London-based startup Dattch is a dating app with a difference. I don’t mean the fact that it’s exclusively for lesbians, bisexual and/or bi-curious women — though that certainly makes it stand out from the ranks of straight dating apps. What really sets it apart is its mostly female team who set out to design a dating app specifically for gay women.
Dattch is currently one of 17 startups in the Wayra London incubator cohort, and has just closed a £100,000/$160,000 angel/small seed round, with three angel investors — including Yannick Pons and Andy Phillips. That investment bolsters the €40,000 invested by Wayra as part of its incubator program, where Dattch will remain until January.
Being a dating app specifically designed for gay women may not sound too remarkable — but in fact the gay female dating scene is spectacularly badly served, says founder and CEO Robyn Exton. “Every single dating product that’s been produced for gay women is horrific,” she tells TechCrunch. ”The biggest problem [with rivals' products] is they don’t have any consideration of how these women are different.”
Other apps apparently targeting lesbians and bisexual females typically reskin a gay male offering and slap a femme-friendly name on it (Bender to Brenda, for instance. Or GaydarGirls). ”There’s no consideration of how a female user might differ,” she argues.
Exton points out that lazy reskins of gay male platforms have resulted in lesbian dating apps that ask incongruous questions like ‘how much body hair do you have?’ — because they’re just reusing the same gay male templates. Not exactly tailor made for a female target audience then.
Add to that, another big problem is fake profiles — created by (straight) men who are pretending to be female so they can pitch for a threesome with their ‘boyfriend.’ Or angling to ‘convert’ lesbians. Which makes the whole online dating game a tedious minefield for gay women who have to spend time figuring out who’s fake and who’s for real before they can start thinking about whom they fancy.
“It doesn’t happen super often, but the fact that it does happen means you don’t trust the messages that come through,” she adds. “It’s just a really bad experience all in all.”
Exton, who has prior experience in the online dating space, including building a (straight) dating product, decided there had to be a better way to serve a community of users who absolutely have an appetite to meet each other, but probably don’t have the same appetites as gay men (especially when it comes to body hair). And certainly don’t want to waste time weeding out straight men. And so Dattch was born.
“The actual trigger for me doing Dattch was hanging out with some of my girl mates, and a friend had broken up with her girlfriend and we were like ‘come on, you’re just going to have to sign up to a site’ and she was really reticent to do it because they are and were all utterly shit,” says Exton.
The business opportunity she saw for Dattch was to take the exact opposite approach to cynical reskins, and build something that reflects what gay women actually want from a dating app. “Nobody was thinking about a female user, and actually how do women behave? What kind of triggers are they looking for?” she tells TechCrunch.
So what are gay women looking for? Firstly, lots and lots of photos. “The key behaviours that we saw and that we’re now focusing on is that they like to browse for hours. They will look at every single photo, every single image, and it’s not just what you look like; women want to know the small things about you. But not in an awkward text description — they want to be able to absorb this content,” says Exton.
Not just photos of potential dates, then, but photos of where you live, what you wear, things you like, places you want to go. “Women will be just as interested to see what your living room looks like, and what your favourite drink is,” she says. “What we’ve done now is to allow people to import these images that show who you are, rather than describing it. So it gives all the content for women to browse through.”
“Women want to look at tonnes and tonnes of profiles, and then decide who they want to talk to,” she adds.
Dattch is taking its design inspiration from female-friendly image curation site Pinterest. ”Our profiles are these Pinterest-style boards that just give you tumbling images… It’s the idea that girls are creating these mood boards of themselves — so you look at it and you can take on board a lot of information, quite quickly, about the kind of person this person is.”
The app’s other focus is on enabling its users to chat with each other via a text-based messaging feature. But even there the photos come into play — providing context and conversation starter topics for users.
“Women want to chat a lot but they’re also not very good at starting the conversation — which I think is also symptomatic of the kind of profiles that exist. So when you’re on a platform like Grindr it’s fairly clear why you’re talking to each other. You don’t really need to have the softer entry stuff — it’s like ‘hey, what’s up. Wanna meet?’. It’s literally that kind of platform. But with girls they are actually looking to have a conversation,” says Exton.
“The idea [with Dattch] was to start allowing people to pull in [contextual photo-based] content and then it’s easier to start a conversation. And you actually get a gist of who someone is and what you can start talking to them about.”
They will look at every single photo, every single image, and it’s not just what you look like; women want to know the small things about you.
Another Grindr factor that Exton argues doesn’t apply well to the gay female scene is proximity-based social networking. “In private beta we were showing you the closest user to you. And that’s basically not relevant for women. It’s like 1 percent of the time women are going to meet up within 30 minutes. Like gay guys often will. For women you’re probably looking at about a week before someone goes on a date, so seeing the closest person to you doesn’t add to that experience.
“Now you just see generally women in your area… It doesn’t have to be that closest person. Then you’ll be able to customise it — in two builds from now — where you’ll be able to pick the distance you want to see people within, and then you’ll probably be able to pick an age range.”
On the fake profiles issue, weeding out the men has been, and continues to be, a key priority for Dattch. Initially it was via a manual “profile validation” process that relied on cross-referencing with users’ Facebook profiles. It has since incorporated Facebook Connect to make the process easier, but it is also erring on the cautious side, as it tries to establish a trusted platform for female users, so it is also currently doing phone calls to verify gender (which sounds like a delicate balancing act, between building that user trust and being off-putting).
It won’t be making calls forever, though. “Our first few thousand users are critical so it’s really important to us that we make this work — we can work out a way that will scale it once we’ve got it cracked. But the next version gets closer to automating it. Facebook Connect automates it for us but for the people who don’t want to use Facebook we’re working out how to automate it,” says Exton.
Dattch ran in private beta for six months from last December, capped at 1,000 users. It’s since opened up as a public beta, targeting London initially and launching a redesigned app earlier this month (in which it’s still ironing out a few bugs). User numbers now are in the “thousands” — with the aim being to grow to tens or hundreds of thousands by year’s end. ”In the U.K. Grindr has 180,000 users in London so eventually we want to [reach] that many users in London as well,” says Exton.
For now, although anyone in the U.K. can download Dattch, it’s targeting the majority of its user acquisition efforts on London, with some small marketing efforts planned for a few other U.K. cities this year (namely Brighton, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow). Launching in the U.S. is on the cards for next year, where it will opt for a geofenced city-by-city rollout. Australia is also on its roadmap. After that Exton believes there’s also potential to enter China, where she argues that because there isn’t the same LGBT infrastructure — in terms of gay bars — “apps become really relevant.”
Discussing the angel round Dattch has just closed, Exton says that targeting a less well-served market has sometimes counted against it in conversations with investors. “It’s not been the simplest to raise for a lesbian app,” she says. “Some people have been quite uncomfortable with what we do.
“No one has done this before, no one has created an app for this market, so I think it’s a new market so possibly there’s a bit more caution around it,” she adds.