Since the matrimonial app for Muslims, Veil, launched on March 18, co-founder Adam Ward admits he's been amazed by the response it has received. Even without any marketing analysis to date – which would allow Ward and his team to monitor and tweak the app's performance – he says at least 100 new users sign up every day – having learnt of the app by word of mouth – hailing from a wide range of countries, including Kenya, Canada, Poland, Ukraine, the UK and the UAE.
This endorsement is probably a result of Veil's "halal approach", in that it is marketed as discreet and respectful, with images of users kept anonymous until they match with the intention of getting married. Other matchmaking apps, notably Tinder, may be popular worldwide, but their users may have expectations that don't appeal to everyone.
What makes Veil different?
We speak to two young Muslim users of Veil – Amina and Khaled – who say they tried Tinder, but not for long, citing the same problem: it's not for people who want a serious relationship.
This is where Veil comes in, with its aim to bring together Muslims looking to tie the knot, and its strategy of matching users based on their personalities. There are at least two other apps created solely for Muslims, Muzmatch, which has close to one million users, and Minder. However, while Muzmatch gives users the option to hide or display images, Veil is the first app to introduce what Ward calls a "digital veil", an opaque filter that's applied to all profile pictures to hide the identity of users until a match is mutually made. It's also the first app of its kind to be based in Dubai, with a second office in London.
Amina, 28, a Russian Muslim, says she's a big fan of the digital veil. "I like this feature, and it's especially good for women as they don't like to show too much of their faces," she says. "You can see the person in the photos, but it's not very clear until you match."
Amina hopes to get married within the next five years and wants to meet people who are also looking for something serious and long-term.
A fashion photographer who has lived in Dubai for three months, Amina says her career doesn't leave her much time to socialise. "I don't want to go out in the evenings," she says. "It's much easier and more comfortable for me to go home and check my profile on the app." What she likes most about Veil is that a user submits all manner of detailed information about their personality and the types of partners they hope to meet, so that the focus is not merely on the images on their profile.
Prioritising personality over looks
Fellow user Khaled is from the UK originally, works in finance and moved to Dubai three years ago. He turns 30 soon and says he is "getting to that time when marriage is becoming important.
"Meeting people in Dubai is not as easy as I thought; it's a very transitional place," he says. "You might start a relationship with someone, and they leave the emirate after one month."
Like Amina, Khaled appreciates that Veil prioritises a user's personality, as opposed to looks. "I'm seeing more results already, as the people on Veil are more the type I am looking for. I'm checking in every day to follow my progress and engaging more in conversation with other users," he says.
Veil's latest feature allows users to invite family members to oversee a conversation. A copy of the exchange can be sent by email to a parent or guardian if two users wish to match. This feature is not compulsory, but it is a valuable option for some. Speaking of family involvement in relationships, which typically results in an arranged marriage, Ward says: "Family set-ups are still relevant. A friend of mine recently got married via a family introduction. The problem is that families know a limited number of people; you may be introduced to one person in a whole year. Also, these days, people's expectations are extremely high."
Ward likens Veil to social media platform LinkedIn, while Tinder is more akin to Facebook or Instagram, he says. "Tinder and Facebook are very casual and open forms of communication, whereas we follow a more professional marketing strategy and encourage users to approach one another in a respectful manner. We are not a dating app," he says.
The verification process
To stay true to the brand, Veil follows a meticulous process to verify new profiles. Each one is reviewed by the app's admin team to ensure personal information is in line with the app's objectives. If information is incomplete, a user is allowed 24 hours to update or amend his or her profile. Images, too, must be respectful and adhere to the app's rules. If a new profile is not registered successfully after 48 hours, a user is denied access to the app. Up to 10 profiles are being deleted by Veil every day for failing to meet these requirements, Ward explains.
If a match turns out to be unsuccessful, a couple may unmatch and try again. But any user who unmatches too often will have their profile removed. "It's paramount that we keep the Veil community safe," Ward says. "Disrespectful or fake profiles can be reported and if they violate our policy, they will be blocked."
Veil is available for free on the Apple Store, but new features, notifications and "boosters" will soon be made available for purchase, explains Ward, who left his property business to work full-time on the app. To launch an app such as Veil in the UAE requires permission from networks Du and Etisalat, with instruction from the Government, he adds.
Ward, 31, co-founded Veil with business partner Olid Uddin, who manages the app's operations in London. Ward is of Arab descent and was raised in England, but he now lives in Dubai. When asked where he got the inspiration to create a matchmaking app in the first place, he says: "I'm in a privileged position. I run my own business, I'm not a bad-looking guy, I'm young, and yet I find it extremely difficult to find a compatible partner in this environment. I'm an expat, my family isn't in Dubai, and not all of my friends are Muslims – it can be very hard."