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Since the company was launched, Razi Thalib, CEO and Founder of Jakarta-based online matchmaking site Setipe, has received up to 142 wedding invitations from the platform’s users.

“While we can’t track how many people go on dates, how many get married, we’ve received in the office about 142 invitations from users who want to invite us to their weddings,” he says, pointing at a box where all the invitations are stored.

Marriage remains the highest aspiration of many couples in Indonesia, and as an online matchmaking site with long-term relationships in mind, the box of invitations might indicate how well Setipe has done their job.

“While singles need access to meet with people, they also need the education that comes with it,” says Thalib, on what sets the service apart.

To register for the service, users need to first answer hundreds of questions about their perspectives on religion, their future plans, and their lifestyles. Apart from helping Setipe ensure users’ safety by filtering out people with ulterior motives, the quiz is also expected to help people question and better understand themselves as part of a maturation process.

“Why would you answer hundreds of questions if you weren’t serious about meeting someone? You’d rather go to easier dating sites,” Thalib says.

Setipe even employs an in-house team of psychologists and relationship consultants to help the company provide “data-driven, psychometric kind of matchmaking service.”

“There are even some people who joined just to get our personality report,” Thalib says.

“So people generally might not like everything that we do, but you’ll find people that recognise us as being credible,” he stresses.

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Thalib first had the idea to start Setipe in 2010, when he got back from Australia and noticed the important role matchmakers play in the way people date in Indonesia.

“After a few months of being here, observing, experiencing being questioned when I am going to get married, being introduced to few women … I said to myself, ‘Okay, so this is how it works [here]: you ask your friends, families, the people you trust to introduce you to someone that might match you,'” he says.

“There are dating sites in the West that do this and I thought it’s just like putting two-and-two together. Of course, there has to be a customisation for the local culture, but it’s the matchmaking model that exist overseas,” he adds.

Aiming to figure out ways to adjust the concept to local market’s preferences, Thalib began to read up on all kinds of research about people’s behaviour, relationship, and psychology. He even met with psychologists to discuss it.

“The entire industry is fascinating to me, and when I finally figured it out, [I realised that] this can be turned into a really cool product. But I never really took it seriously until 2013. Until then it was more of a fun side project,” he says.

But running an online dating platform comes with its own challenges, particularly in how founders can turn it into a sustainable business. The mark of a good online dating platform is how fast it can help users secure a life partner; sadly, it also means that they will also leave the platform sooner.

Thalib also acknowledges that the market that they are serving –online singles– is indeed “a niche within a niche.”

“If you look at a lot of dating sites that were launched in the last few years, at some point they switch into some kind of social media platform. They try to cater to people who are not singles because they want to expand their market base, and that is the direction that we are taking as well,”  states Thalib.

“In the next few months, we are looking to begin serving couples, with the tools and the ability that we have,” he adds.

Setipe is currently preparing to relaunch its app in August, as an attempt to help push the company to the next stage.

“If we’re going to raise money, philosophically, I want to do it to expand to new markets, or grow faster. But now, there is no point for us in growing our member base, unless we know how to monetise efficiently and effectively,” he says.

Though the online platform will remain Setipe’s core business, the startup is also looking for ways to reach out to the offline market as well, though not in the “conventional” sense.

For example, it has secured a partnership with offline matchmaking service Lunch Actually, in which Setipe will provide the technology to help empower matchmakers though he declined to comment further on the details.

Despite the challenges, Setipe claims to have secured 600,000 registrations (with 85 per cent of them being completed), introduced 7.5 million potential couples, and sparked 4.5 million conversations right on the platform.

Though international expansion is not his focus right now, Thalib recognised that there are many similarities between Indonesian and Indian market.

“So if you’re going to project what the online dating industry is going to be like, it’ll probably look more like India than the States,” he says.

“If you’re a local player now, in any startup industry, [the] best case scenario is [to be], like the next India or China, where we own certain industries. While the worst case scenario is that we’re just access points for other [foreign] startups who want to enter Southeast Asian dating industry,” he opines.

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Last June, Thalib spoke at a TEDxJakarta event about the ‘right’ ways to find someone.

“To be honest, I’m using the TEDx event as a testing board. I wanted to test my concept, based on what I’ve learned here. Based on what I want Setipe to be. And so far, it’s [been] positive … Now I know my marketing strategy, and my product is going to be based on that narrative,” he says.

So what exactly are the right ways to do it?

“Know yourself, find someone who makes you happier –not happy. And try to meet as many people as possible. But above all, there has to be maturity,” he replied.

When it comes to giving advice, Thalib does not hold back. Once he even went as far as to help a guy draft a message to the girl he likes.

“We’re really bad at [making] conversations. And for an online dating service, that’s terrible,” he replied, further elaborating the weakness of the online dating service is that user experience is strongly related to the quality of the people who are in it.

Not just their background or intelligence, but also how they communicate.

“We looked at the aggregate of all the conversations on our platform and reviewed all the keywords used. We found out that 90 per cent of conversations started with a variation of ‘salam kenal‘ or ‘greetings.’ Then 50 per cent of the first replies included variations of ‘salam kenal balik‘ or ‘greetings to you, too.’ In the online world, where you have to try to be unique, be an individual, it is not a smart strategy and the data proves it,” he says.

Thalib also believes that the Indonesian dating culture is slowly changing (“People are more willing to start a conversation, instead of waiting to be introduced”), though some things remain the same. For example, socio-economic background is still an important factor in picking a potential partner, as it affects one’s lifestyle.

“If e27 has a driver, and you spend a lot of time with him, you strike up conversations … But would you date him? Probably not.”

Image Credit: Setipe