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?

Use this guide to build a differentiated dating app and stand out in a crowded marketplace.

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.

Build Only the Features That Your Users Want

Now that you know your niche, you need to identify what 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. OkCupid's personality quiz--based matching algorithm leverages common interests to provide better recommendations. 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.

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.

Here are a few basic features:

  • User signup 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

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 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:

  1. Reduce internal engineering dependencies by finding cost-effective external solutions
  2. Only select scalable solutions that have well-documented SDKs, APIs, or plugins
  3. Factor in the costs of implementing and scaling the external solution

Here are 12 external APIs that can supercharge your dating 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.