Delta's Founder Ishaan Sethi explains how he built a safe space for LGBTQIA+ people. which also offers counselling, support and more.Amruta Lakhe
On September 6, 2018, the Supreme Court of India ruled that Section 377 does not apply to consensual homosexual sex, decriminalising homosexuality. Naturally, the LGBTQIA+ community of India rejoiced with rainbow flags, cries of support, and tears of joy. The archaic law from the Indian Penal Code, imposed by the British in 1861, was finally taken down after decades of battle by activists and advocates of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Ishaan Sethi remembers being outside the apex court on that eventful Thursday evening, enveloped in the energy. The founder of India’s first homegrown dating app for the LGBTQIA+ community, Ishaan recalls, “It was the highlight of my life.”
On the first Valentine’s Day after this landmark judgement, he talks about his two-year-long journey to build the app, the resistance it faced, and how love is all-inclusive.
Even as the fight for inclusivity raged in India’s courts, Ishaan was working on an app that would create a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community to meet. And funding wasn’t his only challenge.
“Finding avenues for funding was more of a challenge. Because of the lack of knowledge, people were hesitant to participate,” Ishaan says. Brands didn’t want to get into any ‘trouble’, even though, as Ishaan explains, there were no legal repercussions to it.
Delta launched in April 2018, and its small team began spreading the word around September. Almost 80 percent of its growth is organic, says the founder. At present, there are around 65,000 active users on the platform. It is seed-funded by Shunwei Capital, Co-founder of TrulyMadly.com Sachin Bhatia, and HNIs such as such as Keshav Suri and Ritu Dalmia.
Currently, Ishaan is in talks for Series A funding round. For 2019, Delta is looking to building its tech team and addressing the needs of the non-urban queer population with localised features such as language options, since almost 50 percent of users are from small cities and towns.
While the Supreme Court judgement was a big moment for the community, Ishaan says, it didn’t really affect the app’s numbers. “Legislative changes are one thing, but social acceptance is another,” he says. What did change for Delta, however, was the sudden interest that brands started showing in it. Before Section 377 was scrapped, brands were hesitant to engage with Delta. But today, Ishaan says, they are more willing to partner with it by taking the Delta Equality Pledge. The pledge urges them to commit to fostering an inclusive and safe space, and they are then held accountable via this pledge in case an adverse situation arises. For instance, any Delta user traveling across the country can find safe hotels such as the Lalit or bars and restaurants that have taken the pledge. Other brand partners such as Miss Malini are equal opportunity and inclusive employers.
Ishaan adds, “We look at associating with brands from an ethical lens. We didn’t want to be popular just because Section 377 was trending, but we wanted to look after the interests of the community. Delta is solely for and by the community.”
Delta is not just a dating app. It offers three main services - Connect, Network, and Community. Delta Connect is described as a ‘safe space for users to meet like-minded people’. Users can verify themselves using their phone number, email, and even a selfie check. Then, they can either use the Match or Discover feature. While the former allows the app to recommend a profile based on a compatibility quiz (about family, deal breakers, personality), the latter allows the user to take control of activity on the app.
If you like someone, you can send either ‘like’ them or use a Spark, which is essentially sending them a message. “But unless the other person accepts it, you can’t begin a conversation with them,” Ishaan explains. Sparks are limited, and you are allotted a certain number of Sparks per day based on your trust score.
Delta Network, he says, was born of the need to help the community feel free in private and public spaces. “Even if you do connect with someone, it’s often hard to find a restaurant or any other space where you won’t be judged or looked at oddly. Network provides a list of bars and restaurants on its website that are LGBTQ+ friendly,” says the founder.
Lastly, Delta Community offers a space to host or join groups where people can talk freely about their stories of coming out, or offering counselling help, or peer support.
Ishaan says, “There are hundreds of active groups that see people who are maybe too shy to talk to someone, let alone reach out to others in a group, or have people discussing sexual health and awareness or mental health."
One of Ishaan’s top priorities is to ensure that Delta remains a safe platform for people. “Since apps like Grindr are not made in India, they are not localised for the Indian community. Our issues here are different from anywhere else; we need to pay more attention to safety, privacy, security,” he says. Ishaan talks of the popular China-based gay social networking app Blued, which is under investigation because of the number of underage individuals on it, along with allegations of many users having contracted HIV.
He aims for a different narrative for Delta. The company launched the Indian chapter for ‘It Gets Better’, a global platform to empower the LGBTQIA+ community, apart from being part of many panels and workshops to raise awareness around mental and sexual health.
For the first Section 377-free Valentine’s Day, Delta is offering users a service called Delta Blind, which will set up users on blind dates based on similar personalities or views.
While there are many other dating apps in the market, Ishaan wants to spark something else within the community. “I want people to have real and meaningful relationships on Delta. If I can do that, my job is done,” Ishaan says.