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What your startup can learn from dating apps

Here’s how Hinge built user loyalty — and what you can learn from it.

By Sifted

When most European countries went into lockdown, dating apps had a choice: pivot to virtual dating or risk losing users.

Hinge — a US-founded dating app that markets itself as one which helps build meaningful connections, and uses the tagline “designed to be deleted” — needed a digital community solution. It turned to user engagement platform Sendbird to add to its service offering. 

“When you compare [Hinge] against all the other dating apps, they’re all about building long-term relationships,” says Jack Wei, head of product marketing at Sendbird. “It’s also been set up differently to get people to actually message each other, take baby steps and then move from chat to a call then to a Zoom-like live video experience — all within the mobile app.” 

Successfully rebuilding a digital community during a global pandemic is sure to result in some useful lessons. So what can other startups learn from Hinge? How can early-stage companies build communities with digital services?

Don’t sleep on video

After surveying users during the pandemic, Hinge found 70% were open to virtual dating — but it also found many were then turning to other platforms, like Zoom, to go on that virtual date.

Wei says the results made it clear Hinge needed to add in-app video and phone calls. This would enable them to keep building both intra-user relationships and a relationship with the Hinge brand during Covid. 

“Hinge is interesting for Sendbird in particular because they started out with us on a chat-only basis. They had voice and video on the roadmap, but you can imagine how Covid accelerated that,” he says. “There was a period where nobody was able to meet in person and so how do you build deep, meaningful connections in virtual-only mode?”

“If you think about all the ways that humans interact, they wanted to cover all the touch points from that point forward” 

Wei adds that lockdowns and restrictions especially exposed the need for Hinge — and other platforms — to incorporate as many ways of digital interaction as possible to keep up with their competitors. 

“If you think about all the ways that humans interact, they wanted to cover all the touchpoints from that point forward,” he says. “They’re ultimately competing with other dating apps for users, so what’s going to make a difference? The idea of having more channels and ways to build that brand affinity and loyalty is a huge factor here.” 

And it paid off — after adding video, Hinge’s survey found 67% of users were satisfied and had fun using the feature and 50% of its users planned to continue using the feature. 

 Time to market is key 

Time to market was really critical for Hinge during the pandemic — they needed to add video as quickly as possible before losing users.

“We really wanted to get it out to our users as fast as we could,” says Jason Pearson, an Android developer at Hinge. “We felt like we could hit the ground running the fastest with Sendbird.” 

Working with Sendbird, Hinge launched voice and video calls in five weeks to five different markets. According to Wei, building something like this in-house and from scratch could have taken any company up to six months. 

It’s always an arms race for startups versus their competitors”

“Building something as complex as chat, it requires time, it requires money,” says Bryan Bui, a product marketing manager at Sendbird. “This is a huge obstacle for enterprise companies, let alone startups.” 

According to Bui, Sendbird has the infrastructure to keep up with 5bn messages across apps per month, as well as 2bn users across apps. But he adds that as well as time to market, market fit is also key, so startups need to ask: does my community really want this?

It’s always an arms race for startups versus their competitors,” he says. “Not just being new and innovative but also finding that market fit for driving early revenue.” 

The importance of safe spaces

Community building can’t be done properly without creating safe spaces. In dating, this is especially important, so with Hinge, encryption for chat and video is key. 

“Trust and privacy are very important in the dating world,” Wei says. “When two people make a connection they need to know no one’s watching them, nothing is being recorded, no one’s monitoring what’s going on.” 

Video chats are also an additional safety feature for daters as they can help make sure the person they’ve been chatting with matches their profile and prevent catfishing. 

“When two people make a connection they need to know no one’s watching them, nothing is being recorded, no one’s monitoring what’s going on” 

Wei says checking identities with video can extend to other businesses which involve chat outside the dating world. But text-based chats (that don’t need to be encrypted) can also be moderated with Sendbird, including profanity filters and inappropriate image filters.

Don’t lose sight of your core proposition

For Bui, one of the most important things to remember with community building is not to lose sight of what your startup’s main proposition is. That’s the reason the community is there in the first place.

“With Sendbird we remove many obstacles, so companies can focus on the core business of their application, so they can increase engagement and ultimately drive revenue,” he says. 

Wei says a lot of sectors can potentially benefit from adding community chat — whether that’s text, calls or video. 

“We are seeing a lot of growth in fintech, things like social payments”

“We are seeing a lot of growth in fintech, things like social payments,” he says. “It could be investment advice from a professional to an individual investor or even investors amongst themselves.” 

Other applications which took off during the pandemic include fantasy sports, movie watch parties with streaming apps and telemedicine, says Wei.  Doordash, an online food delivery platform and Sendbird client, is another example. By building chat into the Doordash app to improve the delivery experience, they decreased the number of missed deliveries, which are commonly caused by poor communication.

“If you ordered a meal or groceries and it didn’t show up, you can now quickly message your driver or delivery person in-app and get in touch with them to figure out what’s going on,” he says. “It really helps reduce the number of support tickets these businesses get.”  

Trusted by modern digital apps like Reddit, Glovo, Hinge, Schibsted and Yahoo Fantasy Sports, Sendbird allows businesses to quickly and easily embed rich brand-to-user or user-to-user interactions into their mobile or web app.

Learn more about how you can boost user engagement, increase transactions and create meaningful in-app interactions with Sendbird’s chat, voice and video API cloud infrastructure.

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Sendbird: APIs for in-app chat, voice, and video

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