Meet Ravi Mittal, the force behind the success of 'QuackQuack'
The online dating platform has over 13 million users in India.
When Hyderbad-based Ravi Mittal began his own startup in the consumer internet space over a decade ago, banks felt his venture was too risky to even provide them with a payment gateway.
Today, the 34-year-old founder and CEO has taken his venture QuackQuack – an online dating platform – to over 13 million users in India.
This is his incredible journey.
Having worked at his father’s manufacturing unit for about seven years after graduating from school, Mittal said he felt ready to venture out on his own – the internet space excited him, that’s where he said he felt the most comfortable.
The idea of building a dating website, he said, was born out of a personal need.
While in his early 20s, Mittal was looking for single people in his city, but he had a hard time due to the lack of a wide social circle. Most of his friends and acquaintances had left to pursue higher studies and since he was working full-time with his father, he didn’t have any friends from college either. There was nothing available online either.
This lack of a dating site for young Indians struck him.
“There were websites available in the US, Australia, Europe, but nothing specific for India,” Mittal said. “The only website for this purpose back then was a Shaadi.com venture called ‘Fropper’. So I felt this was a good space to start off.”
QuackQuack thus began as a desktop website in a 2BHK near Mittal’s house in 2010 with a team of just two people. Their Android app was launched in 2014.
When it came to giving a name to his idea, Mittal leaned towards more quirky than banal. He entrusted his ad agency to come up with something that would connect with a younger demographic – more respective to a dating website rather than a matrimonial one.
The idea, he said, was that every person has a distinct voice. His platform would be a place where someone responds to that very call and becomes a match.
“Much like animals and birds communicate in their own unique language, this would be like the quack-quack of one duck to another,” Mittal said.
Challenges as a young entrepreneur
Unlike most founders in the consumer internet space, Mittal said he doesn’t come with a tech background. “Even today, I have zero knowledge of coding,” he said.
The only experience he brought to the table came from working with his father, so it was all hands-on!
“I had a business point-of-view, and had the experience of running a company,” he said. All of which came really handy, along with his knowledge on how to hire the right kind of people and how to market a product.
For everything else, he had to either learn or bring in skilled employees.
“I started by reading different articles and slowly learning. And as we hired people, I started reading more about design: what kind of design language is important, what is UI, what is UX. Then we hired a dedicated UI-UX designer,” he said.
Mittal then moved to reading about “growth hacking” – how he could attract more users by simple tools such as changing the colour of the sign-up button. “I kept learning and getting some basic idea of each and everything,” he said.
A ‘cockroach’ startup
QuackQuack is a fully bootstrapped startup and it became profitable during its third year. Mittal said a very specific term describes firms like his, ones that grow slowly and steadily and are survivors – a cockroach startup.
Way back in 2014, he said he came under tremendous pressure to raise funds, only because the majority of companies around were doing so. But in the end, Mittal decided to continue being bootstrapped.
“The biggest advantage is that I can grow at my own pace,” Mittal said. Since maintaining a certain gender ratio is critical for a dating platform, he couldn’t just target speedy growth without paying heed to the end-user experience. “If I just start growing and growing, and don't look at the ratio, that would be a problem,” he explained.
Moreover, he has observed that several funded startups grow fast and fail fast. “They have to burn money to grow and growth becomes more important than anything else,” he said.
By choosing to not take the funding route, the entrepreneur said, the buck stops at him. “I don't have to listen to any board member to take any decisions. I'm not working for anyone, per se, so I can grow the company at my own pace,” he added.
Being bootstrapped, Mittal added, the first six or seven years were slow. Now, the platform adds a million users every three months. “So you could be slow being bootstraped, but you make conscious decisions, and you grow at your own pace,” he said.
Metros are no longer dominant
Nearly 70% of QuackQuack’s traffic comes from smaller tier-2 and tier-3 cities. This, Mittal said, is a new phenomenon for the company and a metric they track and focus on regularly.
With the change in its target audience, the team has had to adapt strategies as well.
“Our ads earlier were in English, now they are more conversational and mostly in Hinglish,” Mittal said. “We have also doubled down on Instagram Reels and collaborated with influencers in tier-2 and tier-3 cities.”
For mass appeal, the platform has been engaging in meme marketing as well.
Disruption during Covid-19
Dating apps and sites have not been immune to the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
While QuackQuack saw an upward climb in its user numbers when the lockdown was first enforced in March 2020 – adding 18,000 daily users as opposed to the 10,000 per day earlier – they began losing paying subscribers in the middle of last year.
“During the early days of lockdown, people were all sitting at home so they had more time to do longer chats,” he said. “But around May and June, our users probably did not have the money in the pocket to pay for a subscription, so we had to cut down our costs.”
The startup saw a 20-30% dip in its revenue.
Numbers began picking up again around Diwali, but with the second wave, Mittal said, the user base and revenue have both taken a hit.
“Daily user additions have dropped to 7,000-8,000,” he said. “The Covid-19 pandemic has been a real rollercoaster for us.”
The road ahead
Right now, Mittal said, is an interesting time to be in the digital startup ecosystem space – especially for mobile apps.
“There are very few companies that are making good mobile applications for the Indian audience, so there’s a lot of scope for digital app startups here,” he said.
For QuackQuack though, the focus right now is only on stabilizing growth. Due to the pandemic, growth has been negative over the past year.
Amanat Khullar is the Content and Editorial Manager at ADIF.
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