Singapore entrepreneur turns heartache into cash

Joseph Phua didn’t waste time crying when his girlfriend of eight years dumped him, he monetized his heartache by launching Paktor, an online dating app. Paktor, which means “to go out on a date” in the Chinese Hokkien dialect, has over a million users in South East Asia. It works on the same principles as popular U.S. dating app Tinder.

“It was a tough period for me, I was in Chicago at that time and I found it difficult to get back into the game,” Phua told CNBC Asia’s ” The Rundown ” on Friday. “I turned to various dating sites and apps and had a hell of a time when I was in the U.S… and I figured that Asia doesn’t have similar applications. So I figured if I was going to come back to Singapore I might as well turn my situation into something that would benefit people like me,” he said.

Dating applications are not new in Asia and Paktor has its fair share of global and local competitors in the $2 billion sector including HowAboutWe – an app which proposes date ideas and allows users to opt in – and Grouper, which offers to pay for the first round of drinks. Two of China’s most popular dating apps – Jiayuan and Momo – boast 73 million and 100 million users respectively.
Most of these apps are free to download, but some monetize their user-bases by charging users to boost their profile, unlock a conversation or eliminate advertisements.

Phua told CNBC competition makes raising funding in Asia difficult: “It’s helpful if you can get in the door, but once you’re in the door you are fighting with everyone else.”
Too close a match?

Some critics point out that Paktor is perhaps too similar to Tinder, which claims to make 10 million matches per day.

Like Tinder, Paktor has a function that presents users with other members situated in their area. It also has a similar swipe function and a two-click registration process that links to the user’s Facebook (FB) account, avoiding lengthy profile descriptions.

Paktor offers a unique ‘auto translate’ feature that helps that do not speak the same language communicate – languages available include Thai, Korean, Japanese, Malay, Chinese, Vietnamese and Tagalog. Phua acknowledged that he emulated Tinder’s model based on the app’s success in the U.S. but said there’s still room for similar players in the market.

“[Tinder’s] not necessarily [competition for us.] We are a local dating application. Tinder’s user base is actually very different to ours,” he said. “If you use both applications and compare both populations there’s a huge difference between the types of people that use it.”

The Singapore-founded app is yet to make a profit, but Phua told CNBC he’s focused on building users before moving down the monetization route. “In terms of monetization, different ways we’ve explored include ads, partnerships and internet purchases. That’s something down the road,” he added.

Paktor is currently available in nine countries including Singapore, South Korea and India, and Phua aims to tap China next. “It’s a huge market, everyone is on mobile and it’s something we’re interested in but we are still focusing our intentions in Southeast Asia,” he added.

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