Sex and relationships

Muslim matchmaking app Muzmatch is no Tinder – it’s all about people looking for marriage

  • Muzmatch has almost one million users and was founded by an ex-Morgan Stanley banker
  • The app is for Muslims who are looking to find a partner to marry. There is even a chaperon feature
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2019, 12:04am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2019, 1:58am

With pun-filled taglines like “Halal, is it me you’re looking for?” and “You had me at halal”, Muzmatch may seem like just another quirky dating app – but there’s much more to it than that.

Muzmatch is targeted at finding marriage partners for Muslims around the world – and it claims to be close to hitting one million users globally.

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Operating in almost every country – though most popular in Britain, the US and Canada – the location-based app shows users the most relevant people near them based on a “sophisticated algorithm” that considers a number of different factors based on information they provide in their profiles.

Muzmatch was the brainchild of 34-year-old Shahzad Younas, a former Morgan Stanley banker who left his job in June 2014 to learn how to build apps after he had the idea for the company.

“I thought, ‘Why is nobody doing an app for the Muslim market?’ We didn’t have anything, we were still on websites.”

As a Muslim himself, he says he understood “the market, the audience and the problem” – something other companies had a lack of expertise in.

“For Muslims, marriage is such a big part of your life. We don’t really date, we marry,” Younas explains.

He adds that the Muslim market is generally “at least five years behind the mainstream market and dating apps” with mainly web-focused platforms – so he decided to make Muzmatch mobile-only.

In April 2015, initially using almost US$200,000 of his own savings from his nine-year banking career, he launched the first version of the app from home, and grew it to 50,000 users around the world in less than a year.

“They just heard about it going to mosques, hanging out, literally spreading the word by any means,” he says. “I thought, ‘There’s clearly a demand here,’ but it was just me doing all of it.”

Luckily, he came across iOS engineer Ryan Brodie, now 25, on LinkedIn in April 2016. “He’s kind of like me, an engineer, can code, and had some start-ups himself. So it was perfect,” Younas says.

Brodie, who had successfully started and sold two companies in the events and consumer tech space, says even as a non-Muslim he immediately saw the opportunity for Muzmatch.

Starting from scratch, the pair revamped and relaunched the company in August 2016. By halfway through 2018, they had 500,000 registered users.

It’s free to sign up on Muzmatch, initially using just your date of birth and gender. You can then start swiping through people near you.

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“To get initial users on board, we appreciate they might not want to fill out 30 different fields,” Brodie says, adding that once you make your first match, you’re then asked to give more information for your profile, such as your sect and ethnicity. One profile, for example, might state: “Modest dress, sometimes prays.”

When users get a match, they get a prompt to get a conversation going. They can also go “premium” for 20 pounds (US$25) a month in return for extra features, such as unlimited swipes (there’s a daily cap for free users), more advanced search filters and preferences, the ability to reset or change past swipes, and being at the front of the queue for users around you.

There are a number of things that make Muzmatch different from its competitors, however. Firstly, users have the option of blurring their photos or using a nickname. “If [you choose to do this and] you match someone, they still can’t see your photos [or name], and it’s up to you when you reveal them,” Brodie says.

Younas adds that after profile sign-up, the app also prompts users to “keep things Halal”. “For us, it’s a lighthearted way to remind users of what’s expected,” he says. “We’re not a casual app … The whole point of our app is we want serious people looking for marriage, serious about a relationship, so people invest a lot of time and energy into the whole process.”

The duo add that this type of “oath” is starting to be introduced to other mainstream apps, such as OkCupid.

Muzmatch also claims to be the only one in the world with a chaperon feature, which allows a friend or relative to be present in a chat. “There’s an Islamic principle where when a guy and a girl are getting to know each other there should be a third party present,” Younas says. “For [some users] it’s important – if it didn’t have that feature, they wouldn’t use it.”

Brodie says that a dedicated team manually approve each profile to confirm users are who they say they are, and users also have the option to provide “positive feedback” on another user after they match and have a conversation, with enough positive praise resulting in profile badges

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“We want users to feel comfortable, but equally we need people to feel that, actually, this is a more serious place, it’s not just for messing around,” Brodie adds.

This is a message that’s clear not only on the app, but also through Muzmatch’s marketing campaigns.

In October 2018, it launched ads on the London Underground with catchy phrases such as “Halal, is it me you’re looking for?”

It launched a second campaign in January with similarly tongue-in-cheek taglines.

Younas says the company wanted to put out a positive message that was also humorous. “It’s a side that, especially for the Muslim segment, doesn’t get portrayed that often,” he says. “Sadly it’s nearly always negative. [We wanted] to do things a bit differently, freshen things up a bit.”

He says reaction to the ads has been “overwhelmingly positive”.

“Obviously there were a few EDL [English Defence League, a far-right, Islamophobic organisation] types who basically don’t like any sort of Muslim reference,” he adds. “We had a bit of that, but that was one per cent of the feedback.”

The strategy seems to be paying off. In the summer of 2017, Muzmatch was accepted into Silicon Valley-based accelerator Y Combinator, which has backed the likes of Airbnb, Dropbox and Reddit, and provide a network of resources and support for start-ups – as well as investment.

“They invest US$120,000 for seven per cent of the company; 13,000 companies apply, 800 are flown out to San Francisco for an interview, and 100 are accepted. It’s harder to get into than Harvard University,” Younas says.

He adds that Muzmatch was the first Muslim-centric start-up to ever be backed by Y Combinator.

Also in summer 2017, the duo raised just under US$2 million in seed investment. They’ve even turned down attractive acquisition offers because they believe in the future of the business.

For Muslims, marriage is such a big part of your life. We don’t really date, we marry.
Shahzad Younas

Part of this is because the duo believe they have a sustainable business model. “People doubted we could monetise this market at all, but the model we have works,” Brodie says.

Younas adds: “Even though most users don’t end up upgrading, because of the scale we’re at, the people who do more than cover our costs and make sure we can invest in the platform.”

However, he also believes the interest in Muzmatch is because no other company has been able to cater to this market before. “Probably more so with other faiths, people are more open to marrying outside the faith, but generally for Muslims people stick to their faith,” he says.

“You’ve got things like JSwipe for Jewish people, Christian Mingle for Christians, but for [Muslims] we have to remember that generally people don’t date. They use the app to find someone to have a few initial chats with and have coffee a couple of times, and then they get the family involved.”

Traditionally, he adds, Muslim parents would call women called “aunties” who would charge thousands to match up their son or daughter with someone in the community. However, now young Muslims are meeting people and having conversations themselves.

“People are getting younger and younger when they’re finding Muzmatch. They’re getting the experience of meeting people, talking to people, having that social interaction,” Younas says.

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Now, Younas and Brodie are looking to grow with at least 10 new hires.

“We’ve grown to the stage where we’re going to hit one million members very soon, mostly by word of mouth,” Younas says, adding that the company is growing even faster than digital mobile-only bank Monzo, which reports to have 20,000 new sign-ups a week.

“Now we’re looking at how do we get to five million, 10, 20? For us, there are 1.8 billion Muslims around the world. We reckon 300 to 400 million of those are single and eligible in terms of our app – that’s a massive user base.”