MATCHING MUSLIM CONSUMER TRENDS
An app that brings single professionals together is tapping into a lucrative worldwide wave, writes Noor Nanji
Boy meets girl, falls in love, settles down and lives happily ever after – it’s a tale as old as time, but this is 2018 and the internet has forever changed the way we meet partners, flirt, date and find true love. As more people turn to online dating, there are “enormous” moneymaking opportunities out there for savvy entrepreneurs, says Victor Anthony, managing director of internet and media at Aegis Capital.
“Just look at the market cap of [American dating leader] Match Group. It’s now at $12 billion. That tells you a lot in itself,” he tells The National.
“The stigma that you saw years ago is eroding as younger generations become more mobile focused and internet penetration rates increase,” he says. “So there is enormous growth potential in this space. Players with scale will continue to dominate the market, but there are also opportunities for niche operators to compete as well.” One such niche operator is Muzmatch in Aldgate, central London, a dating app for Muslims. The company was set up four years ago by Shahzad Younas, 33, a former investment banker at Morgan Stanley, and software engineer Ryan Brodie, 24, with the aim of helping young professional Muslims find partners.
It is backed by Hambro Perks, a venture firm co-founded by City veteran Rupert Hambro and former investment banker Dominic Perks, which backs British businesses. Other high-profile investors include Y Combinator and FJ Labs.
In January, Muzmatch raised £1.5 million (Dh7.8m) of seed funding to help it increase the team and expand internationally. “We want to be a global Muslim-focused consumer company,” Mr Younas says. Muzmatch is already in 215 territories and will grow further, he says. “There are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, so it’s a huge consumer market.”
Mr Younas, a Muslim, decided to launch the app as an answer to the problem he saw facing many young Muslims who were unable to find a partner. “For Muslims, a big part of the culture is marriage,” he says.
“There’s a lot of pressure to settle down. But I saw that many people, especially in professional circles like lawyers, bankers and doctors, were finding it hard to find that special someone. “Most of the existing dating apps were old-fashioned and awkward. I thought to myself, if we can create a modern, efficient app that taps into the new generation, who have money and are tech-savvy, it could be really big. So, I quit my job in 2014 and set up Muzmatch.”
More than 10,000 people around the world have found partners using the app, including a couple in Uganda. “It turns out they were the only two people on our platform in Uganda,” Mr Brodie says. “When it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”
The app combines new technology with traditional Muslim values. For instance, users have an option to add a chaperone, and you can blur out your pictures to protect your privacy.
Joining is free, but users can opt for a premium subscription which costs £19.99 per month and gets you unlimited swipes, a host of extra search preferences and a VIP badge to help you find your match faster.
Mr Younas says the company has been profitable for more than a year. “We’re growing faster than ever now,” he says. “Our goal is to hit 1 million users within the next 12 months, if not sooner. I think that’s absolutely achievable.”
Ali Qaiser, director and head of Middle East at Hambro Perks, says his firm chose to back Muzmatch due to its business model and its focus on building a genuine consumer brand for the Muslim market. “Muzmatch empowers young Muslims to meet other singles with a view to settling down,” Mr Qaiser says. “The key differentiator from similar apps targeted at Muslims is the focus on marriage rather than dating. The app has been in monetisation phase since March 2017, and has an impressive growth trajectory with revenue-generating users in a short period of time.”
Other dating apps have also spotted a gap in the market, and successfully built a user base around that. Inner Circle targets young, attractive, well-educated singletons who are fed up of endless swiping on mass-market apps such as Tinder. People are vetted before being allowed to join, and about half are rejected, says co-founder David Vermeulen.
“Our biggest USP is that we go for quality instead of quantity,” he tells The National.
“Many people are ‘Tinder tired’ and are looking for a more meaningful experience, with like-minded young professionals.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Happn, a dating app with 47 million users. Launched in Paris in 2014, it allows people to see who they have crossed paths with in real life, for example during their daily commute. It operates across 40 countries, with its biggest markets in Europe, India, Turkey and South America.
It also has about 200,000 users in the UAE.
“We are not addressing a niche, but potentially every single urban inhabitant in the world,” Didier Rappaport, chief executive and founder of Happn, says. The company has raised €30m [Dh135.8m] in three rounds, with the cash going towards expansion.
Shahzad Younas, 33, and Ryan Brodie, 24, are the London-based co-founders of Muslim dating app Muzmatch