The old saying goes that, birds of a feather flock together. Fortunately, our mobile apps have been able to flock us together…but not always of the same feather. EastMeetEast is bringing the mobile dating scene to Asian Americans through their platform that is sensitive to nuances of Asian American dating. The service, that is free for women, is filling a need that fell under the radar and is quickly gaining traction in our competitive mobile market.
AlleyWatch spoke with Mariko Tokioka about the startup and the company’s most recent round of funding.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
EastMeetEast raised $1 million of venture capital from 500 Startups, East Ventures, Japanese games firm DeNA, iSGS Investment Works, Accord Ventures, Nippon Venture Capital, and Shintaro Yamada, founder of the Japan-based unicorn mobile marketplace app Mercari.
Tell us about your product or service.
EastMeetEast is North America’s largest and most active Asian dating site. Our mission is to help Asian people find their lifetime partners. The company is based in New York and the user base grew sevenfold in 2015. The service is available both on the web and as an iOS app.
What inspired you to start the company?
While I was cofounder and COO at Quipper, which was successfully sold to the Japanese conglomerate Recruit for ¥4.8 billion last year, I wanted to meet someone who shared my culture and language and could talk to my parents. That was very hard to do on existing dating sites because they tend to group all Asians together. I thought: There’s JDate for Jewish matches, and a number for black people, so why isn’t there one for Asians?
How is it different?
The company was founded as a dating platform dedicated to serving the Asian population in English-speaking countries. EastMeetEast distinguishes itself from other dating sites by offering features created specifically in the context of the Asian dating culture. EastMeetEast’s proprietary features and algorithm incorporate the findings from years of research to address the needs of the Asian community. These features include detailed Asian ethnicity and language filters, a filter for newly immigrated Asians, and personalized one-to-one match emails, which are customized by EastMeetEast’s proprietary matching algorithm that takes into consideration cultural backgrounds, interests, and other traits.
What market you are targeting and how big is it?
We are targeting Asian Americans and Asians in the US and other English speaking countries. In the US, Asians are the fastest growing minority group, which grew 56 percent from 2000 to 2013, and surpassed the 15 million mark. Globally, 60 percent of the world population lives in Asia, which accounts for more than 4.4 billion people. This will be our target in the coming phase.
What’s your business model?
EastMeetEast is free for women. It’s basically a ladies’ night concept.
Men can search and smile for free, too, but to view messages from women and to use other premium features, they need to pay a subscription fee.
We use a SaaS subscription-based income model with the offering of a 1, 3, 6, or 12-month plan. This model proves that the site is for more serious relationships as opposed to the one-night stand apps that are commonly seen nowadays.
Why are the current dating sites not sufficient?
No other site has successfully built a true Asian community. Current dating sites that are designed with the general public in mind neglect to address the needs of minorities. As an example of current products, if you try to find a Korean American female in the US on a major dating site, the only way to do so is to filter by “Language=Korean” and “Ethnicity=Asian”. This excludes many Korean Americans of the second and later generations who do not speak the language. Our features enable this type of advanced search and address many other needs that are unique to Asians overseas.
Our marketing plan includes working with prominent Asian American and Asian Canadian YouTubers such as the Fung Brothers, David So, Linda Dong, and Wong-Fu Production’s ISATV. These YouTube stars are role models for Asian youth in English-speaking countries and they can effectively convey the message to millions of subscribers.
What was the funding process like?
We decided to fundraise from the US, where our HQ is based, and Asia, which fit our target ethnicity. I traveled to those countries to pitch to the investors. At one point, I stayed in Japan for 2 months while pitching and negotiating a deal structure with the investors.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
The myth that the dating industry is difficult to receive fundraising is indeed true. Dating for majority demographics is a saturated market in the US (other than the innovative product of Tinder). US investors are hesitant about such a low-growth market. Also, many VCs are already in the later stages of their lives and no longer feel passionate about online dating. In Japan, people in general still have a stigma against the online dating culture, although it is changing rapidly.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
We demonstrated that there is an Asian American market in the US and were able to build a community for that group.
There is also the growth in profitability and a clear path to a positive cash flow.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
We plan to expand into Asia where we will help match singles from the same background and culture. The plan is to first expand to all parts of the US and then, following that, move into Canada, Australia, the UK and Hong Kong.
We are also developing next-gen mobile apps for millennials and implementing an AI matching algorithm. Since the initial version of the next-gen mobile app was released, the number of active mobile users quadrupled. The number of subscriptions on a mobile device multiplied by ten.
What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
Business is all about planning. Create a detailed plan as much in advance as possible.
If you know you are building a company that does not generate revenue significant enough to sustain yourself, then you need to take out a venture loan or go the equity route. You can then think about product and marketing milestones, as well as related KPIs to achieve before fundraising.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
We are aiming for international expansion in less than a year.
Where is your favorite fall destination in the city?
I like to walk around the Upper East Side, especially Madison Avenue. You can enjoy window shopping and the foliage turning colors at the same time.