Interview: happn CEO on Evolving Technologies

Paris-based startup happn is one of the real success stories in mainstream dating. Since launching in early 2014, it has attracted over 70 million users and entered into geographies around the world.

Responsible for plenty of product firsts, the app added in a location map late last year. The update allowed singles to view who they crossed paths with area-by-area, adding a new level of depth to the hyper-location USP.

GDI caught up with CEO and Founder Didier Rappaport to get the latest on where the app was headed.

Read the full conversation below:

You’ve spoken in the past about the benefits AI can have for the dating sector. What’s your current take on the technology and how it can help companies in our industry?

DR: “For us, AI only helps in the way that we suggest profiles to the users. AI will never be the main [product], because we believe in the little coincidences of life. We believe that no AI will ever be able to make the choice for a human being.

It can be a help. For example, when you start a discussion with someone it could help with an icebreaker. If you both like the same artist, or something like that, AI is a help – but nothing more.

In the end we didn’t do so much in that area, because we had other innovations for the product. You’ll discover some of them starting in August / September, through to November. They are huge innovations, and we’ll be the only one [doing this] in the whole dating sector.

Now, we are really announcing our identity, and our identity is really based upon real life crossings and proximity. We are working in that direction.

Could you talk a little bit about happn in India, and your success in that space?

DR: “The Indian market is a very important market. It’s a very different market for many reasons, mainly cultural – arranged weddings are very important, so many of the people registered on dating apps are the parents and not their kids. 

We are still one of the most downloaded apps in the dating sector there. We are still much bigger than Tinder, even though they’ve put in a lot of effort there. Also Bumble – they’ve partnered with Priyanka Chopra. 

Our brand ambassador is Hrithik Roshan, one of the top Bollywood stars, and we have a huge number of downloads every month. It’s much more than Bumble, much more than Tinder – you can check on App Annie.

It’s a market where we’re growing a lot, and the monetisation is better every day. We’ve already passed the marketing spend that we’re doing there, in terms of net revenue for the country.”

What kind of a message do you use to reach Indian consumers, and does it differ from your messaging in Europe?

DR: “Not at all – our marketing is based on the same concept and idea all over the world: the real world, real life, proximity. Why should we go online to meet people when we cross paths with hundreds of people every day?

We are here to help people connect to each other, and it’s based on your life rather than a supermarket of profiles. It’s the people that are around you right now – that’s happn.”

How about the US market?

DR: “We’ll be back in the US market by August, with a new interface. It will be rolled out worldwide in August / September, then the main new feature will launch in November. This is specially made feature for the US market – it will be a big change.”

One of the industry trends we’re seeing is a move towards offline events. Another is video. Do you think either are winning strategies?

DR: “Whatever the app is, we know that most users are dissatisfied with dating services. It’s because the digital world is only 30 years old. Over the next few years, it will evolve a lot.

There is nothing new with video. Video has existed for a long time now. The Meet Group in the US have videos everywhere, and they’ve made a lot of money with it. Tinder is announcing video. Nothing is new.

For us, real life is most important. We don’t want to develop events or things like that, though – it has been done by everyone. 

We try to repeat what happens in real life in our app. In real life, you have the first ‘look’, you have the words that people exchange, so we try to do that.”

What are your current thoughts on Facebook Dating?

DR: “In the places Facebook Dating is live, we haven’t seen any changes. We’re a little bit disappointed by the product Facebook has launched. Today, they seem more interested in Libra than dating. 

I’ve believed from day one that you cannot be a social network and in dating. Those two worlds are totally different. Social networks are open worlds where people exchange a lot of things. Dating is a closed world, with 1-to-1 relationships. We’re talking about intimacy.

We’re also talking about privacy – data which must be secured at the highest level. We’ve seen some problems with dating apps where people have hacked the data. I don’t understand why Facebook is going into the sector.”

Finally, a couple of business questions. What would your advice be to some of the smaller apps trying to make it in this space?

DR: “It is a very difficult sector. Very crowded. Very competitive. It’s a sector where you need to have a real soul if you’re going to succeed. You need to be differentiated from the others. 

It’s also a marketing business – a question of cost of acquisition and lifetime user value. It’s a data driven business – not one where you can go and succeed easily. You need to know a lot of things. 

In front of you, you have monsters like IAC that control a lot and know how to operate. 

We do not believe in niche businesses like ‘pet lovers’. You need a totally new business or a new technology to succeed. 

If you are like everyone else, this is a very difficult sector. You have to be the best in every part of your business. It’s not easy at all. I would say that today, I wouldn’t do it again.”

Finally, what are some of your business interests outside of dating?

DR: “I believe strongly in the development of FinTech. Also, ELS and cybersecurity.” 

Visit the happn website here

Scott Harvey

Scott is the Editor of Global Dating Insights. Raised in Dorset, he holds a BA from The University of Nottingham and an MSc from Lund University School of Economics and Management. Previously he has written about politics, economics and technology for various online publications.

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