Long before social media received a global definition from Mark Zuckerburg’s Harvard dormitory experiment, a lot of people had been experiencing the opportunity of the internet as huge meeting place for potential partners and social connections through online dating.
The phenomenon has changed dramatically (to think it used to be email only) to incorporate social media and modern communication. Although it has blossomed as huge industry in its own right we still haven’t seen it gain as much acceptance on the local market.
So why is it internet dating in Zimbabwe hasn’t become a huge deal? After all the problem of finding companionship/friendship/hookups which is addressed by internet dating is universal with Zimbabwe being no exception.
A casual glance shows a lot of online activity from Zimbabweans signing up for these services which is a fair amount of evidence of the existence of a local market. In actual fact now would be the best time for an online dating service to go mainstream in Zimbabwe.
The numbers don’t lie.
As far as target markets are concerned Zimbabwe is primed for dating services. Like the rest of Sub Saharan Africa, Zimbabwe has a very young population with 55% of the country in the 15 to 64 age range. 41% of Zimbabwe is below the age of 15 which represents a rising market that will fit snugly in the teenager bracket.
When it comes to internet dating and social media trends a lot of attention should paid to this market. Where tech adoption and appreciation of new trends is concerned this is the group of early and easy adopters that is likely to relate to any exciting form of social media better than older generations.
While this might mortify most parents this younger market has also dismissed the cultural boundaries that come with meeting someone online, something that has also been worn away by the immense success of Facebook which has also been noticed locally.
There is also the 13% of Zimbabweans that are either divorced, separated or widowed, which is a segment that dating services whether online or offline, always seeks to address.
With 5.2 million people that have access to the internet (a 40% national internet penetration rate) and the oft-quoted but never clarified 127.9% mobile penetration rate (think of the possibility of a USSD dating application) there is a huge addressable market here.
If many are trying where is the one success story?
The whole world isn’t completely blind to the opportunity that exists here though. There are entrepreneurs exploring internet dating in Zimbabwe as a business case.
Most of what exists online are Zimbabwean extensions for global internet dating services. Sites like Flirtbox.com, zi.mate4all.com, datewhoyouwant.com (a somewhat disturbing domain name if you ask me), lavaplace.com and topface.com fall into this category.
So where are the 100% Zimbabwean sites? It would be great to have one that has a totally Zimbabwean approach making a very solid name in this market.
Some sites that seem to be intent on doing this are onlinedatingzimbabwe.com and chachaya.co.zw. Chachaya has also targeted the diaspora as a market extension. At last year’s ZOL Startup Challenge one of the finalists was also an internet dating service startup called Ndeipi.
So maybe from these examples, and among other sites and startups that haven’t gained much prominence, there could be one service that could turn out to be Zimbabwe’s breakout success in online dating.
The market needs a game changer
Yesterday Techtrends from neighbouring Zambia ran an article on how one of the mobile networks, MTN, launched an online dating service called Rate’nDate. Without venturing into how it works, the remarkable thing is how a mobile network has such a service (which by the way doesn’t look like its owned by MTN) on its platform.
This could be what Zimbabwe needs. Perhaps one of these dating services could work with one of the country’s mobile networks which would enhance the visibility of the service and legitimise it in the face of skeptics (an Eco tag is supposed to do wonders, remember car tracking and health?)
All this is subject to a lot of considerations, most of which include legislation on social media. These haven’t even been tackled on a national front. After all, the last thing any service provider wants, especially the mobile networks, is to be treading in murky waters when online dating scams end up on their doorstep.
Whoever wants to go big in internet dating in Zimbabwe has to thoroughly carve out their market, come up with a clearly defined business model (this usually sinks many entrepreneurial hopefuls) and avoid a weak copy-paste approach that just chases the trend that took decades to evolve in other markets.
Do you think internet dating will ever catch on in Zimbabwe? Is the market ever going to accept anything other than traditional courtship and socialising?