Meet the founder of Happn – the dating app putting love on the map

Harriet Green
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Serial entrepreneur Rappaport wanted to take the real world online

Nearly one in 10 Londoners use dating app Happn. A colleague who’s more in the know than I am tells me it’s “recently become enormous on Instagram” – users can upload pictures direct from one to the other, with 30 of your most recent appearing automatically on your Happn profile. And once you’ve liked someone, you can see their Instagram snaps, too.

Happn has, since it was founded in 2014, been labelled the creepy dating app. It’s location based – but more so than competitors like Tinder and Grindr, because you can see people who’ve passed within an 800ft radius of you. Yet “the fact is that stalking can’t happen. People cannot locate you precisely, and the digital world is no different to real life. The question I asked myself is why do we go online when there are so many people all around us? Could those two things be brought together?” says Dider Rappaport, founder of Happn.

The serial entrepreneur (he co-founded video-sharing website Daily Motion back in 2005) has designed an app that enables you to find people you’ve crossed paths with, as well as telling you the number of times that person has been in the same vicinity as you. “It’s difficult to meet new people. But the digital world makes it easier, and we want to make the most of what it can offer. That means taking real-life online.”

Can’t keep away

In two years, Happn has amassed over 23m users. Most dating app users move between two or three favourite apps, so there’s room in the market for several leading players. Happn is biggest in South America, particularly Sao Paolo, and is dominant in all major European cities. “We’ve got 6 per cent penetration in Oslo, for example.” In London, says Rappaport, women are “very active – far more so than in France and Italy. In the UK and Brazil, women often make the first move.”

Rappaport, a self-described “young boy in the body of a 61 year-old,” decided to enter the dating app world to, in a sense, simplify things. “I’m interested in anything that disrupts, but when I benchmarked the market, it seemed that there were several highly disruptive apps on offer, but that complicated the process: they use algorithms to match you, catalogued profiles, made it difficult to change your mind about someone... it seemed to me that the starting point had to be to emulate how we act in real life.”

Happn “simply facilitates meetings. One of the best changes we’ve seen over the last few years is people no longer feeling guilty about using a dating app – just going out and meeting others.” A user can work out who lives near them, but you can only strike up a conversation once you’ve both liked each other. Another option is to send a “charm” – although many users seem to view this as on par with poking someone on Facebook. One could see the appeal for a technology like Happn for the people you perhaps pass on your commute but only ever smile at. Others might find it a convenient way to arrange a steamy encounter at short notice.

Linked to Facebook, it’s very easy to set up a Happn account without giving too much information away – although that means people you connect to might be choosy with what they share, too. You can’t leave off your name, gender and age. Part of this is because users set an age range, and will only see people who sit within it, warding off the ambitious dater. A click of a button will make you invisible on Happn, and there’s an easy flagging system for highlighting unwanted behaviour to the team.

A love that lasts

Rappaport’s aim now is to monetise. Last year, Happn integrated with Spotify (the first dating app to do so), which enables users to bond over their love of music – a sort of virtual gig world, for those unembarrassed in their tastes. Happn already has native advertising, and has run several stunts to shine a light on certain causes. A year ago, for instance, UK users found themselves presented with just one person on their profile, raising awareness and money for the 41,000 girls who are forced into marriage around the world every day.

Plainly, Happn’s location capabilities also provide value. Rappaport is adamant that the company will never sell any of its user’s data – and that they will never pay for its service. “People expect not to pay today. That means we have to find ways to monetise. We’ve worked so hard to ensure that user data is always secure.” The next plan is to partner with restaurants and shops to alert users to offers as they pass, or when they’re nearby.

Having raised €20m in funding, the plan is to hit profitability next year. “That’s so important. There’s a lot of hype around digital companies, but the digital economy is the real economy – you must be profitable.”

Once profitable, it’ll be full steam ahead on the innovation front. “We’ll have a game-changing announcement in the second quarter of next year. We can’t talk about it – because competition is too intense in this industry – but it’s a feature that will really set us apart. We were the first mover when it came to hyper-location; we can do the same in other areas.”

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