In my last few blogs, I've looked at various aspects of the fintech industry, including the UK sandbox regime and the regulation of ICOs. However, with Valentine's Day upon us and love in the air this week, I thought I would pivot somewhat and delve into another sub-sector of the tech world - the online dating industry.

Earlier this month, the Match Group published its fourth quarter and full year financial results for 2017. The holding company for popular online dating brands like Tinder, OkCupid and reported incredibly strong results for 2017, with 7 million subscribers across all of its business lines and total year-on-year revenue growth of 28%. The Tinder brand alone exceeded 3 million subscribers in 2017 and, according to Match, was the 2nd highest grossing app globally last year.

With the Match Group focused on "untapped market opportunities" and "continued growth" for 2018, I couldn't help but wonder: Could Ireland be the perfect match for the online dating behemoth and others like it, as they continue on their path to international growth?

The Full Package

Ireland is well known for its competitive corporate tax rate of 12.5%. However, as a place for doing business, Ireland is not just a pretty face – it's got the whole package. While our competitive tax regime is an important factor in attracting multinationals to our shores, time and again, it is Ireland's people and overall value proposition that drive these companies to stay and invest for the long term. This full package has led to Ireland being ranked by Forbes as one of the top 10 Best Countries to do Business in 2018.

From a talent perspective, multinationals operating in Ireland have access to one of the most educated workforces in the world. The share of 25-34 year olds in Ireland with a third level qualification is 52%, compared to an OECD average of 43%. The country offers international employers a broad and skilled talent base, with well-educated, ambitious and adaptable workers (its workforce is ranked first in the world for flexibility and adaptability). As well as this, the workforce is increasingly multicultural and diverse - for example, at Google's EU headquarters in Dublin, there are employees from over 65 countries, speaking over 45 different languages!

In addition to our talented workforce, the Irish government through its various arms is committed to ensuring there are no barriers to entry for international trade and is continually introducing initiatives to ensure that Ireland is a great place for international companies to do business. For example, as well as providing financial assistance in the form of grants in certain cases, IDA Ireland – the Irish government's inward investment promotional agency – offers invaluable logistical and practical support to international companies establishing or expanding their Irish operations. From the provision of practical information on the costs and process involved in set-up to arranging site visits and introductions to peers, they facilitate a seamless and straight-forward set-up process for international companies in Ireland.

Similarly, on the immigration side, the Irish government's Trusted Partner Initiative aims to streamline the process for international companies moving overseas employees to Ireland. Companies that have signed up to the program can avail of a fast-track application process that enables them to obtain work permits for overseas employees in less than two weeks.

From a data privacy perspective (a particularly important area for data-rich companies in the online dating sector), the Office of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) is known for adopting a practical and transparent approach to privacy regulation and is generally recognised as one of the most competent and experienced regulators in Europe. In anticipation of the roll-out of the General Data Protection Regulation in May of this year, the ODPC has recently established a dedicated team to work with the major data-driven companies based in Ireland – the only team of its type in the EU.

Like Attracts Like

Much like an online dating profile, when it comes to investing in Ireland, like attracts like. Ireland has a well established track record for attracting North American online consumer and social media companies to its shores, and this makes it a natural fit for online dating companies looking at their international expansion options.

Social media giants like Facebook, Google, Twitter and LinkedIn have all used Ireland as a base to establish and successfully build out their EU operations. Some of the key activities undertaken in Ireland by these companies have included R&D, professional services, EMEA sales and tech support, software development, shared services centers, data centers and cloud services.

Just last week, Google announced the opening of a further Irish office in Dublin, which will house their Enterprise and Cloud teams and will play a vital role in rolling out Google’s cloud and enterprise business across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. This announcement brings the total Google investment in Ireland to €809 million, with the company’s EMEA HQ now employing over 7,000 people.

Facebook is also in the process of expanding its Irish team with plans to hire as many as 800 new people in 2018, an increase of more than one third to its 2,200 strong Irish workforce. Gareth Lambe, head of Facebook Ireland, noted that Ireland was “an important part of Facebook’s story and one of the most vibrant tech communities in the world”.

Dating by Numbers: Plenty of Fish in the Irish Sea (and Beyond)

They say that dating is a numbers game. So let's take a look at Ireland by the numbers:

  • 41% of the Irish population aged 16 and over are single.
  • There are more than 535,000 non-Irish nationals living in Ireland, with people born overseas accounting for over 17% of the country’s population.
  • Ireland has the youngest population in Europe, with 33% of the population aged under 25 and almost half the population under the age of 34.

Looking at these figures alone, Ireland offers direct access to a broad and diverse potential user base for the online dating industry – and an impressive 1,544,900 potential love matches to target! It's little wonder then that the Tinder app has already broken significant ground in Ireland, with over 200,000 Irish subscribers, and almost 50,000 Irish people swiping left and right every day!

However, more significantly, looking beyond Ireland's own shores, the country also offers access to a far broader dating pool: the entire European Union. As a committed member of the EU, Ireland offers access to a market of 500 million consumers for the online dating industry to tap into – that's a whole lot of potential matches! And with the UK's exit from the EU pending, Ireland's value proposition as a strategic, English-speaking entry point to the largest and wealthiest economic bloc in the world (even without the UK) is set to become more important than ever.

Time to Swipe Right for Ireland?

There are currently around 2,000 companies in North America operating in the online dating sector. For many of these companies, the EU single market represents a potential dating pool of 500 million people and the establishment of operations within that single market will be an inevitable step in their path to continued growth.

With its young and diverse population, its ongoing commitment to the EU, its pro-business policies, and its well established track record for attracting (and keeping) online consumer and social media giants, Ireland is a natural and logical fit for the online dating industry as a strategic base for European operations.

So could 2018 be the year that the online dating industry finds its perfect match in Ireland? I say it's time to swipe right!