The Product Manager’s Guide To Building a Dating App
Today, over 300 million people use dating apps, with about 20 million of those people paying for premium features. But how do you grab a slice of this competitive and fast-growing market that is set to reach over $8.4 billion in annual revenue by 2024?
The key is differentiating your app from what's currently on the market and understanding what makes users more apt to pick your app over others.
Stay On Top of Dating App Trends
It's vital to keep an eye on dating app trends when you're developing your own app. Trends can help give you ideas for your dating app about which features, designs, and other components your users will engage with. Staying on top of trends also keeps you informed about what your competitors are doing.
One ongoing trend is gamification. Gaming elements in your dating app can make the experience more engaging. Gamification elements can be used strategically to increase app adoption or retention. Adding gamification gives users more incentive to not just use your app but also stay on your app.
To get ideas and inspiration for gamification elements, stay up to date with what social apps — not just other dating apps — are doing with gamification to get ideas for your own app. For example, you can offer rewards, badges, or points when users complete certain tasks.
Hinge uses a gaming element by giving users a virtual rose to hand out to other singles. When a user sends a rose to someone, it places them higher on that user's list of matches. This is a good incentive to encourage more app usage. If users want to move higher on their matches' lists, they're more likely to get on the app and send a rose.
Daters are becoming more cautious and setting boundaries on dating apps to be more intentional about what information they put out there. According to a recent Bumble survey, 52% of users said they set more boundaries for dating last year than they have before. Daters are prioritizing both their safety and preferences alike.
Do research to find out what specific boundaries your user base is setting. For example, are users more hesitant to share what industry they work in, their political preferences, or some other information about themselves?
To help users keep boundaries set for themselves, make sure any fields in their profile for personal information are optional rather than required. Let the user decide which fields they want to fill in.
On Bumble, users can choose from over 40 different profile prompts to answer questions and provide other tidbits about themselves. This allows users to only put out the information they want to put out.
Plenty of Fish has coined the term "infla-dating" when referring to budget-friendly dating. It's the idea that a first date — or any date — doesn't have to break the bank in order to be memorable or fun.
And daters are in support of this. Fifty-seven percent of Bumble users in the same survey as above said they're more interested in a casual date than something over-the-top or fancy.
The financial pressure can feel even heavier in an uncertain economic environment. But being mindful of finances doesn't mean singles have to sacrifice the quality of a date. In your app, you can encourage infla-dates by providing new matches with affordable and casual first-date ideas. Or send matches two options: a fancier date idea and a budget-friendly one.
Conscious or Mindful Matching
Daters are becoming more discerning about who they match with. When Tinder first came out, the ease of swiping promoted a quantity-over-quality environment. But that kind of environment can also promote "dating-app fatigue," where too much swiping and matching with the wrong people can lead to users feeling frustrated and hopeless.
Now, daters are more cognizant about matching with people who have the same values, likes, and preferences that they have. Users are becoming more self-aware about what they want and also what they don't want.
To encourage people to match consciously, you could tie in some gamification tactics. Offer points or badges based on "good" matches. This way, the quality of matches rather than the quantity of matches is "rewarded" in some way. You could create your entire app around the idea of conscious and mindful matching. You'd need to design an algorithm so it knows how to tell a "bad" potential match from a "good" one and only match people if they meet certain criteria for each other.
Identify a Differentiated Niche
Finding a niche set of under-served users is a better bet than competing head-on with more established dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, or Badoo.
It is useful to think of the dating services market as a fractal that can be magnified to reveal another niche. Each dating innovation opens up the next level of niche dating apps or services that can serve more users.
Badoo is the largest dating app globally. But even within the dating app market, there are niches — some demographic, some geographic — where other players dominate. For example, Tinder came six years later and still outperformed Badoo in the U.S. Within the U.S. dating app market, Bumble came two years after Tinder and still managed to wrestle users away from it with its women-centric approach. And even the women-first U.S. dating market has space for an LGBTQ+-focused app like Her.
Each niche reveals a new market gap that a new dating app or service can fill.
So, instead of competing head-on with the functionalities of Tinder or Badoo, which already have a massive head-start advantage at what they do, consider finding and serving users desperate for a solution.
What's your spin? Fancy a lifestyle-based dating app for gluten-free adults, vegans, CrossFit enthusiasts, math nerds, or pet lovers? How about an app exclusively for users who share a religion or environmental vision? Or maybe differentiate the offering with unique off-beat dating experiences like ice skating, wine tasting, or underwater diving? Maybe even combine two or more ideas. Say, for example, offer underwater diving experiences in pristine coral reefs for the environmentally conscious?
The choices are limitless, with different possible permutations and combinations. However, the catch is that your differentiated offering must be large enough to become a viable and profitable business. So, before building the app, do some keyword research and have one-on-one conversations with potential users to gauge market size and the willingness of prospective users to pay for such an offering.
Add the Features Your Users Want
Now that you know your niche, you need to identify what dating app features apply the most. Do you need a new spin on a traditional dating app feature? Or will you need to innovate something completely new to attract your target audience?
Building a quick prototype or MVP can help you better understand what your target users actually want. Use this information to prioritize which features get built first in your dating application development process.
Juggling app features, development costs, and release timelines at the same time can get tricky. As a result, it is possible to optimize for only one or two of these factors. Most product teams tend to extend timelines or overshoot budgets because they believe that all the identified app features are needed.
However, even the most popular dating apps gained traction from users with only a handful of features. For Tinder, it was the iconic "left swipe to reject and right swipe to accept" UI design. For Bumble, it was giving control of the first move back to women along with a 24-hour response window. And taking the emphasis away from profile photos to more meaningful conversations stood SwoonMe in good stead.
So, don't extend costs or timelines to accommodate every possible feature. Instead, try the reverse. Cut back on features to accommodate a timely and on-budget release. Stop focusing on having all the features from day one and prioritize a handful that will truly delight your intended users. This approach also forces you to do more focused research and better understand what your users want.
Here are a few basic features that you should include.
Convenient User Sign-up and Verification
Make the sign-up and verification process as simple for your users as possible. Don't use long, complicated forms that take them a long time to fill in.
Bumble, for example, only requires a user to enter their phone number. Then they get a code sent to their phone that they enter into Bumble to verify it's them. From there, they can begin setting up their profile.
Bumble also uses a third-party authentication API that allows users to sign up through Google or Facebook rather than having to sign up directly on the Bumble website and app. Users can use one of their established accounts to quickly sign up for an account on the app.
Quick processes like these can be less of a barrier than having to fill out an entire sign-up form with lots of information.
Personalized Profile Creation and Editing
For daters, creating a profile that shows off accurately who they are and what they value in a relationship can be a challenge. You can make it a little easier — and more fun — for them by making profile creation an engaging part of your app. You can make it so users are able to customize and personalize their profile without feeling restricted to only one or two fields.
For example, Bumble has unique prompts that a user can use to build their profile. They can fill in prompts like "If I were famous, it would be for..." or "Two Truths and a Lie" and add them to their profile.
Here are a few other examples for inspiration to create unique prompts:
- Most embarrassing moment
- Party tricks
- Worst first date experience
- Biggest risk ever taken
You could even make the entire profile a Mad Libs--style experience, where users fill in the blanks to create a story about themselves. These prompts can help users get to know each other in a more unique way. It also lets users choose what kind of information they share about themselves.
Location is one of the more important factors for many daters — they want to find someone nearby. Geolocation-based filters are used on many dating apps so that users can find matches who are in proximity or live where they live.
When Tinder came along, daters could easily adjust their location range to shrink or expand. They could change it when they travel or if they move to another location. On the app, location is a primary factor in matching users.
Whether it's a primary or secondary factor in your app, a geolocation-based filter is essential for your users. Even if a user is open to a long-distance relationship, they still want to know what they're in for ahead of time.
Push Notifications & Alerts
Enabling push notifications and alerts is an easy way to get users more apt to check in with and use your app. When users see a notification pop up, they'll be more likely to go to your app to check the notifications than if those notifications or alerts didn't pop up.
Most dating apps currently on the market have some type of push notification and alert set up for users. Use these examples as inspiration:
- Create notifications for new interactions: new matches, new messages, new likes, and more.
- Create alerts for when they haven't been on the app in over 24 hours or a certain period of time or if they have potential new matches they haven't seen yet.
Adding these push notifications and alerts can entice people to engage more frequently with your app.
Location-based Panic Button
For safety and security assurance, a location-based panic button can help users feel safe and minimizes your potential risk and liability. If a user is on a date and they feel threatened or are otherwise scared for their safety, they can press the button, and it will alert law enforcement or emergency services to their location.
Tinder made headlines when it partnered with Noonlight, an emergency response API. With Noonlight, Tinder was able to add a location-based panic button that connects users to emergency responders.
To add a location-based panic button to your app, you can partner with emergency response APIs or platforms like RapidSOS and Omnigo.
Social Media Integrations
Social media integrations offer benefits to both you and the user. With social media integrations, users can import pictures and basic information from their social media profiles to your dating app. For example, Instagram has an API that allows users to display their IG profile information, pictures, and videos.
As the app developer, you can also use certain APIs to connect other social apps to your dating app. These integrations can enhance the experience for the user and make it more engaging. For example, there's a Spotify web API that can be used to match users based on their music preferences.
These are just a few of the more basic features to add. The more expensive UX designs, in-app purchase options, machine learning models, and other monetization strategies can always be built into your app after you gain initial traction.
Create a Unique Dating App Matching Algorithm
You can differentiate your dating app with a unique matching algorithm that is user-focused. Users want a simple and convenient way to match with other singles who have qualities that would complement theirs.
When Tinder first came on the scene, its simple swiping matching algorithm was unlike other apps. If a user swipes left on someone, that means they aren't interested, and nothing happens. If they swipe right, that means they're interested. Both users have to swipe right in order to match. Now, swiping is a technique used on many other dating apps, like Badoo and Raya.
When you're starting to create an algorithm, first consider the model you want to use. There are some historical algorithm models, like Gale-Shapley and Elo scoring models, that current dating apps use. Many now create their own algorithm.
Here are a few algorithm types that you can look at for inspiration:
OkCupid has a personality quiz--based matching algorithm that leverages common interests to provide better recommendations. It learns about each user's personality by asking a list of multiple-choice questions.
Hinge uses a Gale-Shapley model to pair people by showing each user a set of potential matches that are most likely to be a successful pair. Users can "like" a potential match's profile, and the second user can either "like" back to match or reject the "like" to move on.
Coffee Meets Bagel uses a blended algorithm method to create a curated list of "suggested" singles for each user. Its mission is to provide more meaningful connections. The app uses nine different models to rate each match's potential, and then its system takes that data and gives each potential couple an aggregated score.
Choose the Right Technology Stack
Depending on your app features, timelines, and available budget, you'll want to choose a technology stack that is right for your needs.
For example, at the prototype stage, you may want to test how your users interact with your offering for as little money, engineering effort, and time as possible. This makes a good case to build a progressive web app or a low-code app using platforms like Builder.ai, Bubble.io, or Spring Boot.
However, if you're further down the line in finding the product-market fit for your dating app, then you have two choices — create a cross-platform app or build a native mobile app. The cross-platform option is better for teams with tight budgets and timelines, while the native app option offers more scalability and high performance. The existing skills in your team would also have a big say in the final decision.
Frameworks such as Flutter, React Native, or Cordova can help you build custom features such as in-app messaging or an Instagram import feature that low-code tools may struggle to support. But the advantage of building one app for iOS, Android, and Windows users comes at the cost of performance and scalability. For instance, cross-platform apps may cause UI glitches across different devices or result in inaccurate geolocation positioning. However, cross-platform apps still allow for more flexibility when choosing a backend database like Amazon RDS or MongoDB. They are also more accommodating of external code management clients, social media integrations, added chat or video APIs, and analytic tools.
However, if you have premium users and want to provide the best possible experience, then you can consider investing in a native frontend app. This option becomes more attractive if you already have engineers who are familiar with programming languages like Swift or Objective-C for Apple apps and Java or Kotlin for Android apps. Native apps can support virtually any UI design, making this a better choice for unique UI designs that may not be possible with cross-platform apps.
Choosing to build a native app also opens up opportunities to use open-source databases like MySQL or PostgreSQL in addition to using fully managed backend databases. It also allows you to create custom middleware components, such as messaging protocols or data transformation layers, which can further improve app reliability, performance, and scalability.
Irrespective of building a cross-platform or native app, you would still want to use a high-performance and scalable server like Google App Engine, Microsoft Azure, or Amazon AWS.
Enhance Your App With Cost-effective External Solutions
Use the right external SDKs, APIs, and plugins where possible to avoid cost or time overruns.
External solutions can enhance your app without delaying the release or costing you engineering resources. But you still need to carefully evaluate them for technology limitations, scalability, and costs. And that is exactly what the Olatoye brothers did.
Dare and Ayo Olatoye, the two co-founders of Trueflutter, had already built a differentiated dating app. By building a set of advanced filters that were sensitive to African socioeconomic, religious, and ethnic sentiments, they created a better matchmaking process for African adults and thereby found a niche set of users that popular apps like Tinder and Badoo had overlooked.
Soon, the Olatoye brothers prioritized adding chat features, audio bios, and video calls to strengthen their dating app's value proposition. But they were having subpar experiences with external chat SDK providers. That is, until they found Stream. "We needed something very scalable that wouldn't break when we start to add hundreds of thousands of users," says Dare. So, they chose the Stream Chat SDK because of its ability to serve up to 5 million concurrent connections.
As a startup, the Trueflutter team also leaned on integration and customer support. And as Trueflutter plans to soon expand into Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa, the Olatoye brothers believe that Stream's flexible pricing model will give them a cost advantage as they expand to these new markets.
The Trueflutter example offers three important takeaways:
- Reduce internal engineering dependencies by finding cost-effective external solutions.
- Only select scalable solutions that have well-documented SDKs, APIs, or plugins.
- Factor in the costs of implementing and scaling the external solution.
Here are 12 dating APIs that can supercharge your app without breaking the bank or delaying releases.
Improve Trustability With In-app Chat and Video Features
The biggest barrier to using a dating app is skepticism about safety. According to a Pew research study, 53% of women and 39% of men believe it is unsafe to use dating apps or websites.
Introducing in-app chat and video features can alleviate this looming uncertainty to a large extent. It allows your users to connect with prospective dates without exchanging phone numbers or compromising safety.
Chatting and video conferencing with a stranger is also a safe way for your users to pick up subtle non-verbal cues and decide if someone can be trusted enough to arrange for an in-person meeting.
The good news is that you don't need to invest time, money, or engineering resources into building chat or video features into your app. Use Stream Chat SDKs and Video API like modular Lego blocks to get the features and UI design you need for your dating app. Activate your free 30-day trial and try them out today.
Dating App FAQS
1. How much does it cost to build a dating app?
Costs can vary depending on a number of variables. Some factors that affect cost are:
- The number of features you have
- The complexity of your features and your algorithm
- Outsourcing of staff or consultants vs. doing everything in-house
- The time it takes to build the app
The cost will be higher if you have more complex features or if you end up needing to spend more time creating the app.
2. How can you monetize your dating app?
There are a few primary ways to monetize your app. One of the most common ways is to either charge a subscription fee or offer premium services to users who pay. Bumble and Tinder, for example, both have free options as well as paid subscription tiers.
Here are a few other ways to monetize your app:
- Selling advertising space (e.g., banner ads)
- In-app purchases (e.g., badges or points that enable users to match more often)
- Partnerships (e.g., with flower, gift, or meal delivery companies)
3. How do you make a dating app unique?
You can differentiate your app and make it unique by catering to different or underserved niches and by adding unique features like gamification.
When Bumble first launched, the concept of putting women in "control" — by giving them the decision to send the first message or not — was new to the dating app world. Prior to Bumble, most other apps allowed either person to send the message first. Bumble was able to set itself apart from other apps with its women-centric business model.
4. What makes a dating app successful?
The most successful apps resonate with their intended user base. An app needs to be easy for users to adopt and use, include the features they want, and put emphasis on user safety and security.
The reason Tinder was so successful when it first launched was the ease of use and the fact that people could easily match with users in their location range. When eHarmony was at its peak, it focused on marriage as the end goal with advertisements and testimonials, which attracted serious singles looking for a long-term commitment.
5. What features must be included in a dating app?
The features you include will depend on a number of factors, like your budget and timeline. Here are a few basic features you should definitely add to your app:
- User sign-up and verification
- User profile creation and editing
- Matchmaking process
- In-app chat and video
- Geolocation-based filters
- Push notifications and alerts
- Social media integrations
- Location-based panic button
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