” he says.

“We have a segment of profiles where the photos are private, right, people want that anonymity… so the goal for us is then saying how can we really show your personality, what you’re about in a really good way. And right now I would argue we don’t quite do it well enough. We’ve got a tonne of ideas and part of the rebrand and the refresh will be really emphasizing and helping that segment of society who do want to be private but equally want people to understand what they’re about.”

Where does he want the business to be in 12 months’ time? With a more polished product and “a lot of key features in the way of connecting the community around marriage or just community in general”.

In terms of growth the aim is at least 4x where they are now.

“These are ambitious targets. Especially given the amount that we want to re-engineer and rebuild but now is the time,” he says. “Now we have the fortune of having a big team, of having the investment. And really focusing and finessing our product… Really give it a lot of love and really give it a lot of the things we’ve always wanted to do and never quite had the time to do. That’s the key.

“I’m personally super excited about some of the stuff coming up because it’s a big enabler — growing the team and having the ability to really execute on this a lot faster.”

Smaller, faster Tinder Lite app coming to Vietnam soon

If the Tinder app takes up too much space on your phone or uses too much data for you, you’re in luck. You just need to make sure you also live in southeast Asia.

The popular dating app will get a stripped-down version called Tinder Lite sometime in the next several weeks via Google Play. It’ll come to Vietnam first and roll out to similar markets later, CEO Elie Seidman said at a press conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday, per the Jakarta Post.

Tinder Lite, as its name suggests, is a smaller version of Tinder. It’s losing features like the Feed to give users the basic Tinder experience in markets without widely available, fast mobile internet, according to The Verge. It’ll take up less space on phones and use much less data.

Facebook Lite is another stripped-down app, similar to Tinder Lite.

Facebook Lite is another stripped-down app, similar to Tinder Lite.

Image: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Other companies like Facebook and Google have already released “lite” versions of some of their apps in emerging markets. Google Go, Facebook Lite, Twitter Lite, and others offer bite-sized versions of the same apps for people who would benefit from such a thing. 

Facebook even made its Lite app available in the United States last year. One could argue that Tinder has become bloated with unnecessary features in recent years; maybe a lite version will do the app (and the people who use it) some good.

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Spark Networks SE closes its $258M acquisition of dating brand Zoosk

Berlin-based Spark Networks, the owner of niche dating app brands like Christian Mingle, Jdate, LDSsingles, Silver Singles, Jswipe, and others, today announced it has acquired Match.com competitor Zoosk for a combination of cash and stock. The deal values Zoosk at approximately $258 million.

Spark says it will issue 12,980,000 American Depositary Shares (ADS) to former Zoosk shareholders valued at $153 million based on the closing price of Spark ADSs of $11.78 on June 28, 2019. The deal also provides for cash consideration of $105 million, subject to adjustment, which will be funded by a new $125 million senior secured credit facility, the company says in a release.

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Jeronimo Folgueira (right), CEO of Spark Networks, confirms the acquisition with Steven McArthur (left), outgoing CEO of Zoosk, Inc.

Plans for the deal were previously announced.

Following the closing of the merger, Spark has 2,601,037 ordinary shares issued and outstanding underlying 26,010,365 ADSs, with former Zoosk shareholders collectively owning 49.9% of the combined company.

The Zoosk app, available in over 80 countries, is a free download but charges users who want to send messages and chat with other subscribers, similar to Match.

Zoosk has for a long time struggled to compete against Match Group and its top-ranking dating apps in the U.S., led by Tinder. A few years ago, the company laid off a third of its staff and even had to call off its IPO, as Tinder decimated its business.

Today, it lists itself in the App Store’s “Social Networking” category instead of “Lifestyle,” where Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, and others rank, in an effort to gain more visibility.

According to data from Sensor Tower, Zoosk has generated worldwide in-app revenue of $250 million and has seen 38 million downloads since January 2014. Half of those downloads (19M) are from the U.S., which also accounts for $165 million (66%) of the revenue.

In Q1 2019, Zoosk revenue was flat at $13 million, the firm also says. Tinder revenue, by comparison, grew 43%. And in Match Group’s latest earnings, it said its total quarterly revenue grew 14% year-over-year to $465 million.

Similarly, Spark Networks has also fought to gain footing as Match Group became an ever-larger force in the online dating market over the years. However, in the last year, the company saw its revenue grow 22%. But it still operates at a loss.

As a result of the deal, Spark says its global monthly paying subscribers will increase to over 1 million. It also says it expects to achieve over $50 million of Adjusted EBITDA in 2020.

“Today’s closing represents a remarkable milestone in Spark’s continued evolution. Four years ago, we were a small German startup with no presence in North America. Our efforts over the last few years have created an NYSE-listed business with over $300 million in total revenue that is also the second largest player in North America. We are extremely proud of the company we have built, and are also excited by the future potential of our new portfolio,” said Jeronimo Folgueira, CEO of Spark, in a statement.

Zoosk’s current CEO Steven McArthur is departing Zoosk following the deal, but will join Spark’s Board of Directors.

“I have been very impressed by Jeronimo and his team during this process and I am very confident in their ability to execute the integration plan we prepared together, and make the new combined company even more successful, driving substantial value creation for all shareholders over the next 12 to 18 months,” said McArthur.

Spark Networks SE was formed by the merger of Affinitas GmbH and Spark Networks Inc. in 2017. It’s listed on the NYSE under “LOV,” and is headquartered in Berlin, with offices in New York, Utah, and San Francisco.

Its full list of dating app brands tends to be more faith-focused or targets particular niches. These apps include EliteSingles, Jdate, Christian Mingle, eDarling, JSwipe, SilverSingles, Attractive World, eDarling, LDSsingles, Adventist Singles, Crosspaths, and Weekly Dating Insider, in addition to now Zoosk.

In terms of other exec changes, Spark CFO Rob O’Hare is relocating to Zoosk’s HQ in San Francisco to smooth the transition. Herbert Sablotny, Spark’s former Chief Strategy Officer, will also rejoin the company to assist in the Zoosk integration efforts, having previously done the same with the integrations of Attractive World and Spark Networks, Inc. Other key members of the Zoosk team are staying on as well, for the time being.

Piper Jaffray & Co. acted as the financial advisor to Zoosk on the proposed transaction and Fenwick & West LLP served as legal counsel to Zoosk. Piper Jaffray & Co. also arranged for staple financing for Zoosk. And Morrison & Foerster LLP served as legal counsel to Spark.

Tinder adds sexual orientation and gender identity to its profiles

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Tinder is adding to its profiles information about sexual orientation and gender identity.

The company worked with the LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD on changes to its dating app to make it more inclusive.

Users who want to edit or add more information about their sexual orientation can now simply edit their profile. When a Tinder user taps on the “orientation” selection they can choose up to three terms that describe their sexual orientation. Those descriptions can either be private or public, but will likely be used to inform matches on the app.

Tinder also updated the onboarding experience for new users so they can include their sexual orientation as soon as they sign up for the dating app.

Tinder is also giving users more control over how they order matches. In the “Discovery Preferences” field Tinderers can choose to first see people of the same orientation.

The company said this is a first step in its efforts to be more inclusive. The company will continue to work with GLAAD to refine its products and is making the new features available in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Ireland, India, Australia and New Zealand throughout June.