A new mobile dating and networking service called Chibi, designed to be used by even rural Cambodians, has made an agreement with Smart Mobile to enable anyone with a mobile phone to inexpensively meet and send messages to potential love interests.
Australian David Wilkie and his Khmer wife Mara Kheam describe Chibi as a Cambodian company that appeals to people who don’t have internet access and the social networking that goes with it.
“This gives a dating service to people who don’t have internet. All they need is a mobile phone, even a feature phone to connect with someone. We cater to Cambodians and the idea is for Cambodians to find an easy way to meet each other,” Wilkie said.
Founded by Wilkie, 28, of Melbourne, Chibi was introduced at Startup Weekend Cambodia last September after Wilkie made his pitch at the event and won the competition.
Wilkie’s pitch won the competition giving him the $250 in prizemoney and $200 worth of Amazon S3 vouchers that bought the use of an online server.
According to Wilkie’s design, the computer matchmaking of Chibi runs on Amazon’s service and which connects directly to Smart Mobile.
Wilkie, who graduated from Australia’s Swinburne University with a double degree in Information Technology and Engineering, had been working in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City as a contractor in web development framework when he met the Khmer lady who would become his wife.
The concept is that a user just calls a four digit number, 2442, and gets an interactive voice response in the Khmer language. The user can be looking for a male or female.
“You use your mobile phone to enter the details, as much or as little as you like: your sexual preference, your gender, your age and your location.”
Then, you’re automatically matched with a person that matches the criteria you selected and you can have a private chat.
“The beauty of this is that there are no required criteria. The five things you can put in are your name, age, sex, location, and sex preference. You call 2442. You get a Khmer lady’s voice recording, press 8 if you want to add your info, or hold the line to meet a new friend.”
Wilkie says unlike many internet services, the user’s information is not shared or sold to third parties.
The money is made in the business model because suddenly people are encouraged to send SMS messages.
“We have a revenue sharing deal with each telecom company,” Wilkie said.
Wilkie and Kheam, as Chibi owners, get 30 per cent of the revenues on SMS messages and 35 per cent on voice calls. The voice service is being launched later this month.
For SMS messages, the cost to the user is 5 cents per SMS, and according to the agreement, Chibi gets 1.5 cents and the telecom company gets 3.5 cents. For the voice service, the cost is 10 cents per minute and Chibi gets 3.5 cents and the telecom company gets 6.5 cents.
“The coolness is that it works on any phone. We can appeal to a much larger audience, not just to Cambodia, but in Southeast Asia in general.”
The advantage to mobile operators is they get revenue from increased calls and increased SMS messaging.
The internal structure of Chibi is a complicated matching algorithm, Wilkie says.
“User A makes the call; a guy looking for a girl. That information gets saved. We run the match on a whole database of users, who is the closest match, location or age, or whatever. Based on that we take top five matches and we call the first one on the list and it works if they answer the call.”
The users cannot see each other’s number, and they have to ask for it. They can text offline, having asked for each other’s number, Wilkie said.
“What we’re seeing is three, four or five text messages in a chat, and then they exchange the number in a chat. The beauty of the system is you never get matched with the same person twice. You’ll always get someone new.”
Wilkie says the average age of a customer is under 25 and there are currently more males than females in the system, at a roughly 60/40 split.
“In this age group there are more men looking for women,” he said. “This is our dream. I’m putting all my time into this,” he added.
Smart Mobile CEO Thomas Hundt said the Chibi service is a good way for young people to meet each other.
“The Chibi service is a really cool one and I think we are the first and only operator having such a service,” he said.
On June 25, Smart Mobile will broadcast the service to more than one million subscribers.
Wilkie said he’s grateful to Startup Weekend Cambodia for providing good contacts and advice.
“It definitely helped in promotion, mentorship and connections.”
People who want to join next weekend’s Startup Weekend Cambodia and pitch new ideas can contact Darren Jensen on [email protected]
To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart Alan Becker at [email protected]