Chandigarh-based Sunali Aggarwal was looking at a project in the startup space with her Mumbai-based cousin. Around that time, in 2018, the Supreme Court read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in a historic judgement. “I realised that there were no sophisticated, safe spaces for the queer community. It had no one consolidated platform to connect on, often accessing sporadic Facebook and WhatsApp groups,” says Aggarwal, who co-founded Mobikwik in 2009 and has worked with 100 startups and software companies in 18 years. “Before Section 377 was read down, people were scared of expressing themselves. The concept of dating centred around hookups, and hence apps focused on that. But now, things are opening up, and people want to find like minded persons and long-term partners.”
It is with this idea that Aggarwal envisioned As You Are. Her cousin exited the project early, and the pandemic-induced lockdown pushed the launch from March to June last year. Aggarwal and her team had also done a small pilot in 2019 to gauge the interest and test who would want to come to the app. The positive response gave her the confidence of finalising the mobile app. The forte of As You Are lies in the trust that the community has placed in the platform. The app understands that many within the community have not identified themselves publicly for various reasons. And therefore, it aims to bridge that gap when it comes to dating and connecting with others who have, over the years, become comfortable with and vocal about their identities.
"We managed to cut down on spam early on by allowing only verified profiles to join. But then we realised people had inhibitions and wanted to test waters with the app. So, now we allow unverified profiles only to check other profiles, but they can’t send messages or chat with people,” she says. There are three levels of verification and blanket security. The tech team runs stringent checks on the selfie to verify users on the platform. User categories include ‘verified’, ‘unverified’ and ‘premium’.
The app also gives the users a level of control by offering a ‘no pressure’ zone. Declaration of sexual orientation and/or gender identity lies with the users, who have complete control over the details they would like to share, their preferences, and the overall algorithm. Aggarwal gives an example: for instance, a woman user may not identify as a lesbian but as gay. “So, the app allows for the orientation to remain fluid. We understand that it may change and evolve over time,” she adds.
As You Are has got positive responses from all across the country. While most sign ups have come from tier 1 cities, tier 2 is also catching up now. There has been some activity in tier 3 cities as well. The team is also working on including regional languages as English may not be the official or first language for a large majority.