A former president of musical.ly (now known as TikTok), Alex Hofmann has already done something that seems impossible: he helped build an app that could compete with social giants like Meta, YouTube or Snapchat. After ByteDance bought musical.ly for about $ 1 billion in 2018, Hofmann left the company to become an investor, but he quickly decided he wanted to make apps again. So Hofmann founded 9count, the parent company of apps like Everland, Helpline, Juju, and the friendship-creating app Wink, which has millions of users.
“There’s a trend, as I observed in China, that many technology companies are building not just one product, but several products,” Hofmann told TechCrunch. He noted that a company like Meta is growing by acquiring apps like Instagram and WhatsApp, while Twitter continues to replicate the same flagship app. “Having one product is of course super exciting, but we see the tendency for there to be more and more different interest groups. Serving them with just one product may work, but there is a greater chance that you can get in touch with more people with different products. “
So far, Wink 9count is the most successful app, which is popular with younger users who want to make new friends online (Hofmann says the app has a content moderation team of 15 people working 24/7). But Wink connects people regardless of location, as long as users speak the same language. This design is conscious – the company did not want to face the security issue of people meeting in real life, as the app is available to users aged 13 and up.
“But it was interesting that some of the 18-plus-year-old users asked us, ‘Oh, it would be great if I could look for people in my city,'” Hofmann said. “So that was one of the reasons we said you know, maybe it would make sense to actually set up a dating app.”
Unlike many popular dating apps, Spark does not ask you to swipe left or right. Instead, you can see people around you at once in a grid, just like on Grindr. But unlike Grindr, luckily you can only receive messages from people if you both have “kicked” (or liked) each other.
“For us, it was really trying to understand what would replicate the real world in the best possible way,” Hofmann said. “So, for example, for a party, you will not spend your time mentally thinking ‘yes’ and ‘no’ when looking at every person around you.”
Like an app like Bumble, when you send a like or a message on Spark, the request lasts only 24 hours.
“We really want users to respond quickly so no one has to play the waiting game like they do in other apps right now,” Hofmann said.
Spark has already been “softly launched” in hundreds of countries and climbed to # 1 in the iOS app store in Ireland and the Netherlands within a day. Although the app is free to use, there is also a subscription option that gives users standard services for paid dating app, such as the ability to see everyone who liked you, extra “sparks” and more. Hofmann noted that the exact prices and benefits are still subject to change, but that a subscription right now costs $ 19.99 a month, with small discounts if you subscribe for three or twelve months at a time.
When it comes to security, Spark Hive uses an AI moderation tool to ensure that users do not upload malicious content or NSFW content to their profiles. Like Wink, Spark has a 24/7 trust and security team. Spark also hired a security expert to spot bugs and vulnerabilities on the platform before they can be exploited by bad actors.
Of course, no matter what security measures are in place on a dating app, users should always exercise caution when meeting strangers in person. Match Group, the parent company of apps like Tinder, OkCupid and Hinge, invested in Noonlight to enable security features like emergency assistance, location tracking and photo verification. This business decision followed an investigation report from ProPublica and Columbia Journalism Investigations, which revealed how Match Group allowed known sex offenders to use their free apps.
Founded in 2018, 9count has raised $ 21.5 million in financing led by Redpoint and GGV Capital. Its latest app Spark is now available on iOS.