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Ask HN: How do I make my dating app popular?
36 points by youngappdude on Dec 24, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 38 comments
Me and a friend are going to be developing a dating app for some fun. The development will be difficult but we feel that getting people to actually use it will be even harder.

How does one get the first adopters and get people to stick to it. The app may be well made but who wants to use a social app if there a no or little users?

We just plan to put up a few posters at our Universities, some leaflets at some bar and word of mouth via Facebook.

Apart from that we are clueless? What can HN suggest?




I once answered the question of our launch strategy for OkCupid on Quora (here: http://www.quora.com/OkCupid/What-was-OkCupids-launch-strate...). A few things I can add:

1. You're right in thinking that bootstrapping users will be much harder than coding the site. A dating site requires not just a critical mass of users, but also a critical mass using it in a certain location with enough people that there are internal compatibilities.

2. We loosely categorized our users into 3 groups. (a) those explicitly interesting in dating. (b) those who would consider it, but who weren't ready to make the decision, and (c) those who would never sign up for our dating features. Our early strategy was to (try to) nail all 3 groups, arguing that there was mobility between b and a, and that group c could still be used to spread around dating-related toys without realizing that's what they were doing. All this led us to personality tests and a bunch of other goofy things that attempted to be viral but could also enhance a profile if converted. On average, 10% of our early users became online daters on our site, and the other 90% were spreading the word in one way or another, but we never heard from them again. As we got bigger, we slowly shifted our message towards the dating side of things, as those "growth hacks" diluted our message.

Of course this is not the only strategy. Consider (1) Tinder, a very simple dating app, which has become a phenomenon. I would say it's hard just to invent this phenonmen, though... And (2) pay dating services, which can collect membership fees and then use the money to market. It's an expensive game which requires a lot of cash and marketing knowledge.

Disclaimer: I left OkCupid a year ago.


why did you leave?

[ ] found someone.

[ ] too much ad.

[ ] spent too much time.

[ ] other. Specify ________________.


OkCupid was acquired in Feb. 2011 by IAC. So it's not hard to guess why a founder would leave a company 2 years after acquisition.


I thought OKCupid was a rebranding of SparkMatch, which in turn used the audience from the spark as its initial userbase.

So wasn't there already an established userbase in their case?


Nope, it was a totally new site, new userbase. We learned while building SparkMatch that we wanted to do dating. But when we started OkCupid, we had all left the TheSpark/SparkNotes a bunch earlier, and there was nothing from SparkMatch on OkCupid. The only connection was a paid advertisement. We actually paid TheSpark to post an announcement of our new site, which got a bunch of the old SparkMatch users to try it. But, interestingly, it was LiveJournal (memories!) that drove most of our early growth, not TheSpark.

Also worth noting: OkCupid launched day 1 with the dating system as it is now -- answer arbitrarily many questions in 3 parts to build your own custom matching "algorithm". But we made it easier at the beginning for users to introduce their own questions.


Oh, man - livejournal and SparkMatch do bring back memories. That was the era in which I met my wife. (Not through SparkMatch, but yes, through livejournal.)

The internet has come a long way.

In any case, now that you mention it, yes, I remember all kinds of livejournal links over to OkCupid. Thanks for the reminder...


You're building a two-sided marketplace, one of if not the most difficult model to get up and running in the startup world. Kudos for taking on the challenge!

While we're not building a dating app, we are building something that in many ways functions like one, and so we've studied the model a lot. The simplest version of a good marketing strategy we've seen is

1) pick the side of the market which will be hardest to grow organically, but which will drive growth on the other side (hint: in dating, it's the women)

2) pick a region to focus on. The entire US is too large to start. One region, or a smaller country, helps you get started. (Hint: in the US, I would pick a smallish Midwestern region with lots of universities).

3) Figure out a clever, simple marketing plan to drive your selected market in your selected region, and go after them heavily. Obviously I'm over simplifying this step, but it's going to need to be something which quickly grabs the attention of your target market, demonstrates the value of your product, and gets them to become active users quickly. If you're going to make this product work, you should be able to figure something out yourself, as you're the one who knows your product best.

Best of luck!


The question is not how you can get users for your app. The question is why would someone want to sign up?

You have to think about competitive advantage. What sets your dating app apart from existing dating sites, already populated with 1000's of profiles?

I don't have a profile on dating sites (happily married), but I can imagine that a big problem for dating sites is people pretending to be different than they really are. That's a problem you could solve, for instance by only allowing profiles that have been referenced by friends/relatives. Heck, you could throw key parties (pun intended) where people could swap their credentials!

Or instead of a traditional dating-app, make a geisha-app. It's not a date, it's company.

Just throwing random ideas out there, but the general idea is either you cater to a niche, or you better have a massive marketing budget to take on the OKCupids of this world.


If you are willing to spend some money for an initial burst of users, try advertising on https://ads.pof.com/. Plenty of Fish is one of the largest dating sites and their self serve advertising platform is fantastic. Make a few accounts in various demographics to see what works. (hint, make a targeted landing page to your ad/demographic .. works better than a generic one).

Otherwise, a web property that ranks for certain keywords can still go a very long way. Make a blog dedicated to dating tips and advice. Write posts targeted at people struggling to find dates, or who are not having success with current dating sites. Write about how to use dating sites effectively. How to act on a first date. There's lots of information on the internet already about this, so it doesn't take too much creativity to pool some resources together and make a quick blog post about such topics. At the end of your blog posts, suggest your dating site/app. People who just read your article are filtered to be your target audience and will trust your recommendation about what dating app to join.


Assuming dating depends heavily on geographic (location) and even demographic (especially age) properties, you will not need 'just' users, but also within the same geo/demo group (ie same location, same age). You can use this to your advantage by focussing your marketing efforts to one such group. If you take your home town you can use local advertising (ie team up with bars/clubs) and even your own network. You could even think about naming/framing the dating app to the location (ie Boston Student Dating).

This gives you a better chance of success, enables you to test the overal viability and you can learn and improve.

Since you are doing this for fun, you'll probably have reached this goal at that point. To go beyond, you'd have to come up with something to make the thing spread (which by itself will be rather low for a dating app, so you'll need a trick here, or make money from your local users and use that for heavy advertising) or convince investors based on the initial results so you can have yourselves a marketing budget.


I'd say you should shift your point of view. You say: you made an app and now you need the community for it. That's the wrong order. In your case, the community is the most important thing, and the app is secondary. So, go and find an existing community and turn it into 'your' community (hard!), or build a new community from scratch by focusing on a narrow class of customers (even harder!). Third alternative: buy a community, if you got enough vc ;-)


With so many different dating apps available you will need to differentiate yourselves and show why your app is different (better) than the others. Your plan to guerrilla market at universities and bars is a good idea, but it will not work if you are seen as "just another dating app". If you can show why it is different and/or why it is better that is appealing to your target market the rest will come naturally.


As a few other people have said, the only possible way you're going to have a popular dating app is by having a lot of fake users in the beginning.

When Tinder first launched, at least 90% of the profiles I came across were, after a little investigation, very obviously fake. I became suspicious after being "matched" with every single attractive girl I "liked" after having just created a profile. These "girls" had the mysterious ability to travel vast distances in extraordinarily small amounts of time. One second, a girl's location would be 7 miles away, the next, she was 1407 miles away - incredible. If they responded at all to a message, they were vague, short answers that had nothing to do with what I was saying. I also received 10s of the exact same messages from different girls. They weren't trying to get me to click links or buy things. Their sole purpose seemed to be to create the illusion that Tinder was full of gorgeous women who wanted me. After a while of using the app, the fake profiles dropped off, and I seemed to encounter more real people. I thought initially, that this was because they had gotten enough users to show me real people, but I've now noticed that any time I use the app in a new area, I'm flooded with fake profiles and fake messages all over again.

In short, create fake users.


The thing is that if you do come up with some new way of getting untold gazillions of people to sign up, what is to say that the people at match.com won't be able take your innovation and get using it too?

For instance, you could have some way of promoting users that had brought more users onto the site, e.g. if Alice gets half a dozen of her friends to sign up then Bob gets to see Alice listed prominently in the search results. The incentive for Alice could run deeper than that, maybe only if she has got her friends to join will she be able to see all of Bob's pictures or learn about his sexual tastes. There could also be advantages for Alice's friends, because Alice introduced them to the site they might get the advantages Alice has for a limited period of time.

As soon as you 'gamify' people will cheat, e.g. in the above example, Alice might create half a dozen accounts, one for each of her various email addresses. Obviously you would need a method to make this not happen, and, if you solved it, you might have a competitive advantage. However, how long would you have this advantage for before some developer at match.com cloned it?


1) For success to happen, you need an app that people like more than the competition. Which requires building that app. Which requires knowing how to program... and having an idea of what will make it better than the competition. Start from the bottom up.

2) http://platformed.info/

3) Some ideas:

- Have the company confirm the pictures on peoples profile (that way you know that the pictures are accurate, not from 5 years ago or of someone else).

- Have the site compile user data, and recommend 10-20 people for a group date.

- Make it a dating/matchmaking a side outcome. Maybe make it like reddit. User generated content and discussion + reputation. I would think that that would give users a lot more data as to who they'd be compatible with intellectually. This could also make for quite the social news site, because people would be desperate for reputation (because single people are often desperate to be not single), and thus site usage would be very high.


"Build it and they will come" doesn't hack it anymore. You have to find a pain point to solve because yet-another-x-but-new will flop (wasting your time and money). In short:

a) define the problem

b) get a MVP together

c) market the shit out of it

d) iterate on product

e) goto (c)

Either the product will catch on and you'll be sipping sake in SFO or you'll fail (more likely) and drop back to (a).

Good luck!


You just went way up the ladder of abstraction. The point is to go down. http://lesswrong.com/lw/bc3/sotw_be_specific/


Did you read his OP? He was asking about how to do c).


> Me and a friend are going to be developing a dating app for some fun.

I didn't read anything about how the OP would be doing anything novel or new or solving problems. I just saw "we're doing something for fun".


I hope your celebration beats drinking in an airport


I live in India. I know that dating sites / apps don't work in India. People are more conservative here.

Can some one from US/ Europe/ South America throw some light on dating scene in their countries. Do the dating apps / sites like okcupid work well ? Or is there local sites that do better ?.


Germany here. My impression is that there are some hotspots (e.g. Berlin) with enough users on OkCupid that using the site actually makes sense. In the rest of the country the user base seems to be relatively small. In areas with US Army presence (e.g. Patch Barracks Stuttgart or Grafenwöhr Training Area) one can find an awful lot of US expats on OkCupid, people who obviously know the site from back home. Locals however seem to prefer the German sites. Which is somewhat sad, I think OkCupid is unique as a mixture between a dating site and a social network, it leads to a more casual tone there. The German sites are mostly focussed on finding partners for longterm relationships, by and large they seem to be not as casual and relaxed as OkCupid (e.g. parship.de).


1. Create fake profiles of beautiful women in your area™!

2. Then pretend to be said women.

3. Profit.


Fake it until you make it, it worked for reddit!

Trouble is showing up to a date as a beautiful woman. That would be the biggest challenge for me.


Start with answering this - What problem are you trying to solve?


one of my friends is really bored with the people he has searched for on one of the big websites... he really feels like he is seeing the same people over and over again.

and,

some of the big sites develop "characters" over time. for whatever reason. okcupid is too "goody goody, perfect people, over-educated" for him.

e.g. the user-generated questions- he interprets as social directives. He resents questions being painted into a corner. he resents their binary nature.

I agree with him mostly. It is clear that what sounded good "allow users to propose their own questions" has grown into a maze of people who claim they "like the taste of beer" or "don't". The result is the people who make it on that site are the ones who endure multiple-choice critiques and that just isn't everybody, man. People date differently.

perhaps even if you had no technical improvements, etc., but you could offer a fresh new user base of people, he would be interested. so if you try to invite people and promise them a fresh beginning - without the inertia of users of the first generation.

Also pay attention to BitCoin. it has two parallel users: miners and buyers n/ payers. Different groups take part in different ways.


I once read an interesting article on how OkCupid was doing question weighting wrong because people would mark matching on factual questions (like, "What is the largest of these? A. Elephant B. Whale C. The Moon") as being absolutely vital to get correct. People would then end up with like 90%+ matches with others they would not really get along with, just because of the ridiculous weighting on those questions–it became a matching system more like, "who has answered the same questions as I?"


Create a fake profile of Ashton Kutcher in it.


Consider making some nice feature that no other service has. For instance, user A may "secretly" mark that he likes user B. When that attraction is reciprocal, it's made known (visible) to both of them.

That's one of the weird ideas I had while studying relational algebra.


Hows this different from Tinder?


Hey OP,

Please email me at hi@josh.ml. I have exactly what you're looking for but not the development skills. I actually built an MVP last year and gained 2k users in a couple weeks at my local university.

I'd love to chat and see if we could combine forces.


Get tons of fake profiles of beautiful women created and keep then active and engaging with other users. Fake it till you make it.


1. download pictures of female Harvard students using wget and apache index.

2. livejournal your progress.

3. tell your friends to look at the pictures.


thanks mark


He asked how to make a dating site, not how to start the next facebook.

xD


When you point out the joke it makes it infinitely lame for everybody involved. Just let the joke be and laugh at it!


Have some easy method for people to block or report others who send inappropriate messages.


For once, a Bender reference about blackjack and hookers might actually be relevant. ;)




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