Update: Readers have pointed out the similarities between Paktor and Tinder, a US dating app. Indeed, the user interfaces do look similar, right down to the color scheme and motifs.
Singaporean Joseph Phua turned single after a long-term relationship, but found it tough going when he began dating again. Not that he lacks confidence, but his experience on matchmaking websites, which he tried on the advice of friends, yielded little.
Putting up a profile takes a lot of effort, and the matching process takes forever — sometimes up to three months. There wasn’t any instant gratification either.
On the bright side, the experiences gave him a startup idea. While dating websites were unsatisfactory, he found mobile dating apps like OkCupid far more promising. But none of these apps are hitting the nail on the head.
So he decided to give it a go. In May this year, he convinced Christopher D’Cruz, a fellow MBA student at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, to join him.
“I’ve tried a lot of dating options, but mobile apps tend to be much simpler since they’re location-based,” said Chris.
In Asia, a new breed of mobile dating apps are fast gaining in popularity, sometimes reaching thousands of users. Paktor, which was started in Singapore but plans to expand regionally, is one of many.
What separates these apps from traditional dating websites is their ease of use. They usually involve integration with existing social networks, making sign-ups a breeze. Location-based detection appears to be a must, and emphasis is placed on the all-important profile picture and a simple description.
While Momo already has millions of users, the phenomenon is fairly recent, surfacing only in 2011. Also, excluding China, the rest of Asia appears to be virgin territory for mobile dating apps.
That’s why the founders of Paktor decided to launch in Asia with Singapore as its first market.
“Asians are a lot shyer and have a higher fear of rejection. If we can let them hide behind a networking service that enables them to meet people, why not?” said Joseph.
Since launching a month ago, the app has already secured 25,000 active users with 40 percent of them using the app daily. Nine out of ten return after their first use.
It also has angel funding separated into tranches, and the amount the startup receives will depend upon hitting milestones. But if all goes well, they will have money to expand to eight cities in six months. Bangkok, Jakarta and Hong Kong are next on their list, and an Android app is in the works.
Unlike Noonswoon, which introduces users to one date a day at precisely noon, Paktor is a buffet. Set a filter, let the app find out your location, and you can view a deck of potential dates near you, flashcard-style.
The app is designed to replicate the bar or nightclub experience, that is, one based primarily on first impressions. Users can flick a photo left if they don’t like what they’re seeing. However, it lessens the sting of rejection using a double-blind concept: Both parties won’t know if they’re being flicked into oblivion.
Flicking right, on the other hand, indicates interest, and if the potential date reciprocates the gesture, a private chat session is set up.
The rest is up to them. To date, 30,000 chat sessions have been created, an average of just above one a user. The curve steepens heavily towards the more active, lovelorn seekers.
I can definitely see why the app is popular. It is easy to “get”, and the experience of flicking photos with your thumb is addictive. Profile-building is minimized, so information about users are kept minimal. As a result, you’d have to make decisions based on the photo and a short one-paragraph description.
Expectedly, Paktor, which is Hokkien for “going on a date”, plans to rely on a freemium model to generate revenue. However, the founders want the free version to be a complete experience in itself. The company is considering charging users for the ability to make their profiles more eye-catching, although specifics are being worked out.
Another way Paktor wants to make money is through partnering with businesses. And that’s where Charlene Koh, the third co-founder, comes in.
A former classmate of Joseph, Charlene left her job to start a blogshop but was approached to work on Paktor instead. Her connections in the clubbing industry is crucial to where the startup is heading: To serve as a recommendations engine for dates.
So far, the company has already partnered with a club, a bar and a restaurant in Singapore. They plan to expand their network to even more venues across the region.
Potentially, users could eventually reserve a table at a restaurant through the app, but that’s something for the future. Right now, Paktor is focused on acquiring users, and it is seeking distribution and media partnerships to bring the app to even more youths.
Like Facebook, which was founded in the dorms and spread through university campuses, Paktor is also counting on educational institutions to gain popularity.
With a horde of freshmen about to enter college grounds this August, orientation activities have been a key plank of Paktor’s marketing strategy in Singapore.
On a different front, the anti-MBA feeling among the startup crowd is seemingly at an all-time high. To that, Joseph has this to say:
“It’s the best thing that’s happened to me.”
Running a startup is not just about building products, and what he found most useful was what he learnt about marketing, sales, and operations.
The relationships he’s built with fellow students, professors, and the international alumni base would mean that he’s able to reach anyone he needs to scale the business pretty quickly.
“It’s a bubbling pot where people are keen to do impressive things,” chimed Chris.
Ironically, starting Paktor has left Joseph little time to go on actual dates. Eating his own dogfood, he has made 70 matches on the app, and actually chatted with about 20 of them.
“But I haven’t been out for dinner for the last three weeks,” he said.
Maybe when the company reaches a more stable stage.