OPW INTERVIEW - Sep 11 - Beverly has a spin on mobile dating. She thinks daters should be able to call out the times they’re available as well as the date they’re interested in going on. She’s a busy New Yorker, and her service caters to similar. Here’s Beverly May, the CEO of MiniDates.com. - Mark Brooks
How do you define MiniDates? How is it different from other dating services?
We're the first service that sends you dates around your schedule as well as who you're seeking. Our logo is a wine glass and a coffee cup combined. We only allow dates in coffee shops and bars. Because we also believe that for most people on a first date, all they really want to do is have a quick interaction.
And how's the site doing?
Well, so far so good. We've got 3,000 people on a waiting list that we've gathered over the last three months. Anyone can join free and try it out.
What's your considerations on privacy in the app?
We do a number of things to help protect our members' privacy. For one, we validate their email and their phone number. The woman gets to choose the venue. All of the venues that are listed in the app are either coffee shops or bars. Users can communicate through blind SMS or blind email. Members can be flagged or reported as dangerous at any time and their profile will be immediately taken down and put under review by our internal team.
How are you letting people define themselves in their profile on MiniDates?
It’s not as comprehensive as eHarmony and it's not as short or picture oriented as Skout. But our goal is to get people offline to see if there is chemistry. So we ask the minimum number of questions that would be sufficiently comprehensive to allow you to decide whether you want to meet that person.
Safety is so very important. Your app really brings people together very quickly. Did you think about criminal background checks?
It is something we are considering adding in at a future time.
How are you matching people?
We do three levels of matching. It's who you're looking for as well as when and where you're free.
Do you believe in personality profiling?
Even with personality profiling, it doesn't assess the intangible component of attraction and whether there's a spark with that person or not. I think it gets you part of the way. Ultimately you need to meet the person, so that's what our focus has been.
How would you define social dating?
I think social integration and social graph integration is an important trend in the industry and something that we are considering for our service. A future release will allow users, for example, log in using Facebook and auto import some of the key components of their profile from Facebook. As well as potentially revealing their public identities, should they choose, on the service as part of their profile. I do think that there's a trend where millennials especially are very interested in and open to sharing. They want that validation. They have no problem having the same identity on a dating site as they have on social networks. With our service, you don't have a username, you use your real name.
Let's talk about the development of the app. You're a usability designer, right?
That's right. We have a user experience and product development consulting company, Oxford Technology Ventures, which helps other companies launch effective products and services. We've done user experience and usability now for over a decade, and over four years as Oxford Technology Ventures. We saw an opportunity in the dating space because many of the existing services are very frustrating for users.
Do you help your members with the second date too?
After you go on the date, you're prompted to rate that person. So we ask you questions such as: Did the other person show up? Were they on time? Would you recommend them to a friend? Were they courteous? The final part is when you say whether you want to share your contact information with them and also would like to be re-matched with them. So you can decide to be re-matched, and the system will auto schedule you for a second date.
Under what criteria do you eject members from the community then?
Basically three strikes and you're out. So if you don't show up three times, chances are it wasn't a mistake.
And that's it, they're out? Never going to let them back in?
At least for a little bit of time. Let's say three months or something.
Tell me more about how you developed the app. Is it HTML5 or a native app?
We chose to go HTML5. Any Android or iPhone user, or anyone on a desktop using a modern browser – not Internet Explorer, but Chrome or Safari – can access our app. And when they access it at app.MiniDates.com, they will all have the exact same experience, whether they are on a mobile phone or whether they are on a website.
What's missing? What are the additional features that you will include with a native app?
iPhones do not support photo upload on a web browser. This isn't specific to MiniDates. The other thing is that we can't do in-app notifications. But we already enable text and email notifications and you can get notifications when the app is open. So not many benefits really. It's basically just like a native app in terms of how it feels, how it looks, and how it operates.
What's your position on location-based services? Will you integrate LBS into the future MiniDates?
We may. The problem with location-based services is that they are overwhelmingly male. Women don’t' feel safe and secure using location-based services. The other thing is that the services themselves are really focused around hook ups. By adding in schedule, it really changes the equations. Just because I say I'm going to be in SoHo, even in half an hour, it doesn't mean that I'm in SoHo right now. Therefore, having that distance allows the users safety and privacy.
So the big question, how do you make money?
Right now we are free. We just launched, so we need to build a base first. But ultimately we aim to be freemium.
What do you think you'll charge?
We are not sure right now. We've got multiple different markets that are interested in this. We've got millennials who are attracted to it because it's fun but they don't tend to want to pay for dating. We've got busy professionals who like the fact that it works around their schedule. They really have no issues with paying market prices which would be equivalent to Match.com or HowAboutWe.
Do you think that micro-transactions are going to be important for you?
We had considered allowing the user to pay per date, but we are moving away from that model to a subscription model because we want to incentivize use and engagement.
The biggest challenge with starting a dating site is getting to critical mass. How will you do that?
Right now we have 3,000 people on our waiting list that we have already recruited to actively use MiniDates and have shown interest. We did that primarily through street marketing and direct sales to customers. We have a team of brand ambassadors that go out and go into coffee shops and bars and festivals and they come up to you and talk to you about MiniDates. Regular advertising, social advertising, Facebook advertising, it's very hard to convey how you are different.
I'm going to give you $200,000. You've got to spend it in two weeks to promote and grow MiniDates to critical mass and beyond. Where are you going to put the money?
We would definitely spend at least a good chunk of that on search engine marketing and Facebook marketing. Which right now, we're doing none of, because it's too expensive. We've found that our street marketing is more effective and less expensive. But we wouldn't be able to scale our street marketing to use $200,000 in two weeks. We could over six months.
What's going to happen in a year's time? Where do you see MiniDates in a year's time?
Well our goal for the next six to eight months is to really launch and grow the service here in New York. We really want to have a great success story. Then we hope to replicate the model in other major cities in the US and abroad. We actually think there's huge opportunity for MiniDates in Europe, especially in London. Then actually Asia. This could be huge in India. It could be another Ignighter/StepOut story, we think.