EXCLUSIVE | Anukool Kumar, OkCupid India: Redefining the rules of online dating

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In an exclusive interaction, Anukool Kumar, Marketing Director, OkCupid India, speaks about OKCupid’s journey in India, its unique approach to matching profiles, and how it has been reinventing its offerings to attract Indian users. He also discusses OKCupid’s various LGBTQ initiatives and how it prioritizes users’ trust and safety.

Prior to OkCupid, Anukool was the head of marketing at Nearbuy and has also worked with respected companies like Steria, Dell and Deutsche Bank. His expertise lies in brand building and management, innovation, and integrated marketing communications.
Anukool has also been an entrepreneur since 2013 and was involved in co-founding Slurp Hospitality, a group that ran restaurants such as The Backyard & Soo Yung in Delhi-NCR. He also consulted and helped launch NOONOO, a Men’s Concept Fashion Brand.

Give us an overview of OKCupid’s journey in India? How has it grown and expanded since its launch? What is its USP?

OkCupid was founded in 2004 by Harvard mathematicians who believed in the power of questions to find love. With AI-powered matching based on 3,000 questions at the heart of it, OkCupid helps users find their kind based on what truly matters to them, like beliefs, values and interests, instead of just looks, location, or the alignment of stars.

Unlike the markets in the west where dating had been a norm, the concept of finding love on your terms is still evolving in India. However, India has one of the youngest populations in the world with over a third of its population – 400 million – born after 1982.

This massive millennial population spurred the demand for services and solutions that simplified their lives, whether it was shopping online or errands to be run. Dating was no different.

Indian millennials wanted to have a say – in their career choices as much as their love lives. To cater to this, OkCupid was launched in India in 2018 and we worked towards localizing it for Indian users so that they could match on what matters to them most.

Since then, OkCupid has been committed to helping users find their kind of meaningful relationships and today has a growing consumer base of millions of users. No other app tries to learn about your personality and preferences as much as OkCupid does.

For that same reason, we have an intentionally longer sign-up process of answering 15 relevant questions while making a profile to help us understand you and what you want. With every answer, we understand our users better, what they are most interested in talking about and empower them in their quest for finding the sort of love they seek built on compatibility.

How does OKCupid match profiles? How does it predict who will be a good match?

At OkCupid, we are focussed at connecting individuals by providing them a platform that helps them align with their thoughts and beliefs. These questions inform an algorithm that forms the heart of our platform leading daters to the love they seek based on shared values, interests and compatible quirks.

For eg: The algorithm helps Indian users connect on everything from political or feminist outlook to their love/hate on opinions as divided as paneer on pizza. Keeping the needs of the consumers in priority we seek to create a customized experience for all of our members aiming to connect them and eventually match them over similar values, beliefs, likes and dislikes.

These questions are constantly updated to be relevant to the time. An increasing number of features including stacks (eg. I’m vaccinated) and gender tags- built specifically to help members of the LGBTQi community display their true self, help daters find the love they seek.

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How has OKCupid been reinventing its offerings to attract Indian users? What are some of its initiatives and features that help users find meaningful matches?

OkCupid has always been a platform that empowers users to find their kind of love based on shared interests, quirks and beliefs, as love is best experienced with a partner on the same wavelength.

There are over 3000 questions at the heart of the product and more topical questions are added in a timely manner to ensure relevant subjects that matter most to millennial Indians are addressed by the app.

In 2021, with the rollout of the vaccination, a lot of the focus was on expressing one’s intent to get the vaccine and match with someone who believes in the same. Since March 2021, we’ve seen a 763% increase in mentions of the vaccine on OkCupid India’s bios; hence, to make it easier for our users to make informed decisions, especially in their search for love we introduced the ‘I’m vaccinated’ badge and stack.

We also rolled out our biggest mobile app redesign globally called ‘Stacks’ last year, which is a new matching system that consolidates multiple discovery methods into one, making it even easier to find the type of person you’re looking for.

The new Stacks discovery experience shows matches in a focused, thoughtful way, and gives OkCupid daters the choice and control over who they could match with through a series of new categories including ‘online’ (to match with people who are online), ‘recommended’ (a stack of OkCupid’s top recommendations based on preferences), ‘nearby’, ‘match %’, etc.

In the days leading up to World Earth Day 2021, we also released a first-ever global Climate Change Advocate Profile Badge and Stack, which was inspired by dating millennials on OkCupid who are passionate about climate change and believe in being advocates of the same.

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OKCupid introduced 60 identities during Pride Month. What was the response, traction it received from the LGBTQIA+ community?

OkCupid has always been exclusively inclusive since its inception. With an aim to respect and celebrate every individual and help them find their kind of love without fear of judgement, this Pride Month, OkCupid made a global announcement to release over 60 identities for users to choose from an array of options like Bear, Bottom, Butch, Femme, Hard Femme, High Femme, Otter, Boi, Versatile, etc.

This allows members of the LGBTQ+ community the option to signal who they are, how they identify and what they want in a partner. These identities were developed in consultation with staff and community experts, including the Human Rights Campaign, which is the largest LGBTQ rights organization.

Users also have the option to choose from over 20 sexual orientations, 22 gender options and create their own pronouns on the app, which has led to almost 2 million straight and queer users proudly displaying their pronouns on their dating profiles worldwide.

What are the mediums, strategies you are employing to market OKCupid to the end-user?

At OkCupid, we rely on processes, trust, delivery of quality and constant measurement. We adopted a digital-first approach to reach out to single Indians who are spending more and more time consuming digital content. This outreach extends across social media and includes platforms like YouTube or even podcasts.

The core of our strategy is to keep reinforcing the brand narrative of finding one’s own kind of love across platforms and keeping our messaging consistent in all the engagement that we do.

Social media has been a key player in generating brand awareness and acts as a representative of the brand’s voice. For OkCupid, ‘Love’ is the umbrella thought that all platforms come under and how we use them. Love in every sense and what it means to different people and how we can portray this through our engagement and efforts.

For Instagram and Facebook, we use the platforms to visually depict the different ideas of love and varied takes on it through videos, stories, posts, etc. Twitter is primarily used for engagement with our target audience and hearing their take on what signals love and commitment to them.

YouTube has been used to create and present OkCupid’s IPs like ‘The Dating Show’, the ‘Love Is..’ a digital video series written by Dhruv Sehgal. The aim is to utilise each platform’s USP to its best to reach out to our audience and keep the conversation rolling.

 

In addition to this, we have previously partnered with various influencers to push our messaging forward. For example we collaborated with illustrators like Priyanka Paul (artwhoring), Tara Anand (@taraanandart), Neha.Doodles, Mounica Tata (Doodleodrama), Angel Bedi, Vimal Chandran, Shailly Gajjar, amongst others, to publish illustrations on our Instagram page (@okcupid_india).

The collaboration was simpler than most since we asked our illustrators a question- ‘what does love mean to you’. The answers come every week in the form of beautiful art. The joy in seeing each of them reach into their lives to pick a moment or a message is a pictorial statement of what we believe at OkCupid- that every person deserves the love they seek versus a cookie-cutter version we have all been raised to believe in.

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How has 2020 been for OKCupid? How did the pandemic impact the overall online dating industry? What dating trends have you observed over the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown?

2020 was a year full of discoveries when it came to love and relationships. We witnessed more and more millennials investing their time in forming stronger emotional bonds with their potential matches online before making plans to meet them IRL.

There were higher engagements with a potential partner, where the intentions are clear of wanting love by expressing exactly what they want in a relationship also leading to higher unmatches that didn’t have any spark.

The best parts of “courtship” or slow dating, is now the norm and it’s proving to be a far more fulfilling connection. In fact, 85% of users on OkCupid believe it’s important to develop an emotional connection before meeting IRL.

Dating has undergone a tremendous change during the pandemic with millennials increasingly taking their time to get to know each other, discovering love through long, profound conversations and digitally shared experiences.

Globally, there’s been an overall 30% increase in messages sent on OkCupid each day since 2020. We also witnessed a 26% increase in conversations in India and 91% of millennials are still looking to date virtually and find love.

During the lockdown, we also noticed that millennials were not restricting their intention to find love within a certain pin code and expanded the distance to match with their potential partner. Those who removed geographical restrictions continued to see 10% higher likes.

There has also been growing awareness and conversations around issues that are critical and topical. Questions like “how should household chores be split” and “should a woman work after marriage” have received more answers and growing assertions as important in matches.

In looking for a relationship in India, the greatest deal-breaker by far is women’s rights. Data collected from answers to questions on the app also reveal that environmental concerns are the most important cause for millennial daters with 45% of daters in India agreeing to it.

This is followed by world peace and eradicating all diseases. 53% of users also said yes to making a conscious effort towards reducing their carbon footprint.

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How do you address the issues of users’ safety on OKCupid?

At OkCupid, user safety is a key priority. Our approach to safety, built over 17 years, involves a combination of environment, technology, people and user controls. In addition, our robust multilayered tech and human moderation team reinforces our zero-tolerance policy, which supports all daters, and monitors for spam and scammers.

People choose a dating app like OkCupid specifically for the opportunity to be protected from unsavory conversation – a luxury that is harder to claim IRL. As a dating app committed to helping people find meaningful connections, we foster a community of kindness with no room for bad behaviour.

What future do you see for online dating platforms in India? 

COVID-19 has redefined the rules of online dating. Through the pandemic especially, millennials have discovered an impatience with entertaining dead-end connections and instead truly investing in the one with potential.

The focus has been on discovering romance and compatibility with a potential partner through the quality of conversation and time spent together. The silver lining of the pandemic has been blurring the lines between IRL and online romance allowing daters the luxury to truly get to know each other without the pressure of rushing into a meeting.

This holds true for daters across the world irrespective of whether they’re in a city or a smaller town. This blurring of lines and prioritising comfort is a change that will continue post-pandemic.