Outdoor ad firm buys Swiss dating app Blinq to power beacon push

The dating game sure is tough to maintain. Zurich-based dating app Blinq has been acquired by a Swiss outdoor advertising firm, APG|SGA, with the latter coveting the team’s experience in rolling out beacon networks for a new division that will be developing interactive ads to work in conjunction with the Bluetooth comms tech.

The price of the acquisition has not been disclosed, though given Blinq’s limited traction it’s unlikely to be much of a multiple. The startup had raised around $1M in seed funding since being founded back in 2013, including from local angel investors and the founders’ own funds.

The Blinq dating app — and another project the startup developed: an algorithm to judge physical attractiveness — will both be closed within two weeks, according to co-founder and CTO Jan Berchtold.

“We are building a large scale beacon network to connect out of home and mobile media,” he says of the team’s new role at APG|SGA. The Swiss ad company is 30 per cent owned by global out of home media giant, JCDecaux.

The outdoor ad company is looking for ways to expand its digital playbook with data-targeted ads, flagging the change in media consumption habits powered by smartphone use. “Mobile technologies make it possible to combine the advantages of wide-coverage Out of Home advertising with the added value of digital content. The smartphone or tablet is thus being established as a kind of “Out of Home medium”, which is also becoming more and more important for advertising customers,” it writes in a press release about its plans.

“Precise location data in real time is essential in order to usefully link Out of Home and mobile media. For this reason, APG|SGA is currently developing its own targeting solution. In future, this should enable advertisers to display relevant advertising messages on a person’s smartphone in real time based on their location.”

It’s not clear how large APG|SGA’s planned beacon network will be, nor when it will launch. We’ve asked for more details and will update this post with any response. Update: “We are planning to deploy 20,000 beacons within the first year. The beacons will be placed on our billboards and in cooperation with retailers and public transportation companies. There will be a strong focus on the urban areas,” says Berchtold.

In terms of how the beacon ad tech will work, he says they will offer an SDK for iOS and Android to enable beacon detection for publisher apps. “There is no special opt-in [from users] necessary since we rely on the standard location opt-in,” he adds. 

It’s not clear how many active users Blinq’s dating app has at this point — a year ago it was claiming 200,000 monthly active users — although Google Play lists the Android app as only having garnered between 100,000 and 500,000 downloads, so it’s possible 200k was peak activity. (As a point of comparison, Tinder’s Android app has had between 50M and 100M downloads on Google Play.) Berchtold adds they have 400,000 “registered users”.

We first covered Blinq back in December 2014 when it was hoping to stand out in the Tinder-dominated dating space by incorporating beacon proximity technology into the swipe-to-like mix — and kitting out select venues (such as ski resorts) with Estimote iBeacons. An in-app feature called InstaConnect then enabled Blinq users to opt in to be notified of potential dates hanging out at the same location.

Even setting the social unease/creepiness factor aside, i.e. of having ambient notifications when a stranger that might want to pick you up is hanging out in the same bar, the idea looked very challenging to get off the ground, given a double layer of network effects being in effect. i.e. Blinq both needing lots of users to power a hyperlocal location-based dating scenario; and lots of venues to be kitted out with the relevant beacon tech — at least to offer anything more than pre-packaged singles dating ski holiday novelty (at which point beacon-based notifications would be pretty redundant anyway, as all the holidaying singles would be in the same après-ski bar… ).

While their beacon-powered dating concept was clearly a stretch, the pilots Blinq ran were at least a way for the team to gain experience — which will now be put to work for APG|SGA, rolling out a beacon network “in the near future”.

As for the Blinq app, while there are positive comments about its design, user reviews skew towards complaints about the time it took to get verified (its singles community was intended to be ‘curated’, rather than a free-for-all); and — for those who were finally able to access the app — disappointment about the lack of potential dates once they got there.

“Once you are allowed full access to the apps functionality, you realise that there’s no one to do so with, except for maybe two or three people living at least 160 km away,” writes one reviewer. “When you’re done saying ‘hi’ and ‘bye ‘to them, the only thing that remains is you and your broken dreams.”