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Badoo VP: No Dating Services... For Now

ITProPortal.com sat down with Lloyd Price, Director of Marketing at Badoo, one of the world's largest social networking websites (and probably one of the most underrated as well), to discuss where the company is going.

Badoo's big break in the public domain came with an interview published in Wired magazine back in April 2011 which carried the alluring (and linkbaiting) title "How Badoo built a billion-pound social network on sex".

The 23,000 word article provided an intimate look at the making of the social network, which made tens of millions of users flock to it and shed some light on its elusive, serial entrepreneur, Andrey Andreev.

Badoo, which is based in Limassol, Cyprus, has grown from zilch to 127.5 million members in around five years. Over the past few months an average of 125,000 new users per day have been signing up.

When the Wired story was run, Badoo was adding nearly one million new members every three days. Now it needs almost eight days to reach the same number; growing at the rate of four million members a month is no chicken feed, although Facebook has managed to add 20 million members per month over the last year alone.

In the meeting room where we sat down, Price listened attentively to those figures before he replied. Articles about Badoo, he argued, have been one-dimensional until now, looking only at the "dating" services offered by Badoo (the site though presents itself as a "meeting network" rather than a social networking site) and the site is actively looking to broaden its appeal, one of the reasons why Price joined Badoo towards the end of last year to formulate the startup's above the line strategy.

Badoo, Price continued, is the opposite of Facebook. In general, Facebookers add people they already know as friends, whereas on Badoo, members follow a generic four-step process known as MCFD (Meet, Chat, Flirt, Date) to search for new rather than existing acquaintances. That is not set in stone though, Lloyd gave an example of how he used Badoo to meet new people ahead of a visit to a particular tourist spot.

As for traffic, Badoo has 46 million active users and according to Google Doubleclick's latest top 1000 list, is ranked 59th ahead of CNN (Alexa places it at #104 and Google Trends confirms that it is bigger than Cnn.com, Linkedin.com and Vkontakte.ru). Badoo is growing in most territories, although the English-speaking countries (US and UK) have been a tough nut to crack with most users coming from South America, Asia and South Europe.

There's also the tantalising prospect of cracking other populous territories like China, India and Indonesia. The Chinese market, Price tells us, is very interesting given that a similar concept called Mix has just launched, however Badoo has no plans to enter the Chinese market.

We were also surprised to learn that only 60 per cent of users on Badoo were aged between 25 and 44 with a sizable portion coming from Generation X. Another significant piece of data: Badoo had 13.7 million monthly App users (one in every four active members) on Facebook, just behind another dating-like one called "Are you Interested?" (14.7m) but ahead of rival Zoosk (12.1m).

Still, Badoo has a lot to do before it establishes itself as an international brand, with Lloyd pointing astutely to the fact that the timeframe between the 100 millionth and the 200 millionth user is one fraught with danger, with the likes of Friendster, Bebo, Orkut, Hi5 and Myspace being a reminder of how fast things can change. Facebook remains, the 800-pound (or million members) gorilla in the corner, although Price is quick to point out that Badoo has managed to get 100 million users to pay $1 on average per year.

On average, between two and ten percent of members (depending on territories) paid at least the equivalent £3 to get access to its premium paid-for services. Badoo operates a freemium service where members can advertise themselves in order to get more visitors and hopefully become more "popular" or earn so called "super powers".

Price also denied that Badoo had any immediate plans to launch non-core services like ecommerce features (à la Groupon) or a dating service which could dovetail nicely with the existing offering, not unlike what another rival - Plentyoffish.com - is trying to achieve. The online internet dating market is worth $1.3 billion in the US alone according to a research paper released in January 2011 by Experian and Visa puts the cost of dating experiences in the UK at a staggering £8 billion ($12.4 billion).

Clearly there is a lot of money that can be made selling dating and affiliated services. But Badoo though won't be looking at dating right now, preferring to focus on its goal to become a global player as a "meeting network" (and break the 200 million member barrier) while fine-tuning its Global, Social, Mobile and Local strategies. That's not to say that it's not tinkering with new features given that it has up to 10 new features being tested at any time in its labs. Badoo once had its own webcam feature which was killed almost as quickly as it was launched because it did not prove to be very popular with the users.

For now, Badoo is focusing on member growth, the company has only 200 employees compared to more than 2000 for Facebook and while there is no IPO or acquisition on the horizon, Price smirked when asked what to expect next as if to say "expect the unexpected".

(Below, pictures of Badoo's London Offices)