OPW INTERVIEW - Aug 14 - HowAboutWe has one of the more unique and innovative idating business models we’ve seen in a while. Brian Bowman, the CEO of theComplete.me and former VP Product for Match.com interviewed Aaron Schildkrout the co-founder, co-CEO of HowAboutWe.com. - Mark Brooks
What makes HowAboutWe unique?
HowAboutWe is the offline dating site. It is about getting offline and going on dates. People are posting dates that they want to go on and connecting quickly around those date ideas and getting offline. We will be also launching a site for couples that is also oriented around doing things in the real world.
Do you think that online dating still has a bunch of stigma associated with it? How important do you feel anonymity and privacy are to the online experience?
I think that people experience dating as a private activity inherently because it is a private activity. I do think there is a stigma and a taboo with online dating, and a discomfort with the perceived unnaturalness with the process. But I think that most of the barriers comes from people’s genuine desire for their dating lives to be very private. Particularly private from their social networks. That seems like something that won't ever be overcome because it's incredibly human. The stigma piece is rapidly diminishing.
Do you believe that anonymity should be a user preference?
Some people on many sites, dating or otherwise, experience anonymity as a supporter of free expression, of privacy, of creativity, and the ability to take risks that they wouldn't necessarily otherwise take. People who run dating sites who charge for the capacity to communicate definitely have reasons to keep people anonymous because there's obviously ways to circumvent payment walls if you know how to contact somebody with an app, Tweet, whatever.
Do you think criminal background checks are important?
I think it's very important for dating sites and all sites that involve interaction, particularly amongst strangers, to take very seriously people's privacy and safety.
How do you folks make money?
Our subscribers pay a monthly fee in order to gain access to all of our advanced features.
And how do you guys match people, or do you?
Our goal is to help people get offline on actual dates. The chemistry happens offline. We understand that it's important to have an online experience that connects you with the people that you're most likely to be excited about meeting offline. Our entire framework for matching and for thinking about who you see are based on who we think you're going to have the best experience on actual dates with.
How are you deriving that information? Is it based on interests?
It's much more based on what we experience as people's actual behavior on the site.
Do you feel that the integration of social networking features, whether that's friends, the interests graph pulled out of social profiles, is an important component of dating, or no?
Well, definitely not necessarily at all. I definitely think there is a business, or set of business, that can be built on your social graph that help you to find people to date. I don't think anybody's ever done that well yet, but I think they could. I'm actually thinking about that question all the time.
To that end, how would you define social dating?
The word “social” is so overused that the particularities are far more illuminating than that general statement. I think there are a number of possible ways to use your “social” data in order to provide a better experience. From smarter connections to figuring out how to facilitate introductions, to using your friend graph in order to understand the kinds of people you tend to hang out with, and so forth. There's great potential, but I think it's very, very hard. There's a reason why many, many people have tried. The start-up path is littered with the skeletons of those attempts.
Why do you think that major dating services have not tried to integrate in the social graph or the interest graph?
First of all, they're based on brands that are all about privacy, about anonymous experience, about really protecting those aspects of your interactions. eHarmony and Match are based on very systematic ROI calculations against paid advertising. To skew or mess with that model and that core dynamic is very dangerous.
What do you feel are the most important features for mobile dating?
It depends on what market you're going after. The user interaction is going to be particular to the brand and the target market.
How important are mobile check-ins?
I think the whole concept of check-ins is an out-dated concept in a lot of ways.
Are there any questions that we didn't talk about that you'd like to raise?
Sure, there are many. I think the real question is when we, and possible a few other companies, start to create a deep and genuine threat to Match.com's business, what happens? What is Match going to do? OKCupid was sort of gobbled up by them. I can't wait to see what happens there.
I think they are certainly stuck with the innovator's dilemma. So it will be interesting. If I look back at their acquisition strategy of external businesses, it's really been to fill in gaps where they see weakness. Compression starts around the pay to communicate business models.
Compression has happened many, many times and they've just bought their competitors or destroyed them. That's really effective work. They are very smart, particularly around M&A, they've done an excellent job.
What do you have to say to entrepreneurs trying to raise money in the dating space?
I think venture capitalists generally run away from dating sites incredibly rapidly and for great reason. It takes unbelievable innovation, execution and cash to genuinely disrupt. And basically nobody's been able to do it in the mainstream dating space.
What do you think is unique about Skout in terms of their approach and why it's interesting from an investment thesis?
The actual user experience is pretty atrocious. Their process for converting users and building the kind of virality dynamic that has allowed them to grow so fast, are things that appeal to some people. It's very, very difficult to turn that into a sticky long term experience. I totally understand why someone would invest in that. If I was an investor and I saw that kind of growth, I would at least consider it. Power to them. I'm looking forward to seeing what they do.