Interview With the Creator of Fairytrail, the Dating App For Digital Nomads and Travelers
“You can get into and out of a relationship, it doesn’t really matter. We are looking to build a community.”
“So why build a dating app for remote workers and travelers? Why not just build a travel buddy app, VR travel solution, write a book, or create some travel documentaries? Because online dating is a disliked solution for a real human need.
I’ve worked in consumer electronics, social gaming, FinTech, B2B SasS, ride-hailing, marketplaces, on-demand delivery, and health tech. So why something as dirty as dating? Dating has had a bad reputation because you have all those horrible fake dating apps.”
This is a quote from an article, written by Taige Zhang, Creator of Fairytrail, the dating app for digital nomads and travelers. “Some kind of new Tinder? Ugh…” you think. Don’t jump to conclusions. Tinder is for those who are bored, says Taige, for those who are ok with endless swiping. But his app Fairytrail is quite another thing. With a different business model.
We talked to Taige to find out what makes dating different for digital nomads, what makes Fairytrail different from Tinder, and what kind of societal shift we are on the verge of.
Hi, Taige! How is Fairytrail going?
It’s going very well. Our user growth is increasing quite well, our retention numbers are remarkable. We have about 2000+ active users now and surprisingly, we have 60% women on our platform, with 52% of our user base being fully remote. I’ve spoken to a doctor who has a telemedicine practice, writers who can write anywhere, contractors who can work anywhere. It’s really awesome. On the other side, 42% of our users aspire to be remote. So we have over 93% of our audience who are either remote or want to be remote. It’s really targeted, very niche, very exciting.
Our retention numbers for this last cohort is 40–45% after the first week. And within a month, it’s still 30%+, so it’s really good.
That said, we don’t want it to be sticky for too long because that means we’re failing. We want it to be sticky initially to help people have successful dates or get into relationships.
Later we want to keep them engaged with our other offerings such as Campfire, a non-dating social group. Every nomad has their passion, business, and goals, so the group is more for socializing and the mission is really to help one another achieve their dreams.
Nice. So, tell me a little bit about yourself.
So… I spent most of my career in product management, building things that people want in companies, working with great people to build things like ridesharing products, grocery delivery, social games, marketplaces.
And for one of the jobs I had, I was traveling a lot. I was always on the road and I was traveling two to three weeks per month, it was really intense and I became single. So I started using dating apps and… these apps didn’t really work for me, because every time I would match with someone, I would be in a different city. So it was almost impossible to go out on dates.
But what ended up happening was sometimes we would start messaging and we would jump on a video call and if it went well. What surprised me was the women would sometimes say, “Hey, if I came to San Francisco, could you show me around?” or “Hey! Do you want to meet up in New York one of these weekends?” And I’d say, “Yes”. This didn’t happen just once. So, I thought “Wow, this is insane. People are willing to travel for a first date. And when I actually did it, it was immensely fun.
Just imagine traveling, going to a new place, doing something fun and you do it with someone you like. So it’s an awesome experience. No one’s really doing this.
So I started validating this idea and it turns out there is a pretty big interest. And the beauty of why this app works now but couldn’t have worked 10 years ago is because 10 years ago, online dating wasn’t mainstream, now it’s mainstream. It’s the number one way couples meet.
Secondarily, we have remote work. So what does remote work enable? Living pretty much anywhere. If your job doesn’t limit you to one city, why does your dating app limit you to one city? So, that’s the premise.
If you get into a relationship, then it’s very easy for you to move. You don’t have to find a new job just to be together — you just buy a ticket. So that’s kind of the golden opportunity we see. And we’re really helping digital nomads and people who are highly mobile be able to explore the world in a people-first manner.
Online dating is now mainstream. In fact, online is the number one place couples in the USA meet as of 2017. Currently, 39% of new couples first meet online and experts predict that to increase to 70% by 2040.
Do you work remotely right now?
I’m based in San Francisco, and I work remotely with my team. We have a developer in India and we have a marketing person who is in New York. Then we have another person in San Francisco, one person in L.A., so that’s our distribution.
But the funny thing is we’re all doing this part-time because we’re not a big company right now. So it’s the five of us. We have two fixed meetings each week and ad hoc calls.
Do you use any product management tools, software to make your life easier?
We use Trello mostly, so we have visibility on what everyone’s doing. But unlike product management or development, Trello doesn’t work that well with marketing. So we’re thinking about using Asana.
Ultimately what we found to work really well is Google Docs, which has our weekly plan and all of the weekly goals, and every week we review the goals and if we’ve achieved them. We also have a standup in the middle of the week to just check-in and help each other out.
Every week we have one regular meeting where we share data. We present whatever data we own, the metrics we own, so we make sure that we’ve hit our goals. And if we haven’t hit our goals, at least own up to it.
Is it hard to combine jobs? I guess you have a full-time job and you’re running this project.
Yeah. It’s really hard. It means we have to prioritize things much better because of the limited time and I guess resources, too. And also in terms of meetings, I would say once you have a regular meeting that’s fixed, it’s really good. And we used to have people who weren’t that punctual. And so that is something about the culture we had to change, and we’ve changed it, and now it’s amazing because everyone shows up and we can have productive meetings because we have such limited time together.
Are you currently using the app by your team?
Yes. As a product person, if you’re building something, you have to use what you make. That’s the only way. If you don’t live in your product, it’s not going to improve. So everyone on the team has an account and everyone uses it.
One of us is in a relationship. He just wrote on his profile “Hey, I’m on the Fairytrail team. I’m here for research purposes.” He’ll still get matches, so people still want to chat with him.
Have you some cool, awesome stories from your users? Tell us about one couple, maybe, and at the same time about how everything works, how the processes are built inside.
We had one couple that went out recently, the girl was from New York, the guy was from California. They matched on a destination that they later changed, and within our app we give recommended adventures. So how our app works is that we facilitate an online experience to offline experience. We want people to have awesome adventures with someone they like.
So how it works is you sign up, you match with someone you like, and before you can talk, we’ll give you recommended destinations and tours. You pick the places you want to go to. And your match picks the places that they want to go to.
If you overlap, we’ll connect you to talk. At that point, you can talk about going to that place or getting to know each other better. And the beauty of this app is that you don’t need to go on a physical date, it saves you time and money, because in San Francisco, going out for drinks is like $40. Maybe you have to take an Uber, maybe you have to pay for the other person. They say the average date is $102. So it’s super inefficient. What we allow you to do is to have video calls as a first date.
A first date is mostly to just check out the person. Does this person look like their picture? Is this person fun to chat with? Is there any chemistry? Does the conversation flow? The second date is when you actually are yourself more, you relax, you have fun, you get to know each other in a more normal way. We allow you to actually skip that first offline date, have it over video call and then go on an amazing adventure, that you want to go on anyways, with the person you like.
So back to that couple. They actually matched in Quebec and then decided to go to Denver instead. So we helped them, they booked an AirB&B experience through us, we also helped with hotels and flights. We mostly monetize on trips, so we’re incentivized to help our users get dates.
Why would someone book through you rather than going by themselves?
There are actually three really good reasons. The first one is we give you a price guarantee: instead of paying your fee to Expedia, you pay the fee to us. We have the same price, you’re not losing any money, you’re just getting convenience because you don’t have to type in all that stuff yourself, it’s annoying.
Secondly, we do identity verification. Both users send us their government I.D., so we have it on file in case something happens and we also verify it with their social media. So you know exactly who is going on that trip as well.
And thirdly, you deposit your money with us before we buy the ticket. Because what if you buy your ticket and your match doesn’t? Your money is at risk. So we actually take both payments before we process and issue tickets.
So we did that for the couple, they had an amazing experience. The reviews are really amazing. And even the travel guide who took them on this adventure was like “Oh, my goodness, it’s such a cool app.” And then he joined the app.
Yeah, it’s a really cool idea. Do you think the future of dating should look like this?
It’s the beginning of the future. If you think about innovation in dating, has there been much innovation in the last 5–10 years? I mean, Tinder was innovative because they took match.com and made it mainstream. They made it convenient. But since then, there hasn’t been much innovation. Also the biggest problem with Tinder, I would say, is how superficial it is, it’s just based on looks.
There’s also a misalignment of interest. Tinder’s key metric is matches. But do you really want matches or do you want awesome experiences with someone you like? We’re more like Lyft. People want rides, and Lyft is incentivized to give them rides. People want dates, and Fairytrail is incentivized to give them that.
Also, Tinder has about 60 million users, but how many of them are actually in your city? Less than 1%, I would say. So if you’re in a small city, you’ve got very limited options.
You can get into and out of a relationship, it doesn’t really matter. We are looking to build a community.
You said that this is the beginning of the revolution of the industry. What are you expecting?
The first thing we can give you is a 30x increase in your dating pool. Since the first date is virtual, you can be available in all the cities in the US at the same time or even in thousands of cities around the world. That’s how you get a 30x increase in your dating, because everyone on this app is open to meeting people in other cities, and if they get into a relationship, they can easily move.
Secondly, video call dates make dating cheaper and more efficient. How many times have you gone on a date and within 10 minutes you’re like, “Oh, my goodness, this is a waste of time.” We can remove that pain point by letting you jump on a video call to figure out if you like that person with minimal costs and maximum convenience.
And the last thing is you actually get a much better offline dating experience. I would say dating is kind of a chore. But when you go on awesome trips with someone you like, that’s the best. That’s what we’re trying to deliver.
Fairytrail lets you date someone in a super social, low stress environment. Even if it doesn’t work out, you’ve had an awesome experience, learned about yourself, and traveled somewhere amazing.
That’s cool. What do you want to achieve this year?
The first step is getting people onboarded and signed up. We’re pretty good in terms of conversion. Then the next step is to get people matched, and that’s what we’re trying to optimize for right now. Once we have enough matches and connections, we want to get people to do more video chats. And then maybe by the end of the year, we’re going to focus more on getting you out on trips, because there’s no way to optimize step 4 when step 2 is the bottleneck.
Yeah. Have you thought about making digital profiles of your matches, including videos with the description of themselves?
We thought about it, but we’re probably not going to do it for a while. Just because people don’t like making videos of themselves for dating, Coffee Meets Bagel actually tried that. They did a huge push for people to make video dating profiles of themselves and didn’t really take off. Tinder has played around with that, they have these little videos you can incorporate into your profile, but they’re more like boomerangs, not like, “Hey, this is who I am.”
So if none of these companies have been able to pull it off, we’re not going to do it. And honestly, our value proposition isn’t it. Our value proposition is the type of people you’ll find in our app. They are different from the people on Tinder, who are there because they’re super bored or they’re looking for something casual, our users are super passionate about travel and they’re also highly remote. So if your lifestyle is very remote and you want to travel the world with someone — our app is great. And if you want to meet the most people, the most diverse kinds of people, location independent people, you’re not gonna find them on Tinder, unless you swipe a thousand times, you might find one, but it’s hard.
Again I want to highlight that we aren’t just building a dating app, we’re trying to build a community of like-minded people. And so for every person, we get on Fairytrail, we’re actually getting that person to join Campfire, which is our social community. And the social community is really a way for nomads, world citizens, remote workers, to help each other with their goals. So the mission of that group is to make dreams happen: we’re here to like help each other with business and with life goals. You can get into and out of a relationship, it doesn’t really matter. We are looking to build a community.
Already more than 4.8 million American workers describe themselves as digital nomads. 68% of millennials are more interested in a job that can be done remotely.
Google Trends tells a similar story of growing interest in the digital nomad (DN) movement. Some have estimated there will be 1 billion digital nomads by 2035.
Nice. It’s really exciting how the remote lifestyle can change everything we do, including dating and things like that.
Exactly. We’re so mobile now, and technology has made it so convenient to just jump on a video call with someone anywhere and just feel connected to that person or buy a cheap plane ticket. Planes are gonna get faster and cheaper. AR and VR are going to get better. We’re going to feel like we’re next to each other while being apart given what’s coming down the tech pipeline. We’re at the beginning of a big shift in society. Our world is going to be more mobile and interconnected than ever before. I believe remote work will change society as we know it.