PARTNER INTERVIEW: The dating app market is a hugely competitive one, where differentiating and capturing the imagination of users is tough. However, Hud App is making great strides in the casual category, while sticking-by its principals of providing a service based on honesty, safety and fun.

Mobile World Live (MWL) spoke to Edward Chen, CEO and founder of Hud App (pictured) to get his take on his company’s progress and unique outlook.

MWL: What inspired you to create the app and enter the very crowded dating market? What did you believe you could provide which existing players were not?
Edward Chen: When I started working in the online dating space in 2012, it didn’t take long to notice a trend with mobile apps, particularly mobile dating apps. There was a lot of demand for casual dating services on the App Store, but the options that were available at the time weren’t well-thought-out or very user-friendly. What we wanted to offer users is a straightforward, authentic experience – no 20 questions to answer, just immediate access to potential matches. We’re also a swipe-free app, and we prioritise the safety of our users. When we launched Hud in October 2015, it quickly gained popularity on the App Store, and by February 2016 it had reached the top-ten most downloaded apps in the Lifestyle category.

When starting out which elements did you prioritise and how did you overcome the challenges to delivering your vision?
I started Hud as a side hustle, and wore multiple hats – I was the developer, designer, marketer, et cetera. That was a challenge in itself, as I had to prioritise and focus on what was important. And the main element I concentrated on was user experience. From the beginning, Hud’s user experience has been very different to other dating apps, and we think that makes it more authentic and straightforward. I knew I adamantly didn’t want a swipe-based dating app, and that drove the initial design and functionality. In Hud’s early iterations, the user interface was a grid that you could scroll down to see all of your matches at once. User feedback and technological adaptation is critical to the evolution of our interface’s design and functionality, and over time, we’ve made a point to respond to users’ needs and preferences through our development – now, for example, our UI is a scroll-based screen rather than a grid, to make it easier for users to see their matches on today’s smartphones.

In what ways have you differentiated your proposition and how did you overcome any challenges in communicating your message to an audience who were perhaps jaded by previous experiences and perceptions of casual dating services?
We always have in mind that our audience is looking for something different, something that they can’t get from other apps. The majority of dating apps are focused on relationships and long-term connections, and while we definitely have users who have found love through Hud, that’s not our core business. Hud is targeted at an audience who want short-term, casual, safe hook-ups, and our messaging to users reflects that. Our brand’s voice isn’t as shallow as it might seem, though – we constantly reference women’s empowerment, destigmatising the enjoyment of casual dating, and celebrating our users’ unique preferences. So to reach those users who might have had poor experiences on other dating apps, we think our job is to be honest and upfront, to show them we value their safety, and to give them a platform to explore new things and, hopefully, build their confidence about their own needs and Hud at the same time.

How do you expect safety features at the core of your proposition to shape the perception of your business, and what benefits do these provide on a corporate level?
We are proud of the fact we’re known as a female-centred casual dating app, and our safety features have a lot to do with this perception. Society still retains age-old perceptions, perpetuated by patriarchal stereotypes, that women don’t want to be as adventurous in their casual dating experiences like men supposedly do. We know this isn’t true, and our user feedback proves to us that it’s a false dichotomy. One of Hud’s most powerful qualities is that we “get” women, and we don’t condescend to our female users. We pioneered female-friendly features, like chat request, explicit picture blur, and auto blur video chat, and now we’re seeing other dating apps trying to imitate these offerings in a frankly substandard way.

What were the key considerations in designing the UI and how have you driven uptake?
The one design principle I always follow is “don’t make me think.” I believe in minimising the amount of thinking and the time it takes for the user to interact with the app by keeping the UI simple, concise, and intuitive. Hud’s design is appealing and fun, but it doesn’t give the user an overwhelming number of choices – we keep the user experience focused and get straight to the point. Users want to see their matches without going through endless questions or set-up processes, and that’s what we give them. And it has worked out exceptionally well, as we see in our ever-increasing membership. Our user base has grown not only because of our easy-to-use interface, but also because we’ve used non-traditional marketing methods like billboards to attract people’s attention.

Hud is known for being outspoken, honest, and upfront, and we’re proud to be involved with initiatives like the LadyLand Festival at WorldPride NYC 2019, sponsoring safe spaces at events and festivals, collaborating with amazing artists like Chris Habana, and speaking about censorship at SXSW.

How have you used mobile connectivity technology to connect to other applications and services and what benefits is this bringing?
Because we want to keep Hud simple and user-friendly, we are very particular about the other apps we connect with Hud – we do allow users to connect to their Instagram and Spotify accounts, to personalise their user experience more. We are also the only dating app to integrate the SAFE app, which allows our users to display a “SAFE Badge” on their profile to indicate to other users that they have verified STD test results available should they choose to share them. The SAFE Badge doesn’t show a user’s STD test results, just that they have been tested within the past six months, so user privacy is always maintained. This is unique among dating apps, and one of the features we are proud of, because it further highlights our commitment to safe, consensual dating.

What is the ethos of the company, and how important do you believe it is for businesses to consider the mental and physical well-being of users? Is this an area you believe this is something the general app ecosystem can improve on, if so how?
At Hud, we believe everyone’s voice is important. Since I started the company in 2015, we’ve grown from only me doing everything, to having more than 25 employees in a range of roles. Because I’ve had first-hand experience of all aspects of the business myself, I think it’s crucial that each employee has a say in the direction and future of the app. As a team, we listen to and value each other’s ideas and suggestions, and that’s how some of our best innovations have come about. This is definitely an area I believe the industry can improve upon.

Our corporate-level female leadership drives our authenticity and is another unique aspect of Hud. We want to destigmatise casual dating, particularly for women, as we believe that women’s pleasure is important and underrepresented in our industry. The Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has highlighted the importance of mental and physical wellbeing, and how vital our human connections really are. People are experiencing “touch deprivation” – the lack of positive human touch having a negative effect on mental health – and that makes Hud, with our focus on safe, honest, and consensual connections – even more relevant.

What’s your ultimate ambition for Hud App?
We want to make Hud the best commitment-free dating app in the world, and to become a household name. It sounds ambitious, but we’re quite serious. For the past five years, we’ve been constantly listening to our users’ feedback, and responding to this by rolling out new features, improvements, and fixes based on what users tell us. The app has improved a great deal since its inception, and we will continue to work hard to give our users what they want – a positive experience with our app that leads to safe, honest, enjoyable dating experiences.