When mobile group-dating service Plan A Drink launched four months ago, the company was focused on the U.S. market. But it wasn’t catching on.
So its co-founders decided to test the service – which allows a group of friends to arrange get-togethers with a group of the opposite sex – internationally. They bought Facebook ads targeting young people who enjoy going out and drinking. To their surprise, they got interest in Asia.
“We saw a huge response in India, the Philippines and Thailand,” co-founder Josh Israel said.
Now the Westwood company is finalizing partnership talks with Fly Mobile India, one of that country’s top mobile companies. Israel’s relatives in India helped him get in touch with Fly Mobile Chief Executive Prem Kumar.
Indian online dating sites such as BahratMatrimony.com and SimplyMarry.com mostly specialized in arranged marriages. According to Unicef’s Human Rights Council, 90 percent of Indian marriages are arranged.
Still, Kumar thinks the mix of Plan A Drink’s services and mobile technology, and Indian youths’ desire for change will make the partnership work. He’s also betting on Plan A Drink’s young entrepreneurs.
“The next wave of telecom entrepreneurs are being created in emerging markets,” Kumar said. “Mobility is not just meeting social demands but fueling social change in spaces like dating.”
When customers sign up for Plan A Drink’s application on their phones, they can trade emoticons with potential matches, earning points that allow them to send personalized messages and meet on group dates.
“That’s how we go out and meet girls, and girls meet guys in our age group,” said Israel. “You go out with your girlfriends and you go out with your guy friends instead of going on a one-on-one date.”
The application is free, but people will eventually be able to buy faster chat access for less than $5 a month. The company hasn’t made any money yet.
The pending deal will give Fly Mobile equity in the company and install Plan A Drink’s application on its smartphones. Once the deal is final, Plan A Drink intends to open a New Delhi office.
The idea for Plan A Drink was born last summer in a New Jersey beach house, where Israel and co-founder Devin Serago were tinkering for a way to create a hangover-curing energy drink. That idea never made it beyond the beach, but their spinoff about group dating did.
In late 2011, the duo started applying to startup accelerators. They e-mailed Howard Marks, co-founder of accelerator StartEngine LA and video game industry veteran. Marks liked the idea enough to invite them to Los Angeles and accept them into his program. The company is now in the accelerator.
Since Israel and Serago couldn’t code, Marks put them in touch with Hongyi Yao, now the chief technology officer. Thirty days later, the trio had a working iPhone app.
Marks said what attracted him to Plan A Drink was the co-founders’ youth and the mobile version of online dating. Marks, who has worked in India as founder of mobile communications firm eMind, believes that country’s burgeoning use of mobile phones could make it a big market for Plan A Drink.
“Dating through your phone is a great idea,” he said.
India has 1.2 billion people and is one of the fastest growing smartphone markets worldwide.
Israel, who was born in New Jersey, thinks his service gives Indian youths an outlet to date in a socially acceptable way.
Karthik Manimaran, co-founder of Sunnyvale’s WeLink, a social data site for apps, disagrees. He was born in India and came to the United States 10 years ago. He said that Plan A Drink’s premise is so un-Indian that it will have hard time breaking through there.
“The concept of dating itself is not allowed in India,” he said. “It might be picked up in large cities, but there’s a social taboo of saying I’ve been on a date. In India, even if you do it, you don’t say it.”
But Vivek Desai, a freelance social media marketer in Westwood who was raised in Northern California by his Indian parents and frequently traveled to India while he was growing up, said dating is gaining acceptance in India as the culture becomes more Westernized.
“It’s possible it will be very popular,” Desai said. “I think it’s an interesting pivot because the culture in India is changing from more traditional to Western.”
Plan A Drink’s Serago thinks his company is on the right track.
“Imagine being the Match.com of India,” he asked. “Five or six years ago there was no mobile dating. No one even thought of that.”
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