Following the success of its offline events Social Spaces, Inclov, matchmaking app for people with disability and other health issues, has launched its Social Spaces Plus programme. This programme allows anyone interested in organising a Social Spaces to organise one on their own. Inclov claims to have users from 50 to 60 cities in India, apart from users registering from smaller towns like Nellore and Kithur. Presently available in English, the startup also plans to soon launch its app in Bangla, Hindi and Tamil. We caught with Kalyani Khona, Founder of Inclov to understand the new programme and their app better.
Reason for skewed sex ratio
Hidden Pockets: Which is the age group of users present on your app?
Khona: We have users starting from 28 to say 50 years of age. I don’t know if there’s anyone beyond that age. But majority of users in India are in their late twenties or over thirty years of age. But we also have a lot of young people too.
Hidden Pockets: Earlier media reports say that your app has a 80:20 male to female sex ratio. How are you trying to deal with this disproportionate sex ratio on your app?
Khona: It is really surprising because when we host our offline event, Social Spaces, the ratio is almost 50-50. The hesitation with women is only with going digital.
Hidden Pockets: Is that why you launched the meetup?
Khona: Yes! No matter how long matrimonial sites have been around, even say 15 years, people with disability are not comfortable with going out there and saying that they are looking for a life partner. We saw that people were talking on the app but not meeting in person because they were too scared. So that’s why we also have mobile verification and review process now. We don’t allow screen shots. We don’t allow image circulation. All these features have been developed only to encourage more women to come on-board because online dating and matchmaking is very new in India.
When they talk to a person on the app, they don’t come outside to meet this person or to know what this person is up to. So this is the place where a lot of people who meet each other on our app come to meet them. They say we met this person on the app, we came here to meet them to get to know them better. People are more comfortable meeting them in a place where there are more people around like a common gathering. And both the Founders are also always there. Every Social Spaces that we have attended, Shankar and I are always there making sure that all our fine.
Hidden Pockets: How different is the response of men and women to Inclov?
Khona: It is like all other dating apps that you will see. Women are little more skeptical to be on the app. Even for me, it is more difficult to go on a dating app compared to say my co-founder. He will very easily go on the app because there is no safety issue. But for me, it is much more difficult to put myself out there on a dating app especially to put my photo up and say that I’m looking for someone. It is just a mental thing. This is the general replica. There is no difference between how women with disability and women without disability react on a dating app. They are the same.
Social Spaces and Social Spaces Plus
Hidden Pockets: How do you promote your offline events? How do people get to know about it and come for your event?
Khona: It is about building a community. We’ve been on this for almost two to two and half years now. We have a mailing list. We create events on Facebook. We send invites. It is done in a much more traditional way. Ads do not work for us like Facebook ads or Google ads. We have to be really personal and reach out to people through emails or phone calls and also confirm a day before asking if they need any assistance at the venue. It is a very community driven, one-to-one process.
We are trying to scale this up. We are launching what is called the Ambassador programme to have Social Spaces Plus. With this programme, if anyone who attends our Social Spaces wants to organise one, can go ahead and host it. They will all be Social Spaces. They are our ambassadors. They can invite a group of ten and create their own pocket Social Spaces. The idea is to bring as many people out of their homes as frequently as possible instead of us doing it once a month or once a week. Our vision is to fund Social Spaces by 2017.
At the moment, there is one happening in Chennai and another in Delhi. I don’t even know about it. That is the ultimate thing that I want to get to. People will be meeting under the brand name Social Spaces Plus and people will be driving it themselves because that will involve them and make them more confident to speak to new people.
Hidden Pockets: How many cities do you conduct these offline events in now?
Khona: We have done Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai and Chennai. Bangalore we are going next year. That will be our first time. We have partnered with Lemon Tree hotels. They are our partners for most of our Social Spaces. We also have British Council. So if there are many location partners in different cities then we go ahead and conduct our Social Spaces. It is a much more of a plug and play model. We have an agenda and if we have an audience in that city, we just need to send a push notification. Somebody gives a venue and we host our event there. We don’t do the logistics, the AV, refreshments. We cover no logistics. That is covered by the venue partner.
We look at the agenda, the people coming and the accessibility of the event because that’s our USP. People come because they know that there are sign interpreters so they can talk. There are brail guides to assist you. There are ramps. The washrooms are accessible. People know that when they come here, they don’t have to worry. They know that once they come in they don’t have to worry, six hours or three hours, however long it goes, they know that they will be comfortable with the venue.
Hidden Pockets: How often are you organizing Social Spaces?
Khona: One month right now but we are making it twice a month very soon. We select different cities each month. Last month it was Gurgaon, next month it is Bangalore then Chennai.
Hidden Pockets: What is the format of your offline event considering that there are different categories of people who come there?
Khona: It is a standard agenda. The only thing that changes is the entertainment part. The audience come, we introduce social spaces. We then have a speed dating session where people talk to each other for 30 seconds and then the music stops and then they move to the next person. Then there is the entertainment that keeps changing. One time there was a band, then there was a poetry session and a standup comedy session. This month we have a cooking workshop and most of the men have registered.
We are always there for them. We call for Uber if they want to go home. It is much more personal right now at least. It is about them coming out and meeting people because their socializing can get really restricted at times due to accessibility or their families are protective saying how can they go alone or why should they go alone. There have been times when families have come to drop them off and then said that we are confident that they will be comfortable here.
Hidden Pockets: How are families of your users responding to the idea?
Khona: The families reach out to us and tell us that this is the person that she is going to meet. Can you check with him and let us know if he is ok to speak to us? The families have to come drop them off at Social Spaces and have also attended it to just understand how they meet people. Their response is very positive.
Hidden Pockets: What are the challenges that you face in bringing people on your app?
Khona: Right now it is about acceptance. They do give it a shot but when they don’t see immediate response, it takes them time to get used to. They are not used to this way of match making. The last I know about how they found a life partner was by going through swayamwar of NGOs where they will stand on the stage with a name and phone number saying I would like to find a life partner. Anyone interested come and find me in the hall. From that to the app is a leap that they have to take. And that’s why when they join the app they have a different way of going about with this.
Users want to give their biodata on the chat. And then we have to tell them that that’s not what this chat is for. We tell them that they need to connect and talk to people and then meet them in person rather than sharing your bio-data and getting married to them tomorrow. But it has also happened that they meet and ten days later I get a call saying that they are getting married. We launched the app on January 21, 2016, and on January 31, 2016 I get a call from Anu saying that I’m getting married to Imran. On May 13, 2016 was their wedding. My co-founder, Shankar even attended the wedding in Surat.
Hidden Pockets: What are the challenges that your users face even after coming on the app? What are you doing to solve those problems?
Khona: The main challenge is to get a response from men because women with disability are much more on that edge thinking is this person right for me, will he understand my disability, will he be ok if some infrastructural changes are required in his house etc. I think response bit is the toughest. What we are doing to solve it? Like I said, Social Spaces. When a person reaches out to you and you don’t want to initially talk then you can come to Social Spaces, meet them and talk. Similarly meet other new people and then you can decide if you want to share your number or not. Secondly, in the next three months, we are going to start doing assisted matchmaking where our matchmaking assistants will help them talk to somebody, clean up their profile, go through the entire matchmaking process with them in person through phone calls, Skype calls or personal meetings.
Other audiences on Inclov
Hidden Pockets: Do you have any users who are queer and also disabled on your app?
Khona: None that I know of right now on the app. LGBTQ is another community in terms of inclusion that we want to understand better and actually work towards building something for. For us at Inclov, it is not so much about disability but more about inclusiveness in matchmaking. My concept is not disability and matchmaking but my concept is inclusion in society in general.
Hidden Pockets: Do you have users from other parts of the world as well?
Khona: Right now we have to keep it restricted to India. Users need to have an Indian phone number to get on the app because mobile verification is required. But we plan to go global very soon with this. There is globally nothing right now. We want to get something like this out there.
Hidden Pockets: How are people without disability taking to the app?
Khona: I have personally made calls to a few users without any disability to find out why they are on the app. Most of them are very sensitive because a family member like their sister, is with disability. In one case, both his parents were hearing impaired. He said if I get somebody who understands this and is empathetic towards it, it would be better for my relationship to work out. There are different reasons but mostly people who come on it are open to meet and talk to people with disability irrespective of their criteria. Most people are in their thirties and so are matured enough to understand and go ahead with it if they are looking for a companion.