Dating apps have flooded the app stores in recent years, so much so that it can be intimidating and overwhelming for someone who’s never socialized in this way to even pick an app to use. In the beginning, dating apps were meant to simplify things, and make it easier for like-minded people to find each other and connect in a meaningful way. But as the number of users surged, things started to get more complicated, for users and product builders alike.
If you’re thinking of building and launching your very own dating app, you should plan ahead and think very carefully about how you’re going to go about this. With so many apps already on the market, it takes a lot of creativity and a clear and unique product identity to get any kind of traction and attract users. Not to mention that you’ll have to come up with an out-of-the-box marketing strategy and implement safety measures to protect your users. We talked in more detail about the challenges of building a dating app in a previous article, so make sure you give that a read to know what you’re getting yourself into.
Besides crafting an impeccable user experience and a well-oiled matching algorithm, marketing your new dating app will be one of your biggest hurdles. The daunting thought of competing with juggernauts like Tinder, Hinge, or Bumble is one of the reasons why many entrepreneurs give up before even getting started. However, what you should remember is that you most likely won’t be competing with the industry giants. Instead, you’ll probably be fighting for the market they’ve left over for the small fish of the dating app world. Here’s what we mean.
How do you find a niche for your new dating app? 7 examples of how it can be done
Match Group’s products, Tinder, Hinge, Match, and OkCupid take up roughly one-third of the market together, according to data quoted by Wired. eHarmony is next, controlling roughly 12% of the market, which is worth $5 billion in the U.S. alone, according to IBISWorld research. That leaves about 50% of the dating market unaccounted for, leaving room for other apps to compete for this space. This is why, once you step out of the shadow of big name dating apps, many products are focused on very specific audiences and niches. For instance, there are dating apps focused on farmers, dog or cat lovers, gamers, apps that connect people based on their personalities, apps powered by AI, and even apps that connect people based on their meme preferences.
All dating app newcomers will be competing against each other for user attention and loyalty, with relatively no effect on Match Group’s market dominance. So, you shouldn’t be discouraged and compare your product to Tinder; instead, try to find a niche, an audience that hasn’t been covered yet by other apps, and invest your efforts in attracting and retaining that audience.
Dating app Snack captures your attention the minute you enter their website, telling you directly that it’s ‘not your parents’ dating app.’ The free dating app is dedicated to video sharing, catering to GenZers who are already familiar with Tik Tok and who prefer interactive content instead of simple selfies. Snack tries to eliminate dating fails and fake profiles by encouraging users to share videos of themselves – their real selves. The name of the app itself targets younger users – GenZers tend to call people they find attractive ‘snacks’. If you’re still confused about this, then Snack might not be the one for you – after all, it’s only for users under 36 years of age.
Snack stands out from other dating apps by focusing on video content instead of profile pictures or selfies. They encourage users to have fun with the content and share details about themselves in a more interactive way. For instance, the app will launch video prompts to help you get started, like ‘Show us how tall you are in comparison to common household items.’
It might sound like it’s all fun and games, but Snack also implemented features that aim to eliminate ghosting, which is a common phenomenon in online dating. The app allows users to report such behaviours, and this will lead to the ghoster’s profile becoming less visible to other users.
Lex is another app that stands out from the crowd for the right reasons. The app, previously known as Personals, takes its inspiration from the personal ads in On Our Backs, a female-run magazine that operated in the 1980s and 1990s. The founder, Kelly Rakowski, created the Personals Instagram page in 2016 to connect like-minded LGBTQ+ users. The page took submissions once a month, and published them on Instagram, tagging the people who submitted them.
After a while, the page had so many followers and submissions that Rakowski decided to build a separate app catering to the Personals audience. That’s when she created Lex. Its history and inspiration is meaningful to the LGBTQ+ community that it caters to, and the app has a zero-tolerance policy and aims to be a safe and inclusive place for queer people.
The name is short for lexicon, which gives you an idea of how it works: it’s text first, selfies second. That means that app users have to get to know each other through text messaging before seeing one another – in a similar way to Netflix’s Love is Blind program, but without the lifelong marriage commitment.
If you’ve ever taken the Myers–Briggs personality test, then So Syncd might be the dating app for you. This is the first such app to connect people with compatible personality types, such as the Thinker, the Artist, Advocate, Mediator, and so on.
To join the So Syncd app, you first take a quick personality test to determine your type, then complete the rest of your profile. The app will match you to people with a compatible personality type, to give you the best chance of finding someone with the same interests and personality traits as you. You’ll see a compatibility percentage when looking at other users’ profiles, and that will give you a hint as to whether your personality types go well together or not.
So Syncd was created in February 2021, and by April 2021 it had already amassed 60,000 users who’d sent over three million messages on the app. It also managed to raise $1 million in funding to grow its U.S. user base. The app continues to grow and is a hit among introverts and extroverts alike, as knowing someone’s personality upfront eliminates a lot of conflict and misunderstanding that can commonly arise as two people get to know each other.
Similar to So Sync and Lex, Jigsaw is a dating app that puts personality first, and looks second. If you’re into puzzles, then you will definitely have fun with this one. Each user’s profile photo is covered by a jigsaw puzzle, and the only way to start putting the pieces together is to keep chatting and getting to know each other. Basically, the more you talk and find out things about each other, the more you get to see. This way, the app allows users to ‘reveal what’s real,’ and focus on matching personalities instead of matching with someone solely based on a selfie.
The puzzle approach seems to be working just fine for Jigsaw. The app has 100,000 users and was Mashable’s top pick as an alternative to Tinder in February 2021. It also scored $3.7 million in seed funding to further expand its U.S. user base, and is planning more juicy features to make the app even more appealing to puzzle solvers.
Schmooze is not for the faint of heart. In fact, if you don’t have a sense of humour, you might feel overwhelmed by this app. In a nutshell, the app lets you swipe memes instead of profiles – yes, you read that right. If you’re a meme lover and appreciator, then this is the app for you.
How does it work, though? Schmooze uses tagging and machine learning and combines all of that with user bios to show relevant memes to each user, based on their preferences and interests. Some users will be more interested in music-related memes, others will prefer clever puns and literary memes – whatever it is, you’ll find the right meme for you on Schmooze.
The meme-based algorithm was first tested on 200 Stanford students. After the success of the initial beta testing, Schmooze now has more than 10,000 downloads and 90,000 successful matches. The more a user swipes left or right on memes, the more the algorithm refines the types of memes it will show, until a match is found. Using humor as a proxy for a romantic match might be the perfect way to put the fun back into dating, and eliminate much of the pressure of finding someone.
Artificial Intelligence-powered app Iris is another dating app built out of frustration with the digital dating scene. Its goal is to save users time by using an AI-powered algorithm that you can ‘train’ based on your preferences. Another unique feature is the Iris ‘trust rating:’ basically, the more truthful you are and the more you share about yourself with the app, the higher your rating will go. Catfishing, fake images, ghosting, and other such behaviours will lower your rating on Iris.
The creators behind Iris believe that dating online shouldn’t be a popularity contest. That’s why they developed an AI system that learns what you like, and who/what you find attractive, and shows you members that you are likely to match with. According to the company, this creates a level playing field and ensures that everyone has a fair chance to find a match on the app. However, the program starts to work only after it discovers the type users are most attracted to visually – hence the name, Iris.
Happn is a location-based dating app that allows users to connect with people they’ve crossed paths within their daily lives, be that at the grocery store, in line at the movie theater, or anywhere else. Since its inception in 2014, Happn has grown to have 100 million users and 4.9 million messages sent via the app on a daily basis.
How does it work? Happn works by matching you with people you’ve crossed paths with within a 250-meter radius. This makes it much easier to connect with people who live in the same city or who frequent the same shops or venues that you do, so you know you already have something in common to break the ice. The downside is that after an unsuccessful date with a match, you will be likely to keep running into each other, which might become awkward. However, it’s the best app out there to help you connect with people who have caught your eye, so it’s definitely worth giving it a try.
When you’re looking for the right niche for your new dating app, there are several dimensions of the whole online dating going mobile experience that you can consider. There are three core user flows in a dating app, and depending on the mechanics you choose, they can also shape the positioning of your app:
- How users set up a their profile
- What medium is mainly used to communicate the user’s profile? Is it text, photo or video? Why the one and not the others?
- What do you want to highlight through the user’s profile? Their looks, personality, humour, background, location? Something else? Make sure the elements you include and the ones you prioritise are there for a reason, and not just because other players on the market are doing the same thing.
2. Matching mechanics
- What are your priorities? First-time impressions or a deeper, more meaningful connection?
- What carries more weight in matching? The location, the algorithm, or the user’s decision-making?
3. Conversation mechanics
- Is there a particular type of communication you want to encourage between matches?
Jigsaw, which we mentioned above, encourages long-term conversations by uncovering the user’s match after a certain amount of time has passed. Thursday, another dating app we mentioned in our other article, encourages people to meet live instead of spending time on the app. Consider what type of conversations you want to encourage matches to have on your app, or if you’d rather be completely hands-off in the process.
- Are there behaviours you want to discourage? Snack penalizes profiles for ghosting, and in many apps, abusive behaviour results in a blocked account.
Carefully consider these three dimensions as you work on defining your dating app concept. Depending on how you mix and match these different factors and features, you can create a niche for your dating app that isn’t covered by any other product. That’s how you give your product a fighting chance to take over a share of the market.