The online dating industry – fueled by the pandemic – has seen strong growth in digital interactions like video calls and site visits.
The growing interest in online dating has even led to the launch of new apps, including an El Segundo-based dating app called First Round’s on Me, or FROME for short, which debuted last month. The app aims to “bring back real dating”. Existing apps, meanwhile, have added new features like video calling.
Before the Covid-19 outbreak, online dating started gaining popularity in 2016, when there were 241 million dating app users worldwide. Last year, that number jumped to 324 million users, according to Business of Apps, a publication focused on app development. Additionally, around 20 million people pay for premium features on apps, the group found.
Dating apps generated $5.61 billion in revenue last year, including nearly $3 billion made by Match Group, an online dating conglomerate that owns brands such as Tinder, OkCupid and PlentyofFish.
Since stay-at-home orders began in 2020, more and more people have turned to online dating apps to connect during more lonely times of self-isolation, and dating apps have had to adapt to this changing environment.
In 2021, West Hollywood-based Tinder ranked first in downloads in the United States, generating 15 million users.
In a post titled “The Future of Dating Is Fluid,” Tinder highlighted that 2020 has been a banner year for the company, writing, “It was our busiest year ever, and it will be a whole new decade. dating.” According to the company, 60% of members came to Tinder because they felt lonely and wanted to connect with people, and 40% visited to see new and different people.
As with any evolving market, businesses must change based on consumer desires or risk being left behind. During the pandemic, dating app companies have had to find a way to cross the lines between being online and offline, while remaining as safe as possible.
When users were forced to eliminate in-person meetings, they instead turned to virtual dates and video chat. Tinder reported that nearly 50% of its Gen Z users engaged in a video chat with a match at the start of the pandemic, and a third were engaged in an increased number of shared virtual activities, such as playing games together. online video games. According to a survey conducted by the company, those who have tried virtual dating have seen it as an easy way to get a feel for someone and their personality. In April 2020, eHarmony subscriptions increased by more than 50% during the first week of lockdown, and have remained flat since, according to eHarmony. Similarly, the company saw a 27% increase in messages in April compared to March, as social distancing and stay-at-home restrictions were in place.
During the same month, the company released a new feature called “Video Date,” aimed at helping users continue to connect while practicing social distancing. This has fueled conversations on their platform.
“We have a strong global team and we are incredibly proud that our team was able to respond to emerging customer needs in such a short time while working from home,” eHarmony COO Gareth Mandel said in a release announcing the new feature in 2020.
But that’s not all good news for dating apps. In a letter to shareholders published Aug. 2, Match Group chief executive Bernard Kim announced Renate Nyborg’s departure from Tinder, citing that current expectations for second-half revenue growth are below expectations.
Go old school
Hannah Shimko, director of communications and policy for the Online Dating Association, said a majority of dating app users are looking to find love and real relationships.
The ODA is a London-based trade association that aims to make the voice of the online dating industry heard.
She said that 50 years ago an individual’s dating pool was much smaller, but online dating has expanded the possibility of finding relationships from other places and with people with interests. similar.
Shimko added that the pandemic was making people feel more comfortable being online, but with such a large dating pool there were issues like “slipping” on hundreds of people and then not meeting in person.
Tinder, however, reported that people are using the app differently now and looking for authentic hookups.
“Conversations have lengthened by 33% during the pandemic as members have turned to Tinder as a lifeline to combat loneliness and make connections while the world was shut down,” the company wrote in an email. .
Shimko added that new companies are trying to be innovative in bringing back in-person dating while giving users the ability to maintain digital distance.
“There are a lot of startups looking… [the] online movement about wanting to meet some kind of old-fashioned, in person, while keeping the opportunities that online dating gives you, [and looking at] challenges related to fraud, security,” she said.
This is what motivated Joseph Feminella to launch FROME. In 2016, Feminella, then 26, moved to New York and realized the strong attraction people her age had to online dating apps. “I started using dating apps, and I saw that everyone hated them, so I thought, I have to try to make sure people can still use dating apps, but that’s is more organic and more old school,” says Féminelle.
With the new free time he gained during the pandemic, Feminella got together with a designer and coder who were his friends and started making FROME a reality. The app first appeared in March last year. however, Feminella said the company doesn’t have the funds for proper branding or marketing until it gets a major investor and is able to rebrand and re-release the app. The app now has around 2,000 users.
Here’s how it works: When users log in, they can choose “available today” or “available this week” to set a date within the next seven days. When a user is interested in someone, they will send an invitation with a day, time and place. Once the other user confirms, they are locked to each other for the day and cannot connect with anyone else on the app to value a single connection instead of swiping with multiple people at a time. The messaging feature only opens two hours before the date starts, which further reinforces the idea that people are focused on connecting during their date.
Security is a major concern for many when it comes to online dating and Shhimko said many dating companies are now trying to make their apps more secure.
To secure FROME, Feminella implements a registration function.
“We want to make the app as safe as possible, especially for women,” Feminella said. “We are going to release a feature where two hours after your appointment, you will receive an alert [asking]’it’s okay’, and if you press no, we’ll have a direct link to send an emergency text to a friend to alert someone that you’re not having a good time.
The company has also partnered with Los Angeles-based bars and cafes, including Cha Cha Matcha, Juneshine, Library Alehouse, Independence Bar, and Bravo Toast, to offer their users discounts for meeting at these locations. True to its name, FROME paid users first drink, essentially buying drinks in exchange for app downloads, at pop-up events.
Feminella talks about implementing a subscription model to earn additional capital with the app. If users pay the premium fee, they can send messages with their meeting request, have longer chat windows, and the ability to save profiles for later in case a user has already set their chat limit. seven dates.
Feminella is also considering adding another revenue stream similar to ads. “Once we get a bit bigger, we will have different brands of alcohol or drinks, cafes and bars that will fight for space on our app to be recommended so that we can pass all our dates to them” , did he declare. .