slew of entrepreneurs and investors are seeing an opportunity in this shift. At one end of the spectrum are casual hook-up apps like Tinder, and anonymous apps like Whisper and Secret where one can flirt and date strangers anonymously. Unsurprisingly, Thrill, a casual dating app targeting 18-24 year olds, which was part-funded by the promoters of Shaadi, has been canned. Now the promoters of Thrill are working on another dating app called Frivil which is in private beta mode and hence still under wraps. “We want to gamify the dating experience. The response has been very good. We are looking at the college-going crowd,” says Josh Israel, one of the cofounders.
At the other end of the spectrum are the traditional matrimonial sites Shaadi and Bharat Matrimony, which often target parents too, with emphasis on caste and community. Shaadi has 2 million active users and gets 10,000 new sign-ups every day, says chief executive Gourav Rakshit.
Then there are niche offline players like Floh andFootloose No More, which focus on meet-ups and events for singles. With strict screening and a membership fee, they are building a small but loyal and discerning member base of singles. “Today our reputation is such that often fathers come to drop off their daughters to our events,” says cofounder of Footloose No More Varsha Agnihotri Vadhyar.
The largest slice of the action, however, is in between traditional matrimony and casual dating – in the space of dating apps, most of them mobile-only. Apps like TrulyMadly, Woo, Quack Quack, Aisle, HitchUp, Desi-Crush and Krush are helping Indians pair off. They form the bulk of the market with 25-35 year-olds being their target segment. “Caste and community are a pretty regressive way of matchmaking,” says Sachin Bhatia, cofounder, TrulyMadly, which he says is meant for independent-minded singles who want to take charge of their lives and the choice of their life partner. Of its 1.4 million users, 80% are in the 18-34 year age bracket, and 30% are women. “Earlier, boys called the shots.
Now the dating apps have levelled the playing field giving girls the controls to screen, vet, accept or reject men,” says Bhatia
The story is similar at Woo, cofounded by Sumesh Menon last year. It claims to have over one million users today, 40% from tier II and tier III cities. With women-men ratio at , Menon says it is different from casual dating apps and is targeting 25-plus singles looking for serious relationships.
There are good reasons behind these entrepreneurs’ optimism. The sheer size and scale of the segment are tantalizing. About half of the Indian population today is under 25 years, and there are an estimated 250 million singles in the 18-35 years category – the largest in the world, larger than even China.
While figures for the size of the market vary wildly, angel investor Sasha Mirchandani of Kae Capital – also an investor in TrulyMadly – estimates that online matrimony is around Rs 1,200 crore; escort in Washington the nascent Indian dating market, he guesstimates, could be approximately ten times that
The surge in smartphone adoption is catalysing the change. From under 200 million today, the smartphone base in India is expected to touch 651 million by 2019 (second only to China), according to a forecast by Cisco. “When we launched TrulyMadly, we realized that 90% of the traffic was coming from mobile devices,” says Bhatia. The privacy and comfort that come with a personal device are a big enabler. Mobile-only apps like Woo and TrulyMadly are seeing high engagement levels, with the latter claiming its users spend on an average of 50 minutes a day.