How I built a dating app business

Jon Pellington is the founder of TextDater, a dating app with a focus on communication rather than looks. Building an app and competing in such a competitive industry can be hard, but TextDater offers its customers a unique experience in an image-focused industry.

We spoke to Jon on his experience of building an app business and how he got started with the help of a Start Up Loan.

What does your business do?

TextDater is a dating app, it’s a new spin on mobile dating. With TextDater, you have a conversation first, before swapping pictures.

What inspired you to start TextDater?

I’d used a fair few dating sites and apps. Some were good some were bad, but I realised they all had the same theme running through them. Picture galleries, regardless of being on the desktop or mobile. I saw a gap in the market that looked attractive and thought building an app was a great opportunity.

How long was the idea in development?

The idea was in development for about six months, the early drafts were actually quite complicated and at first I thought the more options the better, but the way things are going, people want something that is simple. It took a while to shed the unnecessary features and have something that worked (on paper).

What did you use your Start Up Loan for?

The Start Up Loan was used for the development of the minimum viable product (MVP – an early version of the product designed to gather insight from initial customers), design, and marketing. Although a digital product, it feels good to say it was all done with UK talent and resources.

Did you have any market research? How did you carry this out and what were the results?

Lots of market research was done. This was from the very basic; asking friends and family for their opinions, to online research into the dating market, surveys, and speaking to people who were doing well in the industry. This also formed a big part of the initial business plan and helped better define the target audience.

What was the first step in building an app?

I suppose the first practical step was putting pen to paper, and seeing what the idea ‘looked’ like. After many drafts, I used some of the great free wireframing tools (online tools which can help visualise your app) out there.

How do you attract a customer base for your app?

Using a combination of social media, Google advertising, and blogging. It’s an evolving process as competition is high. One example of how we’re doing things a bit differently is staying fully engaged with the startup community, collaborating with complementary businesses and providing extra value content such as our current ebook.

What was the main challenge in starting your business?

Other than convincing Virgin Start Up, one of the delivery partners at the Start Up Loans Company, that the idea was viable? The toughest part has been realising that, even with extensive research, you don’t know much. The learning curve is steep. Thankfully the support has been tremendous.

What’s been the best thing about starting TextDater?

This may sound like a cliché, but getting out there, doing it, and learning! The amount of planning, coordination, as well as friendships and partnerships gained is well worth it. This journey also tests you. I believe in TextDater, I really think there is a place for it in the market, and that is backed up by research. However, if it proves to be a failure, I’ll have the experience of starting a business from scratch.

What advice would you give to other people interested in building an app?

Do research and test out the idea with as many people as you can. Ultimately, if there is a niche, go for it. If you have a designer and have taken the time to get the workflow right, tools like InVision (a free app prototyping tool) can really give you and the people who’s opinions you need a feel for what the product is and can do.

Have you made use of any business support or mentoring so far?

Yes, the business advisor and mentor have been critical in getting this far. The ongoing support is brilliant, and I’m in contact with them and my delivery partner, Virgin Start Up, regularly. With massive dating apps like Tinder and plenty of online competition how do you stand out from the crowd as a startup? By being a start up! Not shying away from the fact that TextDater is new and has a small market share. People want to help, and I think by showing the person behind the app has helped too.

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