It's a 120-million-member social network that's adding over 300,000 users a day, with more than 4.3 million daily photo and video uploads, and seven billion monthly page views. It has Facebook's fastest-growing app, with 570,000 new daily users, making it the third-biggest app of all after FarmVille and CityVille. Hugely profitable, it's forecast to generate hundreds of millions of dollars this year, and is being aggressively courted by venture-capital firms valuing it in the billions. And it's run from London by a secretive Russian serial entrepreneur who has steadfastly refused to be interviewed or photographed. Until now.
Badoo is the world's largest social network that you probably haven't yet heard of. Run from 800-square-metre loft-style offices in Soho, it is brilliantly effective at providing one simple and universally compelling service: hooking up members according to their profile pictures and location. "Chat, flirt, socialise and have fun!," implores the home page, alongside photos of prospective friends such as Terri, 21 ("Wants a candlelit dinner"), and Christopher, 25 ("Wants wake up with a girl" [sic]). Sign in, and a message declares that "204,516 girls [or guys] near you are looking to meet a guy your age!". Explain your intentions (the pull-down menu's suggestions include "to talk about sex", "to get a massage", "to flirt") and Tatyana, Oshrit or Gary might just give you access to their stash of private photos.
Still barely registering in Britain or the US, the free-to-use network -- on the web and via smartphones -- is a mass phenomenon with members in:
- Brazil - 14.1 million members
- Mexico - 9 million members
- France - 8.2 million members
- Spain - 6.5 million members
- Italy - 6 million members
Relying on word-of-mouth rather than any marketing spend, it has cracked the internet's eternal conundrum: how to persuade users to pay hard cash in a world drowning in free digital services and content, by charging members each time they want to boost their visibility to others searching for a date.
A year after Badoo's 2006 launch, when it had 12 million members, Russia's Finam Technology Fund bought a ten per cent stake for $30 million, valuing it at $300 million (this year Finam will realise an option for a further ten per cent at a higher valuation). Today, A-list investors such as Sequoia and Accel are courting the business and there is talk of an initial public share offering.
Bart Swanson, hired as the new CEO in September 2010, expanded Amazon in Europe and run EMI in France. Says Swanson:
"Cracking the Anglo-Saxon market will probably give us double to triple today's reach. The opportunity for people discovery [through Badoo] is a horrendously large market -- it's a confluence of social, proximity, mobile, and it's extremely local. The basic mechanism of what Andrey has developed is genius -- just like Google with its AdWords, it's people paying for self-promotion. And it works."
Andrey is Andrey Andreev, originally from Moscow but based in London for the past six years, who founded Badoo on a string of other highly profitable Russian internet businesses: Mamba, SpyLog, Begun. Andreev, a youthful 37 with a cherubic smile below a floppy fringe, has so far eluded media attention: Russian Forbes last year called him "one of the most mysterious businessmen in the West" (it also reported his original name as Andrey Ogandzhanyants, under which the SpyLog.net domain was registered).
We were introduced in January by Israeli investor Yossi Vardi at Burda's DLD conference in Munich, which Vardi co-chairs, and later met in London. (Vardi has no stake in Badoo.) And then in mid-February, alone in an office belonging to Freud Communications, Andreev agreed to share his story. It has been a busy few days. Andreev explains that Michael Moritz, the legendary Sequoia investor who took early stakes in Google and Apple, has just flown in from Palo Alto to meet him; he has also been meeting Kevin Comolli of Accel's London office. Moritz declined to speak to Wired, but Comolli -- whose investments include Playfish, Kayak and Getjar -- calls Andreev a "genius" with whom he would like to work. Says Comolli,
"Badoo is a social phenomenon. It's explosive growth, viral, it's playful, it seems consistent with offline social interaction but in this hypervirality mode that only the internet has enabled. The secret sauces in companies like this are so nuanced, and the difference between getting it wrong and right lies only with these special people like Andrey. He's created something very powerful."
The 5' 8" Andreev explains quietly and precisely, the reasons why he has remained so silent?
"I love to focus on making things rather than exploring myself. I don't feel that it helps to make money or make business. I feel Badoo is ready for me to identify with. Because it works, it grows like crazy. And people love it."
There is another unspoken reason: with an IPO being considered, the company needs to raise awareness to maximise the valuation being floated by investors and bankers (currently being discussed at "around $2 billion", according to Andreev). The business is printing money: revenues and profit are growing by "double-digit percentages" each month, he says. "We see bankers everywhere. We are like celebrities."
Badoo launched in late 2006 in Spain, where Andreev was then living, as a conventional photo-sharing website. Says Andreev,
"We assumed that the 'meet new people' idea wouldn't work there -- Spanish girls are like princesses, you couldn't touch them, you had to meet their parents first before inviting them to the cinema."
The site wasn't generating revenue, but numbers were growing sharply: the 2007 Google Zeitgeist list of fastest-rising search terms listed "Badoo" second, just below "iPhone". In 2008, Andreev decided to test his assumptions of Spanish women and as an experiment refocused the site on meeting new people. "And the girls didn't leave. At that time, France was growing fast, Italy was. Then one day we discovered we had 30,000 registrations in Turkey [that day]. What happened? Was it a hacker attack or scammers? No, someone wrote an article about us. It's as if all the users jumped on the bus and went there. Bang -- in two months, suddenly we have a Turkish market with a million members." Today the overall gender ratio is 45 percent female, 55 per cent male (in Brazil and Poland women outnumber men); 86 percent of users are aged 18 to 34.
Andreev introduced some simple premium services into his revenue model:
- Rank Higher During Searches - You could pay a dollar or a euro to "rise up" the search results, and so attract greater attention.
- Increase Profile Photo Visibility - You could pay again to have your profile photo more widely visible across the site.
- Virtual Gifts - He introduced virtual gifts to buy for your prospective date. "No one's pushing you to spend money, but if you want to attract more users, you have to pay," he explains.
"You pay to advertise yourself. If you want something to go faster, you pay. And some people pay tens of times every day to rise up. But people love advertising themselves. Lots of people use this function several times a day. They become addicted."
By the end of 2009, the site had 48 million registered users -- a fifth of whom, then CEO Neil Bryant said at the time, were paying to boost their profile.
Andreev explains his idea for a mobile location-based Badoo:
"Then we had the idea of mobile -- how to meet people nearby. We understood that people could meet each other in a big town, but how much more exciting to see who's sitting next to you in a café? Or you can just walk past a nightclub and see who you can pick up before you get in. It's another opportunity to hook up random people for adventure. We're talking about real life, real time. We know this girl is 500 metres from here now."
Badoo Mobile launched last summer on the iPhone, and in March on Android phones. Within weeks, with barely any marketing, the iPhone app was the number-one social-networking app in France; after eight months, it had been downloaded 1.5 million times. Andreev sees proximity as key to the business's future. Even desktop computer users can share their location by downloading an app that accesses Wi-Fi networks, IP addresses and other data points. "If you're sitting at home and someone's walking with an iPhone nearby, we know the distance between you. We can also show the iPhone user that you're nearby. So it works for everyone."
- 115,480,530 members
- in 180 countries
- 134,628 new users per day
- 506,336 users online now
- 1,517,000 photos and videos uploaded daily
- 200+ employees
- who speak 25 languages
According to Pikimal, Badoo's demographics are as follows:
|Total Membership||123.5 Mil|
|Age Ranges Of Members|
|Members Between 13-17 Years||9.9 Mil|
|Members Between 18-34 Years||45.7 Mil|
|Members Over 35 Years||63.0 Mil|
|Gender Of Members|
|Number Of Female Users||43.2 Mil|
|Number Of Male Users||80.3 Mil|
|Ethnicity Of Members|
|Asian Members||2.5 Mil|
|Black Members||4.9 Mil|
|Hispanic Members||86.5 Mil|
|Caucasian Members||24.7 Mil|
|Location Of Members|
|United States||2.2 Mil|
|United Kingdom||1.0 Mil|
So where does Badoo rank by visitors per day in comparison with other social networks?
According to Quantcast, Badoo's global web traffic is not available, but here are their estimates for the U.S.
If the above estimates for Badoo's U.S. traffic are correct, then Badoo is definitely making tremendous headway against social network sites like Facebook and other dating sites in a relatively short period of time (6 months).
According to Inside Facebook, Badoo has been around for years, mostly as a slickly-designed dating social network site, but it introduced a Facebook app version in October, and it’s recently been challenging many larger dating competitors.
The app has had a huge December, growing from 3.19 million monthly active users and 365,000 daily active users a month ago to 10.8 million MAU and 1.34 million DAU today — making it the second-largest dating title by MAU and the largest by DAU on Facebook, according to our AppData tracking service.
The company’s site claims upwards of 115 million members total, and also utilizes a Facebook Connect integration that works with its Facebook app. Using Connect or the app, a user automatically is fitted with a profile that includes their name, age, location, sex and profile photos.
Since hiring Bart Swanson, Andreev has stepped back from day-to-day management to focus on product development. And, yes, he is thinking about his next project. Says Andrey,
"Always -- I have a black box of things to do, but it's not easy to jump from one to another." What type of business? "Look at my experience -- it won't necessarily be a dating or hook-up service. But it will be internet. The mobile internet is the biggest opportunity in the world. Smartphones outsold PCs last quarter. The opportunities will include meeting new people. Hook-up on mobile is a multibillion business. And on tablets. If today 90-95 percent [of engagement] is via the web, in a year 50 percent will be mobile,"
Does Andreev have Facebook in his sights? He says,
"Badoo is more of a social network than Facebook, as on Facebook you interact with your existing friends in an absolutely virtual life. Badoo is more social: it provokes you to go down on the street and meet these people."
As for Andreev's next move, in Swanson's words, "he's built up the mousetrap, he's involved in the strategic issues, but he's not that involved on the details and he's phasing himself out. My challenge is to keep him here as long as possible."
Does he fear becoming more public? "For now, it's not a big problem," Andreev replies, "as now we have a company that's successful." He pauses. "It's a human thing. You have something cool. This is mine -- I made it. It's like a kid. Before you have this, what's there to talk about? That I'm cool?"
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COMMENTARY: There are several things that I like about Badoo.
- It differentiates itself because it is a dating social network and its slick look is specifically designed for the dating scene. The combination works well because it combines the social networking element and the dating. Dating service members usually leave the site once they find a mate, but the social network element keeps you locked in--brilliant.
- Unlike Facebook, which is very drab by comparison, Badoo has more color, and is full of life, fun and enjoyment.
- Badoo leans heavily towards Millennials (18-34 yrs of age), which is the sweet spot for dating, and also represents some of the heaviest users of social networks.
- It's unique premium pricing model allows users to "advertise themselves" in order to move up in profile and photo searches and users can give virtual gifts (virtual box of chocolates, bouquet of flowers, and so forth).
- Uses a location-based mobile dating app.
Although Badoo's membership leans heavily toward males, this is not that unusual for a site that emphasizes developing dating relationships.
I tend to agree with Andreev that Badoo is "more social" than Facebook. It's much more one-on-on, designed to build closer and more intimate relationships between members of the opposite sex, not just close friends and business associates.
I like this guy Andrey Andreev because like many very successful entrepreneurs he left college at an early age then he caught the entrepreneurial bug. Andrey has a lot of street smarts, not afraid to experiment, uses his gut feelings. If it doesn't work, he tries something else, until it sticks.
Check out the Official Badoo Blog to learn more about this incredible social dating site.