Bae, the fastest-growing dating app for African-American millennial singles in the U.S., is going international. The app was just acquired by if(we), the parent company of Tagged, one of the largest dating sites in the world, with an eye to becoming the place for black singles to meet, play, engage, and find love. The Bae name is being retired and its users will be streamlined into Tagged and its global dating pool.
Cofounded in 2013 by tech-savvy brothers Brian, 28, and Justin Gerrard, 30 and friend Jordan Kunzika, 22, a first-generation, Angolan-American, Bae grew out of a conversation that came up over a dinner for young entrepreneurs in NYC.
When the topic turned to online dating, the three began to discuss the difficulties that their peers were facing when trying to meet people on Tinder and other apps.
"For many of our friends of color, particularly black men and women, the experience on mass-marketing dating apps like Tinder and Match was unfulfilling, and at times degrading," says Justin Gerrard. "Black male daters typically had to send 10 times the number of messages as their white counterparts to receive one response and black women were fetishized for their looks and flooded with inappropriate comments."
By combining their love of technology, serious smarts (the trio boasts degrees from Dartmouth, Harvard, and the University of Virginia) and a desire to fix the problem of dating bias, Bae was launched at Howard University in April 2014. The three friends only had a $140 marketing budget but possessed plenty of faith that they’d found the answer to the specific dating woes that affected black millennial daters and those looking to meet them. Their solution lay in making it a niche site and marketing it to black millennials, who were unsatisfied with more general dating apps that weren't meeting their expectations (Tinder, Match).
"Niche dating apps can be more successful than regular mainstream apps because you have the ability to attract people with similar interests and possibility with the same cultural foundations," says Neeta Bhushan, a dating expert and author of The Emotional Grit Guidebook. "When narrowing the dating pool, it may help people find long-term success and create deeper connections."
Bae (named not just for the term of endearment but also for Before Anyone Else) received 17,000 downloads in its first month and grew from there. After explosive growth and praise from Techstars and Facebook’s prestigious FbStart Accelerator Program, as well as plenty of media profiles, Bae was officially acqui-hired by if(we) last month.
"After watching Brian and Justin's success positioning Bae and growing its audience, it was clear to me they could make an even larger impact working with us at if(we) leveraging our scale and resources," says Louis Willacy, head of M&A at if(we). "It's rare that you find a team that fits so well with your immediate needs, so the stars were truly aligned here."
Brian and Justin moved from their New York City headquarters to San Francisco to lead marketing and growth across if(we)'s entire portfolio, which includes Tagged, Hi5, Fandom, and new social streaming site WeChill. Kunzika joined Google’s Virtual Reality practice as an engineer in residence.
Not everyone swipes left on the concept of long-distance dating but the Tagged team is counting on it.
"Dating has definitely become less and less localized," says Willacy. "At Tagged, two-thirds of our users are outside of the U.S.," he says. "Also, great features in the app allow you to find potential matches all over in advance of vacations or trips to other countries."
The Gerrard brothers have a dual challenge of growing its loyal user base as well as enlivening Tagged, a social media site that’s been around since 2004.
"While Tagged may not be the bright and shiny new thing, we have vast knowledge of our users and what they are looking for in new dating experiences," said Gerrard. "It has successfully navigated the dating space in the U.S. and internationally for 12 years and remained profitable despite the emergence of hundreds of new players over the last decade."
Gerrard says Bae’s devoted user base will have access to the features they've come to love when they switch over to Tagged.
"If anything, the Bae community will have an even better experience with Tagged’s more robust features," he says. "Now users can swipe and browse potential Baes from around the world, play the addicting Pets game, and chat directly with friends in our Feed experience."