For Noi.vn CEO William Vu Huynh, going offline was key to the dating site’s online success
March 12, 2013 by Terence LEE
William Vu Huynh, co-founder and CEO of Vietnamese dating site Noi.vn, has been preoccupied with one question ever since he started his venture in 2008 with Phung Tien Cong: How do you get shy Vietnamese men and women to connect online?
Being able to tackle this problem area was the key to Noi.vn’s success. While William says that many have tried and failed, Noi.vn has managed to build itself into one of the country’s largest (if not the largest) online social dating networks.
While he has declined to reveal financial figures, he says that Noi.vn has some 750,000 registered users, out of which there are 400,000 monthly actives (currently growing at 2 percent month-on-month). From all of them, over 4,000 couplings and over 500 weddings have resulted.
From this strong base — aided by funding from YAN Group and IDG Ventures in mid-2010 — Noi.vn is moving to consolidate its position by catering to different niche markets and entering even more platforms.
This year, the company will be creating dating shows on television to reach out to more single men and women. They will also be rolling out products that facilitate friendship building, reaching out to non-dating users to enlarge their total addressable market.
While primarily a web platform, it has gone into mobile this year, launching an Android app that is seeing between 500-1000 installs.
For William, a computer science and business graduate from the University of Texas, getting to this point required a lot of trial and error as well as a process of becoming familiar with their market and building a product to cater to the unique needs of customers.
We spoke to William via email to find out more about the process of growing Noi.vn as well as the challenges he faced to bring the site to where it is today:
SGE: How did Noi.vn succeed despite the cultural differences in Vietnam versus the West?
William: The potential for online dating industry in Vietnam is large. But typical players (Western style with profile only) have failed. Due to Southeast Asia culture, people (especially girls) do need motivation and trust to go out to meet a stranger from online dating.
There are two main barriers in online dating: Trust and cultural resistance. According to our survey, 65% preferred to meet new people in a group rather than alone.
So, offline activities are crucial to the success of a dating site in Vietnam. We believe offline activities that allows members to meet in groups will enable them to feel safer and build a connection with the other party before getting ready for a real one-on-one date. From time to time, Noi will also organize events such as birthday parties, community-oriented gatherings, beauty contests, photo contests, and even sports activities. Those big events also help to connect users and make them feel closer with others.
As a result of what we’ve been doing for the past four years, our community consists not just of dating customers but also friendship seekers
Noi.vn is not just technology product but also a community. Every day, we have to try harder to improve our products, services and to scale our community. There was even a tough period where we could not make enough money to pay for our staff before we got funded.
Could you elaborate on Noi.vn’s approach towards building its community?
Currently, there are seventy-one groups on Noi. Groups are formed according to hobbies, locations, professions, etc. The community structure has a grassroots feel to it; groups are led by real people in each group, region, area, or nation. At the top of the hierarchy is a Community Committee.
What are some challenges you’ve faced in building Noi.vn?
Monetization is a very complex challenge for Internet startups in Vietnam. We faced a lot of pressure to make money to survive and also to scale our business. We had to try all possible options from premium services for members, advertising, campaigns, and events.
Keeping a high growth rate for the long term is hard. To do so, you have to build a good infrastructure and keep improving your product to serve market demand.
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About The Author
Terence LEE - Editor
Terence writes mainly about technology trends and startups in Asia. He believes in crafting smart content: Not just a regurgitation of text, but well thought-out pieces that serve the reader using a combination of data, design, narratives, analysis, and visual impact. His articles have been published on Venturebeat, Yahoo!, Straits Times, Today, and The Online Citizen. He also co-founded NewNation.sg, a satirical news site covering Singapore affairs. Engage him on LinkedIn and Twitter.Read other posts by Terence LEE