If you have been single in the last couple of years and been living in Thailand, you have probably heard of MeetNLunch the leading Thai matchmaking service. The very founder – Nikki Assavathorn – has now set sails for world domination and has launched Avalable a Social Dating App for iOS and Android. MeetNLunch has proved itself very successful in helping peoples find love and marriages, but the service is limited to peoples who live specific locations. That is not obstacle anymore as Avalable has launched in 15 languages simultaneously. Unlike other dating Apps Avalable is not limiting itself to chat features but allows users to play games together, follow timelines and to receive matches based on interest, personality tests, and interactions.
After Noonswoon, Avalable is the second promising dating app out of Thailand. We spoke with Nikki about how she is going to make it, with her fresh approach of date facilitation.
How did you get started?
I went to Echelon Ignite in November last year and that got me thinking that I should do something in the online dating industry. After listening to several talks at Echelon I was convinced that I should do something scalable and social in the dating space. There are not many dating apps around that allow group interactions; most of the apps are 1 to 1. Usually you just look at the picture and you decide if you want to chat or not. This is very quick, probably too quick. I want to let singles learn more about the other users, by letting them see how their potentials partners interact on the posts and comments. You can figure out many things. It’s essentially some data mining and observation, and help to slow down the dating process.
How does your previous experience with MeetNLunch impact Avalable?
A lot! MeetNLunch caters to a very specific needs of the clients, and it’s confidential. The cost to do that offline is very high, because it is a service and it is a lot of personalization. I wasn’t able to help all the singles, so I wanted to build the platform to help more people. Meetnlunch also carried out background checks for the users, so I want to adopt this safety feature on to online dating somehow. So on Avalable, singles also have the option to verify their profile with ID cards and passports, and get rewarded with coins.
We then also learn what kind of profiles users are trying to interact with and suggest similar profiles the next day as an iterative process.
How do you find out if singles match?
It’s a combination of industry-proven personality test, social graph and computational learning. We get the numbers of mutual friends and common interests from Facebook. We then also learn what kind of profiles users are trying to interact with and suggest similar profiles the next day as an iterative process.
How are you going to monetize Avalable?
We have several new features. One of them is featured posts and profiles, where people can pay to promote their profiles and get more exposure. You can invest in unlimited chats and we are going to introduce Sticker stores and animated stickers, and we are also developing a game platform, which we are very excited about.
How did you come up with the idea to add the game part to the app?
There is a lot of news around games on App stores and I thought, maybe that is a way to facilitate the dating experience.
Did you test the idea with your users, did you get feedback?
Yes, I asked a lot of users if they would like to play games and date, and what kind of games they would like to play. They want easy games that doesn’t require too much brain power, but allow them to get to know other users better.
How many games are you going add?
We want to add many games but right now we only have the budget for one. Games are very complex to develop and need a lot of time.
What kind of game are you developing?
We are building a simulation game. We want to build addictive games, which people invest time and emotion in. It’s a freemium model, with in game monetization. We will launch it about two month after we go live with Avalable 2.0.
When you were at Echelon you were all by your own and now you have two partners. How did you find each other?
We met middle of this year. Panu just came back from the U.S. where he had lived for five years. He has worked in the Startup scene there, doing loyalty programs for restaurants. Nu went through the incubator StartEngine that is run by Howard Marks and supported by Accenture. He worked for IBM as well and has several years of experience in web and mobile development. Nu had 10 job offers when he got back!
Top, Tanapon, another Co-Founder and our Game Director, created this phenomenon game called CandyMeleon with 1 million downloads within days and was featured in 80 countries on App Store.
I am very honor to have Panu and Top in the team. The main reason they joined is because we have the same mission. We would like to put Thailand onto the Startup Map. When we launch Avalable 2.0, we don’t want people think that it is an inferior product to Apps and Games developed in the States or Europe. We want to show that we can do high quality products. We want to show locals that if we can do it, you can do it too! We want to open a door for Thailand Startup scene in terms of foreign investment.
This means you are going to go global right away?
We do a lot of localization into Korean, Chinese, and German and so on. We are going to have all the localizations ready when we release version 2.0. We still focus a bit more on Asia though. We expect the social sharing part to be more popular in Asia than say in the States or Europe. In Thailand, people share details and personal things on Facebook or on Instagram. They share whatever they have in mind. Europeans and Americans are more careful about what they share.
Our heart is the timeline through which we facilitate dating.
That means you are eventually going to have a timeline that assembles Line’s features?
When I use Line, I don’t feel that they are making sharing a main focus. They kind of hide it. Our heart is the timeline through which we facilitate dating.
How do you deal with privacy issues?
We designed it in a way that there is full transparency, you can’t hide. The only thing you can do is to block other users. You are able to see everybody and everybody is able to see you. Dating is a numbers game. The more you try, the more chance you get. The more you publish, the more visible you are and the more chances you have to get a date and meet the right person. It’s a different approach to other networks, usually you want to be contacted by people you know, but in our network we want people to add you that find your posts interesting.
How are you going to deal with quality issues, inappropriate content for example?
We have to monitor the content on an ongoing basis. Users can flag inappropriate content, and users can be banned from the community. And as mentioned above, we also encourage users to verify their profiles to make the community safer.
Will the dating experience be completely free?
It is free to use all the features in the App, but if they want more matches or chats, then they have the option to pay. Users get 10 free chats a day. We only count chat invitations as a payable chat. If I contact you, I will have only nine chats lefts but you will still have your 10 free chats. We expect guys to pay more than girls. Usually girls have more requests than guys.
How long did it take you to get to the stage of development you are at right now?
We started working on Version 2 in August. We have collected all the feedback from version 1 and put them into version 2, to give users the best experience possible.
What is your background?
I graduated in Chemistry. Chemistry is what makes love happen, I tell you (laughs). I worked for consulting company for three years and was looking for something more meaningful to do. I first learnt about matchmaking from a friend who lives in Singapore. The first company I started got a lot of attention, got picked up by local newspaper, eventually got onto TV and then I had to quit and work on it full time. There were just too many people that wanted our services. I’m still running it now the office is near Central World. MeetNLunch is Thailand’s leading matchmaking service, and we are partnering with a TV show called “Take me out” on Thai TV. I worked on that now for seven, eight years and am quite pleased about it, but I now I want to create something even bigger.
What was the most challenging part in getting to the current stage?
Oh we have so many challenges right now. I think the most challenging thing for me is that I want things done faster than is possible. The cost of developing software, apps, and games are very high, even here in Thailand. For example in games, you cannot hire graphic designers, you need illustrators who also understanding programming, which is a different skill set, and is challenging to find to because Hollywood is outsourcing a lot of work to Thailand. Luckily, we were able to recruit highly skilled programmers and 3D artists to work with us.
The problem is that we are competing globally but valuations are locally rather low.
Have you pitched to investors yet?
Echelon was the first pitch we went to since version 1 is launched. We want to raise the company profile internationally. There have been many enquiries, and we are very excited about the opportunities.
We are launching the products globally, but the valuations are done in SEA region, where most companies get lower valuation when compared to the West. We are hoping that it’ll not be too low, when we are ready to accept the offers.
How are you going to market Avalable?
Hopefully, we’ll get featured on the App store, but essentially we want to collaborate with digital marketing agencies in different countries to promote our platform.
Which platforms are you developing Avalable for?
iOs and Android, all native. I told our Android developer that he will have to do Windows Phone next and he just smiled. Maybe Microsoft will sponsor us if we do it. When Nu did his Startup in the U.S., Microsoft gave them free Hardware to test the apps.
I wish to see more creativity and something that would seriously make a different, or something that is more difficult to copy, or which is rooted in real technology, and targeted sizable audience.
The language is also a barrier. There are many developers that are amazing at what they do, but they lack English skills. There is no way they can learn what I learned at Echelon because they couldn’t understand English. There are many engineers here that have similar problems. It is harder for them to learn new stuff fast.
Do you think the level of English proficiency is generally holding Startups back from going international?
Yes, I think so. When you look at the Thais that pitch in English, most of them have been educated abroad or have experienced something at international level. I’m not saying it is impossible, but it is just much harder without a high level of English proficiency.
Is it difficult for you to find out who to talk to, who to pitch you?
I’m learning something new every day in this investment space. But from what I can gather, most of the VCs know each other very well, and it’s quite a small community. You also have to be aware of each VCs country, where they are originated from. VCs have quite a lot of different working styles depending if they are from Japan, South Korea, Thailand or Singapore etc., so watch out for it. I still have so much more to learn, and will be happy to share more stories later.