Happn, Scaling for Success: Social Dating

Didier Rappaport - CEO, happn


Back in 2013, when I founded happn, dating websites and mobile apps already existed, but they offered an experience that was far too virtual, “matching” people based on mutual interests and “objective” preferences. But who wants to be objective when it comes to love or in the quest for a partner? Don’t you want Lady Luck to smile on you instead? In real life, especially in big cities, we encounter dozens of people every day, without actually meeting or getting to know them. This is where happn comes in: through a combination of real time and hyper-geolocation, users connect with their direct environment, because everything starts in real-life. On the street, at work, at a party... it could happen anywhere or anytime.


I started my first international trading company prior to the internet and in the 90s discovered the digital world, creating one of the first B2B platforms for services devoted to the international textile trade. I then set up another platform, SourcesIT, this time devoted to IT professionals, before I co-founded Dailymotion in 2005. In 2008, I joined Nomao, a personalized social network using geolocation, and then co-founded and launched happn in 2013. Some call me an internet pioneer, I’d actually describe myself as a serial entrepreneur.


2017 has been a decisive year for us. We strengthened our presence in existing markets and grew our user base by 60%.


“We now have 45 million users worldwide across 40 countries and 50 cities.”


By the end of 2017, we moved from an in-app purchase model to a subscription based model allowing recurring revenue. This, combined with a full advertising serving platform, will allow us to reach profitability in 2018. Product-wise, we recently launched a playful new feature - called “CrushTime”- and a totally new version of happn is being tested right now with a probable deployment in Q2 2018.


Our biggest challenge is growing the team. There were just four of us in 2013, now we’re at over 100! And to grow and manage the team is one thing, but to keep agile and flexible at the same time is quite another. The dating sector is also highly competitive: there are thousands of apps operating out there, and the biggest operators have huge budgets that don’t compare to a young and about to be profitable company. So we need to constantly innovate and improve - not only to attract newcomers but to retain those who already use our product. Our launch in India in April 2017 has been particularly exciting and our rapid growth in this market has been particularly enjoyable. We’ve achieved taking the leading position in the dating sector - in less than a year with over 8 million users.


We’ve already raised three funding rounds. The last was complicated because we had just changed our business model, moving from pure B2C to a B2C and B2B mix. We had to find investors confident in our new proposal.


We are now about to raise money for the fourth time but the context is today very different in that we are so close from break-even. We have now demonstrated our great potential for profitability and we “only” need support to accelerate our development.


In 2018 we aim to launch in China and kick-start the implementation in our daily process of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning while not forgetting good data management, storage, protection and optimisation.


I believe you should never think to yourself ‘this is it; I’ve made it’. As soon as you do, you stop innovating and progressing. My advice to others scaling at speed is: to not fear mistakes, avoid repeating them of course, but test and learn as fast as possible; surround yourself with talented people and delegate; and when it comes to financing lean on the advice and knowledge of experts – this cannot be improvised.


Image: happn