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Founded by former Apple engineers, a new app called Struck wants to be the Tinder for the Co-Star crowd. In other words, it’s an astrology-based matchmaker. But it took close to 10 attempts over several months for the startup to get its app approved by Apple for inclusion in the App Store. In nearly every rejection, app reviewers flagged the app as “spam” either due to its use of astrology or, once, simply because it was designed for online dating.
Apple continually cited section 4.3 of its App Store Review Guidelines in the majority of Struck’s rejections, with the exception of two that were unrelated to the app’s purpose. (Once, it was rejected for use of a broken API. Another rejection was over text that needed correction. It had still called itself a “beta.”)
The 4.3 guideline is something Apple wields to keep the App Store free from what it considers to be clutter and spam. In spirit, the guideline makes sense, as it gives Apple permission to make more subjective calls over low-quality apps.
Today, the guideline states that developers should “avoid piling on to a category that is already saturated,” and reminds developers that the App Store has “enough fart, burp, flashlight, fortune telling, dating, and Kama Sutra apps, etc. already.”
In the document, Apple promises to reject anything that “doesn’t offer a high-quality experience.”
This guideline was also updated in March to further raise the bar on dating apps and create stricter rules around “fortune-telling” apps, among other things.
Struck, unfortunately, found itself in the crosshairs of this new enforcement. But while its app may use astrology in a matchmaking process, its overall design and business model is nowhere close to resembling that of a shady “fortune-telling” app.
In fact, Struck hasn’t even implemented its monetization model, which may involve subscriptions and à la carte features at a later date.
Rather, Struck has been carefully and thoughtfully designed to provide an alternative to market leaders like Tinder. Built by a team of mostly women, including two people of color and one LGBTQ+ team member, the app is everything mainstream dating apps are not.
Struck doesn’t, for example, turn online dating into a Hot-or-Not style game. It works by first recommending matches by way of its understanding of users’ detailed birth charts and aspects. But you don’t have to be a true believer in astrology to enjoy the experience. You can use the app just for fun if you’re open-minded, the company website says. “Skeptics welcome,” the website advertises.
And while Tinder and others tend to leverage psychological tricks to make their apps more addictive, Struck aims to slow things down in order to allow users to once again focus on romance and conversations. There are no endless catalogs of head shots to swipe upon in Struck. Instead, it sends you no more than four matches per day and you can message only one of the four.
The app’s overall goal is to give users time to analyze their matches’ priorities and values, not just how they appear in photos.
If anything, this is precisely the kind of unique, thoughtfully crafted app the App Store should cater to, not the kind it should ban.
“We come from an Apple background. We come from a tech background. We were very insistent on having a good, quality user interface and user experience,” explains Struck co-founder and CEO Rachel Lo. “That was a big focus for us in our beta testing. We honestly didn’t expect any pushback when we submitted to the App Store,” she says.
But Apple did push back. After first submitting the app in May, Struck went through around nine rounds of rejections where reviewers continued to claim it was spam simply for being an astrology-based dating application. The team would then pull out astrology features hoping to get the app approved… with no luck. Finally, one reviewer told them Struck was being rejected for being a dating app.
“I remember thinking, we’re going to have to shut down this project. There’s not really a way through,” recounts Lo. The Struck team, in a last resort, posted to their Instagram page about their struggles and how they felt Apple’s rejections were unfair given the app’s quality. Plus, as Lo points out, the rejection had a tinge of sexism associated with it.
“Obviously, astrology is a heavily female-dominated category,” she says. “I took issue with the guideline that says ‘burps, farts and fortune-telling apps.’ I made a fuss about that verbiage and how offensive it is for people in most of the world who actually observe astrology.”
Despite the founders’ connections within the technology industry, thanks to their ex-Apple status and relationships with journalists who would go on to plead their case, Struck was not getting approved.
Finally, after several supporters left comments on Lisa Jackson’s Instagram where she had posted about WWDC, the app was — for unknown reasons — suddenly given the green light. It’s unclear if the Instagram posts made a difference. Even the app reviewer couldn’t explain why the app was now approved, when asked.
The whole debacle has soured the founders on the way Apple today runs its App Store, and sees them supportive of the government’s antitrust investigations into Apple’s business, which could result in new regulations.
“We had no course of action. And it felt really, really wrong for this giant company to basically be squashing small developers, says Lo. “I don’t know what’s going to become of our app — we hope it’s successful and we hope we can build a good, diverse business from it,” she continues. “But the point was that we weren’t even being given the opportunity to distribute our app that we had spent nine months building.”
Though Apple is turning its nose up at astrology apps, apparently, you don’t have to take astrology to heart to have fun with apps like Struck or those that inspired it, such as Co-Star. These newer Zodiac apps aren’t as obsessed with predicting your future as they are with offering a framework to examine your emotions, your place in the world and your interpersonal relationships. That led Co-Star to snag a $ 5 million seed round in 2019, one of many astrology apps investors were chasing last year as consumer spend among the top 10 in this space jumped 65% over 2018.
Struck, ultimately, wants to give the market something different from Tinder, and that has value.
“We want to challenge straight men since it is — quote unquote — a traditionally feminine-looking app,” says Lo. “For us, it’s 2020. It’s shocking to us that every dating app looks like a slot machine. We want to make something that has a voice and makes women feel comfortable. And I think our usership split between the genders kind of proved that.”
Struck is live today on the App Store — well, for who knows how long.
It initially caters to users in the Bay Area and LA and will arrive in New York on Friday. Based on user feedback, it will slowly roll out to more markets where it sees demand.
Every time I apply for programs, I have trouble finding a good fit from the list of verticals. For example, from this list of verticals, a dating app would either be Mobile Commerce or SaaS, but neither fit exactly.
Even from this list of PlugNPlay's programs, I don't think there's one that dating apps fit in.
Any idea what vertical a dating app belongs in?
The pandemic hasn’t slowed down dating app S’More — at least according to CEO Adam Cohen-Aslatei, who said that the app’s daily active user count doubled in March and hasn’t gone down since.
“When people are working form home, they have much more time to dedicate to their relationships,” Cohen-Aslatei told me.
The app (whose name is short for “something more”) launched last fall and has supposedly attracted nearly 50,000 users. The goal is to move beyond the superficiality of most dating apps, where you first learn about another user and then unlock visual elements (like a profile photo) as you interact.
Cohen-Aslatei said the team has also spent more on marketing to attract a diverse audience, both in terms of racial diversity (something S’more reinforces by not allowing users to filter by race) and sexual orientation, with 15% of users identifying as LGBTQ.
Of course, dating someone new can be challenging when meeting up in-person poses real health risks, but Cohen-Aslatei said S’More users have gotten creative, like remote dinners where they order each other takeout from their favorite restaurants. And now that things are reopening (though some of those reopenings are getting pulled back), users are asking, “How do we transition these virtual relationships into IRL?”
To give users more ways to interact, the S’More team recently launched a video calling feature. But Cohen-Aslatei noted, “We had to to create it in a way that was really fitting for our app … Women actually don’t want to see a guy right away, when you don’t know if they’re a creep.”
So in S’more’s video calling, the video is blurred for the first two minutes, which means you’ve got to actually start an interesting conversation before you can see who you’re talking to, and before they see you (a concept that may be familiar to viewers of Netflix’s dating show “Love is Blind”).
S’More has also expanded geographically, launching last week in Los Angeles (it was already available in Boston, Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago). And it recently started its a video series of its own on Instagram’s IGTV — the S’More Live Happy Hour, where celebrities offer dating advice.
“There’s this negative history of dating apps perpetuating negative online behaviors, fake images, catfishers,” Cohen-Aslatei said. “But now we’re going into a new era of authenticity, where we’re going from super vain to super authentic. S’more is one of those apps that’s going to lead you in that direction.”
The events of the past few months have shaken the lives of everyone, but especially Black people in the U.S. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted members of the Black community while police violence has recently claimed the lives of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and others.
Two weeks ago, two Black transgender women, Riah Milton and Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells were murdered. In light of their deaths, activists took to the streets to protest the violence Black trans women face. Two days after Floyd’s killing, McDade, a Black trans man was shot and killed by police in Tallahassee, Florida.
In light of Pride month coinciding with one of the biggest racial justice movements of the century amid a pandemic, TechCrunch caught up with Robyn Exton, founder of queer dating app Her, to see how her company is navigating this unprecedented moment.
Exton and I had a wide-ranging conversation including navigating COVID-19 as a dating startup, how sheltering in place has affected product development, shifting the focus of what is historically a month centered around LGBTQ people to include racial justice work and putting purpose back into Pride month.
“Pride exists because there is inequality within our world and within our community and still there is no clear focus on what it is we should be fighting for as a community,” Exton says. “It almost feels like since equal marriage was passed, there’s a range of topics but no clear voice saying this is what everyone should focus on right now. And then obviously everything changed after George Floyd’s murder. Over the course of the following weekend, we canceled pretty much everything that was going out that talked still about Pride as a celebration. Especially for Black people within our community, in that moment of so much trauma, it felt completely wrong to talk about Pride just in general.”
Worldwide, Pride events have been canceled as a result of the pandemic. But it gives people and corporations time to reflect on what kind of presence they want to have in next year’s Pride celebrations.
M17 Entertainment announced today that it has sold its online dating assets to focus on its core live streaming business in Asia and other markets. Paktor Pte, which operates Paktor dating app and other services, was acquired by Kollective Ventures, a venture capital advisory firm. The value of the deal was undisclosed.
In its announcement, Taipei-based M17 said the sale will allow it to focus on expanding its live streaming business in markets including Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong.
Earlier this month, the company said it had raised a $ 26.5 million Series D that will be used for growth in Japan, where M17 claims a 60% share of the live streaming market, and expansion into new places like the United States and the Middle East. Its live streaming apps include 17LIVE (an English-language version is called Livit), Meme Live and live-streaming e-commerce platforms HandsUP and FBBuy.
In a statement, M17 CFO Shang Koo said, “As our Japan live streaming business has skyrocketed, we found we were unable to devote the same level of internal resources to our dating business in Southeast Asia. Becoming independent will allow Paktor to control its own destiny as M17 focuses heavily on the future of its streaming services in our largest market, Japan.”
Paktor will operate independently of M17 after the sale, but Koo said “we hope to continue working with Paktor on future business cooperation and will always value the synergy and teamwork between M17 and Paktor.”
M17 was formed in April 2017 when Paktor merged with 17 Media. A year later, M17 was supposed to go public, but cancelled its initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange on the same day it was supposed to start trading, citing “issues related to the settlement” of shares that CEO Joseph Phua later explained in detail to Tech in Asia.
I will keep this short and let you know 2 very interesting facts about it. How it works and everything else is irrelevant, just have in mind that users have profiles like all apps these days, and the app's registered users was in the hundreds range (100-1000).
1) The ratio of men to women was like 20:1. This is much higher than I expected. Their respective activities ie. how much time they spent in the app is much higher than that, but I can't give exact numbers here.
2) Nobody, and I mean nobody, wrote some info about himself like "I am George and I study that". I implemented an audio info feature ie. record that on an audio clip (max 20 secs) instead of writing. Nobody.
Dating is a weird market and while I am by no means an expert on it, I do know a few things about it. Hint: it isn't looking good.
If anyone has questions I am more than happy to answer them!
If you find yourself working from home amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, you surely will miss the interaction with your colleagues and friends! In this case, a video conferencing app can be of great help. Fortunately, there are numerous stable apps available, many of which are free, that can keep you in touch with other people.
While Zoom witnessed a surge in popularity, its security issues, and other loopholes made users looking for other options. Meanwhile, other tech giants including Facebook, Google had come up with a video conferencing app as well with an array of features.
Virtual dating soon!
Tinder, an online dating app has joined the video-conferencing list, but, unlike other apps, it’s just an in-app one-on-one video chat feature. As per the company claims, the video feature will be rolled out later this year.
In a letter to shareholders, Match Group, the brand’s parent company mentioned:
“As daters demonstrated a strong willingness to video-date, our product and engineering teams around the world mobilized quickly to deploy one-to-one video chat capabilities on many of our platforms.”
Facilitated more than 30 billion matches!
Introduced on a college campus in 2012, Tinder is the most famous app right now for meeting new people. It has been downloaded more than 340 million times and is available in 190 countries and 40+ languages. This online dating platform has facilitated more than 30 billion matches since its inception.
“Social distancing has required adaptations and pivots and has impacted our business because how singles engage with our products and start relationships has quickly evolved. We know that singles are adjusting their behaviours, and many are shifting to having dates virtually via phone or video.”
However, MatchGroup didn’t share any details about tackling harassment or abuse within the video feature.
MatchGroup, which also owns Match.com, Hinge, OkCupid, and Plenty of Fish said that there is a noticeable increase in activity among users, especially those under the age of 30, across all of our brands and all geographies.
According to the company, people are matching more frequently, sending more messages, and engaging in longer conversations. The average number of daily messages sent across all of our products in April was 27% higher than during the last week of February, and for users under the age of 30, it was 35% higher.
17% YoY growth!
On the other hand, Match Group didn’t meet the Wall Street estimates, as the quarterly revenue fell short, due to slow growth in Tinder. Despite the challenge, the Q1 revenue rose %17 YoY which would have been 19% without the impact of F/X, claims the company. Notably, Tinder grew direct revenue by 31% year-over-year, with 28% year-over-year growth in Average Subscribers and 2% ARPU growth.
The net earnings attributable to Match Group shareholders rose to $ 160 million from $ 123 million last year (from 42 cents to 55 cents per share) for the three months ended March 31.
“We don’t know how long it will take or how bumpy it will be to get to the other side of this pandemic. But we’re very much looking forward to our singles being able to meet that person they’ve been messaging with and video chatting with for the past 2 months, in real life, once they can.”
Main image credits: Varavin88/Shutterstock
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