As You Are is an Indian LGBTQIA+ social and dating app launched in 2020.
Said to be ‘India’s only social app for LGBTQIA+ folks’, As You Are offers a myriad of options within their app for the community at large. It was formed with an aim to create a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ people of India, where being part of the community is still vastly frowned upon. As You Are or AYA bridges the gap between functioning as a dating app as well as a platform to collectively share experiences within group chats or their in-app community.
We spoke with Sunali Aggarwal, the CEO of As You Are, in an unraveling conversation to discuss the journey of AYA since its inception, security for its users, sustenance of the app in the future, and more!
TFword: In an initial interview with The Indian Express, “As You Are” seemed to focus on being just a dating app. But in one of your recent Instagram live, it was evident that the platform is now more than just a dating app and works as a community/safe space for LGBTQIA+ people to mingle with like-minded people. “A self-evolving ecosystem for people to share their experiences,” you said. How did that transformation happen?
SUNALI: Over a period of time, we learned our user’s behavior with data to support it. A lot of the LGBTQ people are not out (of the closet). Dating is not something everyone is comfortable with. The whole idea of one-on-one dating puts a lot of pressure. There was hesitation in chatting with each other within our app. So, we decided to meet people wherever they are on their journey. As an LGBTQ person, there is a life journey that you go through. You’re closeted, you come out to a few people, and slowly it becomes normal for yourself also. Very few people are able to go through that entire process. We want closeted people to express themselves and ask questions.
The general idea that the LGBTQ community is loud and vibrant… that’s just a minuscule number. They are out and loud because they have gone through that journey. It is difficult to say that there is only one thing for everyone. We needed to build more tech to meet people where they are and create a community.
There’s another reason to create the community. Previously, users could not engage with the feed feature of the app where we posted articles to read. Based on numbers, most people who signed up read at least 3-4 articles. People wanted to consume our content. They want to know more about the LGBTQ lifestyle and talk about it. Hence, we are expanding to become a social platform rather than just a dating app.
How long did it take to launch As You Are into the crowd, and how has the trajectory been going?
I started As You Are early in 2019, but not full-time since I was already running my other startup. We went through the research process needed for a startup. Through it, we realized that there is some space for us to create an impact. We invested a year into research, testing, POC and got ‘As You Are’ released during the first lockdown.
The trajectory has been consistent and encouraging. A lot of people write to us, which is very good even if they are not in line with what we have done. Their openness to give us feedback becomes very valuable for me. In some way, they want to see us succeed, I feel. We take it very seriously.
How do you safeguard the privacy and security of the people in your app? It must be a question of great concern since most LGBTQIA+ people are closeted and seek utmost privacy.
On the app, we have two kinds of profiles – verified and unverified. Unverified profiles cannot see verified profiles, but verified profiles can see everyone. The unverified profiles go through a verification process to chat or interact with other verified profiles.
When a user applies for verification, we do it manually. We look at the selfies and their authenticity based on our guidelines, as well as their data. We look into all of it and accept or reject a profile. You’d be happy to know that we have rejected more than 6000 profiles so far. We have managed to block a lot of spam. Our team works from morning to night just to verify profiles.
Was it difficult to find a breakthrough with an LGBTQIA+ app in India?
Yes, absolutely. I believe it is because of the preconceived notions that people had and still have. People of the LGBTQ community rightfully have safety and privacy concerns. There are instances of people being scammed on dating apps. This fear lingers in the back of their mind when joining another dating app. I think this factor is a major concern.
Breaking through the market is a challenge. We’re still trying to have more people. But the community and the group chat feature take off in a way. On the group chat, you meet people in a group and not one on one. There are no chances of getting scammed because if somebody posts something objectionable, we will simply block them.
Sunali Aggarwal, CEO of As You Are
Your marketing campaign to find “The Face” of As You Are was all over Instagram. Could you talk to us about the planning, execution, and result of the campaign?
We found some really cool faces, and we are still looking for more. I was very happy to see the diversity within the community and the kind of profiles we got. We still want more for sure.
When we go online to find images, we don’t get the kind of diversity we require. For an Indian app, we were looking for Indian faces. We decided to go for a photoshoot and get some pictures clicked. However, I thought the outcome was very unnatural. I suggested we get pictures from our own audience and try to put them together. That’s how the campaign came into being.
As You Are’s Instagram page is more than just publicity for the app. It encompasses every piece of information related to the LGBTQIA+ community. What is the motive behind this?
We have always used Instagram for awareness. Before you tell people to download a dating app, they need to understand who you are and your mission. That’s what we planned to do with Instagram. We’re trying to bring people together, trying to inform the community, and then we leave it to them whether they want to download the app or not.
There have been LGBTQIA+ platforms that originated in India, but over time the buzz fizzled and people leave it to eventually join major dating platforms. How does As You Are stand apart in this context?
I think it’s the intent. We don’t have a choice, we have to make it a success. The community needs it. We need our own space, an Indian space, which is more sensitive towards Indian LGBTQ issues. Although I started it as a rudimentary project to just make people meet, as I went through that process of knowing, speaking and getting familiar with the community, I realized that it can’t just be a dating app. This has to be a bigger thing. We tried to create an ecosystem and that’s what keeps us going. A lot of people who funded us concur with our intent and our mission. This won’t be just another app.
What are the plans for As You Are in the future?
We want to make it an ecosystem. It’s not about meeting people, it will be about your lifestyle and sustainability needs. Recently, we had a lot of conversations about financial independence. We realized there’s a lot of scope for helping people and upscaling them. The whole focus is ‘how to make the community more financially independent.’ I think that’s one thing we will take up in the future and not too far. This is something on the cards for this year itself where we will do something to enable the community.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Download ‘As You Are’ app on Play Store – HERE
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Feature Image Via As You Are.