An app that brings sin­gle pro­fes­sion­als to­gether is tap­ping into a lu­cra­tive world­wide wave, writes Noor Nanji

The National - News - - BUSINESS LIFE -

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

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