Two years ago, when the Supreme Court read down Article 377, decriminalising homosexuality, Sunali Aggarwal had an idea.
Realising that mainstream dating apps like Delta, Tinder, Grindr and OkCupid did not really meet the needs of the LGBTQ+ community, she began working on a new app, As You Are (AYA), along with co-founder Aditi Gupta (who has since exited the company).
Based in Panchkula, Chandigarh, Sunali wondered whether individuals who are yet to come out have avenues to find partners. A proof of concept, a small prototype of the app, was launched in December 2019 and the team sent out messages within their network. Encouraged by the response (“People are looking for genuine places to find partners,” says Sunali), the app went to development phase.
Overcoming challenges like bugs and decreased productivity due to COVID-19, AYA was finally launched in June 2020. Sunali says, “The idea behind the name ‘As You Are’ is to provide a platform for people without any pressure to change; our focus is more on profiles than photographs.”
- Sunali studied New Media from National Institute of Design from Ahmedabad. Having worked with over 100 startups and software projects, she was also a co-founder of Mobikwik. With an UI/UX background, she has designed the app.
How does AYA work? After users fill in basic details, that include gender, orientation, an email address and a phone number, they have to upload a selfie which is verified by the team. Sunali vouches for their strict verification process where each entry is manually checked including whether selfies are of the same person or not. She remarks, “The mischievous kind get filtered out early in the system. If 100 people sign in, only 25 get through. We try to create ‘safe profiles’ and a platform where individuals experience some level of comfort interacting with each other.”
Users create a personal profile, including hobbies, habits and interests (“Do you like to travel”, “Do you have any food preferences”, “How often do you order in”). The app has been designed keeping in mind that “people do not like to share too much personal information.”
The app is in English, and sees 60 people sign up daily with 5268 downloads to date. Sunali says, “The algorithm initially worked such that we would give matches based on the user’s orientation from the LGBTQ spectrum. Now in the wider spectrum, one can choose the gender one wants to date. The algorithm is now more in control of the user.”
The app’s intent, she says, is clear — dating, and a one-to-one connection while still maintaining privacy. “Here you can stay anonymous; that gives you a sense of security or privacy that may not be available on social media platforms. Verification does happen but the name you are using may not be your real name,” she adds.
With online dating bringing its share of risks, AYA provides safety layers. Yet Sunali points out users also need to take precautions on their personal safety. “Users will meet different kinds of people on social dating platforms so they don’t have to be too friendly or divulge a lot of personal info to others,” she cautions, adding the login details and phone numbers of users with super admins (she being one) can be accessed in case support is needed. If someone is reported, the admin asks for KYC or some proof . Sunali mentions that a few users have been reported, such as men posing as women; their profiles were removed from the app.
Going beyond just dating, AYA also hopes to provide a space to make friends within the LGBTQ+ spectrum.
AYA is only for Android phones and is free until November 30. Post that, the free version will come with in-app purchases.