See the original story in Japanese.
New York City in the US is this nation’s largest urban area and Mecca for IT startups in which various kinds of media / fashion service can be found. In addition, the city abounds in matching services for dating such as leading female-use service Lulu, which was purchased by Badoo in February, or Coffee Meets Bagel based on a concept of introducing friends of a friend.
The matching service EastMeetEast especially focusing on Asians was born in such a city. Having started its service since December 2013, the firm has recently conducted a second funding round of an undisclosed amount from Mercari CEO Shintaro Yamada, East Ventures, 500 Startups, iSGS Investment Works, and DeNA (TSE:2432). DeNA participated in a seed funding round in August 2014.
The number of registered users in 2015 increased seven-fold last year. Also the sales amount has been increasing at a growth of 30-40% month-to-month. The factor that made EastMeetEast possible to grow without competing with majors such as Match.com may be the targeting specifying users; it focuses in particular on individuals from East and Southeast Asia including China, Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
The main users are men / women in the 25 to 35 age group. Most of them are in their late 20’s and said to participate rather casually, thinking “through dating, might consider getting married if a good person.” The service has been recognized as the place to meet someone who has the same background or culture. Even if a user withdraws from the service once, he / she tends to return again within an average of three months.
Unique circumstances for Asians
As a result of continuous focus group interviews with users prior to launch, it has been found that factors which Asians expect of their partners differ from those expected by Caucasians.
As can be expected from apps like Tinder based on photos that became popular, Caucasians tend to emphasize one’s appearance such as eye color or body build. On the other hand, Asians tend to consider background or culture as a whole, such as academic record, language or occupation, similar to the Japanese.
On EastMeetEast, users seek partners on the basis of search results. Although its search function is useful, sometimes the number of hits are too large to choose from, or some people miss good persons due to too many search terms being input at the onset. In order to cover these defects, the service distributes support emails to users.
EastMeetEast founder / CEO Mariko Tokioka explains:
We send emails under the image of ‘marriage arrangement lady’ to users once a week, in which we propose just one person who seems to be well suited. When email distribution takes place, the number of message exchanges between users increase by 40% compared with regular days.
In the emails, not only the person’s appearance but also quality is emphasized. The subject of emails is arranged to attract user attention by appealing his / her age, schools attended or occupation, not being a bland title like ‘your partner of the week,’ and that resulted in a high disclosure rate.
Successful video marketing
Originated as a PC website, EastMeetEast launched an app for iOS in July 2014. It will shift toward mobile-based service further in the future.
According to Tokioka, the most highly evaluated point of the firm upon this funding is its active marketing. For startups overseas, it is common to conduct promotion or marketing itself without outsourcing to accrue know-how. In fact, she had tried various approaches this past year.
When the first advertisement came out, the user acquisition cost was $14 each. It has fallen to 85% now. The most effective method among the variety of trial experiments was video marketing. Collaborating with a famous YouTuber having a million subscribers, EastMeetEast has been producing original short videoclips.
For example, we made a funny Q&A-like video clip in which the YouTuber conducts street interviews and asks “how do you think of this app?” or “what’s your request of dating partners?”; I feel certain response from video marketing because users who’d registered with the service via video have a higher photo posting rate, and the video doubles as a tutorial upon use.
Co-founding as the original challenge
After working at Oracle Japan, Tokioka moved to UK in order to obtain an Oxonian MBA. She had been interested in startups where she could directly feel the impact of her own job as to social contribution ever since her days as an office worker, so that she specialized in entrepreneurship at Oxford.
After gaining her MBA, she took part in the London-based startup Quipper, an online learning platform, as COO. Quipper was purchased by Recruit Holdings (TSE:6098) for 4.8 billion yen (about $40 million at the exchange rate then) in July of 2015. After that, Tokioka engaged in EastMeetEast as her next challenge.
Previously, she had used major matching services to seek for a partner in consideration of marriage when living in London. Although she thought her suitable marriage partner would be a Japanese man, conventional services sometimes arranged matching with a Sri Lankan or an Indian due to the wide definition of the term Asian.
Although there was a matching service focusing on Jewish folks called JDate, I realized the absence of services focusing on Asians. EastMeetEast was born out of what I actually experienced, having difficulties in seeking a partner. As an increase of late marriage has become increasingly a social problem, I want to support users in seeking a partner for their entire lifetime.
Eyeing the Global Market from Onset
She chose UK as her first startup location, and then New York as the next. Since already having experienced activities overseas at Quipper, it was natural for Tokioka to select her next venture as one competing on the global market.
While it is not easy to start up even in Japan, doing so overseas seems to be much more difficult, but there are some advantages according to Tokioka. Some investors decided to invest with her because she was ‘taking on the world’ though she already had much experience abroad and accumulated a considerable record, while companies in same industry or managers thereof encouraged her to take on the challenge.
Moreover, a network of Japanese living in the US was also of great support to her. EastMeetEast has newly added a Japanese engineer, who had formerly worked at a renowned company in San Francisco but moved to New York just to work there. The deciding factor was the vision of the firm and the members of the founder team who were all Japanese.
If going completely global, I thought to start up a business overseas from the onset rather than starting up domestically in my homeland, then expanding overseas. Since half the global dating market is held by the US, I feel the country has a well-established culture where it is not a shame to meet a partner for marriage via matching services.
With the added funds, how will EastMeetEast grow into the future? We will continue our coverage of Tokioka & Company’s challenge.
Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy and Masaru Ikeda