All posts in “Tinder”

Former Tinder exec sues over sexual assault, wrongful termination

Rosette Pambakian won’t back down. 

The former Tinder executive filed a sexual assault and workplace retaliation lawsuit against the dating app’s parent companies on Monday. The filing comes roughly a year after the alleged groping was described in a separate lawsuit that claimed Match Group and IAC Interactive cheated Tinder founders, including Pambakian, out of billions of dollars.

While Pambakian’s assault was used as an example of mismanagement in the previous lawsuit, this time it’s front and center. Pambakian, who was head of Tinder’s communications at the time, says in court documents that former Tinder and Match CEO Gregory Blatt groped her breasts and thighs and kissed her shoulders, neck, and chest without consent after a 2016 holiday party. Earlier in the evening, he allegedly told her, “I get hard every time I look at you.” 

“This is directly related to her sexual assault and holding the companies responsible for the coverup and retaliatory wrongful termination of Ms. Pambakian,” said Paige Alderson, an associate at the law firm handling her case, Grant & Eisenhower. Pambakian, and others who sued Match over its financial valuation, was fired in December. Pambakian claims she was terminated because she spoke up about her assault. 

Blatt is also being sued — not just the companies.

Rosette Pambakian

Rosette Pambakian

Image: Grant & Eisenhower

But there’s a wrinkle to this new lawsuit: Pambakian had to leave the earlier financial one, which is still working its way through the court system, because of an arbitration clause in her Tinder contract. That clause forces her to deal with legal complaints against Tinder in secret outside the court system. Her legal team is leaving the arbitration issue up to the judge to decide.

Arbitration has become an important battleground during the MeToo movement, as it limits sexual assault victims from sharing their stories. Last year, Google, Facebook, and Slack all ended the practice for sexual misconduct complaints. After an employee walkout, Google went a step further and dropped the requirement for all disputes. 

In a statement to Mashable, Match denied the allegations. 

The Match Group Board takes allegations of workplace misconduct extremely seriously.  We investigate reports of misconduct, including sexual harassment, promptly and thoroughly, and take appropriate action, including swift termination of those responsible for such behavior.

As it relates to the matter alleged in the lawsuit, an incident occurred in late 2016 and was reported at the end of April 2017. The Match Group Board – with the assistance of experienced outside counsel from two nationally recognized law firms – promptly conducted a careful and thorough investigation under the direction of independent Board members, concluded, among other things, that there was no violation of law or company policy, and took appropriate action.

After Pambakian’s assault came to light publicly, Match and IAC described the incident as “consensual cuddling.” Pambakian says her assault never got a proper investigation and was basically swept under the rug. She claims Tinder’s human resources and legal team attempted to “cover-up and conceal the misconduct.”

Mashable has also reached out to IAC for comment, but could not find contact information for Blatt, who left the company in 2017.

Pambakian’s suit alleges she was “marginalized, subject to additional harassing, offensive, and insulting behavior, put on administrative leave, publicly accused of consenting to her attacker’s advances, and finally, wrongfully terminated.”

In her lawsuit, Pambakian doesn’t outline a specified dollar amount for damages.

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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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App revenue tops $39 billion in first half of 2019, up 15% from first half of last year

App store spending is continuing to grow, although not as quickly as in years past. According to a new report from Sensor Tower, the iOS App Store and Google Play combined brought in $39.7 billion in worldwide app revenue in the first half of 2019 — that’s up 15.4% over the $34.4 billion seen during the first half of last year. However, at that time, the $34.4 billion was a 27.8% increase from 2017’s numbers, then a combined $26.9 billion across both stores.

Apple’s App Store continues to massively outpace Google Play on consumer spending, the report also found.

In the first half of 2019, global consumers spent $25.5 billion on the iOS App Store, up 13.2% year-over-year from the $22.6 billion spent in the first half of 2018. Last year, the growth in consumer spending was 26.8%, for comparison’s sake.

Still, Apple’s estimated $25.5 billion in the first half of 2019 is 80% higher than Google Play’s estimated gross revenue of $14.2 billion — the latter, a 19.6% increase from the first half of 2018.

The major factor in the slowing growth is iOS in China, which contributed to the slowdown in total growth. However, Sensor Tower expects to see China returning to positive growth over the next 12 months, we’re told.

To a smaller extent, the downturn could be attributed to changes with one of the top-earning apps across both app stores: Netflix.

Last year, Netflix dropped in-app subscription sign-ups for Android users. Then, at the end of December 2018, it did so for iOS users, too. That doesn’t immediately drop its revenue to zero, of course — it will continue to generate revenue from existing subscribers. But the number will decline, especially as Netflix expands globally without an in-app purchase option, and as lapsed subscribers return to renew online with Netflix directly.

In the first half of 2019, Netflix was the second highest-earning non-game app with consumer spending of $339 million, Sensor Tower estimates. (We should point out the firm bases its estimates on a 70/30 split between Netflix and Apple’s App Store that drops to 85/15 after the first year. To account for the mix of old and new subscribers, Sensor Tower factors in a 25% cut. But Daring Fireball’s John Gruber claims Netflix had a special relationship with Apple where it had an 85/15 cut from year one.)

In any event, Netflix’s contribution to the app stores’ revenue is on the decline.

In the first half of last year, Netflix had been the No. 1 non-game app for revenue. This year, that spot went to Tinder, which pulled in an estimated $497 million across the iOS App Store and Google Play, combined. That’s up 32% over the first half of 2018.

1h 2019 app revenue worldwide

But Tinder’s dominance could be a trend that doesn’t last.

According to recent data from eMarketer, dating app audiences have been growing slower than expected, causing the analyst firm to revise its user estimates downward. It now expects that 25.1 million U.S. adults will use a dating app monthly this year, down from its previous forecast of 25.4 million. It also expects that only 21% of U.S. single adults will use a dating app at all in 2019, and that will only grow to 23% by 2023.

That means Tinder’s time at the top could be overrun by newcomers in later months, especially as new streaming services get off the ground (assuming they offer in-app subscriptions); if TikTok starts taking monetization seriously; or if any other large apps from China find global audiences outside of China’s third-party app stores.

For example, Tencent Video grossed $278 million globally in the first half of 2019, outside of the third-party Chinese Android app stores. That made it the third-largest non-game app by revenue. And Chinese video platform iQIYI and YouTube were the No. 4 and No. 5 top-grossing apps, respectively.

Meanwhile, iOS app installs actually declined in the first half of the year, following the first quarter that saw a decline in downloads, Q1 2019, attributed to the downturn in China.

The App Store in the first half of 2019 accounted for 14.8 billion of the total 56.7 billion app installs.

Google Play installs in the first half of the year grew 16.4% to 41.9 billion, or about 2.8 times greater than the iOS volume.

1h 2019 app downloads worldwide

The most downloaded apps in the first half of 2019 were the same as before: WhatsApp, Messenger, and Facebook led the top charts. But TikTok inched ahead of Instagram for the No. 4 spot, and it saw its installs grow around 28% to nearly 344 million worldwide.

In terms of mobile gaming specifically, spending was up 11.3% year-over-year in the first half of 2019, reaching $29.6 billion across the iOS App Store and Google Play. Thanks to the fallout of the game licensing freeze in China, App Store revenue growth for games was at $17.6 billion, or 7.8% year-over-year growth. Google Play game spending grew by 16.8% to $12 billion.

The top-grossing games, in order, were Tencent’s Honor of Kings, Fate/Grand Order, Monster Strike, Candy Crush Saga, and PUBG Mobile.

1h 2019 game revenue worldwide

Meanwhile, the most downloaded games were Color Bump 3D, Garena Free Fire, and PUBG Mobile.

Image credits: Sensor Tower

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.