This month, a new dating app called ModelClub launched in the UK and US that is pitching itself as the place where “elite members of society” can meet.
In a press release, the founders of the site said the product is for “single ladies and wealthy men including CEOs, executives, investors, entrepreneurs, beauty queens, supermodels, celebrities, doctors, lawyers and other elite members of society.”
The app is the third dating venture from owners Harlex Projects, and sees the app makers “betting big on video”.
ModelClub offers video chat to its users, a tool that seeks to double up as a security measure, by helping to cut down on fake profiles and verify identities.
Despite the exclusive focus, however, ModelClub does not run a strict admissions process, in fact, as co-founder of ModelClub Berhan Kongel told us in a recent interview, at first “everybody goes in”.
The dating app does, however, require women to record a video to compare them with their profile, which must be taken live with the camera, before their account is validated.
Men, on the other hand, must pay in order to send a message, and Kongel said they are charged “handsomely” to use the service.
According to its owners, ModelClub already has over 100,000 MAUs with a 35% female share in Turkey and the Middle East, where it has seen strong growth since launching earlier this year.
We recently caught up with partner and co-founder Berhan Kongel to hear more about the product, and how it plans to navigate its chosen niche.
Why did you originally want to build ModelClub?
Actually, ModelClub is not the first dating app we have built. We were already building native social apps back in 2012. When we decided to enter the dating space three years ago, the biggest players were almost all web-based with very similar feature sets.
Tinder was a two-year-old company, barely known outside the US. It was the perfect opportunity for us since we possessed all the necessary technical capabilities to build a native mobile experience in a huge market flooded with web-based products.
The first thing we did was to get rid of the most common profile features like eye color, height and weight etc., to provide a simple UI.
We then replaced the square photos with big rectangular ones to make the product more visual, different and appealing.
Instead of an email-style messaging structure, we introduced both instant messaging and live video chat. That was two years ago when our first app SupportGirls was born. A year later we launched our second dating app Richy.
ModelClub is our third dating app and this time we are betting big on video.
When did the app first launch?
We soft–launched ModelClub in April this year. It launched in the UK and US markets on 8th August 2017.
How does the admissions process for the app work? How do you decide who gets onto the app?
We do not block anybody automatically after signup. So, at first everybody goes in. Since men cannot send messages without paying, and because we curate the main feed to show paying users on top, not much administration is required except for checking photos for obscenity and evaluating reports by other users.
For a woman to start chatting we require a video to compare the person to its original profile on the app. The video has to be taken live with the front camera. We do not allow curated uploads from the device for validation.
Once the video is approved by the admin team the user is notified, her account is validated and she can start chatting. Any given time there are at least four people watching the live feed to delete inappropriate visuals and read chat histories of users that are reported by others several times.
Our admin team either send in-app warnings to them, bans them for a limited time or kicks them out of the service permanently. This process runs 24/7. On top of this human-based administration process we have algorithms that automatically delete any personal information (phone numbers, social media accounts etc.) that appear in the public domain like name or bio, and this prompts the sending of automatic warnings to users.
Why did you want to focus on video connections for ModelClub? What purpose does this serve?
Well it’s simple actually. Nothing replaces a proper face-to-face conversation as a means of communication in the real world. Video chat is the digital equivalence of face-to-face conversation. It’s easier to build trust when you actually see the person. Also, no matter how careful and rigorous we are as a company with user admission and content administration, no admin team can replace the actual user for evaluating the other users to keep the high quality of the community.
Video chat has turned out to be one of the most efficient ways for community management.
Tinder is currently running a similar service called Tinder Select. How is your service different from theirs, and do you see it as a potential threat?
We are extremely happy that Tinder launched a product in our niche. They are a huge company and at some point they will start to spend PR money for Select, which will create mainstream awareness of this niche and expand the market as a result.
We will piggyback on this awareness to grow at a faster rate. One should not forget that in the dating business the first major force that attracts users to any dating service is the quality of the community.
A distant second is the product capability. Right now, ModelClub is superior to Tinder Select in both accounts. And we are planning to keep it that way based on our over two years of experience in this niche.
How do you plan to attract the clientele you are looking to populate the app with? How do you plan to grow the app’s user base (marketing/advertising/PR strategies)?
We are already growing exponentially in the Middle East and Turkey using a mix of performance marketing, guerrilla marketing and PR. Although growth dynamics in different markets are different from each other, our value proposition remains the same around the globe.
We care about a global community within the product and only localise a maximum of 10% of the feed in any given country. That’s one of the key differentiators of ModelClub, and our marketing mix is adjusted accordingly. We are targeting rich and beautiful people only and charge them handsomely with a greater profit margin. This means for each 100 users a mainstream dating app acquires, we only need one to make the same profit.
So, we don’t need to target millions of people but rather just hundreds or thousands to be a big business. This positioning affects our marketing strategy significantly. We do a lot of offline marketing, branding and PR instead of investing heavily on digital to fuel word-of-mouth growth. Rich people bring rich people because they are friends with rich people, and beautiful girls have beautiful friends. This fact is what fuels our organic growth.
Why did you decide to launch the app in the Middle East and Turkey first? What have you learned about the product since launching in these markets?
When we launched our first dating app we were looking for a country or region with relatively low acquisition costs but high paying conversion rates, especially at our price range, and a reasonable total accessible market. These KPIs brought us to Turkey and the Middle East region and the product was an immediate hit.
Also launching and scaling a dating product in a fairly conservative region brings about a certain discipline about conveying your message, i.e. what to say, what not to say, how to say it, where to say it and when to say it. We believe that this experience prepared us for bigger markets really well.
Can you give some stats on how the app is currently performing?
ModelClub currently has around 100,000 monthly active users with a 35% female share. Our global feed strategy allows us to market the product globally. Hence we sell to over 50 different countries every month.
How big is the ModelClub team? How did the team come together and what are your backgrounds in?
At the moment we are 14 people in two different countries. The core product team consists of five people with a wide variety of backgrounds: two computer engineers, one industrial engineer, one mechanical engineer and one mathematical engineer. The rest are in marketing, community management and customer relations.
Why did you decide to launch the app in the UK and US markets next?
After over two years of experience, we feel ready to scale ModelClub in two of the biggest dating markets in the world – the UK and the US. Also we started to get organic users from these countries without any marketing. We decided it was the right time to go for them.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
At the moment we are building heavily on video experience and incentivise users to add more and more videos to their profiles. Our target is that over 90% of the feed consists of video profiles by the end of this year.
It could be sooner considering our current rate of video profile growth. Our community really likes videos. We also are aiming to add another 100,000 monthly actives in the UK and US markets in the next two quarters.
Find out more about ModelClub here.