The few dating apps that are popular among the LGBTQ+ community in India — including Grindr, Romeo, Tinder, OkCupid and Delta — either cater to a certain section of the community or are open to all, irrespective of a person’s orientation or preferences.
To fill that gap, two women — Sunali Aggarwal and Aditi Gupta — have built As You Are (AYA), a homegrown social networking and dating app specifically for Indian LGBTQ+ community. It aims to offer a “no-pressure zone” and a safe space for people to keep their identity confidential and make connections at the same time. For close to two decades, the duo has closely worked with various startups. While Chandigarh-based Aggarwal co-founded Mobikwik in 2009, Gupta, based in Mumbai, worked with her husband to build a startup in food imports. Excerpts from an interview with the two:
What was the idea behind creating the app?
After Section 377 was struck down, we realised how there weren’t platforms for people to meet. We read a survey that only six per cent of those in the LGBTQ+ community (in India) have come out of the closet — on social media and personally to their peers. We wanted to create a space where even the closeted people could interact with each other, and choose to be anonymous till they want. This could also be an opportunity for them to come out — especially those who don’t have enough people to reach out and talk to.
Are there any problems in the existing dating apps?
There are many issues with existing dating apps. First of all, they are designed on the lines of straight dating apps and 99 per cent of them are not from India. In the Indian context, apps need to have a stronger verification process. In many queer women dating apps, you will see many male profiles (not trans), and that clearly shows that no one is verifying profiles. Other apps assume that people are ready to come out, and they emphasise more on photos than content. We, on the other hand, understand that people are not ready to come out and need to the trust to be built before they disclose their identities. Hence, we have left this choice in the hands of our users.
Does being an Indian app also influence your approach?
We do not emphasise on giving a photo. We were very sceptical about this, but we have got a very good response. The community wants to connect with more people who are like them and find solace in talking to others going through the same issues. We have a strong verification process so we are able to filter out fake or junk profiles pretty early on. In the future, we may ask members to upload a photo but we will still want people to talk about themselves. We want to change the perspective of LGBTQ+ dating from hookups to serious relationships. In the Indian scenario, we are already working on including regional languages since English is not the first language for a lot of people.
How do you filter and verify users?
When they sign in, they have to provide their email and phone number. We ask people to upload a selfie for verification. This does not show on the profile, it’s only for us. After they post a selfie, they are asked about their orientation, after which we check if the profile is genuine or not.
Since gender is very fluid in nature, how many options are there in the orientation section for people to identify with?
Right now, we have given them very limited options. But we understand the sensitivity of this aspect, and will include more in the future.
How has the response been till now?
We’re about two months old and are seeing around 50 to 60 signups on a daily basis, which is good since we haven’t done any marketing. We are focusing more on engaging with the users and giving them more tools to engage with each other. We also learn and improvise from the feedback. For example, our questions to the users for making their profiles were very boxed, there were no open text areas. When people said that they needed more space to express themselves, we made that change.
How do people give feedback?
Getting feedback is not that easy because if the users review on Google Play Store, it will give away their identity. But many have written to us through personal chat on social media. We have now introduced AYA Support within the app, any member can reach out and talk to us. We are getting some amazing feedback and are working on new things everyday.
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