INTERVIEW: Badoo COO on social network dating

Badoo describes itself as a ‘meeting network’, enabling users to find, chat and flirt with each other online. Here, COO Bart Swanson talks competition in the social networking space, the opportunities surrounding mobile and location and future plans for Badoo.

¤ How do you stand out from other social networking sites?
We don’t believe there’s a social network out there that’s in the meeting network space. Dating sites are after people who are looking for serious relationships; it’s a different profile.Facebook, for example, is the place where you go to meet with your existing friends. But have you tried meeting somebody new on Facebook? It’s just not in the DNA. We happen to believe the meeting network space is absolutely massive. Obviously, there’re more people out there you don’t know than you do know. Just part of the human experience is wanting to meet new people.

Plus, the user experience: it’s an extremely simple design. The key thing about Badoo and the reason we exist is because we’re successful. Our users, on average, meet eight people online. They end up talking and roughly 50% of those people meet face to face.

¤ What platforms are you available on?
We have our own platform. Users come into and come back. We use other platforms as acquisition methods, getting people from them. We have an app on Facebook, I think we’re in the top 20 apps on it. We’re also on mobile. iPhone, Android and a WAP site. iPhone is the biggest and we have 2m downloads. We believe mobile is going to be the major growth story so we’ve plans for BlackBerry. We don’t have an iPad app yet.

¤ What is your business model?
Badoo is first and foremost a free service. We have two ways in which we monetise. By customers who pay for subscriptions, getting various added services such as advanced search. The other part is we have premium one-offs. For example, you can promote yourself. When you join immediately, you’re the number one in your local area. But two hours later, you’ll probably be on the third page. So for a micropayment, you can increase your popularity and hence you’ll meet more people. Plus there are digital gifts that you can give and other stuff like that.

We are in over 180 countries, we monetise in over 120 countries, we have 30 to 40 different payment methods. Our major markets are Europe, on the continent, as well as South and Central America, but we are growing tremendously in Eastern Europe and in the US and we’re starting to grow a little bit of Asia.

We have been profitable for the last 24 months. But we don’t give out our financials.

The only number that we released was in December last year that we had a run rate north of USD100m. We’ve continued to grow, some months has been double digits. The number of users that pay, in certain European countries it can be somewhere between 5 to 15% of users, obviously in other countries, like in South America, it can be less than 1%.

¤ You’ve raised USD30m in VC funding. Are you looking to raise more cash?
We’re trying to figure it out right now. The company does not need any cash for expansion. We can fund any kind of expansion that we want to do or perhaps even acquisitions. We believe firmly in the market over the next 12 to 24months, and the growth ahead of us is bigger than what we’ve had in the past, so we need to ensure we’re in the optimal position. Maybe there are investors we’ll bring in, maybe there aren’t.

¤ What do you think is the hottest trend in digital media right now?
Location-based services on mobile, because I think everybody is seeing the same trends that we’re seeing and I don’t think it’s just early adopters. There is a significant shift going on in people’s behaviour patterns. Watch yourself and your own behaviour patterns. If you have 10 minutes alone and you’re sitting in a bar waiting for somebody you’re doing something on your phone - getting news or whatever else - and that’s just a fundamental change in behaviour pattern. Particularly in the younger generation, which we’re aimed at.

On apps versus the mobile web, I think it depends what countries you’re talking about. Obviously in the wealthier Western markets where there’s a high penetration of the iPhone and smartphones, apps are bigger. But we’re really large in other markets where web-based phones are really much more important. The basis is we’ll quickly deploy on whatever is trending faster and what we think will be relevant to our users.