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Online Dating Meets Its Match

You’ve heard the one about the two Webmasters who walk into a single’s bar. One is from Match.com, the company that has grown up as The Incredible Hulk in the muscular Internet category known as online dating. The other is from PerfectMatch.com, the newer, more svelte and brainy dating incarnation from Bothell, WA.-based MarketRange.

PerfectMatch, which uses personality profiling tools and ice-breaking games to bring compatible singles together, is building on the brawny shoulders of its larger and older sibling. And, indeed, the two matchmakers are related by parentage. Match.com acquired the pioneering Seattle company, Kiss.com, back in 2002,  consummating a purchase from the very same developers who now run PerfectMatch and another dating site called Datadate.  Now Match, Datadate and PerfectMatch are again friendly rivals betting that each can play cupid to more successful relationships than the others in this crowded field.

To understand why online dating clicks with so many, picture yourself in that crowded bar or night club, sitting on a stool with a drink in your hand. You have absolutely no idea who the other people are that are circulating around you in the bar. What’s worse, you have no control over who walks up and starts talking to you. This is not the case in the computer-chaperoned online dating environment.

At an online dating community, you’re much more apt to find yourself ready for what MarketRange CEO and Kiss.com protagonist Duane Dahl would
describe as “intentional dating.” He explains it this way, “You can establish the criteria of the types of individuals that you’re looking for, and you can confidentially bookmark those individuals. Say you’re looking for a specific personality type who likes antiquing or hiking, you can spend time going through the site, identifying potential partners, bookmarking them, and then, once you’re in a situation where you feel comfortable with taking the next step, you can begin contacting them. You’re in total control.”

Another industry competitor, known as Lavalife, espouses the need for virtual contact on its Website, “Our cultural history is filled with elaborate courting rituals and traditions. While our society may have changed, our need to be social and to connect with each other hasn’t.” That’s why dating services like Lavalife, presently use both online and telephone-based products to connect partners in throughout North America and Australia.

“The ability to step up to your computer and in a very non-threatening manner partake in seeking out relationships or flirting with individuals or establishing relationships, is beautiful. It is a slam dunk!” exclaims Duane Dahl.

Seattle24x7: How would you distinguish PerfectMatch from Match.com, and other online matchmakers for that matter?
Dahl: I think that with the mass success and acceptance of online dating, the biggest weakness we’ve observed over the past couple of years has been with the technology and communities. We still have these old-school online communities trying to support millions, now over 45 million, online daters out there. They simply haven’t kept up with the demand. We see it with the market leader, the Match.com sites, which is signing up close to a million members a month.  Members aren’t finding success. They’re being buried on the site and they end up turning away and looking for other communities.  The reason is the technology hasn’t been updated and the tools haven’t been put in place to take online dating to the next step.  So that’s what we decided to do back in April, when we started thinking about PerfectMatch.com.

Seattle24x7: You’ve been able to improve on many of the classic features?
Dahl: What we did was look at Match, Yahoo and Matchmaker feature by feature —what was working, what wasn’t working. Straight down the list, we developed features and tools that exceeded any other site. We worked closely with Dr. Pepper Schwartz to develop the Pepper Personality Test and integrate it with the site. It gives the users an opportunity to gain insight on their complementary relationship factors. They can search for individuals who are similar to themselves, or who complement themselves. Match has a personality test, and the test is fun. But if you’re not doing something with the results of the test to provide the member some assistance or assurance, then it becomes  just a Cosmo-style quiz.

Seattle24x7: Better living through science?
Dahl: What we did, in addition to the Pepper Personality Test, is a Myers-Brigg type indicator, where, upon completion of the test, you’ll have an opportunity to actually search for other personality types. That was our thinking with Perfect Match — design a site that is a more intelligent approach, better tools, better match technology and a site that ultimately would allow its members to be more successful.

We’ve improved on other user experiences a well. For example, we’ve taken  the concept of the Black Book or the HotList one step further. We’ve added the ability to make confidential notes on prospective partners.  Another feature that we’ve built in is “ice breakers.” Everybody has some sort of an ice breaker, some call it wink or flirt.  Well, if I’m on Match.com and I see a profile and I’m not a payer but I want to make contact, I can’t unless I pay. Dating sites want to give you the opportunity to tell someone that you’re interested in them without them communicating to you – a sort of a hook to buy – so, I click on a button it says “Wink” and you get an email that say’s “Duane has winked at you.”  Well, that may be cute the first time or the fifth time, but by the 47th time, what’s the point?

What we’ve done is teamed up with the Seattle based gamemakers of Thepollgame and in our ice breaker tool, you’re actually playing a round of Thepollgame.  There’s three thought-provoking questions. You answer how you think the person who you’re sending the ice breaker to would answer, and you actually engage someone .  There are questions that come from three core areas.  One is relationships.  One is politics and government. And the third is general interest.  So a question might be “Are you still in touch with anyone from high school?”  It’s taking the concept of breaking the ice and doing just that.  That first communication is always the most painful.  You don’t want to sound like a goof.  You don’t want to sound too aggressive or too passive. Through the partnership with Thepollgame, we’ve been able to add a fun feature that members can benefit from, not just some silly throw-in.

Seattle24x7: You’ve also launched Datadate.  Can you contrast the two dating sites for us?
Dahl: We went down the path building PerfectMatch in April. As we got into May, we became aware of a couple of existing opportunities that existed in the marketplace to acquire sites—one of those opportunities was dataDate.com.  What we liked about Datadate was that it was an established online dating community, it had a fair amount of success, it had a good membership at just over 600K members, having surpassed a million members since 1999.  Their philosophy was consistent with what we were trying to do in taking a more serious approach, while still having fun with online dating.  With that opportunity coming before us, we took a look at it and we decided to pull the trigger—we ended up closing on Datadate on June 1.

We know there’s a tremendous amount of cross-fertilization in the online dating space—we wanted to make sure that we had two products that weren’t identical yet at the same time filled a need in the marketplace. We took the approach with Datadate of skewing a little bit younger, a more active, fun, single’s site; whereas the PerfectMatch site skews just a fraction older, to the more serious relationship-seeker, if you will. An experienced online dater who is looking for the tools to ultimately land themselves in a long-term relationship would find those at PerfectMatch. Our partnership on Datadate is with Chuck Woolery and Tom McKnight, the author of “Love Factors.” It also offers some unigue, yet proven interactive tools never seen in this space before.

Seattle24x7: What does the business model look like?
Dahl: On all three of our sites, our belief is that we’re not going to take your money until you have had an opportunity to take a look at the community, participate in the community, get a feel for what we’re doing and, making sure that you fit in. There a lot of sites out there where you’ve got to pay your $19.99 or $24.95 before you even step in door. Our philosophy is that we allow folks to come to the site and  join the community at no charge. We give everyone, depending on the site, a three-day trial or a seven-day trial, so they have an opportunity to use all the features.

Seattle24x7: Any feature integration between dataDate, TalentMatch and PerfectMatch?
Dahl: One of the things we’ve tried to do with TalentMatch is to offer members as much exposure as possible, both through the community and outside of the community. To that end, what we’ve done is actually developed an Internet radio product, The Indie Radio Network for PerfectMatch and Datadate. You can go to our player and listen to jazz selections, independent music, heavy metal, you name it, from some of our best independent artists on the TalentMatch site.  The feedback from that has just been fantastic. It’s totally unique.

Seattle24x7: How do you feel about the 5-minute dating or speed dating scene? Is that something you condone?
Dahl: Absolutely. Back in the Kiss.com days, we started doing 5-minute dating and offline events across the country. We’re big believers in an offline strategy. We definitely see the value and it’s an opportunity to extend the brand.  Brand extension is something that Match.com does very well – though I believe they’ve gone a bit overboard. You go to the site and you’re bombarded with everything from Match Travel to CitySearch, Expedia, to all of the USA Interactive Corp companies.

Seattle24x7: When you sold Kiss.com were you under a non-compete that has since expired and allowed you to come back to this field?
Dahl: Oh yes, my non-compete ran through March 31 of this year. Certainly, even if my team wanted to jump in and begin to build or participate in anything that had to do with online dating, it wouldn’t have been appropriate. One of the exciting things about the theme of MarketRange is that we’ve launched the TalentMatch site and it has now attracted over 50,000 members.  It’s signing up over 6500 members a month and we haven’t even begun our marketing or advertising campaign. It’s been so viral that it’s real exciting. Now we’re in a situation, with Datadate and PerfectMatch that we’ve got our three properties up and launched –  now the fun part begins – driving members to the site to enjoy our team’s work! [24×7]