In recent years, dating apps have become increasingly popular in India, with millions of users swiping left and right in search of a potential match. These apps have transformed the way people approach dating and have disrupted the traditional matchmaking process by changing the way people meet and connect with each other transcending all conventional barriers. With features such as location-based matching, advanced filters, and messaging options, dating apps have made the process of finding a partner more efficient and convenient.
But while the rise of dating apps has changed the dating landscape in India, the proliferation of these apps has made the competition more intense. While a few apps such as Tinder and Bumble have a dominant presence, there are many others vying for a share of the market.
Aisle, an Indian dating app, has emerged as a serious contender in the competitive world of online dating. The app claims to be unique in its focus on facilitating meaningful connections between like-minded individuals, rather than simply promoting casual hookups.
Able Joseph, the founder and CEO of Aisle, talks about his journey of creating a dating app that focuses on quality matches and fostering meaningful connections. Once aspiring to become a musician, Able talks about how Aisle happened and what are his visions and goals for the brand.
Tell us something about Jalebi. What is the vision of Jalebi?
Jalebi is the youngest version of the family of apps that we have. We always thought of dating apps to be something that would benefit singles above the age of 25. But the world has changed quite a bit since we started Aisle. The male-female dynamic has completely changed from what it used to be eight years ago. Now we don’t just have romantic relationships but also things like situationships. To start a ‘relationship’ with some unintended conversation which may lead to bigger things, is most likely to become the mainstream way of finding love. So, we are at a disadvantage without a product that can cater to that need.
Aisle is for people looking to settle down in a year or two, but Jalebi is more than that. Jalebi takes out the pressure from meeting new people, especially for the GenZ community – who will eventually be the largest ‘singles’ audience in India. We didn’t want to miss out on that market to the American companies. There should be an Indian player building something for that audience, and what better way to launch it than with a desi name such as Jalebi!
Who came up with this name Jalebi?
I came up with the name Jalebi as this was not the first Jalebi we’ve built. Before the pandemic, we had released a product called Jalebi, where one could meet people offline in Bangalore, in curated restaurants, and request others to be a part of a table for three or a table for four. However, we shelved it because of the pandemic.
The second Jalebi we created was an app similar to that of Clubhouse. We took speed dating online, but we were unable to monetise it, and it got expensive, so we shut it down.
Jalebi was a name we wanted to use for something. So, when naming this new app, we let everybody pick a bunch of names and then vote on them. Leher was our number two pick, but Jalebi was the number one.
How is Jalebi different from other dating apps?
Jalebi is setting itself apart from other dating apps in multiple ways. Firstly, all users must complete a selfie-verification process before accessing the app. Secondly, Jalebi profiles feature a unique Mosaic Design that offers more information about a user than just a photo. Unlike other dating apps, Jalebi doesn’t have blurred images or paywalls to interact with those who like you. Instead, users can match for free and start chatting. Jalebi Friends is a feature that allows users to switch to a platonic mode without creating a separate profile. House of Aisle is an Indian company dedicated to building features specifically for the Indian market. Despite having fewer resources than its American competitors, House of Aisle is proud to compete in this space.
How does your selfie verification work?
Using advanced algorithms, our app prompts users to take a selfie while making a hand gesture like a thumbs-up or victory sign. Our artificial intelligence technology then verifies the coordinates of the user’s face and matches it with their profile picture, along with confirming their hand gesture. We strive to create the most authentic singles community in India, and as technology improves, we will continue to adopt the latest advancements in AI to enhance user authenticity.
Other apps also ask about selfie verification, right?
Yes, they do, but they haven’t made it mandatory. So, one might have profiles on other dating apps but won’t verify himself. In such cases, you will be left guessing if the person in this photo is the same as the profile. Talking generative AI, it’d be easy for users to come up with fake images of people who don’t exist.
Could you provide insights into Jalebi’s work process? Specifically, do they operate from home, and do they have any official presence beyond India, such as offices?
We don’t have any presence outside India. We are a small team of 46 people at this point, which makes us the smallest consumer internet team to have built multiple apps without raising venture capital and have broken even and have been acquired by one of the largest tech companies in India – InfoEdge.
We work 9 to 5, Mon to Thursday, and on Friday, we work from home – this was pre-pandemic as well. Ours is a very unorthodox kind of startup culture. We do what is sensible and leave it at that.
We’ve split the company into four functions and then multiple teams within the functions. So, there is a function that builds everything, a function that sells, a function that serves our users, and a function that complies with just about everything. So, we have our tech, product, and selling teams within these functions. We also have content, performance marketing, social media PR, influencer, partnerships, team, HR, and finance.
Do you have knowledge of whether any of the Jalebi team members have utilized their own apps?
Well, yes, we keep hearing stories now and then. Some of us have found our better halves on the apps we have built. We just had a conversation at lunch where one of our engineers who’s met somebody on Aisle is thinking if he should reveal that he works at Aisle yet or not.
Have you tried the app yourself?
I met my wife on Aisle eight years ago. It worked out pretty well for me. In fact, amongst the first four employees of Aisle, three of us met their partners on the app and have settled down.
Any real-life love stories on Jalebi that have moved you?
The most recent one was when I was in Singapore last month for a Facebook event. As I introduced myself, one of the guys sitting behind me said he met his wife on Aisle and wanted to call her to the office to take pictures. It was nice to meet somebody living in Singapore who’s met their better half in India through Aisle and is now settled in Singapore.
Talking about vernacular dating apps, do you think it is worth investing in?
Our vernacular apps are growing faster than Aisle. Surprisingly, 40% of our traffic comes from the vernacular apps we launched a year and a half ago. Eight years ago, I didn’t think anybody would have guessed the state of online dating. Due to the personalised experience vernacular apps provide, another five to six years from now, they will do exceptionally well. We will then become the market leaders or a very close second player in these markets. We try and win state-by-state and want to win some of the more major states in India as these markets are extremely important for us.
Do the other dating apps you’ve created pose a threat to Aisle’s popularity within the company?
No, it isn’t a threat as long as our users sign up on one of our apps. Also, the analogy we are following is similar to Nike or Adidas; they all have other shoe brands under their umbrella. For example, Adidas acquired its competitor Reebok, but how they have positioned the brand is very different. A better example would be Luxottica which owns Ray-Ban, Oakley and 28 plus sunglass brands. That’s the strategy that we are following here. We’re that holding company, which creates personalised experiences, and as long as users sign up for one of them and like the experience, we are good.
What are the subscription charges for Aisle and Jalebi?
For a month, the subscription fee for Aisle is 999 INR. Jalebi is priced much lower at 499 INR because it’s fairly new, and we are still looking for product market fit. Eventually, if we add value to the users, we will also increase the price of our subscription.
Is Bumble free of cost, and is your closest competitor?
Yes, Bumble is the closest competitor to Jalebi, but Bumble is not free – it’s free for women, and they can make the first move, but men have to pay. One of the key differences between Bumble and Jalebi is anybody can make the first move on the Jalebi app. It’s 2023, and I think we will be okay with having a level playing field for both genders.
Do you have premium and base plan subscriptions for Jalebi and Aisle?
We have one, three and six-months subscriptions. On Aisle, we have something called Aisle Concierge, which is a superior service to Aisle premium and priced differently, almost 1.5 to 2x the premium subscription cost. Aisle Concierge allows people to search for a very large database rather than wait for the algorithm to start showing the profiles and going through them individually.
If someone doesn’t wish to pay for the premium service but wants to try it once, is there a way?
As a free user of Aisle, Jablebi and our vernacular apps, you get a limited number of likes which is way lower than that of casual dating apps where you are spoilt for choices. As a high-intent dating app, scarcity is extremely important for us so that people don’t misuse what they get for free.
How has the response been so far on Aisle and vernacular apps, and if you could support this with some data?
More than data, the biggest stamp of approval came from InfoEdge putting faith in us despite there being multiple other teams. More than anybody in the country, InfoEdge has a ton of data and knowledge about building consumer internet brands, which is a validation of the effort we’ve put in.
From a data standpoint, we currently have more than 15 million users using a product we’ve built. To my knowledge, there isn’t a team with less than 50 members running multiple apps used by more than 10 million people in India. We have more revenue than some of the unicorns out there. Despite the competition from companies outside India with deep pockets and a ton of competition from VC-funded VMs within India, our company is pretty healthy. We’ve done a very decent job of being in the top three right after Tinder and Bumble.
How is Jalebi different from the vernacular apps?
All the apps we’ve built so far are not fun at all! It was intentionally kept to be less engagement heavy and boring so that when a user is on it, they get a sense of looking for their permanent partner. We can increase the number of free likes to that of casual dating apps, and our engagement will shoot up, but the interaction quality will drop.
However, when it comes to Jalebi, we’ve focused a little more on fun but also kept it intelligent, hence the tagline ‘seriously good dating‘. We want Jalebi to be slightly serious but, at the same time, make the process a little more fun. So a Jalebi user can have casual, fun, lighthearted conversations as well as serious conversations – which the new generation prefers.
How is Jalebi tackling the security of users and avoiding scams?
Romance scams are a concern for dating apps around the world. As much as we would not want it to happen, it happens, mainly due to the lack of individual responsibility we don’t take up. Where ever there is A meeting B, there are chances for things to go wrong. Scams could happen on any application, be it social networks, cab services or food delivery apps. So it’s important for not just the company but for the users to do their best to have a healthy community and meet in a safe way that improves personal relations.
On Jalebi, we have taken a very important counterintuitive step of verifying everybody. There is an expense attached to it, and we also do lose out on many users because of that, but we have put safety and security above all else for our users. Catfishing would likely be the least on Jalebi compared to other dating apps in India.
What are the goals for Jalebi for this year?
As our immediate goal, we want to hit 25,000 users in Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai. A new app’s responsibility is to populate it with users because all of these apps are useless without users. We want to be able to do that in a very price-conscious, budget-conscious way. If we manage to do that in the next three months, we will find a product-market fit based on the feedback. Hopefully, by the end of the year, we will have a dating app that users, especially Gen Z, use, if not as much as, Bumble or more than that.
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