The last time we spoke to Rendeevoo on a wet October morning in London’s St Katherine’s Dock, co-founder George Christoforakis railed against a “decade of false promises” sold by an out of date industry elite, and said it was time for a new era of online dating.
Since then, the industry has witnessed more high profile consolidation, as allegations of old shady practises at top shelf brands reappear and powerful incumbents are again revealed to have a hand in online dating’s brightest new products.
For all the many changes the industry has undergone over the past couple of years, it is still a market controlled by the few.
Part of the struggle for new entrants is money – investors are generally reluctant to hand over cash to dating businesses because of issues like built-in churn, and singles are unwilling to pay subscriptions for services they are now accustomed to getting for free.
London-based startup Rendeevoo comes at this problem from a different angle, with a philosophy focused around the offline, rather than in-app experience.
Its monetisation strategy is new – after singles find someone to go on a date with and agree on a venue, they confirm the date by paying for the first round of drinks, which Rendeevoo splits down the middle with the venue.
Launching in May 2014, the app has built both a name for itself and a loyal user base in East London, as well as attracting the interest of investors and the press.
But as is often the case with startups, progress can be slow, and stop-start.
However when we caught up with the team in Loves Company – one of Rendeevoo’s partner bars on the lip of Old Street roundabout – almost exactly two years after the app first launched, spirits were high.
Rendeevoo had just overfunded on another successful Seedrs campaign, finalised its core team and released a wholesale redesign of the product – a foundation it finally felt was solid enough to build on.
This came after a period between September and December 2015 that Rendeevoo co-founder & CEO Christoforakis described as “slow-moving”.
During this time, the Rainmaking Loft-based company made some key changes to the team, first hiring Maura Pianaro as head of marketing in early October.
Pianaro was first introduced to Rendeevoo when she chanced upon one of the company’s early anti-online dating protests in Shoreditch and told Christoforakis: “If you hate online dating, then you hate my employer, Badoo.”
A year later, having parted ways with Soho-based Badoo, the two crossed paths again in East London and the Rendeevoo team quickly snapped up Pianaro to lead its marketing efforts.
Head of marketing in place, the current core team was completed when the company hired full stack developer Ashley Cameron in late November from financial derivative giant IG as its full-time CTO.
With this move, the startup stopped outsourcing its development to Spanish company Develapps, tasking Cameron with operating the product completely – the new CTO immediately giving his thoughts on how they could develop, challenge and improve Rendeevoo’s current offering.
However this put a “knife to our throats”, Christoforakis said, because by hiring two more full time members of staff, the company now had a definitive deadline for raising a new round of funding before the money ran out.
But first, focus turned to the product.
Having essentially validated the Rendeevoo idea & model over a year and a half – co-founder & creative director Jorn Vanysacker referring to it as “almost an extended research project” – it was now time to build the product the idea demanded.
So with a looming funding deadline, Rendeevoo set themselves the target of building version 3.0 in two months – initially releasing the front end on the 12th February at a joint party with Apprentice finalist & DatePlay founder Vana Koutsomitis at Bounce in Shoreditch.
A few months later and the backend was built, the new version of Rendeevoo released to the App Store on April 19th.
Rendeevoo 3.0 is a top to bottom upgrade of the original product, rehousing the team’s unique ideas and model into an app that is simpler, faster and prettier.
The user experience has also been refined – previously, members had to go through four steps to secure a date, first choosing the person, then the bar & time before “checking out” by buying the first round of drinks.
Now, singles first choose what kind of date they want to go on – either “Wine & Bubbles”, “Cocktail & Speakeasy”, “Afternoon Coffee or Tea” or “Get Fit”.
You then browse through profiles to find someone you want to go on a date with, and invite them.
They then get a notification, and your date offer appears in a new Invites section on the app – which shows your profile, and the kind of date you have proposed.
If they accept, you are both connected and added to each other’s Connections tab – an area that houses all the people you match with on the dating app.
From here, you can decide on a venue & time for the date – with Rendeevoo offering recommendations – and edit any proposed plans that don’t work for you.
Once the date is set and a first round of drinks is paid for via Stripe or Apple Pay, the new app also lets users message each other to arrange the details.
This is purely logistical, however, Christoforakis insisting that there is still no “chat” in Rendeevoo, as this defeats the object of what the company is trying to achieve, which is getting singles out on dates in the real world, rather than spending hours swiping and chatting on their phones.
Speaking about the new version, the CEO said: “Enter an app that works fast – that is modern in the purest definition of the word.
“It is also much more clearly defined in terms of what you are expected to get out of it, and offers a much more legitimate and unique proposition for today’s online daters.”
Since the launch, response has been positive – Rendeevoo seeing a solid uptick in users, hundreds of new singles signing up in the first weeks after its release.
As co-founder Jorn Vanysacker said: “The big players will always be there, and the bigger the mainstream market becomes, the more people will start to migrate to other areas and different players in the market.
“It takes time to create a product and experience that is trustworthy. We think that people can sniff out something fake and plastic, so we wanted to ensure we had a killer service from beginning to end.”
Earlier this year, Happn took a small step into this offline space, releasing a feature called See You There that lets users say if they are free for a date over the next few hours.
Asked whether they were worried that a big mobile player, such as Tinder or Bumble, would simply lift their idea and package it into an app with a substantial user base, Christoforakis said such global apps would find it difficult to replicate the kind of localised approach Rendeevoo is taking building relationships with partner venues and focusing on ensuring users have quality experiences on their dates.
He said: “The settings of our business model are simply protecting us by definition because we populate the niche top-level segment, the one that aims to provide great quality, and that’s why we don’t play with the mainstream either in audience or in terms of business partners.
“Companies like Tinder or Happn could easily move into our space by establishing a partnership with a big franchise company, one that can match their size and the large amount of traffic brought into their venues.
“But our model does not rely on heavy numbers, it relies on good quality. We would love to see one of the big boys step closer to our market, because we are the first entrants and we have always perceived ourselves as a boutique provider, and every boutique provider needs a big fish to compare to, so they can highlight the actual boutique nature of theirs.”
Having released the rebuilt product on 19th April, the London team then turned its attention towards solving the imminent funding deadline – launching a Seedrs campaign on 6th March, looking for £50,000 to keep the company afloat.
Within 12 days, they had exceeded their target, ending the campaign with £59,566, the funding round led by a previous angel investor, a new angel and 86 investments from the crowd.
And two years after the app launched, the Rendeevoo team said it feels, for the first time, like they are at a place where the product, team, funding & philosophy is balanced.
The “research project” is over, and with a completed conversion funnel – by way of its monetisation strategy – the team tell me the next sixth months is now about focusing on improving every step of that funnel to push growth.
And the signs are positive – Rendeevoo is adding over 100 new users a week, 50% from word of mouth recommendations, has a 13% weekly retention rate, and with version 3.0 half of people who connect checkout on a date.
The London startup is also planning to grow its number of partner bars across London – which currently stands at 27 in areas like Shoreditch, Southbank, City, Angel and Primrose Hill – although the number of unofficial partners sits closer to 100.
The next geographical move will be into South London after summer, and the startup aims to have a presence in all four corners of the capital by the end of September, with plans to add new date activities like yoga and arts & craft sessions.
Earlier this year, the team also secured a promotional deal with Tesco that saw the company’s branding placed around five South London stores in June, and became one of the first mobile-only apps to be an ODA member.
For many startups, after the Tinder-inspired optimism settled, the online dating market revealed itself to be an unforgiving place – so why does Rendeevoo believe it can succeed where others have struggled?
Christoforakis explains: “We have a full team, and we are capable of growing faster than before, and way more intelligently in a business sense because we combine different skill sets. The product has also been validated by a small but very loyal audience base, and we have validated the top assumptions so we know the use of the product.
“It’s a product that differentiates itself from all the rest, because it seems to have a tool functionality instead of a community functionality, meaning that the relationship between the end user and the service via the mobile app is very distinct – “I want to meet someone” or “I want to go for a drink”.
“And we don’t just try to satisfy your needs in terms of who you will meet, but we will try to blow your mind in terms of where you will go – with both on the same level in the offline experience that we offer you.
“You will discover new places, together with someone new, without having already traded messages about your hobbies back and forth with them online. It’s about living a little, basically.”