Photo by Iwaria
Narrator: Where would you rather find love? From your inner circle? You know, leave fate to bring your soulmate your way. Or would go the unconventional way, scrolling through a list of potential partners from the comfort of your room? Maybe unconventional sounds easier and quicker, but what about trust issues and the general cultural bias, particularly in this part of the world?
As unpopular as the terrain is in Africa, the online dating industry continues to attract a fair number of tech entrepreneurs. Adetolani Eko, Moronke Anifowose and Osagie Omonzokpia make up a team of such entrepreneurs.
On this episode of Built in Africa, we focus on Vybe, a Nigerian online dating startup that is designed to help Africans connect with other Africans both online and offline infuses a conventional touch into the online matchmaking process to retain the regular style of dating.
The software engineering trio of Adetolani, Moronke and Osagie began their foray into the business of love in April 2019. But it wasn’t without the initial skepticism.
Adetolani: We were a bit sceptical about it in the sense that there was no market leader that I could say, okay this is who we are following for this particular continent.
Narrator: That’s Adetolani Eko, co-founder and CEO of Vybe. By the way, Vybe is spelt VYBE.
Adetolani: We decided to carry out some surveys and customer interviews. So we called different people we knew and also strangers. We didn’t tell them what we were working on, we just sort of asked them “what they thought about online dating? What are the general issues you face while looking for somebody or finding a partner online? Have you tried dating services? What was your experience, what were the things you liked and did not like?”
Narrator: The result of the survey bolstered their resolve; they built an MVP app which they launched in April 2019.
Adetolani: The feedback was amazing. We hit about 1000 users in less than 48 hours of launching the beta app. So we initially planned to do a sample size of about 500 users but users kept coming in and our servers even crashed at a point
Narrator: The less traditional means of finding love has been around for a while but it became widespread with an increase in the use of Internet tools. While it is yet to be widely embraced in some climes, the online dating industry is worth more than $3 million globally. However, the Nigerian market is quite young.
Because of this reality and the existence of competition, Vybe had to offer a different touch to make it stand out. The team had the perfect idea.
Adetolani: Because of the peculiarities of the African market, the market we are going after, we noticed that it’s not enough to do an online thing. We decided to create an offline section where people can meet from time to time. A good example of that was a speed dating event that we had some time, late 2019, where we brought different single people together and then you’d go on short speed dates. And the event was incredibly successful
Narrator: However, the numbers recorded from the physical events paled in comparison to online matches, but it was a necessary setback for the moment. Osagie Omonzokpia, the Chief Technology Officer explains why.
Osagie: The speed dating event was free but it was for registered users only. So you register and we select, because we wanted to control the size. That was our first major event and we didn’t want something we could not handle. So after we’d gotten about 180 people registered, we selected only about 50 so we could have 25 pairs.
Narrator: Eventually, offline events would become a major revenue generating source going by the number of registered interests.
It isn’t surprising to find out that despite the interesting touch, there remains the need to give users some sort of assurance; the skepticism and trust issues persist. To combat this, they employ some machine learning.
Moronke: When you check some other dating apps, you see things like shoes, you don’t see human pictures there. We make sure you put your own picture there and then we use machine learning to verify that the image you’re uploading is actually your own image.
Narrator: That’s Anifowose Moronke, the Chief Operations Officer (COO) explaining the verification process.
Moronke: And then we also encourage users to get verified. So with the verification system, you’ll have to give us a lot of information about yourself and then we have to do our own validation. So like checking your ID card and all of that to make sure you are verified.
Narrator: Of course, users can report suspicious accounts and repeat offenders are scrutinised and made to go through proper verification. Also, attending any of Vybe’s physical meet-ups comes with an added advantage.
Moronke: On the app, we promote that you should believe verified accounts more than those that are not verified. And once you come to our event and we can see you physically, definitely, you are verified automatically on the platform.
Narrator: This gives other users the idea that you can be trusted, thus increasing your chances of getting matched.
Interestingly, all these are available for free. But that’s only for a start. Subsequently, Vybe will take on a subscription model.
Adetolani: So yeah, we’re going with the freemium model where we will have the free users and the paid users. Free users will have access to a limited number of features, while paid users will have access to all features available on the app with no ads.
Narrator: That was Adetolani again. So what’s the pricing model like?
Adetolani: Because we know the market we operate in we decided to go with a cheaper model. For casual dating, we’ll be charging between ₦1000 to ₦1500 per month for a premium user. And then for serious dating where we have a lot of features, it’s been ₦3,500 to ₦5000.
Narrator: That was Adetolani talking about pricing. For perspective ₦1000 is a little over $2 and ₦5000 is between 10 to 12 dollars.
Until they start charging users, the business will keep depending on in-app ad revenue from targeted promotions.
But self-funding can only go so far, considering the activities already in motion, so the founders are on the lookout for external funding. The challenge, however, is how to convince investors that there’s a future for online dating platforms in Nigeria and Africa.
Admittedly, there are popular online dating apps catering to users globally, but they are sometimes faulted for not matching Africans with other Africans. The founders of Vybe believe they have conveniently tapped into this gap and this serves as an advantage that would keep them around for a long time.
With high hopes drawn from over 10,000 downloads by users between the ages of 18 and 35 from at least 65 countries in less than two years, Vybe appears to have a future on the continent as long as it keeps evolving.
It exhibited this during the COVID-19 induced lockdown in Nigeria. Vybe was able to remain in the minds of new and existing users by introducing virtual game nights and speed dates.
Adetolani: So, we know it’s a market that is always going to be accessible and as the times continue to change, we are also ready to change our model. We see that it’s a very sustainable market and as long as people keep coming, we can keep generating ad revenue. And as long as we continue delivering great service. You’ll have people that will want to pay for the premium features to get the best experience on the app. So I think we are gonna be around for a while.
Thank you for listening to Built in Africa.
This script was adapted by Kolawole Oluwanifemi and edited by Muyiwa Matuluko
Research and interview by Kolawole Oluwanifemi
Sound design by Oghenekaro Obrutu
This is a production of Techpoint Africa
I am Emmanuel Paul
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