Tantan, the Chinese app most comparable to Tinder, hopes to solve China’s growing problem of too many singles.
“There is a serious lack of opportunities for China’s young singles to make new friends. And this problem is much bigger than that in the west,” says Tantan’s founder and CEO Wang Yu at TechCrunch Shanghai. “In Sweden for example, there are parties almost every day starting at junior high school. People go clubbing over the weekend. They have more spare time, so they can meet people on various occasions. But China doesn’t have such pickup culture. College students basically have no parties and rarely go clubbing. They are too busy, so almost don’t have ways to meet people offline.”
Tinder for the shy, introverted Chinese
Tantan believes it has found a way to tackle the Chinese dating obstacle through the Tinder model: the location-based anonymous social app, Wang suggests, offers a more convenient, less embarrassing way for young Chinese to start a conversation. The three-year-old app has about 6-7 million daily active users and has matched over 3-4 billion pairs of users, Wang says.
“Deep down, Chinese young people today are actually quite open. They just need some help to break the wall. Behind the wall, they are very similar to Americans,” Wang says of the app. Users of Tantan swipe through photos of people nearby—to the left if they dislike them, to the right if they like them. Users will only be able to start chatting when they mutually like each other.
This icebreaking function, according to Wang, is the core of Tantan. Since offline dating opportunities are abundant in the West, dating apps play more of a complementary role. In China, however, people badly need an app like Tantan because of their more reserved, introverted tendencies. Tantan’s goal is to provide a channel for young people to meet, rather than facilitate fleeting sexual encounters.
“In general, girls have always been more passive in society, and in relationships,” Wang adds. “But on Tantan they can choose who they like,” Wang adds. This social behavior is reflected in the dating app as well. According to Tantan’s data, women like about 6% of the recommended users, while men like as much as 60%. The app does deliberately keep a 6:4 male-to-female gender ratio, so the gender imbalance also plays a role.
Tantan—a tribute to QQ
The 36-year-old founder compares Tantan to one of China’s longest-running social apps, QQ. The 18-year-old Tencent-owned app is still one of the country’s biggest networking apps with 861 million monthly active users as of August, though it has pivoted to capture a younger population. QQ’s sister app WeChat, on the other hand, is now a ubiquitous all-in-one app that occupies virtually all aspects of Chinese people’s life.
“Friends from my generation met half of their friends via QQ. When [our generation] grew up, however, there seemed to be a lack of apps that allow young people to do so. The existing social apps were either too serious or too flirty,” Wang says, claiming that Tantan has proudly become an app that users—at least the female ones—aren’t ashamed of admitting they use it. The founder, feeling nostalgic, tells the audience that the app is a tribute to QQ, a salute to the golden online-dating age in the past.
The swipe-left, swipe-right feature inevitably conjures the impression of a hookup app, though the company says it has taken measures to keep the user experience “clean.” For instance, Tantan claims it has shut down 30 million out of its 100 million registered users who are suspected harassers, salespeople, or those who use fake profile pictures. When it comes to the issue of “hookups,” however, the founder seems more hands off.
“It’s hard to claim that our users don’t hook up. The more we deny it, the more it seems as if we are trying too hard.”
Monetizing the romantic app
Tantan has painted a rosy picture to help Chinese young singles to find their ideal date. It has kept away, meanwhile, from monetization until recently. The app is planning to add paid memberships by the end of this year, the founder says. For example, users can pay to unlock the “recall” function. Right now, if users accidentally swipe left someone that they like, there is no way of revoking the act.
Tantan is often compared to another hookup app, Momo, the Chinese social app that filed for US IPO in 2014. Started as a social app for strangers, Momo has made a successful pivot to live streaming, a fast-growing, multi-billion RMB industry. When asked whether Tantan will follow the footsteps of Momo, Wang admits that although live streaming is lucrative, it risks digressing from the mission of Tantan, which is to promote social activities.
“The money incentive to hosts is too attractive, so it will encourage the professional development of [live streaming] hosts. The more professional, the less social. [Live streaming] might be more entertaining, but it’s not particularly social… So in the short run at least, we don’t plan to enter live streaming.”
Tantan’s latest round of financing came in June when it raised $120 million from NASDAQ-listed YY Inc., the live streaming pioneer in China, and Genesis Capital, founded by two ex-Tencent Investment veterans. SAIF Partners and Zhongwei Capital also participated in the round.