2 minutes with Sameh Saleh: Behind the scenes of Harmonica’s “smooth” acquisition

Harmonica, as an app, promises a serious matchmaking for singles in the Middle East to connect with respect to traditions and culture.

The biggest story currently making the rounds in Egypt’s entrepreneurship ecosystem is Egyptian matchmaking app Harmonica’s acquisition by Match Group, the mother company of matchmaking and dating services OkCupid, Tinder, Plentyoffish and others. 

Harmonica, as an app, promises a serious matchmaking for singles in the Middle East to connect with respect to traditions and culture.

With Match Group’s regional plans for Harmonica, the companies took about six months to move from first meeting to acquisition announcement. Being only two years old, Harmonica has become the vehicle helping Match Group enter the MENA region by setting up its first office in Cairo.

Business Forward sat down with CEO of Harmonica Sameh Saleh to talk about how this “smooth” acquisition deal went from seed to fruition.

How did this acquisition come to life?
Our primary conviction and mission is that we are solving a problem that no one else can solve – namely overcoming the privacy and safety concerns that come with matchmaking in the Egyptian market. With that attitude, we had the confidence to actually execute and operate. Match Group is trying to solve the same problem. They heard about us and noticed us during talks at conferences. Given the technology available today, they realized that based on our user traction, we were growing very fast. Hence, they initiated the conversation. We first met in Dubai on February 14 earlier this year – yes, it was Valentine’s Day – but there was no talk about acquisition at that point; we were just trying to understand each other’s visions and how we were trying to solve the dating problem worldwide. We realized that we were basically on the same mission. The following meetings – which were pivotal in my view – were mainly about making sure that Match Group understood our culture and what we were trying to do. It was not just about an acquisition to us – we have a very clear vision and mission and they respect that. Once we made sure of that, they proposed that instead of us executing our mission on our own, we could do it with their help. 

Which kind of stresses or concerns came with the acquisition deal?
It was very stressful, of course, because this is our life’s mission. Our team started with a very strong cause, so deciding to agree to an acquisition comes with its concerns. Is this the right time for us to get acquired? Will it help us fulfill our cause? I was a firm believer that it would help us and in the end, acquisition is every entrepreneur’s dream, but nevertheless, it was still a big decision. The happy moment came when we truly made sure that Harmonica’s and Match Group’s missions are perfectly aligned. We were ensured that we would maintain our culture, and that they would help us fulfill our objectives. I would call this deal one of the smoothest, because we clicked and aligned very fast. 

Besides financial value, what else did you gain from the acquisition?
The true value that Match Group added to Harmonica is their industry insights. They have been in the business for 20 years, and within two months, we’ve been leveraging what they learned throughout those 20 years. It is now up to us to decide which of these learnings can be applied in our culture, and how we can further innovate to better serve our market. We truly saw the value we offered each other. 

Which main milestones led to the acquisition?
Personally, the pressure of Egyptian families to get their daughters married is what initially sparked everything. After that, I would mention the support of my cofounders Tamer Saleh, Aly Khaled, and Shaymaa Ali, once they joined. Next up was our journey with accelerator Flat6Labs, venture capital firm 500 Startups and us winning LE200,000 on Lamis ElHadidi’s TV show “Honna ElShabab” (Here are the youths). Finally, the major milestone was when we facilitated our first marriage between two of our users. Today, we facilitate about 3-5 marriages a day.  

What truly sets Harmonica apart – not in the dating world, but in the business world?
There are market opportunities everywhere, but not everything that proved successful abroad will work in Egypt, and vice versa. Every company needs to have a cultural sense towards what it is doing. When we first decided to tackle the dating issue, we were convinced that no one else would be able to tackle it the way we can. We understand the pain because we are affected by it; we understand the culture, unlike similar companies abroad. These insights are what make our product work. Our dream is to go global, once we fully serve the market we are in right now. 

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