Business Insider recently interviewed Andrey Andreev, the reclusive and publicity-shy CEO of dating app Badoo.
Andreev talked about his app’s redesign, as well as his thoughts on an IPO, how his partnerships work, Bumble, and why he doesn’t like publicity.
Read our full interview below, or click here for our report on Badoo.
Business Insider: Why don’t we start by talking through the new Badoo. What are the biggest changes?
Andrey Andreev: The new Badoo that you can see today is just a skeleton for a whole load of amazing, game-changing features that are coming live very soon. Now we have the opportunity to implement them.
Everything is new! We have completely rebuilt the app, created a new design identity for the brand, and analysed and reconsidered 11 years of experience in order to improve and optimise UX and simplify overcomplicated features.
BI: My impression of Badoo has been that an overhaul like this has been due for a while. Why launch the new version now?
AA: You’re right, I’ve been thinking of redesigning Badoo for a while now. For years it started to remind (as we call it internally) us of a ‘Frankenstein’. This happens with every product eventually. As you add features, monetise or simply try to improve user experience by adding new fun components, it eventually becomes like a little Christmas tree with lots of buttons, menus within menus, and multiple confusing screens etc.
The old interface was limiting us in so many ways and even though we had tweaked and improved it many times, it got to the point where I admitted that we can no longer build up new features upon an old interface.
It was a long thinking process and after numerous brainstorming sessions and with the help of the Badoo team, I realised which direction we needed to move towards.
BI: Were you resistant to redesign the app?
AA: Badoo has more than 340 million users who have naturally become used to a certain interface. Before changing anything in the app we always test. AB tests have proven multiple times that even a slight change in, say, position of the button, can result in decrease of activity or revenue. Yep, that’s the real life of monetised products.
So in answering your question, yes, we were resistant. That was the other reason why it took so long to redesign it. We just needed to make sure we didn’t lose any important features by making the new design way too intuitive.
BI: Have you cut any features with the new version of the app?
There is nothing we cut that should have been kept. But some features were optimised. Carefully tested and optimised.
BI: One thing that you’ve mentioned in the past has been seeing Badoo as more of a social network than a dating app. How do you make that distinction clear?
AA: Badoo has a long history and we know what our users want. Yes of course it’s predominately a dating app. But dating for many people is flirting, chatting and simply browsing. There used to be a perception that dating apps equalled sex. But like real life, say, in a bar. You don’t just approach every single person in the bar and arrange a date. Sometimes you just come, have a few drinks, chat and leave and nothing happens. Sometimes you make friends. You can’t just remove social aspect from dating as that would be a bit boring.
Badoo definitely helps you to explore the world outside of your existing circle of friends and that’s another reason why it’s social.
BI: Something that Badoo does that’s relatively unusual in dating and tech is to use lots of different brands and apps. What’s the thinking behind that?
AA: We work with all these companies on a partnership basis. Badoo is a very strong platform that allows us to provide technology to multiple products at once. It’s like a Lego game — we start every partnership by building a product from the sources we already have and then we add bespoke bits that are necessary.
BI: How do those partnerships work? How do you meet people?
AA: It could happen accidentally. I can meet the person, let’s say at some event like Founders Forum or these many, many, many events happen, or people often approach me. And Bumble was a very good example. When we first announced my partnership with Whitney, I got plenty of girls line up at this office asking advice, asking for all sorts of advice about investment and about product advice, and future steps etc etc. It was a hard time. Every time when we publicly do something, I have a number of people interested to talk.
BI: What sort of financial model is there with that?
AA: It depends. If it’s a pure white label partnership where we just provide technology and we just branded our technology, let’s say we did a partnership with Tango, it’s a messenger in the US, and we did this Fiesta, or we did a partnership with Blendr which is Joe’s project. This is just a 50/50 revenue share, from our side we provide the technology platform, moderation, service-side, a whole bunch of things. The whole infrastructure. From their side they provide marketing. They market users, they bring the users. They’re responsible for the users, we’re responsible for keeping users on the platform, monetising users on the platform, making the users happy. This is the one type of partnership.
The example of Bumble, this is a little different because it’s a lot of custom-made things and technology. This is not like direct 50/50. This is what I call tailor-made partnership where we are trying to understand and define the business model together. Trying to find a message together, trying to find the direction of the future project. We use money for future marketing steps, or we maybe not use the money for marketing. But the goal here, if I see the individual who I can trust and I believe that this individual can make this project happen, I’m happy to participate myself and with Badoo infrastructure by providing Badoo infrastructure and providing some funds.
BI: Do you have a list of features, like a shopping list, for partnerships?
AA: It’s a custom process. We have the base, and it depends on what is the message? What is the idea? We probably spend another weeks or months to, in addition, to develop features that are missing for this type of partnership.
BI: You mentioned that you outsource the marketing to your partners. Do you see a point in the future where you would do that internally?
AA: No, I think Whitney is very good at what she’s doing, she’s very strong at marketing and I don’t think this is something we should focus on. We are happy with the partnership that we have with Whitney. We provide all infrastructure, all technology, all the services, and she just focuses on one thing: Marketing.
BI: Are you actively looking to acquire other companies at the moment?
AA: I’m currently really busy with Badoo. We have never acquired anything but instead secured many successful partnerships where we would cover the technological and monetisation parts and the other partner takes care of the marketing and user traffic.
BI: Do you worry about cannibalisation within the apps that you run?
AA: No, we don’t. All of them are very different. It’s like going to restaurants. If a new one opens around the corner, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to stop going to the one you have always loved.
All the apps we’re involved in have a twist which differs them from one another. We offer users a choice/different experiences.
Our mood changes every day depending on so many life factors. Why then expect people to stick to one app or restaurant?
BI: Could you run me through the story of Badoo and Bumble? The TechCrunch article from last year made it sound as if you had acquired the company.
AA: Acquired no. Invested and provided technical support, yes.
Whitney and I started the business together back in 2014, I loved her vision for a female-focused company in the social media space, and believed in what she wanted to achieve. But, given my extensive experience in the dating industry, and hers as well, I encouraged her to execute on her mission in the dating space.
While Bumble has access to some of our London Badoo infrastructure, it runs autonomously as an entirely separate company; headquartered in Texas under Whitney’s leadership.
Although I am focused on Badoo day to day, I am still an active partner in Bumble. Whitney and I work together closely and through what I have built at Badoo, I am able to provide substantial resources to Bumble and am very involved with the product side of the company.
BI: In 2012 you said you were unsure about an IPO. Has that changed?
AA: Badoo for me, is like a favourite child. Quite an old baby, though. Badoo is not just a standalone product. It’s a massive machine, a factory of features with lots of extremely talented and dedicated people working on it.
An IPO for every company means the beginning of an end, when the structure becomes more co-operative and innovative projects are hard to pass through line managers.
Believe it or not, but after 11 years of Badoo it still feels like a startup. We are open to ideas from every single member of our team. We test, make mistakes and create new exciting products for Badoo. What’s not to love? I think I’ll stick to it for a little while.
BI: And how about your career? What did you do before founding Badoo?
AA: Before founding Badoo, I had founded quite a few successful projects, like Begun and Mamba.
BI: You’re based in London — why is that?
AA: I just love it here. The lifestyle, energy, people. I’m a strong believer in that you create what you’re surrounded by. Our UK offices are based in the West End. The reason behind that is because it’s a very lively and diverse area and this is how I want Badoo to be.
BI: Something that has been mentioned before in profiles of you has been your change of name. Why do you go by a different name?
AA There is no conspiracy theory in it, I’m afraid. I kind of wish there was. I used to use my father’s surname but after moving to Europe I quickly realised that people were really struggling to pronounce and spell my name right so I decided to make everyone’s life easier (including mine) and started using my mother’s surname. It also sounds kind of cool, doesn’t it? Andrey Andreev.
BI: One thing I’m keen to touch on is the perception in the west of Russian tech companies. We’ve got Yandex, VK, companies like that, but they’re often reluctant to expand to the west. Why do you think that is?
AA: There are many things that are different in both Russia and the Russian business space. First of all it’s mentality. Russia is such a unique and specific market, it’s very different from anything you see. You don’t just sell coffee, you sell experiences that involve emotions, relationships and specific habits. To succeed you need to know your market very well and live it.
In many cases, Russian products and businesses are very disconnected with western mentality. The presence of local alternatives on the market doesn’t help either. So I guess they decide to stick to what they already know and the market where it works the best.
BI: Badoo has, for a long time, seemed to shy away from publicity. Why is that?
AA: Badoo is a tech company founded by purely tech people. We have never done any PR. Badoo was founded when no PR was needed for tech companies. All you needed to do is actually have a good product — which is a breakthrough in itself. Still to this point we are a very product/ technology driven company and PR is not something we are used to doing.
BI: Is it a conscious decision on your part not to be a part of the public circuit of tech?
AA: Honestly, instead of just playing a public role or focusing on my personal publicity. I’m the type of person who focuses on the business, who focuses on the product, I’m trying to make the best possible things and features. If I have things done, like for example this new rethink with Badoo which happened last week, then I’m definitely proud to talk about this, proud to go out for a little bit, talk, and then go back to my desk.
BI: Is this the new Andrey? Are you going to give more interviews?
AA: No, no, no, no, no. This is something where I cannot hide and be shy. I am not allowed to be shy at this particular moment because we definitely had something very big happen with the company, and I think this is my obligation to talk loud about this and to tell everyone about this.
BI: Is Badoo planning a marketing campaign in the US? Do you want to go head to head with Tinder there or is that market not something you’re focusing on right now?
AA: I’ll leave it to Bumble and we’ll stick to Europe for now.
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