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|Hayley Matthews • 10/04/16|
The Short Version: When they design dating platforms, the if(we) team is passionate about answering the question “What if?” For the past 12 years, if(we) has pioneered popular social brands, such as Tagged and hi5, that engage hundreds of millions of registered users worldwide. With an eye to the future of dating, the team takes risks by brainstorming new ways for people to connect in the mobile space. Their innovation has led them to tackle technological feats like customized avatars, live video, and social gaming — all in an effort to bring singles together.
A social movement begins subtly. It starts with small conversations and brief moments. In 1999, my mom came home with a library book tucked under her arm. “My talk show said this book is really popular right now, especially with kids your age,” she told me.
I was 9, so naturally skeptical of adults telling me what I like. “What’s it about?”
“Witches and dragons, I think.” Sensing my lack of enthusiasm, she added, “It must be good — I put us on the library’s waiting list eight weeks ago and only just got it.”
I took the book politely, thinking I’d skim it just to maker her happy. From the first chapter, I was hooked, and I joined the fan phenomenon that would shape my generation. That’s how I read “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
You don’t always know when you’re on the cusp of something big, but some companies make it their mission to track the trends and predict the next smash hit. In the dating industry, if(we) believes mobile technology is where the action is.
if(we) strives to create groundbreaking dating apps. CEO Dash Gopinath and his team enjoy coming up with fresh ideas to serve the next generation of daters.
The company invests in the creativity of their team by challenging them to finish the sentence “If we…” This strategy has served them well for over 12 years of imaginative development. Their established brands, including Tagged and hi5, attract millions of young people eager for new ways to interact using technology.
Under Dash’s leadership, if(we) endeavors to stay on the cutting-edge of socialization as they dream up user-friendly dating platforms. From avatar chatting to video messages, these technical wizards build tools that make casual dating more fun and natural.
Whether you’re seeking friendship or a relationship, if(we)’s dating platforms provide social connections for all types of singles.
“Our mission is always to connect people,” Dash said. “Dating is a big part of that but so is something more casual like gaming or chatting.”
At the intersection of social media and dating applications, you’ll find if(we). Their products draw people in through social networks and customized features.
“Zooming out, our approach and plan is to really think about where the industry is going and find new ways to easily engage users,” Dash said.
This innovative drive was built into the company culture since the early days in 2004 when their sole product was Tagged, a broad-based dating app that pioneered photo-centric matching.
If you’re curious, you can read more about Tagged here. Even after 12 years, the app remains a pillar of success for the company and maintains a large audience within the U.S. Meanwhile, hi5 has attracted an engaged user base abroad, gaining a reputation for a low-key and fun atmosphere.
“Tagged and hi5 are large properties doing really well,” Dash said. “We run those channels while keeping an eye on where things are going in the dating space.”
While he sees great opportunity for social discovery in mobile, Dash said he realizes the platform is still evolving and not everyone has fully embraced it yet. For instance, young people have grown up around technology and often feel more at ease socializing on a dating app than older generations do.
“If you want to make meaningful connections,” he told us, “you have to meet people where they are and give them the tools they feel most comfortable with.”
To serve a wide array of people, if(we) has launched many diverse dating platforms, and they’re not slowing down. Their products blur social networking and dating. From the more natural chatting interface of Nod to the more targeted niche community of One, if(we) aims to provide intuitive functionality for users.
“We want to be able to take risks,” Dash explained. “We want to make sure that our company is set up well to execute on both our existing business and future opportunities.”
Right now, the idea that’s got the team fired up is live video. “Looking forward, that’s where we’re putting our time and energy,” said the CEO of if(we). Still in the development stages, their next social app will focus on video communication and is expected to launch later this year.
if(we) funds their product experiments with revenue from more established brands like Tagged. Via advertising, virtual currency, and subscriptions, the company makes a profit while adding value for their users.
“That’s the only way to continue running a stable and scalable business in the dating space,” Louis Willacy, Senior Vice President of Legal and Head of Corporate Development, explained. “We give people additional functionality in exchange for a little consideration for us.”
Based in San Francisco, California, if(we) was ranked the #3 Best Place to Work in the Bay Area in 2014. Over 100 employees bring their varied expertise together to develop unique social products that inspire easy connections.
“For innovation and creativity to happen, you need diverse viewpoints,” Dash said. “You need people looking at the space, the product, and the users differently. That’s what we strive for.”
Louis has been with the company for more than 10 years and can speak to the wealth of industry expertise in this team.
“Because we’ve been in this social space for over 12 years now,” he said, “we have operational experience and history that we bring to whatever we do. That in-house knowledge is a critical piece of the puzzle.”
To attract the city’s best talent, if(we) encourages a fun startup culture with quarterly field trips and a fully stocked kitchen. Employees enjoy perks like catered lunches and dinners, plus monthly massages to keep them relaxed and happy. They also have unlimited vacation and sick leave at their disposal.
When not enjoying intra-office games or holiday bashes, these innovators work together to produce dating apps that rival the biggest names in the industry.
In weekly all-hands meetings, Dash makes a point to celebrate the company’s success by way of what he calls “user highlights.” He pulls one touching or inspiring story from the past week to share with the team in the meeting.
“It’s a powerful way to focus everyone on why we do what we do,” he said. “We come to work every day to help our users build connections, and we never want to lose sight of that.”
His favorite story, he told us, was about two elementary-school sweethearts reconnecting with one another. “We were dating in the fifth grade and then he moved,” remembered Becca, now 34 years old and living in El Cajon, California. As luck would have it, both of them signed up for a Tagged account. Becca was floored when she saw a notification telling her that her old boyfriend was buying her Pets after over 20 years apart.
“After talking back and forth, we realized we actually both live in the same town,” she said. “We didn’t just meet up to catch up — we’re now dating again!” Without the social network of a dating app, the couple could not have rekindled their long-lost love.
“Within a year of joining Tagged, I met this amazing girl…And now almost five years later we’re engaged and happily in love. And I owe it all to Tagged! — Lori, 21 years old, Ontario, Canada
The user highlights don’t always involve romance or amazing coincidence — sometimes it’s as simple as a person rebounding after a personal tragedy by connecting with users online. The gaming feature on if(we)’s apps is an accessible way to make friends around the world in a casual setting.
“The games on the site are an excuse for people to connect,” Dash explained, “and we see that more casual socialization happening all the time.”
To encourage serendipitous meetings and individual engagement, the forward-thinking team imagines new ways to enhance communication using avatars, games, and videos.
Popular mediums link people by creating commonality. It could be a teen sending a quick video update to a friend or it could be a girl ravenously reading about the Boy Who Lived. These actions have social value because of their potential to unify individuals and inspire lasting bonds.
According to Dash, the channel may change, but the basic human need for connection does not. Today, dating platforms offer unique socializing opportunities, and if(we) further improves the space by opening it up to different ways of communicating.
Just as I had no idea how that thin paperback from the library would change my life, daters don’t know what the next wave of mobile dating will look like, but if(we) is working hard to impact this ever-changing tool.
With their next project, the team posits that a video element will provide a more interactive social experience on their new app.
if(we) boldly explores ways to drive their brand — and the dating industry itself — forward. “We think it’s important to keep an eye on what’s coming, what’s happening, and what people are doing,” Dash said. “Not just to stick to what’s worked before, but to build on top of that success with new products.”