Author: Julia Lin, Translator: Kevin Wang, Editor: Yunchieh Tsou
From pen pals during the days of snail mail, to BBS messaging via telnet terminals in the infancy of the internet, to friending people on Facebook, throughout the years Taiwan has seen an exploding diversification of ways to meet and make new friends.
With such a dizzying array of channels for making friends, what should people who are in for serious dating look for? Matchmaking apps lke SweetRing offter the perfect solution.
Seeing potential in serious dating
Says Sunfun Info general manager Lin Chih-ming, “The smartphone friend- and matchmaking market has, at the base of the pyramid, a large number of services for casual dating, where people meet up but aren’t necessarily looking for long-term relationships or marriage. Services facilitating serious dating are few and far between, and this is where SweetRing comes in, helping people find their perfect partner in marriage.”
Friend- and matchmaking through smartphone apps has become par for the course around the world, not to mention Taiwan, and the Taiwanese market has seen a surge in the number of dating apps in recent years. BeeTalk and Paktor, both Singaporean companies, have set up dedicated marketing teams in Taiwan, while the Japanese dating service Pairs and Tinder from the US have also released Traditional Chinese versions for the Taiwanese market.
In 2003, Sunfun Info released their i-Part website, an internet venue for single men and women in Taiwan to meet new friends. As smartphones became ubiquitous, and with fierce competition from overseas services, in 2014 the company turned its attention to matchmaking apps. With the release of their iPair app, a mobile app version of the i-Part website, Sunfun began to reach abroad into the Japanese, Malaysian and Hong Kong markets.
The only publicly traded social networking and matchmaking website in Taiwan, Sunfun released their Sweetring app in mid-2015, targeting singles between 25 and 45 who wish to find a partner for marriage. An aggressive overseas campaign followed in 2016, and in less than a year the company has seen success in Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and India. Overseas markets now account for more than 60% of the company’s revenue.
Furthermore, SweetRing has been the top grossing app in its category in the iOS App Store in Macau, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Mexico, Colombia, Vietnam, and Hungary, showing the resounding success of the company’s overseas strategy.
Lin notes that this success was hard sought: “Things weren’t so smooth in the beginning; we’ve achieved what we have today through constant trial and error.”
He explains that the launch of iPair in Southeast Asia in 2014 was a bumpy one, because the app was simply a simplified version of the i-Part website, which still proved to be far too complex for smartphone users. The company initially considered revamping the iPair app to remove the feel of the i-Part website, but was concerned that such a change would not be accepted by their customers. Because of this, they decided to turn their efforts to SweetRing, an app exclusively for smartphone users.
Another valuable thing they learned when expanding overseas was how to handle the intricacies of different languages. When launching SweetRing abroad, Sunfun initially hired a translation company to directly translate the Chinese webpages into local languages, but as Lin explains, “This was of course the easiest way, but the problem was that the wording used was not localized enough. If the language does not speak to the hearts of people, of course they won’t respond.”
As an example, the company had already began marketing operations in India in Q2 2016, but revenues only saw a large rise in Q3, even surpassing that of other local matchmaking apps. The most critical element behind this was revising the text in the app. By greatly increasing the number of foreign hires this year, and letting locals take charge of SweetRing in India, they were able to catch the hearts and minds of Indian singles with better text descriptions, thereby improving the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns.
Overseas successes brought in huge revenue increases: September 2016 alone saw more than NTD$10 million in revenue, while revenues from January to July 2016 saw a year-on-year increase of 1100%. The Southeast Asia market, which the Sunfun only entered early in 2016, accounts for 45% of total revenue, while the Central and South America market, in which the company only began operations in Q2 2016, already makes up 9% of total revenue. Taiwan, their home market, currently accounts for 31%. Overseas revenue already accounts for more than half of SweetRing’s total revenue, and Sunfun will continue to expand abroad into more countries.
Overhauling internal bonus system to encourage employee startups
This June, Sunfun renamed its Chinese company name to emphasize its push for expanding worldwide, and chairman of the board Chang Chia-ming stressed in a board meeting that the company will increase its focus on foreign markets and internal innovation, with the company itself transforming into a holding company.
Lin explains, “The benefit of such a transformation is that it encourages our employees to start up their own businesses, and allow other interested coworkers to join in on exceptional projects. When the time comes, they’ll be able to establish themselves as a separate independent business unit which can attract outside funding, and partners can serve as founders of a new company, and hold stock in their new company instead of Sunfun.”
In order to transform into a model of separate business units, the first step is to reform the company’s bonus structure paid out to employees. Sunfun has retuned its system, determining bonuses based on number of members or revenue instead of simple profits. The aim is to let startup employees share bonuses during the initial stages of their businesses.
SweetRing is an example of this retuned structure, now being a part of its own business unit. As of September 2016, the app has a membership base of 1.5 million both in Taiwan and abroad, with 620,000 monthly active users (MAUs). SweetRing has targeted a distinct market, something that sets the app apart from its competitors; in addition to allowing members to authenticate and login via Facebook, the company has increased its match success rate thanks to enhanced matchmaking algorithms developed in conjunction with Dr. Chen Sheng-wei, a research fellow at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica national research institute. This not only has helped maintain SweetRing’s reputation as a leader in the market, but also led to increased membership and revenue.
SweetRing is currently actively seeking strategic investment, attracting a total of NT$130 million (roughly US$4.12 million) from the Japanese mobile game company MIXI, and Japan’s largest marriage preparation company IBJ in its A round of funding. The company anticipates a further US$1.5 million by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, SweetRing continues its drive into the markets in Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America, with a goal of reaching 10 million registered users within three years, and helping one million find their partners for life.
Lin stresses that SweetRing is Sunfun’s first product after adopting their diversification strategy. Now that Sunfun’s first “baby” is seeing steady growth and bright prospects, Sunfun is even more confident with encouraging its employees to start up their own businesses.
Lin says, “My own hope is that Sunfun can establish two or three more business units in the future, and in addition to increased operations and revenue, also look into offering public stock or seek a merger.”