Name: Arsen Kazibekov
Position & Company: CEO & founder, MyDiaspora.mobi
Tell us a little about MyDiaspora.
MyDiaspora is a dating service with geo-social network. We create groups by nationality and location (Diaspora). There is 5000 nationalities in our database. Initially, the focus that we had was on migrants, who are individuals that live away from home. According to statistics, 53% of all migrants are men at the age of 30, and 51% of them are Muslims. Although, the first meeting that we had with clients had shown that this algorithm is suitable equally for migrants and for those who live in Muslim countries.
Moreover, the project picked out people from religious and cultural groups. The algorithm that we have created is not only suitable for Muslims, but also other traditional conservative communities. In addition, for Muslims it is the only way to date without violating religious and cultural norms.
Why did you decide to build the site? Was there a specific inspiration?
I am a Muslim and a native from Dagestan (Caucasus). In Dagestan there are about 36 nationalities, which are considered small, each of these nationalities have their own language, and these languages are considered the most difficult languages to learn. I decided to create this site, because I myself went through this problem with choosing a partner amongst my friends and acquaintances.
In 2003, I created an ethno-cultural social network that brings together people of the same nationality and that are in the same location. The social network was something like a discussion club where people would exchange news and cultural content. I as the site admin would often receive mails from different individuals and in these mails; they would ask me to introduce them to someone. They experienced the same issue that I have experienced, and then this thought has appeared. I felt this issue when it was my time to get married. The members then joined groups on social networks and now they need something more.
Do you think My Diaspora caters to an online dating niche that is underserved? How big is the potential market?
In the Western internet, there are about a billion of people and 20% of them use dating services regularly, and this market all together is at a cost of $4 billion. In a conservative Muslim world 1.2 billion of people have access to the internet and it is primarily through a mobile device, but only 1% of them use dating services. Why is that? We have conducted a global study on this issue, and interviewed over a 1,000 of people that are of different nationalities.
We conducted in-depth interviews and found that the Western method of visual sorting contradicts cultural and religious norms of Muslims and other conservative communities. The interviewees had many more wishes and thoughts on what they think should be the ideal Dating service. Based on this information we came up with a new algorithm for dating. We received an approval from spiritual leaders of three faiths who are in Russian and in the USA.Moreover, we received comments from them, then we made minor changes and eventually we received their approval and their blessing. Overall, based on this information we made a mobile app.
Do you think the concept of your site has been misconstrued by the media?
It was something like a guerrilla marketing; our task was to tell the audience as much as possible about our project with no budget, and we did it. Initially, we sent letters to journalists and these letters stated that we have created an application for Muslims who are migrants. In addition, we have also mentioned that there are tests, and it is a geo-social network that is approved by all the spiritual leaders, etc.
Journalists showed no interest, and they ignored all of our first letters. Then we decided to use their desires for sensational headlines and we sent one-text messages, which stated the following “App to find a second wife appeared in Russia.” After 15 minutes, they called us back, and three days later, the newspaper published an article about us. The next day, the central television channels showed a report about our project.Journalists began to call themselves and to this day more than 300 of the world media have written about us.
This feature that allows one to find a second wife is not the main goal of this app, our app is not about that. It is just one out of the 20 search options that reporters liked, and it is only available to Muslims. Now we have restrictions on its use, this feature will be available to citizens of those countries where polygamy is allowed and not prohibited.
How many active users does the site currently have?
At this moment, we are not ready to disclose this information. We are currently negotiating with investors, but growth rates are significant for such a startup that started three weeks ago. Our servers are running at full capacity.
Where are your biggest markets?
Our markets are wherever there are Muslims, immigrants, and people from conservative societies. What we mean by when we say conservative societies is not only Muslims, but also to a part of China and India. At this moment, we have the top five countries in which our application is popular and these are the following, United Kingdom, Pakistan, Russia, United States, and Europe. After each new article that is published in each country, our audience is increasing and continues to grow significantly. We strive to ensure that in five years, our application will become the standard dating of the East, similar to Tinder and Match.com for the West.
Are there any markets you particularly want to launch in?
There are about 10 countries in the world with a population of 350 million people where dating services are prohibited, and these countries are mainly Muslim countries. We can become the first players there. For example, we plan to enter the Iranian market, and in the Iranian market, the main problem is divorce (24%) recognised at the state level. They even created their own state agency dating in which a pair handpicks 100 people. Our application there will be very useful. Upon receipt of the next round, we rushed there. We have already met with their consuls in Moscow and received their support.
What sets My Diaspora apart from its competitors?
We invented dating again; we have established new rules, which meet the audience desires. In the East the bride is not chosen by her appearance: hair color, breast size, and how tall she is, this is not critical. A method for choosing one’s soulmate based on appearance does not work there. The things that do matter when a bride is chosen are origin, religion, ethnicity, education, cultural background, her life story, and profession. One needs to have a good understanding of this.
Muslim dating sites existed before, but they use the same method of visual sorting similar to the West. Despite this, they are still profitable, but their market share is too small. The largest market has an audience of 15 million in 10 years. Muslims in particular do not notice or pay attention to the Western dating services, and they are not seen as something serious. If someone sees, ones profile on Tinder, then one may face a reputation risk in the society, or arguments in the family.
How is your matchmaking algorithm different to those used by other dating sites?
Our algorithm is different to those used by other dating sites, because we use parameters such as ethnicity, religion, consideration of mutual claims, history of the individual’s life, as well as its own method of calculating the “cultural level” and “breadth of vision.” The photo is only shown after both of the individuals get to know each other better, or are ready.
Tell us about a few of your unique features.
MyDiaspora is the first application that follows all of the principles of Halal. We have received preliminary approval and we will soon receive an official certificate, which is valid worldwide. We consulted with the Islamic University of Russia and the Council of Muftis of Russia, which are considered institutions with good reputations. Moreover, we have also interacted with the Jews and the Hindus; they have also gave us their blessing.
Earlier there were projects that talked about the fact that they comply with the principles of Halal, but even a quick view of these sites casts a doubt on the competence of the founders in matters of religious law.What have we done? We transferred into the application millennial traditions of conservative societies. When there was a closer discussion, they were similar in many ways. We focused on privacy, accounting of mutual claims, nationality, and religion. A photograph of the candidate will not be shown on the search engine. The individual may decide if he wants to show his/her face. In many countries, the bride and groom before the wedding see each other a few times and it is usually in the presence of the girl’s father or relatives. The range of potential candidates is always limited. One cannot come and just ask the Palestinian and Turkish girl her hand in marriage (even if she lives in San Francisco).
Prior to this, it is necessary to observe a number of procedures; it is essential to say what the intentions are and how serious they are when speaking to the father or an older brother. We have the ability to add the father or older brother in the chat between candidates. This is a requirement of religious norms. We only match people who share the same beliefs and interests. We have a lot of parameters that Westerns would have a hard time understanding: the number of children in the family of the candidate, if a woman is ready to become a second wife, and if she has been previously married, because in the East her chances of getting married can dramatically decrease, especially if she has two children. In our application, chances will increase, and she will find the right candidate in a couple of weeks.
How big is your team? What is your background in?
We have a very experienced team, consisting of experienced developers and founders who have worked in the industry and have opened their companies, etc. One of the founders was a director of a product in the largest Russian dating site. Another founder has created more than 10 projects from scratch, knows the culture of the people of the East and the history of religions.
Did you raise any funding to build the site?
Yes, we used their money and received a round of two business angels. Now we want to draw a large round. We are open to suggestions.
What particularly interests you about the online dating industry?
The most important thing in this project is a huge backlog market with enormous resources and capabilities. Over the years, when the Western market dating started, the Eastern market could not go anywhere, because no one knew how to do projects that would be approved by the religious leaders, and finally the time has come.
How are you acquiring users? What are your marketing, advertising and PR strategies?
Our team is creative and came up with some original ideas, the news about the second wife was one of them. It took a day for them to come up with this story, and millions people read it, and these were people in several countries. The news on our application was the news of the day. It is an ongoing topic, and in these 7 days it did not subside instead it is growing. People are sending each other news about the application.
We have a lot of news and marketing ideas, which can give comparable coverage to potential markets. Many opinion leaders and potential partners who we had previously contacted, have not told us their word. Eastern countries are more centralised – if an individual of an authority says that this is the right thing, then it will become the right thing in a month. However, it must be done after the product is fully ready. We consciously adhere to this wave, we pulled the detonator of the hydrogen bomb.Of course we will use the traditional mechanics of attraction, but at this moment this is unnecessary.
How do you monetise the site?
Monetising is done by an experienced specialist who has worked on the the development and monetisation of the largest dating site in Eastern Europe, the first major site in Europe with a model freemium. The team of experts will develop services that are now considered standard industry worldwide. Therefore, there will be many new decisions made on the Muslim audience, but now we are starting to introduce traditional services advanced search, gifts, and self-paid service.
Check out MyDiaspora.mobi here.