MAKING IT HAPPN


HOW HAPPN FUSES AI AND SPONTANEITY TO CREATE PERFECT MATCHES

TXT ISABELLE WATSON
ART ALEXANDRA ESPAÑA

DIDIER RAPPAPORT

FOUNDER AND CEO,

It wasn’t long ago that meeting partners online was considered taboo. Fast forward to today, and dating apps are seeing explosive growth. Research estimates that half of all singles in the U.S. use or have tried one. Globally, around 23.8 million adults swiped on dating apps in 2018 alone. Little wonder that they have evolved to offer a way to find your perfect partner no matter your interests — from mainstream options like Tinder and Bumble, to more niche apps like Align (which focuses on star sign compatibility), Sizzl (the not-entirely-serious option for bacon lovers) or Dig, (“the dog person’s dating app”).

As competition in the dating vertical has increased, apps have adapted to engage users in new ways. One technology that wins on both counts is streaming, which Hinge and Bumble have baked into the core of their app experiences. For users, in-app video calls are less risky than the commitment of swapping numbers — if unmatched, the other person loses the ability to make a call. Video calls also offer a dry run ahead of meeting IRL, giving users a better feel for what their match is like beyond their carefully curated profile.

Video streaming has proven to be a powerful tool to ignite relationships. However, it may be the dating apps that literally move users out of their comfort zone — and beyond their phone screen — that lay the foundation for relationships with real staying power. This is happn’s mission, an app designed from the ground up to inspire romance at the intersection of the digital realm and the physical world.

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USING REAL-LIFE INTERACTIONS TO INCREASE MATCHES

happn was founded by serial entrepreneur Didier Rappaport in 2014. The app stands out from its rivals thanks, in part, to a smart strategy that harnesses location data to connect potential matches. Today, the app counts more than 80 million users all over the world.

Speaking to LTV from happn’s headquarters in Paris, Didier tells us he came up with the idea for the app when he found the online dating landscape was too virtual. He couldn’t help but wonder if there was a better solution — and a way to bring the real-life back into dating apps.

Combining location with real-time interaction ended up being the perfect match. It’s an experience the product delivers the moment it’s loaded. The user is shown other users who frequent the same neighborhood, cafes and bars — connecting people who are already nearby and most likely share a similar lifestyle. “We like to say that people don’t meet on the app, they meet on the street — happn just facilitates that connection,” Didier says.

CREATING A UNIQUE FORMULA IN THE ONLINE DATING SPHERE

happn now attracts around two million new users per month, and recent TV campaigns running across Europe pave the way for even greater brand awareness, Didier says.

Effective advertising is a factor in the app’s algorithm for success, but Didier also gives some of the credit to the massive momentum of the dating app space. “Dating is a vertical that’s growing everywhere in the world,” he explains. ”To date, less than 50% of couples meet online — so the potential for growth is huge.”

But dig deeper, and it’s happn’s unique formula of spontaneity and synchronicity that’s really fueled growth. It starts with happn’s allegiance to an approach that keeps it real, and resists the temptation to focus too much on algorithms and engineer the perfect match. While the app uses data and machine learning to deliver users what they will appreciate, it “uses AI sparingly.” Didier is convinced that apps need to leave room for randomness to play a role. “Love is like that — you never know who you will be attracted to.” This element of serendipity can build strong relationships, similar to the way relationships are built offline.

happn’s success is a testament to the importance of combining the precision of data with human creativity. “The issue with AI is that it tends to reproduce the past,” Didier explains. “If we only used AI, we would present the best of the right profiles. But we don’t want to remove the small coincidences or chance encounters that you get in real life.” It’s also about the quality of the experience and delivering one that aligns with the value it promises. “We never know when we will fall in love or who you’ll be attracted to, and we want to keep this poetry in the app.”

DATA TO FUEL THE USER EXPERIENCE

happn clearly uses AI discreetly, but the company is committed to going all-in on data analysis. Data helps the company to understand patterns in user acquisition, retention and churn, Didier says. It’s the reason he has structured his company to measure “everything.” A prime example is the company’s recent move to TV campaigns and the approach that allows teams to gauge the results. To check uplift and measure effectiveness of TV spots, happn launched an experiment to integrate TV in attribution models, which were split into both immediate and long-term effects. In the short term, happn can use these models to optimize performance and can measure the direct impact of TV campaigns on app downloads through specialized software. In the long term, they also use it to measure brand familiarity due to peaks of app downloads even after the TV campaign has ended.

Data is also used to constantly enhance the app and improve user experience. The team draws on data, often looking at the common points where users drop-off, to identify where they must fine-tune functionality or brush up design. Monitoring data also arms the team to fight fraud and, importantly, battle bots. Research shows bot fraud — perpetrated by automated software agents capable of interacting with content, advertising and offers in a human-like way — is a growing issue for all apps. In the case of dating apps, bots tailored for this type of app can create fake profiles and fake engagements to catfish users — and the motivation for many fraudsters behind the bots is to steal user information and credentials to sell on the dark web. happn uses its own internal algorithm to weed out fake profiles and secure the user experience.

GOING GLOBAL

Another element that sets happn apart in the dating vertical is its confident expansion strategy. happn launched in Paris in February 2014, and London, Berlin and New York followed in the next seven months. It’s a strategy that’s paid off: the app is now the first-most downloaded dating app in India and the second in Brazil. Across Europe, it’s usually found in the top five — if not the top three.

Didier is a fierce proponent of delivering on the promise of data privacy. “We strongly believe that a dating app that doesn’t protect their users’ data will lose the market,‘‘ he says. Cultural sensitivities also play a role, mentions Didier: “We’re aware that there’s still a stigma in many countries around using a dating app. It would be a crushing blow to many users to think that the data is being used for any other reason than to pair people.”

happn has clearly hit on a winning formula — and their belief in spontaneity, with a helpful nudge from technology, is one that will continue to resonate with users around the world. While happn will remain true to its mission to provide positive conditions for romance to blossom in the real world, it will also expand the channels it uses to reach and engage audiences to include video. But happn will make sure the focus remains on encouraging users to meet in real life. “What we don’t want,” Didier says, “is people staying on video and building a digital world. We want people to connect in person.”

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