The Love Bug: Mobile Dating In S.E.A

Dating has transformed from the traditional “let’s meet up and have a coffee!” to the swipe of a thumb. Perhaps this is a good thing as it shaves time off having to physically meet someone and then decide whether you like them. But you might also miss some great catches with mobile dating. Nevertheless, it is making waves all around the world.

FROM ONLINE TO MOBILE

According to Pewinternet.com, online dating sites are increasingly “supplemented by mobile applications from which users can do everything from browsing profiles to setting up real-time dates from the comfort of their smartphones”.

This should be no surprise considering mobile is more convenient, and on-the-go.

ONE OF THE BIGGEST PLAYERS

…in the world of mobile dating is Tinder. An app that has gained criticisms on both ends of the spectrum, but is incredibly profitable owing to the general public’s interest. It has matched 12 million people in its two years of operations, but many say they are encouraging an undesirable attitude of choosing someone based on their looks.

ASIA

Indeed, it is the same in Asia. Paktor, a Singaporean mobile dating application launched in June 2013 and has since amassed 120,000 users there. It works on a similar basis as Tinder, where you “like” someone based on their profile and only a mutual liking will disclose you to each other.

A survey by Asia’s premier dating agency, Lunch Actually, shows that 51% of the 788 local respondents “used online dating platforms to find potential partners”. This number has nearly doubled from 26% in 2009.

Apps like Lovebyte and Lovesprk are also gaining interest in South East Asia. They plan dates for you to keep the romance fresh and offer vouchers if you refer a friend. They recently announced a partnership that will extend their reach. These are nice follow-ups should you secure dates on Tinder/Paktor and want to meet!

Maybe in this mobile dating pool, some people just want anonymity, where you are not able to use their looks as a deciding factor on whether to go out on a date. That is where Chibi comes in. Developed during Startup Weekend Cambodia in 2011, it provides for anonymous mobile dating through SMS or voice calls, but does not reveal the face for first impressions.

Geeks In Cambodia spoke with one of the founders, David Wilkie, about Chibi and where it is at now.

PICTURE TO USEDave Wilkie, one of the founders of Chibi.

(This interview has been edited for flow and clarity.)

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Can you introduce yourself and explain what Chibi is?

I’m Dave, and I started Chibi with my wife in 2011 after the Startup Weekend competition. Chibi is basically just SMS dating. We partner with the major telcos, such as SMART, Beeline, qb and Cooltel. And we have a revenue-sharing model with them.

We have a shortcode with SMART, and if you SMS to it, it will try to find you a partner or friend in your location and around your age. You can also call to that same number, and it will connect you through to somebody.

What happens is that the SMS will go out to 10 people available in the area. The first to reply will be in a chat with you. You can either SMS chat or call through, but both your numbers will appear as blocked and be protected. Should you want to exchange numbers, you can do so own the chat.

Why was Chibi created?

In Cambodia we saw a gap in the market where a lot of people were just randomly calling numbers to try and meet new people. We decided to make something more user-friendly.

What were some of the challenges you faced?

The biggest challenge is probably working with the telcos. They are quite slow to respond and our business structure is based off of them.

Who is Chibi’s target audience?

Mainly young people from the rural areas. We aren’t looking to compete with the other huge dating services, it’s a simple service that you can use with any phone. You don’t need to have a smart phone.

What are Chibi’s future plans?

We are just going to leave it the way it is. The only thing we are planning to change is the pricing, to make it more affordable and through that we can increase the traffic. At the moment our pricing plan is per SMS or per minute of call, but we will change it to a subscription plan.

What is your advice for aspiring startup founders in Cambodia?

Being in Cambodia, it is relatively easy to do a startup, and not too much will get in your way. Just go ahead and do it! Then figure out afterwards what needs to be changed.

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Mobile dating is certainly evolving into all shapes and forms, and perhaps we might have holographic dates in the future! Who knows for sure?