Naaree interviewed Neha Kanodia, Founder of the GoGaga Dating App, to learn about her startup journey and the lessons she has learned from it.
Neha Kanodia comes from a middle-class family and had a strong interest in algorithms and coding since her school days was in school.
She used to skip chemistry class and sit in the computer room, practising coding. Seeing her interest, Neha’s teachers advised her to choose IT as her engineering subject from SGSITS, Indore.
She started getting recognition as a star performer early on in her career and spent over 14 years leading global teams with expertise in Cloud/SaaS Applications for multi-national companies like Oracle, SoftwareAG and Goldman Sachs. She chased codes and bugs during the day and her daughter in the evening.
However, she found herself longing for the accomplishment of building something from scratch, leading her to develop GoGaga, a dating app, for people looking for serious and meaningful relationships, along with her brother and co-founder, Meet, an IIT-D alumnus and ex-investment banker from London.
Her intention is to bring trust, by including human referrals, into the process of dating. We caught up with Neha to ask her about her startup journey and the lessons she has learned from it.
Please describe your startup, GoGaga.
Though Indian culture is shifting slightly away from matrimonial matchmaking with youngsters preferring to find a match on their own, hook-up apps from the west have still not caught up yet as a replacement owing to a cultural mismatch.
Both the solutions show profiles of strangers with just different filters (i.e., caste or distance), with a very low chance that there could be a relevant connection.
Other troubles with these apps are the prevalence of fake profiles, bots, married men, expectation mismatch, untrustworthy profile information, among others.
In an effort to solve these problems and to provide a platform for meaningful relationships, we rely on the classical method of matchmaking used by societies for ages, connections via introduction/referrals.
At GoGaga, we show users only friends of friends and make the common friend vouch for this connection, to establish trust. GoGaga gives a fun twist to dating, where committed ones can also download and match two of their single friends.
The method is also very relatable to real life and eliminates fake profiles/bots, just by way of the concept itself. GoGaga is incubated by Facebook & IIM-Bangalore’s incubation arm, NSRCEL.
What does your business startup offer and why is it unique?
GoGaga is a culturally fit solution for finding a meaningful relationship for singles, apart from offering a safe, trustworthy and reliable way of dating or meeting new people.
The online dating and matrimony market is overcrowded with applications globally but the core problem of finding a trustworthy partner and dealing with authenticity is not yet tackled by any of the existing apps.
This leads to the existence of either hook-up apps or matrimony apps being sold under the guise of “dating apps,” leaving a huge void for the need in the market for “relationship apps.” GoGaga presents a unique solution with a pure-play “relationships app.”
- Trust: The current dating apps use proximity to connect users to random strangers nearby. GoGaga ensures trustworthy connections with the matchmaker approach. Referral system and vouching by a common friend vets the connection in terms of the trust.
- Quality: While searching for a partner for dating or a relationship, other than just photos, credentials and conversation quality is equally important. GoGaga places a higher focus on the user profile vs. just pictures.
- Authenticity: While using online dating, users globally look for the trustworthiness and authenticity of profiles. With our unique two-layer connection mechanism, where involvement of a common friend ensures credible profile information and authenticity.
- No fake profiles and bots: Since GoGaga shows users only friends of their friends, no fake profiles and bots are shown, which is a very common problem in other dating apps.
- Social-strata: GoGaga shows users profiles in their extended social circle and hence a very high probability of the profile is in their social strata. It is common for people to look for a match in their social circle. Owing to this fact, GoGaga is already a celebrity dating app or an elite dating app.
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur? Where do your goals and inspiration come from?
I was a happy and successful corporate employee for more than a decade. My co-founder, Meet, and I are siblings and both hail from Indore.
The GoGaga concept started when we were looking for a potential bride for Meet on one of the matrimonial portals. We noticed that the current channels to find a partner in India were at the extreme ends:
(a) Matrimony apps being parents managed and community-based, while
(b) Dating apps being self-picked but distance-based, showing mostly strangers.
Meet was covering the Gaming and Dating industries in London as part of his investment banking career and realized the gap in the Indian market where there was a strong need for a culturally compatible and trustworthy solution.
After their intensive research, they realized the common reference is how trust is and has been established in India. Right from the existence of intermediaries in an arranged marriage setting to friends making introductions in the offline world.
This is when they started GoGaga, a digital referral-based matchmaking app where users are shown friends of friends with the mutual friend making an introduction.
The list of goals to achieve is ever increasing, especially when you run a startup. 🙂
The 3 men in my life, my dad, my husband and my brother are the ones who have been very encouraging and supportive of me at all times. Their motivation is what made me take the plunge from a corporate world and still keeps me motivated through thick and thin.
Another reason which definitely keeps me motivated is the love from our users for the product, especially when they say that there is a definite need for a product like GoGaga..
What are some challenges that you faced initially when you started out? Please share specific examples with advice to other women on overcoming their challenges?
A few challenges which I faced initially were:
- Being a startup in stealth mode, we did not hire employees and I coded the entire app on my own. It is quite a lot of work to learn new technology and code an entire app single-handedly. Hence, I would like to advise other startups to take help when required.
- We are a bootstrapped company that works mostly with part-time interns. While our focus is on training youngsters for tomorrow, it is challenging to deal with attrition, exams and part-time interns. Hence, always plan your finances appropriately before starting up.
- Running a business itself is full of challenges. Every day brings a new set of problems that we need to deal with. Always ask for help or advice from family and friends whenever you feel you cannot handle it yourself.
- Please don’t strive to be a superwoman and learn to accept the fact that you can require help. You can be tired and it is ok to ask the family to help you with chores.
- The startup journey is full of challenges, but there is lots of learning involved, take up each challenge as a reason to learn and you will be able to find an apt solution.
What are all the things that an entrepreneur/achiever in your industry needs to keep in mind? Apart from your great idea, what do you need to be armed with?
We are running a bootstrapped startup and are a lean team. I learnt many new technologies to be able to provide the best product. I need to be abreast of new trends in Android and iOS.
Apart from these technical aspects, one needs to be aware of their market, be good at interacting with people and your team, be an exemplary leader. I even learnt the basics of digital marketing, making creatives, branding, pricing, finance, SEO etc.
One should learn some basics in each area related to your startup. Even though I handle tech for my product, I always know a basic level of marketing, finance and business aspects of my business.
Did you have a mentor to guide you through your journey? In your opinion, what does a mentor bring to the table?
We didn’t have a mentor initially, but since January 2019 we have been incubated at IIM-Bangalore, NSRCel. At IIM-B we have few mentors we are working with and some professors are helping us too.
They’re not just guiding us through the journey, but are also making sure we succeed, by also being critical of our steps/numbers/approach.
We have one mentor for Branding, one for marketing and one who helps us in business decisions. A mentor, who understands your product and the mission of the company is a must to guide you to the right path.
Sometimes, even if as co-founders, if Meet and I think differently on a topic, a mentor also helps us in deciding which route to pick.
How did you recruit your first team? What advice do you have for building and nurturing teams in your startup?
My team mostly comprises college students who work with us and learn. They are very young and motivated to learn. GoGaga had been lucky to find quite many interns who have become part of our journey for a long time.
I always make my interns a part of my decision-making, make them learn and learn from them. I try to keep them posted about other things at GoGaga, unrelated to their work as well, to make them part of this journey.
Please describe some successes and failures you have experienced.
A few achievements of mine and Go-Gaga-App.com are:
- The biggest success for me was to be appointed as a Facebook SheLeadsTech ambassador for Bangalore.
- The fact that people have been loving the concept of GoGaga is what makes me feel satisfied.
- GoGaga was selected as one of the top 20 global startups for Facebook’s FBStart program.
Well, I would not call them failures, I would rather say there have been some mistakes and learnings along the path. Few of those were:
- We did test the product with our friends and their friends after the launch, but until April 2019, we did not really take lots of customer feedback. After we started asking our customers we realised it was an important step to understand our customer’s requirements.
- Being in stealth mode, I was coding everything myself and it was taking a lot of time. In hindsight, I feel we could have hired someone to help us get to market earlier.
- Waiting too long to make the product perfect. In retrospect, we could have launched the product earlier with an MVP and kept making improvements with customer feedback.
What are 3 key lessons that you have learned?
After starting Go-Gaga-App.com, I have learned that perseverance is the key to solve any problem. Specific to startups, I now strongly believe that the product should be something that customers love. Customer really bhagwan hai!
There is no limit or end to learning. The more people you meet, the more you learn. If not anything, you learn another perspective. Starting up is the best way to learn since you have no choice but to learn. 🙂
About the author:
Priya Florence Shah is the Group Editor at SHEROES and author of Devi2Diva, an emotional self-care book for women.