One of the main topics we cover on Vulcan Post is dating and relationship. It is the oldest industry in human history. We have covered mobile apps such as couple app Between and LoveByte, dating apps such as Paktor and Kehmistry, as well as some of the most unique dating ideas from Southeast Asia.
Just when we thought that we have covered most of it, a recent dating app from Singapore caught our attention again.
Called Surf-Face, it is a mobile app that allows users to discover and connect with one another. Surf-face is different from other dating apps not only because of its mutual liking feature for matches (where you can browse for users and if both of you “liked” each other, you will then be matched), a trend that has caught on quickly post Tinder success, but also because there are different channels within the Surf-face app itself for users of different backgrounds. The current three channels within Surf-face are:
- Singapore Channel – for all users in Singapore
- MRT Missed Connections Channel – for users to reconnect with their romantic missed connections on the MRT
- Tertiary Confessions Channel – for tertiary students to confess to their crushes in school
Users can go into these channels and look for other users in the same channels. More channels will be created, targetting different target groups such as the older, working professionals. Surf-face also shared with Vulcan Post exclusively that they will be launching a new channel called “The Smart Casuals” for successful single working professionals.
This reminds us of the popular mIRC days, where users can log onto different chat rooms and chat each other up.
In addition, Surf-face differentiates itself by circumventing the ephemeral nature of all other dating apps such as Tinder, whereby once you like or pass on someone, you won’t be able to see the person profile again unless you are matched. For Surf-face, users can pro-actively manage their selections through their Bottle Manager feature.
Specifically, once you have stated your indication with another user, whether you like him or choose to block him, the person’s profile will be stored under Bottle Manager. Users can always go to Bottle Manager to check on their selections as well as to get updates on those that they bridge with. This lends a sense of permanence that is not present in other dating apps.
The idea whose time has come
Speaking to Vulcan Post, cofounder Lin Shijing shared that the idea of Surf-face first transpired in November 2011.
“I was stuck at home with my Japanese housemate during a particularly snowy winter and we chatted on our dating cultures, like all boys do, specifically on how we meet girls back home. Japan has a vibrant dating culture whereby friends will form group of threes or more to meet other groups. This was unique to Japan and I hear of stories of Japanese travelling to Chicago from Ann Arbor – where we were at – for group dating events with air stewardess they picked up from ANA or JAL.”
Lin added, “Online dating was huge in the USA and was more the norm rather than the exception. However, most of the online dating services were badly executed. Some were simply atrocious. But the interesting thing was that people still paid for it. It was a 1 billion dollar industry in 2011 in the USA alone. Personally, I believe that humans have an innate desire to pay for 2 things in life – food and love. This largely explains why people are still paying for such bad services for online dating. We felt that this would be a good business to get into since there was a huge upside if we can make a big improvement to the current service.”
On that same night, he also came up with the mutual liking feature to match users. The idea of Surf-face and this mutual liking feature was pre-Tinder and Lin was really excited by this idea since no one had done it before.
“We took this idea and participated in the Michigan Business Challenge – we were both MBA students at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan – which was a state-wide competition. We reached the semi-finals but unfortunately did not receive enough funding then to bring our idea to reality.”
Fast forward 3 years later, Surf-face was finally launched and now has over 10,000 users onboard in just a short few months.
The Surf-face team consists of Lin Shijing, who is the CEO of the new company, and Luu Gia Thuy, who handles all technical side of the product. Finding a technical talent to help him out was challenging: in June 2012, Lin spent one month in Taipei looking for the right technical guy to lead the team. Unfortunately, he did not find a suitable candidate. Thereafter, he met Thuy through a mutual friend who is the iOS developer at Viki.
“My friend spoke very highly of Thuy. My friend connected us and we hit it off right away. Thuy is now the CTO of Surf-face and has been making magic since.”
Of course, as with every companies, anything easy is not worth doing, and Lin recognizes the challenge and competition from the sea of mobile apps out there. He acknowledges that not only are there a lot of dating apps out there, there are also too many mobile apps around, the inherent challenge of the mobile startup landscape.
That said, Lin do believe that they are only at the very formative phase of mobile dating and in any case, there is a huge potential for this. User loyalty is definitely a problem since most dating apps are free and users can download a few to try. You can see that there are some users on all the dating apps too.
Surf-face called Tinder, OKCupid, and Lovestruck, as their main competitors.
“Paktor, which is a copy of Tinder has also done well. However, to state our main competitor, I would think it would be OKCupid. We are positioned similarly: we want users to have good matches and also to meet someone whom they can date seriously. We are unlike Tinder and Paktor, which have more of the appeal as a hook-up app – selling the notion of getting a fast date online,” Lin told Vulcan Post.
We had the chance to also ask Lin what is the most challenging part about growing Surf-face and what worries him the most.
I think the most challenging part about growing Surf-face was how to position and market it right so that I can achieve the downloads we needed. Most people would think that hey, I have an app on the app store, people will download it, and I will be balling.
Sadly, this is not the case. Rather, we learned that while we have a great product, it was more important to sell this product to the people who will eventually use it. I was faced with the stark realization that putting a mobile app onto the app store was the easiest part. The ascend to the top is the holy grail.
In the present day, sophisticated analytics are required to ascertain whether your campaign has successfully targeted its correct audience, in the right way, and at the right time. This is the one big reason why companies should advertise through the online medium instead of the mass media. I understand intimately the value of data in helping decision making. At the start, we had dismal CTR for our campaigns (<1%) and also our cost per user download was high. Consequently, download and growth rate were not what we had expected.
However, we were quick to pivot and learn from the information collected. We turned the corner quickly in less than one month. I had learned to process and prioritize large amount of consumer information, draw seemingly latent connections between ambiguous data points, and to translate these findings into reality via live digital marketing campaigns. We improved my CTR from less than 1% to more than 10%. And I was able to replicate this success consistently. Our success in the digital space also helped me scale Surf-face’s user base rapidly, achieving strong double digits growth monthly to reach 10,000 users.
Marketing and achieving downloads are definitely the first big hurdle for any mobile app startup. This is an ultra-competitive space and most app do not get any kind of downloads/exposure at all.
However, once you hit a sweet spot and know that you are able to angle yourself properly to consumers, the next important step would be to stay relevant. This is my greatest worry for now. Surf-face wants to bridge singles around the world and help them make meaningful connections. There are many things that need to be done to achieve that. We are also at a crossroad in our growth. We have really strong downloads and we need to grow our team bigger to support this.
Along with all the other things that need to be done to achieve this, I am looking to grow the Surf-face team with talented, like-minded individuals.
Despite the hurdles and challenges, that definitely did not stop the team from thinking and aiming big. Surf-Face is now planning its expansion into Taipei and Hong Kong.
“Currently, we have very strong download numbers and growth rate has been fantastic both on a weekly and monthly basis. This was something that we did not foresee. We are intent on making the Surf-face experience a good one so we are managing this by making improvements on our backend to serve this surge in demand. We are also working hard to release the Android version soon. There has been pent up demand for this given the numerous emails we get from consumers. With Android, we will most likely see further exponential growth. Also with Android, we will be moving to other Asian Cities – primarily Taipei and Hong Kong. We are excited to bring this Singapore product to the rest of Asia.”
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