Niche dating apps are the new black—the future of this growing market
Recently, a couple I know got engaged, on the beach, their dog bearing witness. Engraved on the inside of the ring were two words that summarized the origin of their relationship: “Swipe right.” The couple had met on Tinder years before. Dating apps have not just transformed the dating scene; they’ve quickly become the main way couples meet, with so-called “traditional” forms of meeting continuing to decline. In 2017, nearly 40% of straight couples and 60% of gay couples met online. In all, the online dating market is projected to be worth $12 billion by 2020, while dating apps rank number one for consumer spend in countless developed regions.
To think there’s simply meeting a partner “online” and “offline,” though, is to vastly underestimate just how varied the growing world of dating apps is. With Tinder boasting 50 million users, other apps are hanging their hat on carving out a niche—from Bumble making women message first to far more specific apps, like Toffee, which is for people who were privately educated. There are more than 1,500 dating apps to choose from, with varying levels of commitment, exclusivity, and awareness—to name a few. The Chicago Tribune even ran a story called “10 Ridiculously Specific Dating Apps, Sites.”
From a business perspective, though, there’s nothing ridiculous about it. “Customized” online dating is the new black. With online dating as the new normal, people are more comfortable and willing to hone in on who and what they are looking for. Apps cater to everyone from the elderly to men with beards to dog owners to people with sexually transmitted diseases. OnTime, for instance, targets people aged 50 and up, and has over 800,000 people looking for a match on it monthly. While apps based on things like being a fan of Kanye West or Disney may conjure eyerolls, married couples have said that shared interests are the key to a successful relationship, as MarketWatch recently pointed out.
The Inner Circle, a “selective dating” platform and one of a few dating apps built on exclusivity (see also: The League, Luxy, and Raya) has 1.4 million members. Raya, meanwhile, has 100,000 people on its waiting list. In the wake of an overall trend toward exclusivity, many niche dating apps are being snatched up by bigger names in the industry. Badoo bought Lulu, an app that lets women rate men, while eDarling bought Attractive World, whose niche you can probably guess. Another app called Dil Mil that targets the South Asian diaspora was recently bought by Dating.com Group, which runs Dating.com—a site that covers 32 countries. Dil Mil already has over 1 million users in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, with tremendous potential for continued growth.
A study conducted by Decisioncy, a marketing research agency, demonstrated the appeal and rise of niche dating apps as well. The agency talked to a large group of people—almost an equal split between men and women—who were single and open to online dating. The respondents ranged from 21 to 65 years old. At least 87% of people were familiar with Match.com, Tinder, and eHarmony—the big three of dating apps. In fact, more than half who have ever been actively online dating said they’d used one of the first two.
Awareness for niche apps like Inner Circle and AnastasiaDate (focusing on Europe), on the other hand, was closer to 10%. But mere awareness isn’t everything, Mark Margolis, an executive at Decisioncy, said. Inner Circle boasts one of the strongest reputations, according to the survey, while Tinder has one of the lowest. The Inner Circle and the League (which users must also apply to) were also all perceived as exclusive, while the appeal of Tinder is seemingly the opposite. Only 40% of respondents said Tinder members were highly educated and 33% said they have high incomes.
Inner Circle also ranked the highest for how attractive members are, with over 70% of respondents saying it has attractive people on it. (Interestingly, a similar percentage of people said the app “was for people like me.”) While Tinder might have felt like a cozy, safe space to dabble in the world of online dating when it first started, Margolis added, a well-known co-founder looking for quality or more than casual hookups, is going to turn to apps that are more exclusive and customized. That’s the future of the market: quality over quantity.
If dating is meant to be fun, though, Tinder is doing alright. Over 60% of people said Tinder and Coffee Meets Bagel are fun to use. On a perhaps related noted, Tinder also scored highest for skewing towards hookups. When it comes to romantic, genuine relationships, on the other hand, respondents again felt exclusive apps were the way to go, ranking the Inner Circle and The League above all others.
At the end of the day, there’s tremendous variety, not just between the individuals you’ll swipe on any given dating app, but between different platforms themselves. Dating apps might be ubiquitous, but they’re far from standardized. Niche dating apps are the new black—the future of this growing market. Expect big exits from niche dating apps in the coming year. We’ve done our math and plan to continue acquiring the most promising names in the space.