Name: Joseph Phua
Position and company: Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer
Period of time in the role: Since July 2013
Twitter ID: @GoPaktor
Where did the idea for Paktor come from? How does the app work?
I founded Paktor after the end of an 8-year relationship. Getting back into the dating game was difficult, and after seeing how dating websites and apps were making it easy to meet new people, I decided that Southeast Asia needed something similar. So basically I decided to help myself, take things into my own hands and create Paktor, which has become the most successful dating app in the region.
It works by showing you people around you who have similar interests, and allows you to make a connection with more people than ever before.
What makes it different from the current crop of dating apps?
If you look at us from a product or app perspective, we differentiate ourselves from the others by ensuring we’re very local. We tap on our knowledge of the local culture and people and introduce features that locals want, and this appeals to the local audience in any country in the region.
However if you consider Paktor as a company, we are more like IAC, which is Tinder’s parent company which also owns services like Match.com and OKCupid. While the Paktor app is our flagship product, as a company our overall goal is to help connect people to new people. Similarly to IAC, Paktor have the full service platform and different assets that work together to connect people with new people and our service offerings will cater to the people in this part of the region.
Paktor is also the first and most popular dating app in Singapore, set to revolutionise the dating scene in Asia by being the first dating app to offer its new offline service, Gaigai (èµ°è¡—) which brings users together through its one-on-one matchmaking services and social dating events.
What is your background in?
I come from a long line of successful family entrepreneurs, and studied at both New York University’s Stern School of Business where I received my B.Sc. in Finance, and the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business where I did my MBA. Prior to starting Paktor, I worked in the consulting and banking industries, at McKinsey and Citigroup, and spent a few years in luxury retail while based in Shanghai and Beijing.
What makes the Asia Pacific market different from the US? Is there more of a stigma towards dating apps?
I would say it depends. If you ask this about Southeast Asian countries where Paktor does not yet have a strong presence, then yes there’s still a stigma. From our research and our understanding of the culture in the region gained, it is most likely due to the conservative nature of the people around here. As I mentioned, there are misconceptions about dating apps and why people use them. What we know is that most people are genuinely looking to meet new people who they can connect with when they use Paktor – which is why we’re seeing a change in this mindset in countries where Paktor has a strong presence in, with all the educating work we’ve done.
More people around the region are starting to realise that using mobile apps such as Paktor actually helps them meet new people, find new friends or get a date with someone new. If you take Singapore as an example, it is a melting pot of people from all different walks of life and backgrounds, so chances of meeting all these people through chance is unlikely. We offer an equal chance to everyone to expand their circle of friends in the easiest way possible — a swipe of your finger. When there are over 2 billion swipes and 40 million matches made through the Paktor in Southeast Asia, this is definitely a good sign for the leading dating app in this region.
Do you think messaging apps like WeChat and Momo – which are used for dating and hooking up – have had an influence in paving the way for dating apps in the market?
No doubt, messaging apps like WeChat and Momo may have started as a way for people to reach out to a wider group beyond their usual circles. These platforms have indeed influenced and change how people from all over the world meet and connect with new people.
However there were gaps in the service that did not meet what most people really wanted from a dating app. This is where apps like Paktor have been able to leverage the success of WeChat and Momo to expand the market. Paktor’s dating app has and will continue to introduce features and other new functionalities to make the app an essential tool to meet and connect with new people.
Do you think Asia, and in particular China, will be one of the biggest markets for online dating in the coming years?
In a short answer; yes it will. In terms of sheer numbers, Southeast Asia and China account for almost 2 billion people. Even a small percentage of the population is very significant.
Another reason is the changing perception of dating, driven by apps like Paktor. We are constantly educating and bringing dating apps into the mainstream. Misconceptions has limited growth slightly, but judging by the fact we have over 1.5m registered users and exponential growth across the region, we believe that Asia is on the cusp of becoming the leader in this industry.
How many users do you have? What is engagement like, and where are the users from?
Paktor is the leading dating app in the region with over 1.5m users across the region. It is also the fastest growing dating app in the region. Our users spend on average just under 13 hours a month on the app. We drive approximately 10 million profile swipes a day and from a consumer survey across the region, roughly one in four of our users have gone on a date with another user.
Paktor provides effective matching based on mutual interests and impacts the dating industry by offering a service with a strong focus on human interaction. It also solves culture-specific issues with streamlined and user-friendly features on its app and provides authentic connections and mutually-beneficial pairings based on similar likes, interests and more.
Paktor has a strong presence in Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, and Taiwan. Its user base is quite skewed towards locals in each market that Paktor is in. Paktor offers a cross-country matching feature with auto-translation to allow members to match with members from other countries.
Do you have a monetisation strategy?
We already offer paid services through our Paktor app and we’ve just launched a new paid bespoke offline matching service called Gaigai (èµ°è¡—) in Singapore. However our focus is on growing our network further. Growth is essential to helping us maintain our industry leadership and also to changing perception around the region towards dating apps.
We recently closed our Series-A funding, led by Vertex Venture Holdings, a wholly owned subsidiary of Temasek Holdings. This allows us to expand further into the region, with Malaysia being the next market we’ll officially launch in.
What funding and investment have you received?
Paktor has just closed its Series A investment round, bringing the total amount it has raised to over US$5m in the last 12 months. This is the largest funding for a dating app in the region.
What do you think will be the biggest online dating trends in 2015?
2015 will be a very exciting year for the online dating industry. We’re going to see some big changes to the industry, which is exciting for us all.
Mobile dating apps will continue to lead the charge. With the exploding smartphone growth in Southeast Asia, it is likely mobile dating apps will grow along with it. Smartphones are now more affordable than ever before, so there is great potential. However that is not to say that online dating through websites is dead, just that we’ll see considerably more growth in mobile dating. We just launched a web version of Paktor for those who prefer to keep their online dating to a computer, so we know there’s still a big web-based online dating market in the region.
Monetisation might be the next big thing across the world. Maybe not so much in Southeast Asia, where the industry is still a bit young, but in more developed markets in US and Europe, dating apps may start to look for more creative ways to monetise.
What is your strategy for expansion? Do you plan to move to Europe and the US, or are you focusing on Asia at the moment?
Analysing Paktor’s growth and data in Asia has revealed that the industry is worth in excess of US$4bn by 2018 if growth continues along the current trend with the Southeast Asian market being worth over US$500m. There is huge potential in this industry. We see that people all over Asia are embracing the idea of meeting new people through digital means at a faster rate than most industry experts previously expected. With over 2bn swipes and 40m matches made through the Paktor in Southeast Asia, previous estimates about the industry may be undervaluing the region. What this essentially means is that we have only tapped a very small percentage of the market.
With the funding received, we will expand Paktor’s services into new territories like Malaysia, increase product offerings such as offline events and premium personal services, and bring the Paktor experience from your mobile to your desktop. There will also be investment in new talent as the brand grows larger and expands into new markets.
While we cannot rule out the possibility of expanding to the US or Europe, our focus is on Southeast Asia where we have local expertise and knowledge.
What are your plans for the next year?
Paktor will venture into the offline space with a brand new offline business arm called GaiGai (èµ°è¡—), which offers a physical channel to bring users together through its one-to-one matchmaking services and social dating events. As the first dating app to move into the offline space, Paktor’s matchmaking service is different from local peers as it uses its proprietary algorithm derived from studying user behaviour from more than two billion swipes on its Paktor app up to date. The service is currently only available in Singapore with plans to expand into new markets at a later date.
Paktor will also include a new complementary service where the team has invested in and added a desktop/web version, allowing users to use Paktor on any platform they choose. This newly added offering will also increase accessibility for audiences in emerging markets where smartphone penetration is still at its infancy stage or where mobile data packages may restrict the download and usage of mobile apps.
Visit Paktor here.