Dine, dating app that guarantees first dates, raises $1.3M from Japan’s marriage agency

Image credit: Mrk & Co

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Mrk & Co, the Japanese startup behind mobile dating app Dine, announced earlier this month that it has raised a total of 150 million yen (about $1.3M US) in funding from marriage agency big name Partner Agent (TSE: 6181), Venture United, and through a loan from Japan Finance Corporation. For Mrk & Co, this follows their previous funding approximately 40 million yen (about $349K US) from CyberAgent Ventures and iSGS Investment Works in March of last year.

Additionally, the company announced the official launch of the app in Japan. The Dine app is available on iTunes (with the Android version set to release at the beginning of 2018).

Mrk & Co was established in 2015 by Keisuke Kamijo (CEO) and Takashi Morioka (CTO) who were previously involved in developing social game apps at DeNA (TSE: 2432). For those familiar with the Internet in the 2000’s, Kamijo is well known as the auther of his blog, “Ganbare, Seikyou no Shiraishi-san.”

Much like coffee, according to Kamijo the “third wave” has come to dating apps too. The original “1st Generation: Search Type” services took advantage of a large number of users; however, the probability of obtaining a first date was not very large. The “2nd Generation: Casual Type” services, such as Tinder and Happn, took advantage of the left and right swipe function on smartphones to increase the matching probability, but although they take an innovative approach to the user interface (UI), it is said that users often use the encounters for entertainment elements.

Finally, based on what the company learned from the 1st and 2nd generations, the biggest feature of Dine is the dramatically increased possibility of interactions that lead to a date. With the Dine app, five people per day who seem to suit the user will be introduced to them. When the user approaches the other user, they select up to three places to go on a date and propose the first date. For date locations, with the US version of Dine users can choose a restaurant freely from Yelp’s API (application programming interface), but with the idea of providing the best user experience (UX) the Japanese version is tuned to allow users to choose from 100 locations, 50 in Ginza and 50 in Ebisu.

From left: Mrk & Co CEO Keisuke Kamijo, CTO Takashi Morioka
Image credit: Mrk & Co

Kamijo explained:

For Tinder or Happn, some say that cases leading to actual dates is less than 10%. What often happens is that when both of the users approve and the message opens, it starts with a conversation like “Hi!” or “How’s it going?”, and after continuing what feels like an unnecessary conversation, users become tired and stop responding.

With Dine, the first screen a user sees when a message is opened is the schedule adjustment. According to the service evaluation up to now in the US, if users match and the conversation starts, about 40% of the time it leads to a date. It is a very high number.

The app’s matching capabilities learn the preference of the user based on their preferred physical appearance, age, and the chosen destination for the date, and the accuracy gradually increases. The company uses a subscription model set at 6,500 yen (about $57 US) per month or 4,800 yen (about $42 US) per month if users pay for three months upfront. A common fee system is applied to both male users and female users from the viewpoint of gender equity, and if either a male or female user pays the fee, it is possible to arrange dates. Although this makes it rather highly priced among dating apps, the result is users committed to dates and high quality matching. Also, Dine’s UI creates a sophisticated atmosphere that somewhat reflects the desire of Kamijo to, “Not make dating apps embarrassing.”

Dine has already launched in North America in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Vancouver. In Japan, following Tokyo, the company would like to expand services mainly in metropolitan areas such as Osaka, Yokohama and Fukuoka while monitoring how users in Japan are using the app. In New York and Los Angeles, when a couple matched via Dine visits a restaurant, they are offered a service called Dine Pass, which makes the first drink free, which also shows its potential as an O2O (online-to-offline) app.

Image credit: Mrk & Co

Among the companies that Mrk & Co raised funds from this time, it appears there may be a strategic alliance with Partner Agent, but both parties have not disclosed specific details of the alliance at this time. For Mrk & Co, in the past year there was North America, in the coming year there will be Japan and identifying the market potential, and in the future, there may be expansion into the Asian and European markets. Kamijo remarked that he is aiming for a system that can secure approximately half of its sales outside Japan and the rest from within Japan.

In this field, there are a couple of fellow apps that offer similar commitment to dating. Behind the scenes, it seems that multiple dating apps launched by CyberAgent TSE:4751) under their Coupling Union initiative are seeing increasingly good results across the board, which has led to a revitalization of the entire vertical. For now, it appears that the ban on dating app commercials on TV stations, which was supposed to be lifted this autumn, has been postponed until after next year, but in any case, as long as the basic human instinct to find partners stays in tact, we should continue to be able to see the evolution of the dating app.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda