OPW INTERVIEW - July 20 - Urban Social is…, well, I’m not sure, so I thought I’d ask the founders. - Mark Brooks
Urban Social is a most intriguing company that has been around since 2004. Can you tell us a bit more about what you do. Is Urban Social an events company or an internet dating company?
Anna: Our core business model is internet dating but our target market has always been directed towards outgoing singles. Our goal was to create an environment that offers them a little bit more than just online dating. So we brought online dating and events together. The events are offered by 3rd party organizers.
That’s very smart using a 3rd party. What motivated that? How does it work with them?
Anna: We only work with the companies that we feel offer the best dating events. We promote the events all around the country, so that our members have the opportunity to get out and meet people at these events, no matter where they are. It’s done through affiliates basically. We advertise them and our members find out about them.
Do they have to follow your event format or do they have more flexibility?
Anna: There is a lot more flexibility. We try and offer a wide variety of events. We’ve had things like blind dating, dating in the dark, “I’m a single, so get me out of here” weekend s and wine tasting dating ….So it’s not just about speed dating, it’s about offering them different opportunities and different ways to meet people.
What is the biggest event you’ve had so far?
Jim: I reckon the St. George’s Day event we did about 2 years ago, which was a fantastic event. We had about 120 people at that one.
What is the founding story? What drove you to start Urban Social?
Anna: We were a group of university friends living the single life in and around London. We felt there wasn’t anything in the marketplace at the time for us when it came to online dating. So we put our resources together and developed a bit more of a fun and niche site that really spoke to us.
How has the site progressed over the years in terms of the size of the business?
Jim: We’ve progressed well. Initially, it was all about getting enough members onto the site for it to be viable. So that was focused around getting hundreds of our friends and friends of friends to join the site. After that, the word spread and we grew quickly. We were also voted the best online dating site one year in a national newspaper in the UK. We also have affiliate programs in place, some key white labels and we’re continuing to grow at a steady rate.
A lot of dating sites have tried speed dating and they’ve generally found that it is tougher than it looks. So what would be your advice to a dating service that was considering running their own speed dating events?
Anna: It’s all about having a niche offering I think. You really need to come up with something different , and make sure you do it well.
Jim: The biggest advice we can really give is to focus locally. It’s a lot easier and cheaper to market locally than it is nationally. And marketing is really where you can lose a lot of money.
Have you run any larger events with over a couple of hundred people?
Anna: No we haven’t, we’ve kept them quite niche , as we feel the atmosphere is better at a smaller scale event . The average event size that we do is around the 50 or 60 mark. We find that they work much better that way.
I worked with Cupid.com back in 2004 when we bought PreDating.com, a speed dating company. We thought the 2 worlds of users would intermingle and get along great. But what we found was the people who came out to events love events and the people who do internet dating love internet dating and never the twain shall meet. There was some overlap but ultimately the socialites were more likely to be out and about than on internet dating services and we didn’t see quite as much overlap as we thought. Is this just an American thing or did you see something similar in the UK?
Anna: We’ve really seen a good conversion rate between the two but I think that’s more to do with our style and our target market.
Jim: We also find that because we offer such a comprehensive service to our customers, we’ve got a very near 50/50 mix of male/female, which isn’t the norm in the industry. So typically we’re targeting urban fun single professionals and those sorts of people tend to be very busy but also interested in getting out to meet people.
So we have found in the UK anyways, that it’s fairly successful. The events certainly appeal to women slightly more than the men, who can prefer online. But when you bring those two together you get great events.
What are your plans for Urban Social between now and 2011? What do you have in store?
Jim: We are looking into expanding our white label service to the US and Australia. We’re also looking at chat features, and a London centric site.