The land grab for London’s dating app throne

Monday 25th May, 2015

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Earlier this year Tinder reported to have 40 million users worldwide . But with industry insiders already predicting its death, three London-based dating apps are learning from Tinder's mistakes.

In April, Tinder, a location-based dating app where users flick through photos of the opposite sex to choose a partner (swipe right for yes and left for no), reported that it had 40m users worldwide. That’s slightly more people hooking up using the free mobile app than the entire population of Canada.

Since its inception in 2012, Tinder has become the goliath of the online dating world, an industry which is now valued at $2bn. It’s not an understatement to say that the incredibly popular app has revolutionised online dating, not only in terms of users and revenue, but by removing much of the social stigma that’s surrounded online dating since match.com first popped up in 1995. A study done by Pew Research Center in 2013 found that 59 per cent of people surveyed thought “online dating was a good way to meet people”, compared with 44 per cent in 2005.

But if Tinder is so fantastic, why are people likening its future to that of Myspace? It’s a comparison so ominous that its very mention is followed by an audible hiss from investors everywhere.

Three new dating apps are on the scene to compete with Tinder

The answer is simple. Much like Myspace was at the forefront of the social media explosion, Tinder is pioneering the new and lucrative mobile dating app industry. And as the crash test dummy of success, Tinder is riddled with all the problems that afflict the frontrunner in any unexplored market frontier. But if Tinder is Myspace in this analogy, who is Facebook?

The decline of Tinder

It’s the wild west of dating apps at the moment. To look past the knock-offs flooding the market and find the truly promising startups that are making a play for Tinder’s title, you have to find the chinks in the king’s armour and see which apps are exploiting them.

A recent report by Global Web Index shows that 62 per cent of Tinder users are men. The gender balance in terms of online dating is fairly equal, with men making up roughly 52 per cent of all users. Ipsos MRBI, a media market research agency, found male Tinder users are three times more likely (46 per cent) to swipe right on a profile than women (14 per cent).

You do acquire female users, and the men seemingly just follow suit

A study on online dating at UC Berkeley School of Information found that 81 per cent of online dating users lie – usually about height, weight or income. But nearly half of Tinder users are doing something much worse than adding an extra zero to their paycheck. The same GWI investigation discovered that 42 per cent of Tinder users are in a relationship, and an astounding 30 per cent are married.

People are so desperate for a match that apps like Tinderly, a companion app that automatically swipes right with everyone in your entire city, have spawned and are cheating the system.

For every problem the app giant fixes, two new ones seem to crop up. Tinder’s future will depend on whether or not it can fix its debilitating problems before new apps, built on its successes and avoiding its errors, steal its rapidly fleeting and tired user base. This is especially true for cities like London, where Tinder use isn’t as firmly entrenched as it is in the States.

This summer there's no need to walk through parks to meet people

The possible successors

New startup dating apps like Antidate, Spark and Double, all of which are based in London, have learned from Tinder’s mistakes. All three market themselves as either safer, more romantic or giving women more power in order to attract female users.

“A third of online dating users don’t actually go on dates,” said Loren Gould, one of the founders of Double, a dating app identical to Tinder with one major difference – its sole use is for double dates.

He and his fellow co-founders came up with the idea when their friend, an attractive woman who uses Tinder, said though she had plenty of matches yet she never actually went on any dates because it felt unsafe.

While Double is using safety to attract a female user base, Spark, a London-only app, is using proximity. Spark connects users who are within 30 metres of each other. The app’s advantage is it uses Bluetooth to connect users rather than internet, meaning it can be used in the Tube, which plays into the missed connection fantasy that has plagued romantic commuters since the advent of underground transportation. Spark already has 10,000 users all across the capital and it only launched in March.

“We intentionally branded ourselves as this love-finding app with the intention of getting female users on board… 52 per cent of our users are female,” said Dave Marsden, co-founder of the app.

There’s not a lot of brand loyalty in dating apps

Antidate, another app aimed at catering to female users, actually gives women all the control. Men cannot contact women or view profiles. They simply sign up, wait and hope a woman messages them. The female version of the app on the other hand has an interface that displays all the nearby men in radar form, only revealing the female user if she chooses to initiate conversation.

“I do think it is a case of you do acquire female users, and the men seemingly just follow suit,” said Marsden.

“There’s not a lot of brand loyalty in dating apps,” said Ben Greenock, one of Double’s three founders.

“I think you’ll have a couple major players [in the next five years],” said Gould. “The essence of dating is inherently more niche… My needs as a 29 year old are very different than a 22 year old’s needs, and a 22 year old’s needs are very different from a divorcee at 40. I don’t think you can create a Facebook-like product to accommodate all those needs.”