OPW INTERVIEW - July 10 - Can Tagged beat out Badoo in the USA. They have a head start. Here’s our interview with the VP of Tagged, Steve Sarner. - Mark Brooks
What is your founding story?
Tagged was founded back in 2004, originally as a social network for teenagers. Once Facebook started to grow, we realized that Tagged was not going to be the winner of that race. We saw a huge opportunity in meeting new people. We have now over 330 million registered members worldwide.
So 30% of your users are now logging in via the mobile app?
Yes and we are very confident that by the end of this year we'll be over 50% mobile.
So tell us more about the phenomenon which is called friendsmaking?
We just simply call it the best place for meeting new people. A lot of people play social games. A good percentage of our users uses Tagged as a dating application.
How do you help your members use it as a dating service through the mobile app?
One of our most popular application within the app and within the site is “MeetMe”. Our algorithms will serve up people who we think you might want to meet. In addition to that, we also have enabled the location aspect on our mobile app as well.
What's your approach with location? What do you think is the best way considering women are a little tentative of using and declaring their location?
First it is really easy to turn it on or off. Our location is somewhat opaque. It will tell you if someone is within a half mile, but it doesn't give a pinpoint.
Do you push matches as well, based on location?
Not yet. You can filter to look for people close by. But that's certainly one of the things that's sitting on the product roadmap.
Would you consider compatibility and personality profiling, perhaps?
We're more in terms of trying to get like-minded people in interest. We're more general and casual friend-making. It's not designed to be the place to find your soulmate, but we do a pretty good job of getting people together and that happens quite often.
What's the typical demographic of Tagged members? Do they tend to skew a lot younger?
No, actually a lot older. Over 75% of our audience is 21+. Our median age is 33. Our fastest growing age demographic is above 40. 25% of our members are in the US. Our next largest countries are UK and Canada. We're very large in the Netherlands. Big in southeast Asia, Malaysia, Thailand, and then we kind of bounce all over the world.
How do you reach such an international audience?
Purely by word of mouth. We've had some great, engaging games where people invite their existing friends in and people just find out about Tagged. We grow by about 25,000 new members a day on a consistent basis.
How do you monetize mobile?
On the mobile side, we are completely ad free. People are buying gifts to promote themselves on the mobile app, as well as to play the virtual games. That's where the money is generated.
What are you charging in the USA and is that typical globally?
The VIP subscription is $20 a month. The gifts start at $1.
How do you feel about paying Apple 30%? Do they earn it?
Our app is completely free. There's no charge to download the app. To the best of my knowledge, those transactions are being done through PayPal separately.
How about Android. What's your approach for Android?
Android is actually our most popular platform.
It's definitely the one with the smallest usage. But we do have enough business on Blackberry to justify the development and keep that on.
Did you take an HTML5 route with the apps or did you go native?
At this point we are native, but we are definitely exploring HTML5.
What do you think the limitations are with it at this stage?
I think the biggest limitation is just having enough tech talent that's comfortable with it.
Have you built entirely in house, or did you outsource?
We built everything entirely in house. Almost all of our games now are built in house. We do have a few third party games left such as Playdom and a couple of others.
Why partner with Playdom?
Before we built our in house game studio, we did have all third party games. The Playdom games have been very successful so we've left them on the site.
You'd think the iPad would be wonderful for gaming and discovery, and social dating. What's your approach with the iPad?
You have to go to what the people are using. We certainly are committed to developing for all of the tablets, including the iPad.
What would be your advice to anyone who is building from scratch?
Our success has been through very fast iteration. I would say move quickly and get it out with minimum features, then find and test to see what's going on, and iterate quickly.
A big problem, of course, is growing to critical mass. Do you ever sell downloads, for example? I know some other apps will actually sell installations and promote other complimentary services.
One of the other companies we acquired last year, Digsby, was a download client, IM and multi-social real time communication application. That was one of the ways they could monetize effectively. Having that audience already of about 20 million monthly active users, we were able to remove those downloads, remove the ads and things that might be in the way of people enjoying the experience.
Digsby is one of my favorite IM's. Are you going to integrate this in Tagged?
No, we're not. We've come out with our own live IM client within Tagged. But we're working on something that we think the Digsby community is going to be really happy about.
Who would you regard as your top competitors at this stage?
Badoo in UK and MyYearbook & Quepasa in US. They have merged and they're re-branding themselves as MeetMe this summer.
Where do you see Tagged in a year's time?
We really want to crack the code on social discovery and meeting new people. We think there is a massive market. We are working hard on proprietary technology, algorithms, and patents to find a way to connect like-minded people.