Fifty-five million installs and counting. That's the number of people taking a chance on love, and they're doing so through Are You Interested?, the second-most popular online dating app on the planet, made by the development team at Snap Interactive (STVI). Are You Interested? has also been one of the most popular apps on Facebook Platform since 2007, when Facebook first released their application platform to developers, and the dating service is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Snap Interactive's unique strategy, one that's driven the success of Are You Interested?, is the gamble the company took committing totally to Facebook Platform. Few other companies honed in on Facebook so soon after the release of the social media app platform, and few companies have been nearly as committed after Facebook adapted app development policies.
Using the social media giant's user-base as a foundation for a dating service helped Are You Interested? gain mass early. The thing with dating sites is, it's really hard to reach scale, says Cliff Lerner, co-founder and CEO of Snap Interactive. What most people don't realize is that's there are thousands of dating sites started every year, all with great ideas and concepts, but the reality is, you can count on one hand how many sites have ever reached scale due to a unique concept.
Snap Interactive has been able to grow the Are You Interested? user-base virally as a result. Now, as a leader in the arena of social media applications, it seems that Snap Interactive's fate is tightly tied to Facebook, which is great news for Snap Interactive, considering Facebook's membership has grown exponentially since 2004.
The app's prominence was apparent at Snap Interactive's recent office-warming party, commemorating the company's new headquarters near Penn Station. Digits scrolling up a screen, the sum growing steadily in a seemingly never-ending climb, were displayed on flatscreen TVs near the back of the office, hanging over the company's celestial Ping-Pong table. Other ever-expounding metrics ticked upward on the TV screens. The numbers just kept escalating.
One thing that has really separated us from our competitors and the crowd is that we made a big bet on Facebook platform early. A lot of people did. But once Facebook really clamped down on the viral channels, a lot of people left the Facebook platform, and they were talking about building destination sites, says Cliff. We doubled down. We stuck to our guns. We saw people spending more and more time on Facebook, and we ultimately believed that if we aligned ourselves with Facebook and [didn't] abuse their platform, good things [would] happen.
While I fixated on the mounting number on the ticker, one of the members of the development team brought me over to a computer monitor at a nearby desk to show me an even more fascinating way to interpret the metrics. I was shown a digital globe, viewable from 360-degrees, that has several throbbing pillars bouncing from the most populated cities around the world, much like a graphics equalizer display would show the maxed-out levels of a metal song. Every time someone sends an instant message [on Are You Interested?], a tower jumps, says the developer. The lines indicate when two users begin having a conversation.
Examining the digitized globe filled with blue spikes, like a pin cushion with far too many needles jammed into several central points, I realize the vast size of the Are You Interested? user-base.
Cliff's brother Darrell Lerner, co-founder of Snap Interactive, talks about another aspect of their gambler's nature that has helped grow the app: We're a company that's not afraid to take risks, he says. There's so many interesting opportunities, developments that come out at lightning pace, and we're not afraid to put in a new feature, to test something, we're constantly looking to evolve the product and be forward-thinking.
The forward-thinking concept that has kept Are You Interested? ahead of the game is its ability to allow users to browse profiles on Facebook. Typically, Facebook is selective about who is able to view and message others outside of a user's network, but after installing Are You Interested?, Facebook users essentially opt-in to allowing people to discover them. The user still has complete control over what information is revealed and what isn't. Nothing is shared that hasn't been explicitly allowed.
The company also took a chance and launch in reverse order to the standard, build it and then do an IPO strategy. It started as a publicly-traded company, a so-called penny stock. Pretty much the exact opposite of most...even of Facebook, it's larger universe. We had fairly minimal initial capital, and we were able to use the stock, for example our lawyers took primarily stock, which allowed us to conserve our cash, says Darrell.
While building a company in reverse is somewhat radical, the group remains optimistic. We continue to grow. People are looking for dating apps on Facebook. They are looking for dating apps on the iPhone, and there are very few of them that can offer you a critical mass of users, says Cliff. Once you're there, you're in a pretty good place. We have 55 million installs, well over a million visits a day. On the iPhone, we're the fifth-highest grossing app in U.S. social networking.