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Backed by MMT and Truly Madly’s Sachin Bhatia, he started India’s first LGBTQIA dating and community app

Binjal Shah
30th May 2018
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Ishaan Sethi’s Delta, a homegrown app that addresses the unique problems of the Indian LGBT community, works through three sections: Connect, Network, and Community.

Among myriad other interesting things, Ishaan Sethi is a fitness fiend, a lover of all things furry, aficionado of food, and gobbler of desserts. But his corporate job chained his creativity to a desk while society at large shoved his identity into a box. As an analytics professional belonging to a family of entrepreneurs and a member of the LGBTQIA community who wore his identity on his sleeve, the solution to both these problems happened to be one – starting Delta, India’s first homegrown LGBTQ+ dating and community app. And with Make My Trip and Truly Madly’s Sachin Bhatia coming on board as an adviser, Ishaan is all set to unite this colourful community in India and fuel a movement through love and celebration.

How Ishaan met Sachin

Ishaan, 27, grew up in Delhi, and holds an undergraduate degree in economics from Brown University (US). He decided to come out when he moved to Portland to work at Nike. Moving to a city where no one knew him was the perfect fresh start for the new phase of life he was embarking upon. “While I did not face much resistance, I did face some confusion. However, with time, people understand that homosexuality isn’t a disease and that sexuality and gender themselves are a spectrum,” he says.

He continued to live in the US, clocking a stint in marketing and analytics in NYC, but the idea of just sitting and crushing data on excel sheets all day, every day for years “made (him) want to dig a hole and live in it”, he tells us.

A distinct gap he perceived in the market led him to work on his first startup. Ishaan moved back to India in 2014 to co-found his first startup, in the analytics space. While he exited that venture eventually, the entrepreneurial bug had burrowed itself in him by then. “My dad has been an entrepreneur himself and always encouraged me to follow my passion. This, as someone who identifies as part of the LGBTQ community, definitely lay in addressing the needs of the community based on my own experiences and what people had voiced,” he says.

Ishaan first met Sachin Bhatia, the Co-founder of Make My Trip and TrulyMadly, when he worked with him through his previous startup for analytics. Apps like TrulyMadly, a dating and matchmaking app, are covertly heteronormative; they focus on protecting the interests of women while not necessarily being intersectional in their approach, and are, effectively, averse to the needs and challenges of another marginalised section – the LGBTQIA+ community.

When Truly Madly went live, Sachin was inundated with requests from LGBTQ+ persons to build an app that could be a safe space for them as well. “Although a great supporter and ally, he did not want to create something for a community he couldn’t completely understand. That is when he discussed the idea with me – and we realised that Delta, as an app, had a much larger mission. It was to create a safe space for the community to meet like-minded people, explore shared interests, access peer support, and come together to amplify conversation surrounding our issues – like helping brands adopt more inclusive policies,” Ishaan explains.

How Delta works

The app, essentially, has three parts: Delta Connect, live now, is creating a safe place for users to meet verified, like-minded people through powerful security and compatibility methods. Delta Network provides a centralised space for users to find LGBTQ inclusive venues, businesses, professionals, and other resources, in addition to a calendar of events, across India. Delta Community, to be launched a little later, will power a secure space for users to explore shared interests, access peer networks, and engage in discussions.

While the Network and Community features will be entirely free, Connect will have a freemium model - users can use the app to full functionality based on their trust scores. “Connect is a safe place for users to meet verified, like-minded people. The freemium model acts as a filter for intent. As we reach a critical mass of users, we will look towards advertising and strategic alliances for revenues,” Ishaan explains.

Targeting members of the LGBTQ+ community heavily, the app is also open to allies. “We’re obviously more skewed towards the community itself because features such as Connect are oriented towards helping people from the community,” he says.

The Network already has over 100 signups from brands and venues, including The Lalit Group, The Olive Group of Restaurants, UrbanClap, MissMalini, The Park Hyatt (Chennai), and various others. “We have also started leveraging strategic partnerships that are mutually beneficial – like Kashish 2018, the largest LBTQ+ film festival in South Asia. Apart from monetary help, we’re working on a host of in-app features that made Kashish way more accessible and easier for attendees to navigate and engage with!”

Perhaps one of the most - if not the most – valuable features of the app is that the creators want to keep it safe from trolling, bullying, and hate speech. “We do not want to moderate users to the point that we stifle conversation. Our basic technological interventions ensure strong reporting mechanisms that flag content or people, and relevant action is taken if someone is found violating the guidelines,” he says.

On a larger mission

In an international landscape, there are other apps such as Grindr, Blued etc., but a majority are in the “hookup or dating arena”. “We cater to the challenges prevalent here, so, our app’s features resonate with audiences massively. Features based on security, compatibility, and those that provide simple but effective ways to connect with others in a non-hypersexualised environment work very well,” Ishaan says.

While building a business itself is a relentless, often lonely road, this is especially true for a business tackling a social taboo. “However, when you realise that the work you do is making a very real and positive impact in the lives of others, every challenge you face feels entirely worth it. Many users come from small(er) towns and cities; people who previously had no one to interact with or reach out to are now finding their voice,” he says, signing off.

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