The online dating industry – fueled by the pandemic – has seen huge growth in digital interactions such as video calls and site visits.
The surge in 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”. Meanwhile, existing apps have added new features like video calling.
Before the outbreak of Covid-19, online dating started growing in popularity in 2016, when there were 241 million dating app users worldwide. Last year, that number grew to 324 million users, according to Business of Apps, a publication focused on app development. In addition, about 20 million people pay for premium features in apps, the group found.
Dating apps made $5.61 billion in revenue last year, with almost $3 billion earned by Match Group, an online dating conglomerate that owns brands including Tinder, OkCupid and PlentyofFish.
Since the start of stay-at-home orders in 2020, more people have turned to online dating apps to connect during the loneliest times of 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 release titled “The Future of Dating Is Fluid,” Tinder noted that 2020 was an incredible year for the company, writing, “It’s been our busiest year in our history, and it’s going to be quite a decade.” new 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 emerging market, companies must change based on consumer desires, or risk being left behind. During the pandemic, dating app companies had to find a way to bridge the lines between being online and offline while remaining as safe as possible.
When users were forced to eliminate in-person meetings, they turned to virtual meetings and video chats instead. Tinder reported that nearly 50% of its Gen Z users participated in a video chat with a match during the start of the pandemic, and a third were participating in an increasing number of virtual shared activities, such as playing video games online games together. According to a survey conducted by the company, those who tried virtual dating found it a low-pressure way to get to know someone and their personality. In April 2020, eHarmony subscriptions increased by more than 50% during the first week of the lockout and have remained stable since then, according to eHarmony. Likewise, the company saw a 27% increase in messages in April compared to March as social distancing and stay-at-home restrictions were put in place.
During the same month, the company released a new feature called Video Date, which aims to help users continue to connect while practicing social distancing. This helped fuel the conversations on their platform.
“We have a strong global team and are incredibly proud that our team was able to respond to evolving customer needs in such a short time while working from home,” said Gareth Mandel, eHarmony’s chief operating officer. , in a statement announcing. new feature in 2020.
But it’s not all good news for dating apps. In a letter to shareholders issued on August 2, Match Group CEO Bernard Kim announced the departure of Renate Nyborg from Tinder citing that current revenue growth expectations for the second half of the year are below expectations.
Goes old school
Hannah Shimko, director of communications and policy at the Online Dating Association, said most dating app users are looking to find true love and connections.
ODA is a London-based trade association that aims to act as a voice for the online dating industry.
She said that 50 years ago, an individual’s dating pool was much smaller, but online dating has expanded the possibility of finding connections from other countries and with people with similar interests.
Shimko added that the pandemic made people more comfortable being online, but with such a large group of meetings comes problems such as “swimming” hundreds of people and then not meeting in person.
Tinder, however, reported that people are using the app differently now and are looking for authentic connections.
“Chats were 33% longer during the pandemic as members turned to Tinder as a lifeline to combat loneliness and connect while the world was shut down,” the company wrote in an email.
Shimko added that new companies are trying to be innovative about bringing back in-person meetings while giving users the ability to keep a digital distance.
“There are a lot of startups that are looking at… [the] moving online for the desire to meet old-fashioned people, in person, while retaining the opportunities that online dating gives you, [and looking at] challenges around fraud, around security,” she said.
This is what motivated Joseph Feminella to start FROME. In 2016, the then 26-year-old Feminella moved to New York City and realized the huge gravitation that people his age had towards online dating apps. “I started getting into dating apps and I saw how everyone hated them, so I have to try to create a way where people can still use dating apps, but it’s more organic and old school.” said Feminella.
With the newfound free time he gained during the pandemic, Feminella teamed up with a designer and a coder who were friends and began making FROME a reality. The app first appeared in March last year; however, Feminella said the company didn’t have the funds for proper branding or marketing until they found a major investor and were able to rebrand and re-launch the app. The app now has about 2,000 users.
Here’s how it works: when users log in, they can select “available today” or “available this week” to set a date sometime 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 whole day and can’t connect to anyone else on the app so they can give more value to a single connection instead of sliding around with multiple people on it the same time. The messaging feature opens just two hours before the date starts, further reinforcing the idea that people focus on hooking up during their date.
Security is a major concern for many people when it comes to online dating, and Shhimko said many dating companies are now trying to make their apps more secure.
To make FROME safe, Feminella is implementing a check-in feature.
“We want to make the app as safe as possible again, especially for women,” Feminella said. “We’re going to come up with a feature where two hours after your meeting, you’ll get an alert [asking]’are you okay,’ and if you press no, we’ll have a direct link to send an urgent text message to a friend so someone can be notified that you’re not doing well.”
The company has also partnered with LA-based bars and cafes, including Cha Cha Matcha, Juneshine, Library Alehouse, Independence Bar and Bravo Toast, to offer their users discounts on dates at those locations. Staying true to its name, FROME paid for users’ first drink, essentially buying drinks in exchange for app downloads, at pop-up events.
Feminella is talking about implementing a subscription model to make additional capital with the app. If users pay the premium fee, they can send messages along with their date request, have longer chat windows and the ability to save profiles for later in case a user has already hit their seven date limit .
Feminella is also considering adding another revenue stream similar to advertising. “Once we get a bit bigger, we’ll have different brands of alcohol or drinks and cafes and bars fighting for space on our app to be recommended so we can channel all our appointments to them,” he said. .