Office Hours: I went on 250+ dates to build a dating app that encourages single people to have authentic, different experiences with their dates and build meaningful relationships. I’m Priyanka Sehgal. AMA!Featured

Hi Elphas!

I’m Priyanka Sehgal and I’m the founder and CEO of Sparkles, an experiential dating app powered by AI. I am an award winning media professional, with more than 20 years of experience in the field. My acumen ranges from TV and digital, in the areas of strategy, product, growth, marketing, monetization, content, programming, partnerships, and IPs.

I built Sparkles to solve a problem for myself. After my divorce, I realised that dating was hard and it was even tougher to find someone looking for a long-term relationship.

To find out whether other singles had the same problems, I went on 250 dates with people of different nationalities in the US, sometimes even changing my orientation — it turned out that the world at large was undergoing similar life problems. I used the research to build a dating app that encourages single people to have different experiences with their dates, by assisting them with the decision making process using AI, while focusing on financial and mental wellness.

Before Sparkles, I worked for a number of major media enterprises, such as Network 18, Times Television Network and NDTV. I have designed world-renowned award winning IPs and programs, which have successfully brought transformational reforms in the news, business TV, and digital category. By identifying new models that benefit the organizations’ long-term goals, I was successful in generating millions of dollars in revenue. I have been awarded Woman super Achiever by the World Women Leadership Congress, Top 50 Most Influential Digital Marketing Leader and Top 50 Content Marketing Leader by the World Marketing Congress.

During my downtime I like to go for a run, do yoga, work on my dance and learning new dance forms, go to concerts, get different experiences via activities and travel and ofcourse read a lot!

Ask me anything about building a dating app, the modern dating experience, growth strategy, content marketing, or anything else like customer discovery, building a product, growing your audience and identifying new avenues for revenue generation.

Thanks so much for joining us @PriyankaSehgal!Elphas – please ask @PriyankaSehgal your questions before Friday, August 19th. @PriyankaSehgal may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Hi @PriyankaSehgal - AI relies on large data sets. What did Sparkles do to prepare for launch with 0 members, 100 members, 1000 members, etc. Did you have an AI-lite version (simple algorithms/logic)? Did you pre-register users (and how did you go about doing this), did you make sample profiles to test your algorithms (how many and how did you go about doing this?), what was the marketing plan to get enough and different users onto the site (is the free 1 year subscription you offered something that factored into this)?Thanks in advance for sharing your experiences and expertise with us.
Hi @Yelena yes to all of the above. Machine learning helps. I did not pre-register for the iOS app but I do receive a lot of pre-signups for the Android version. We are free to use as of now, yes. Focus was to get target users first and use network effects.
Hi Priyanka, thank you for sharing your journey with us and congratulations on your success!Sorry I am late to this party as I just signed up for Elpha but I was hoping you can give us some guidance about marketing and finding your first app user. I am working on an app for emotional eaters and people that always get off track from their health plans when stress hits the roof. Like you, I actually started working on this app for myself and have been using it for a while. I would like to make it available to the general public and would appreciate any guidance given please.
HI @KayKay Congratulations on starting with attempting to solve a problem for yourself first! Appreciate your journey. You might want to partner with support groups focusing on mental health and stress related eating. Also do look at partnering with nutritionists. Share the app link with close friends and partner with other startups that might align with your mission! Good luck!
Thank you @PriyankaSehgal. This means a lot to me. I was looking for groups on FB but they normally don't let anyone post suggestions if the suggestions are not very general. I did not think of looking for local support groups and nutritionists in my community. This is awesome advice! Thank you so much!
This isn't everyone's experience I know (bc I have friends who met and married via apps) but - what I have seen includes women putting a lot of time into them and men gaming them. For example, I discovered that several male friends swipe right indiscriminately without looking at photos, while doing something else entirely like watching TV, walking, etc - then wait to see if anyone matches with them. Have you found that AI helps better bring together people who really would like to be spending time with someone or getting to know them.
Two questions: 1. What is your best dating advice? 2. How did you// what does it take to go from MVP to full product? From 1 customer to scalable?
Hi @Rosi Best dating advice is be authentic, date intentionally! To go from idea to product to scale requires intense customer discovery and understanding of the space. Focus needs to be on making user's lives easier and not adding to their problems. Customer centricity is key!
Hi Priyanka, what kind of pushback have you gotten from VCs? They will admit that in their estimations the sites work when there is traffic and people are paying to be there... they don't 'work' when people actually meet and get off the app. How are you addressing that? What is your revenue plan? Anyone that cracks this is going to be printing money.
HI @jocelyndegance, we believe people connect at different intersections of dating and then relationship building. We offer those experiences ta discounted prices on the app and see couples making those plans when they are dating. There is dating and relationship advice for every stage and person be it dating or in a committed relationship because everyone needs advice and help. There's a community that helps work each other through their dating lives. So to answer your question, we are beyond just dating. We are the partners to finding love and keeping it!
Hi @PriyankaSehgal! Thank you so much for answering our questions during office hours! Based on your LinkedIn, it looks like you went from more traditional employment (W-2 or 1099) to entrepreneurship. Could you please tell us about how your prepared (financially, emotionally, etc) to move from working for someone else to founding a company?
Hi @Aubrey15 I love your question! The transition is never easy, entrepreneurship is hard. For me it was even tougher to want to move away from the limelight of being a media professional in Mumbai to moving countries and becoming a nobody in America! It's a hustle. I wanted to solve a personal problem and built Sparkles. I had to face many letdowns including betrayals. I can only say, brace yourself financially to stay income free for long and expect the unexpected. It is a lonely journey and not everyone shares details for fear of being judged. before you transition, I'd say, have enough savings so you can survive without an income for long or even funding. Build a new network of founders because help comes from strangers. Do enough and more to look after your physical and mental health. Last bot not the least, please don't get tempted to accomplish everything in one go. This is a marathon not a sprint! The only thing that keeps entrepreneurs going is the mission, stay aligned!
@PriyankaSehgal @aubrey15 this is incredibly strong advice in bracing for real life challenges, thanks to you both for bringing this!
Thanks so much for sharing your experience and spending time with us this week! I have so many questions for you on your actual experience going on all those dates (that's true dedication)! One of the main challenges I see in modern dating (from a cisgender heterosexual perspective) is the plethora of options. Men and women both have a lot of options to date and when spending time on the dating apps, it feels like "there's always going to be a better option" so let me keep digging and related to that the phenomenon of ghosting, people simply find it OK to disappear even after meeting in person (some it's after the first date, others it's after many dates!)Do you envision Sparkles tackling this challenge and do you have an answer as to why people seem to have forgotten basic human skills? :(
Hi @iynna that's exactly what Sparkles solves for! The cognitive overload and inability invest in getting to know one person. That's why we offer a compatibility score, and encourage users to go on shared experiences to help get to know each other better, there are detailed background checks. With those experiences, they will have a good time and build memories. I also host Instagram lives from our handle @sparklesdating and we recently talked about ghosting and what would be the right thing to do instead. I talk to dating coaches, psychologists and that's detailed advice and therapy. We also offer predictive score after the date and likelihood the relationship will last. Remember if someone ghosts it's on them not on you! You dodged a bullet I'd say. Am happy to chat more on this, feel free to reach out to me on Linkedin or Twitter or even on our handle on Instagram.
Omg love how intentional this is! Can’t wait to give it a try!
Thank you! Yes Sparkles Dating is all about intentional dating :)
This is so fun! I can't wait to watch the journey of the company too!
Hi Priyanka! Thank you so much for making the time for this! ♥️ What are the main cultural differences you see in the dating experience in the US versus in India? (from my understanding these are the two cultures your research has been based on) I understand Sparkles is based in the US, but is India also a target market? If so, how do these cultural differences affect the way you think about the user journey in your app?
Hi @Josefina, my research was also done in Europe. Am fighting hard the bias of being an Indian founder and hence catering only to the Indian diaspora. Infact that is one of the reasons, I did not launch amongst the Indian community. Cultural differences are key to building Sparkles- Dating is not second nature in India, hence my focus was the West. In India, people look for life partners first without dating them for long, marriage is the goal and focus. In the US, Singles look for getting to know their partner, take their time and then settle down. Sparkles is the sum total of what people all over the world look for- our 8 Moods!User journey is focussed around that, launching in other countries will need localising experiences.
That makes a lot of sense! The cultural differences are fascinating. Thank you for sharing, Priyanka!
Hi @PriyankaSehgal, thank you for sharing your story and willingness to share your expertise! I am also a co-founder of a dating app, United Young, specifically for the Christian community in the US for now. I am trying to learn more about marketing, can you share a bit about which marketing strategies, with little capitol, are the best to pursue and which ones to avoid? I also noticed you are in a lot of publications and are really getting out there and telling your story and promoting Sparkles. Can you share how you got the confidence to do that as well as how did you start to reach out and get people to be interested in sharing your story? Thank you in advanced for your time!
HI @kathleentamboer, I wish you the very best and lot of success to you! Dating apps are the sum total of network effects, attracting users, retaining them and showing them your product has value takes time. I would focus on the network effects first. I do not believe in spending money before you earn as a business unless it is for tech and some marketing. What I mean is I wouldn't do extensive online ads as CAC is high. I would focus on local networks, going hyper local is key to building a dating app. Talking to users everyday is important and solving their problems. I actually turned to entrepreneurship and was hoping to keep my head down and work quietly :) However, I hail from the media and having setup multiple TV channels and digital platforms, speaking in public comes naturally. I didn't reach out to the press, most of them knew me. But if you absolutely must get press, then I would suggest bringing in a PR firm and again going hyperlocal to the city you are based out of.
Hi Priyanka, thanks for doing this AMA. I'm curious to know, with so many established dating apps already in existence, how did you find and/or build the confidence to move forward with your own idea/approach? Being passionate about your idea is one thing, but how do you know if there's room in the market for another competitor (and if it's worth the investment to go after it)? Thanks again!
HI @annemeadows, it's not easy but also it is necessary to find a differentiator in the space and find users and great testimonials. It was my determination and commitment hat made me do the research, move to different countries to build and test first prototype and then to move to a new country to launch. I knew I was solving a problem created by other Apps! What gave me the confidence was when users and Singles I talked to loved the product and want to be on it and stared pushing me to build the Android version. I think the business is not easy, however focusing on revenue rather than funding helps.