An ex-Morgan Stanley banker and a 25-year-old engineer created the first global matchmaking app for Muslims, and it's about to hit one million users
- Muzmatch is the first global matchmaking app for Muslims.
- It was founded by 34-year-old Shahzad Younas, a former Morgan Stanley banker, and 25-year-old iOS engineer Ryan Brodie.
- The app says it is close to hitting one million users, and claims 200,000 people have got married after meeting on Muzmatch.
- Younas and Brodie told Business Insider they have declined attractive aquisition offers as they aim to become "the biggest app for Muslims worldwide."
With pun-filled taglines like "Halal, is it me you're looking for?" and "You had me at halal," Muzmatch may seem like just another quirky dating app - but there's much more to it than that.
Muzmatch is targeted at finding marriage partners for Muslims around the world - and it claims to be close to hitting one million users globally.
Operating in nearly every country (though it's most popular in the UK, US, and Canada), the location-based app shows users the most relevant people near them based on a "sophisticated algorithm" which considers a number of different factors based on the information they provide in their profiles.
Muzmatch was the brainchild of 34-year-old Shahzad Younas, a former Morgan Stanley banker who told Business Insider he left his job in June 2014 to learn how to build apps after he had the idea for the company.
"I thought, 'Why is nobody doing an app for the Muslim market?'" he told Business Insider. "We didn't have anything, we were still on websites."
As a Muslim himself, he said he understood "the market, the audience, and the problem" - something other companies had a lack of expertise in.
"For Muslims, marriage is such a big part of your life," he explained. "We don't really date, we marry."
He added that the Muslim market was generally "at least five years behind the mainstream market and dating apps" with mainly web-focused platforms - so he decided to make Muzmatch mobile-only.
In April 2015, initially using nearly $200,000 of his own savings from his nine-year banking career, he launched the first version of the app from home, and grew it to 50,000 users around the world in less than a year.
"They just heard about it going to mosques, hanging out, literally spreading the word by any means," he said. "I thought, 'There's clearly a demand here,' but it was just me doing all of it."
Luckily, he came across iOS engineer Ryan Brodie, 22 at the time and now 25, on LinkedIn in April 2016.
"He's kind of like me, an engineer, can code, and had some startups himself, so it was perfect," Younas said. "We literally had a three-hour phone call where we ripped the whole thing apart... and then Ryan wanted to come on board."
Brodie, who had successfully started and sold two companies in the events and consumer tech space, said even as a non-Muslim he immediately saw the opportunity for Muzmatch - and it was an added bonus that both men knew how to build and improve apps.
Starting from scratch, the pair revamped and relaunched the company in August 2016. By halfway through 2018, they had 500,000 registered users.
"Even in 2019 it's very hard and expensive to build an app, but the unique thing we had is, while we might not have had a huge amount of money at the time, we knew how to make the product," Brodie told Business Insider.
Blurred photos, nicknames, and chaperones
It's free to sign up on Muzmatch, initially using just your date of birth and gender. You can then start swiping through people near you.
"To get initial users on board, we appreciate they might not want to fill out 30 different fields," Brodie said, adding that once you make your first match, you're then asked to give more information for your profile, such as your sect and ethnicity.
One profile, for example, might state: "Modest dress, sometimes prays."
When users get a match, they get a prompt to get a conversation going.
They can also choose to go "premium" for £20 a month in return for extra features, such as unlimited swipes (there's a daily cap for free users), more advanced search filters and preferences, the ability to reset or change past swipes, and being at the front of the queue for users aroung you.
It might sound straightforward, but there are a number of things that make Muzmatch different than its competitors.
Firstly, users have the option of blurring their photos or using a nickname.
"If [you choose to do this and] you match someone, they still can't see your photos [or name], and it's up to you when you reveal them," Brodie said.
Younas added that after profile signup, the app also prompts users to "keep things Halal."
"For us, it's a lighthearted way to remind users of what's expected, he said. "We're not a casual app, it's not a photo 'yes, no.' There's so much more to it.
"The whole point of our app is we want serious people looking for marriage, serious about a relationship, so people invest a lot of time and energy into the whole process."
The duo added that this type of "oath" is starting to be introduced to other mainsteam apps, like OK Cupid.
Muzmatch also claims to be the only one in the world with a chaperone feature, which allows a friend or relative to be present in a chat.
"There's an Islamic principle where when a guy and a girl are getting to know eachother there should be a third party present," Younas explained. "For [some users] it's important - if it didn't have that feature, they wouldn't use it."
Brodie added that a dedicated team manually approve each profile to confirm users are who they say they are, and users also have the option to provide "positive feedback" on another user after they match and have a conversation, with enough positive praise resulting in profile badges.
"We want users to feel comfortable, but equally we need people to feel that, actually, this is a more serious place, it's not just for messing around," Brodie added.
"Halal, is it me you're looking for?"
This is a message that's clear not only on the app, but also through Muzmatch's marketing campaigns.
In October 2018, it launched ads on the London underground with catchy phrases like "Halal, is it me you're looking for?"
It launched a second campaign in January with similarly tongue-in-cheek taglines.
Younas said the company wanted to put out a positive message that was also humorous.
"It's a side that, especially for the Muslim segment, doesn't get portrayed that often," he said. "Sadly it's nearly always negative. [We wanted] to do things a bit differently, freshen things up a bit."
He added that the reaction to the ads has been "overwhelmingly positive," with plenty of attention on Twitter and Instagram.
"Obviously there were a few EDL [English Defense League, a far-right, Islamophobic organisation] types who basically don't like any sort of Muslim reference," he added. "We had a bit of that, but that was 1% of the feedback we had."
Support from Silicon Valley
And the strategy certainly seems to be paying off.
In the summer of 2017, Muzmatch was accepted into Silicon Valley-based accelerator Y Combinator, who have backed the likes of Airbnb, Dropbox, and Reddit and provide a network of resources and support for startups - as well as investment.
"They invest $120,000 for 7% of the company," Younas explained. "13,000 companies apply, 800 are flown out to San Francisco for an interview, and 100 are accepted. It's harder to get into than Harvard."
He added that Muzmatch was the first Muslim-centric startup to ever be backed by Y Combinator.
Also in summer 2017, the duo raised just under $2 million in seed investment.
They confirmed to Business Insider that they've even turned down attractive acquisition offers because they believe in the future of the business.
Part of this is because the duo believe they have a sustainable business model.
"People doubted we could monetise this market at all, but the model we have works," Brodie said.
Younas added: "Even though most users don't end up upgrading, because of the scale we're at, the people who do more than cover our costs and make sure we can invest in the platform."
'Muslims don't date'
However, he also believes the interest in Muzmatch is due to the fact no other company has been able to cater to this market before.
"Probably more so with other faiths, people are more open to marrying outside of the faith, but generally for Muslims people stick to their faith," he said.
"You've got things like JSwipe for Jewish people, Christian Mingle for Christians, but for [Muslims] we have to remember that generally people don't date. They use the app to find someone to have a few initial chats with and have coffee a couple of times, and then they get the family involved."
He added traditionally, Muslim parents would call women called "aunties" who would charge thousands to match up their son or daughter with someone in the community. However, now young Muslims are meeting people and having conversations themselves.
"In places like India [the aunties] take a percentage of the wedding, so it's crazy, they make a lot of money. [We have made] it so much more affordable for people, and [are] empowering the person doing the search. Nobody knows apart from them the kind of person they'll get on with."
He added: "People are getting younger and younger when they're finding Muzmatch. They're getting the experience of meeting people, talking to people, having that social interaction."
Reaching the world's 1.8 billion Muslims
Now, Younas and Brodie are cofounders in the business, which they're looking to grow right away with at least 10 new hires.
"We've grown to the stage where we're going to hit one million members very soon, mostly by word of mouth," Younas said, adding that the company is growing even faster than digital mobile-only bank Monzo, which reports to have 20,000 new sign-ups a week.
"Now we're looking at how do we get to five million, 10, 20? For us, there are 1.8 billion Muslims around the world. We reckon 300 to 400 million of those are single and eligible in terms of our app - that's a massive user base."
In order to do that, the company has recently conducted a project localising the app in different places around the world. It's now live in 14 different languages, including Arabic and Turkish.
"The core mission is to be the biggest app for Muslims worldwide," Brodie added. "We want to be a standout brand for Muslims around the world."
Younas added that so far, the company knows of 20,000 people who have got married after meeting on Muzmatch.
"We have something called Wedding Bell, where every time someone leaves the app it sends us a Slack alert with the comment they put in [about why they left]. People who met on Muzmatch say [things like] 'thank you, Muzmatch' and 'met someone, got married.' It's nonstop. We get about 100 a day."
The company also regularly features "success stories" on its blog.
'Our users aren't on Tinder and the other apps'
For those still not convinced the likes of Muzmatch can compete with giants like Tinder, Bumble, and Happn, Younas said: "The key thing with Muzmatch is we're not a Tinder competitor.
"Our users aren't on Tinder and the other apps - they don't serve their need. From the off, this is not a hookup app. The Muslims who do want to hook up aren't essentially our customers."
However, since starting the app, Younas believes he's already seen a shift in how Muslims are approaching dating.
"Three generations ago, your parents would decide who your partner was going to be and that would be that, you'd go along with it," he said. "With the second generation, your parents would still be involved, talk to the families, but they'd show you people and you'd meet them and both have the decision.
"Now, we have parents coming to us saying 'We don't know anyone, families aren't as connected as they used to be, can you help us find someone for our son or daughter?' and we say 'no - get them to sign up.' In a sense, the son or daughter are now saying 'I want to find someone on my own terms.'
"Attitudes are changing so quickly. Through technology, this is how people are finding partners."
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