For US group, Egypt matchmaking app is a catch

Among Harmonica’s main attributes are its safety considerations, especially regarding authentication of accounts and its strict confidentiality.

Saturday 05/10/2019
With a focus on accuracy. Harmonica’s co-founders Sameh Saleh (L), Shaymaa Ali (C) and Aly Khaled Metwally. (Courtesy Harmonica)
With a focus on accuracy. Harmonica’s co-founders Sameh Saleh (L), Shaymaa Ali (C) and Aly Khaled Metwally. (Courtesy Harmonica)

CAIRO - Match Group, a US digital company providing dating services and the owner of brands such as Tinder, Match and Meetic, has announced the acquisition of the Egyptian emerging matchmaking application Harmonica, marking the latest major success for the local start-up arena.

Unlike mainstream dating apps and the more traditional matchmaking agencies, Harmonica relies on an artificial intelligence engine to determine compatibility among users to help them find relationships.

“Our vision is to help millions and millions worldwide into finding the right life partner in a safe, healthy and culturally accepted manner,” said Shaymaa Ali, co-founder of Harmonica.

Harmonica gathers information from a wide range of personal questions designed by psychologists, the accounts and individual assessments, which allow the lifestyle, way of thinking and priorities of each user to be identified. The data are analysed by an algorithm that suggests potential partners, which adjust as the application is used and users evaluate proposed matches.

Among Harmonica’s main attributes are its safety considerations, especially regarding authentication of accounts and its strict confidentiality. This is particularly the case with women, who have the option to hide or blur their pictures, give a guardian of their choice the option to access the application or report other users.

Harmonica’s founders said its accuracy in establishing compatibility between two users reduces the possibility of divorce.

“Lack of compatibility is one of the main factors leading to divorce in Egypt and in our Arab society,” said Ali. “Any successful relationship is [based on] complementarity, as each partner complements the imperfect in the other, accepting his flaws, characteristics of his feelings and differences.”

Before being launched in November 2017, Harmonica joined a 4-month programme of a regional early-stage investor and accelerator, Flat6Labs, during which it received financial, legal and technical support, as well as access to the Flat6Labs’ network of partners and investors.

By the end of the programme, the application had attracted some 5,000 users, a figure that would increase 700% in the following weeks, Flat6Labs said.

“We believe that there is a real need in the market for [Harmonica’s service],” said Marie-Therese Fam, managing partner at Flat6Labs, which multiplied its undisclosed initial investment in Harmonica by 16 with the deal with Match Group.

“People are suffering from the poor matching technics that have existed in the market for years and we had an enthusiastic team with this great idea, so we decided to take the risk early on,” she said.

Following its stage at Flat6Labs, Harmonica entered the early-stage venture fund and seed accelerator 500 Startups, where it raised $150,000. The start-up was selected by the Egyptian Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre (TIEC) to join its incubator Start IT, which grants a similar package to that of Flat6Labs but for a more advanced stage.

Match Group, which is ranked among the world’s top 20 digital companies by Forbes, restructured its leadership in April to accelerate its international growth, mainly in Asia, where many countries are predominantly Muslim. The deal with Harmonica marks its first entry in the MENA region.

“There are huge populations of young singles, mostly across Asia and the Middle East, that will be looking for their life partners in the near future and that are not properly served by Western products,” said Match Group CEO Mandy Ginsberg. “We believe we have found great talent, with local expertise and insights that will help us further succeed in our international expansion strategy.”

The 2018 MENA Venture Investment Report of the data intelligence platform MAGNiTT said Egypt was the fastest-growing destination for start-up investment, with a 7% increase compared to 2017, and the second behind the United Arab Emirates in terms of investment size, accounting for 22% of the total.

“Egypt’s [start-up] ecosystem is quite young… but [the country] is blessed with 100 million population, a lot of young talent and a lot of challenges in the daily life that are ready for innovation,” said Fam. “[The lack of] funding is a challenge but we are able to create very successful and innovative products.”

“Harmonica is not the first case of a local start-up acquired by big players,” said Abdelrahman El-Mawawi, media and content research lead at Egypt’s Information Technology Industry Development Agency. “Other examples incubated by TIEC include Kngine, acquired by Samsung in 2018, and Egypt’s first e-payment platform Fawzy, acquired by the Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund more than three years ago.”

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