Name: Benjamin Bak
Title: CEO and co-founder, LOVOO
Twitter: @benjamin_bak / @lovoo
Why did you switch to a more social-oriented product?
We have always been fascinated by how people socialise and meet other people. For as long as mankind has existed, the search for a soulmate, people to love and spend time with, will forever be one of the most important causes.
When we were developing LOVOO, online dating was already huge and starting to catch on to mobile applications. Even though we consciously created a dating app, additional comprehensive and holistic features were included. Thus, the app carried a whiff of social discovery even though we didn’t expressively promote it. We realised that our members also used LOVOO socially, not just for dating. This reaction vibed well with our philosophy: we want to make meeting people easier. What we do values every kind of relationship and honours their uniqueness: whether you find the love of your life, share a short but intense moment, or develop a lifelong friendship — each and every one is wonderful and has its place. We just want to facilitate and help pave the way, by making it easier to meet people.
This experience also reminded us how important the relationship with our members is: we work together. By communicating their needs and wants, we are able to constantly improve and optimise our product. Our decision to transition from purely dating to a social discovery app was as much inspired by our user community as it was by us. So far, version 3.0 is a success with our existing and on-boarding members.
What new features have you introduced with this new social strategy?
As you know, we have further developed our patented LOVOO Live-Radar. Thanks to the radar, you can find people in your immediate vicinity that love the same things and share the same interests. Also, we introduced the news feed. The new LOVOO feed presents local content, created by our users, in a modern and sleek fashion. By using our latest hashtag feature, you can easily find and search for people that love the same things and follow their profiles, for example.
Another great new feature is our challenges. Challenges are contests on varying subjects that involve photo uploads. They run for a specific time and participants can win cool prizes like an Apple Watch. We also kept audience favourites like chat, profile and match, but gave the whole app a good makeover, making it really stylish and modern-minimalistic.
Have you noticed your users engage with the product in a different way?
A lot of our users have readily embraced the upgrade we provided. We are still dating but also offer enhanced social features. Many LOVOO members have especially welcomed the hashtag feature because it makes connecting with likeminded people easier. Also a great success is our new photo reply. Now you cannot only comment on a picture with a text, but with a photo too. We recognised a shift in how our members used the feed in combination with hashtags. This triggered the idea to introduce photo reply. We are confident that in a few short months most of our existing loyal customers will have adapted, and make use of the full potential the new version offers. The feedback so far is favourable.
Do you think labelling an app as a “dating app” can put off some potential users, and limit the scope of an app with social ambitions?
That is a difficult question. Difficult because it really depends on what your business is. If you want to establish yourself in the dating market, being called a dating app clearly hits the mark. The tricky thing is to be a dating app that is not sleazy or labelled as a sex app. In our case, I have to say that we benefit greatly from being a dating app. We were able to convince more than 30m users worldwide that we are a respectable and reliable dating app that offers far more services and opportunities. With us you can go beyond dating if you so choose. Whether you find the love of your life, or just fun and interesting people like you, LOVOO has something for everyone.
In my opinion, it is a matter of how you envision your product. It is up to you to create and design a product that is sustainable and unlimited. We have no regrets, on the contrary: LOVOO proudly is dating but we are also ready to spread our wings and head into a bright future.
Was the shift inspired by the success and growth of Asian apps like Momo, WeChat and Line?
Even though this shift clearly begs the question, the answer is a resounding no. The reason for the shift is that we never perceived it as a shift per se. For us it was an organic transition, inspired by our users and made easy by our openly designed app and social features we included from the beginning.
Of course Momo is impressive. What they managed is no small feat. As industry colleagues we naturally do take note of changes like that, but it had nothing to do with our own transition.Tell us a little about how your live radar works, and the tech behind it.
Our patented LOVOO Live-Radar is actually a simple piece of genius. It is based on geo-targeting. If you have enabled your geo-location software on your smartphone, your location can be shown. We designed our Live-Radar to actually look like a radar and build a software that literally pinpoints your position as a dot on our radar. Of course an application like that always raises security concerns. So for us protecting our user community is paramount, and thus it is not possible to locate the exact position of a user.
So if you are looking for another person in your vicinity that is also interested in, say bouldering and/or salsa dancing, our Live-Radar can safely identify those people.
How many users do you currently have?
We currently have more than 30m users worldwide. We are especially strong in our core markets of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, where we currently count 15m, and in Brazil and the UK we have 3m users. I have to say that we are quite happy about those numbers, but are of course working very hard to improve them and to increase the user experience of our members wherever they are.
Where are your biggest markets? Where are you looking to expand next?
We are certainly very strong in our home market Germany. We are market leader with an impressive 12m users and thus Germany’s most popular social discovery app. Currently we are pushing our UK numbers. Great Britain is a huge market with a lot of potential for us. We anticipate reaching the same user growth as in Germany. It is very ambitious, but if the last couple of years have taught me anything, it is: don’t rest on your laurels. If you want lasting success, you have to keep on working very hard. For us it is not just about economic success but also about realising a vision, and to keep our promises to our members and our employees to become the most popular and best social discovery app in the world.
How do you monetise LOVOO? Are you planning to add any new methods of monetisation?
First of all I have to tell you that LOVOO is, when it comes to its finances, quite unique. We are completely bootstrapped. All the founders chipped in and have worked very hard ever since to turn that investment into economic and vocational success.
LOVOO operates on a freemium basis: that means most basic features are free of charge. Only if you wish to upgrade your services or become a premium member you’ll have to pay. But we offer many ways for our users to earn credits — our in-app currency — by way of our loyalty programme: for example, for every time you log in, you earn credits that can then be used to unlock additional features. Also, we are generating a good part of our turnover with advertising.
What sort of revenues do LOVOO have?
In 2014 we made an eight-figure amount.
Why did you choose a freemium business model?
Before we launched LOVOO, my brother BjÃ¶rn and I had founded and run one of the most successful local social networking platforms in Germany. Funnily enough, it went live about the same time as Facebook on the other side of the Atlantic in 2004. At that time, we already used the freemium business model, even before the industry actually came up with its current name: freemium model.
When we introduced the freemium model with our previous company, the industry was appalled. It was common to pay for most dating sites. And even though, strictly speaking, we weren’t a dating site, we operated in the same sphere. We were one of the very few to employ the freemium model. In a small way we helped establish it as the business model of choice for parts of the industry.
What have you got planned for the next year?
2016, like 2015, is going to be very busy. We will continue to communicate with our users and implement their wishes and needs into our product. And we will of course strive to make LOVOO better, even more safe and more fun.
Visit LOVOO here.