OPW CEO INTERVIEW -- July 1, 2005 -- Cupid.com probably has the best dating domain in the industry. Who else can claim 2,000 years of branding history? Cupid offers a fast track sign up process, does a great job of displaying real pictures of real users on their home page, and has successfully integrated Predating (the world's largest speed dating company) into Cupid.com. Mark Brooks, Editor of Online Personals Watch, interviews Eric Straus, Cupid.com’s CEO and co-founder.
What lessons from your radio station owner days have you applied to your time as Cupid's CEO?
Our advertising is done almost exclusively through our partner radio stations so I have used a lot of the radio knowledge I have when I’ve pitched them on Cupid.com. Beyond that, running a business is running a business and personnel issues are personnel issues, regardless of whether you’re running a radio group or an internet company.
What would you have done differently had you known better?
I would have gotten the Cupid.com domain a lot earlier so I didn’t have to pay through the nose for it. We would have started our localization campaign and we would have gone into the events business earlier as well. I think our radio and our local focus are very related. Localism is our niche so having local events in our markets is our competitive and branding advantage over other dating sites.
How do events help?
If you go to Cupid.com and type in your zip code, in addition to finding local singles you also find all these local events that are near you. And we're rolling out more coordinators in more cities. They will become our singles experts in those markets. Our ability to do local events and have local experts is our advantage. The singles experts will provide additional local content; local advice, places to go on dates etc. This speaks to our localism.
Are you still glad you acquired Predating?
Yes. We feel our whole selling proposition is localism. Match.com has mass. eharmony has scientific matching. We have localism. The acquisition of Predating really helped in those efforts. We have 70 people on the ground and well soon have 100 on the ground, and that’s not something any other dating site has. There will be other opportunities down the road for other events such as lock and key parties. Well offer larger singles events, which we think would be especially attractive to our radio station partners.
Cupid is built on radio affiliate marketing, how did you get away with that?
While I was still owner and manager of my radio stations in upstate New York many of my radio advertising clients said they were having trouble recruiting people. I thought a local job site promoted by my radio stations could help them fill their openings. I approached Steve Bywater (now CTO) and Bob Chieffo (now COO) and we built RegionalHelpWanted.com. We had 1,800 radio stations on the Regional Help Wanted side, and many asked for a second product. We thought radio was the perfect marketing medium for a dating site. I mean, what medium reaches single adults more consistently than radio? The internet space is crowded enough as you can see when buying keywords and online advertising. It made sense as a business model for our radio partners. This is where my experience as a radio station owner comes into play. I’m able to talk the talk with these guys.
Cupid is typically around the 12th largest online dating site according to Hitwise. What are your goals for growth?
We would love to be in the top five. We’re looking at possible acquisitions right now and doing some online marketing. Well do more work with radio stations and further improve our conversion rates, even though they’re very good right now.
What do you think of True background checks legislation?
I think this legislation is totally bogus. A brilliant play to get PR. It probably won’t pass. It shouldn’t, but if it does, more power to them. As a businessman I have a lot of respect for what they are trying to do. I respect them for giving it the old college try. A lot of guys (other dating companies) think how could they do such a thing? They have to worry about their own business. If this legislation passes it puts them in a great situation. I don’t think it will, but more power to the guys at True.com for thinking this up.
What do you think of eharmony?
The concept is total b.s. and the marketing plan is brilliant, and I wish I’d thought of it first. Scientific matching is total unadulterated b.s., but I think it is brilliant mktg. Dr Warren is a marketing genius. I don’t think he does any better job at matching than Cupid.com or any other dating site. He just came up with a great marketing ploy. He designed a great way to solve the problem of women being inundated and guys being ignored that you (Mark Brooks) highlighted for us. Also, because of the perceived value of this scientific matching hocus pocus, they’re able to charge double. I can tell you from the emails we get from customers, there’s a lot of dissatisfaction. They complain its a pain in the ass to do. Users have told us they like to quickly be able to get, do searches and open communication. I don’t think you can scientifically decide the best matches. There are 10,000 women out there that are right for you and its up to timing and circumstance to get together with them. I can't emphasize enough I think its a genius marketing ploy. If you asked me if I'd consider dating a Republican female, I'd say no. I’m a liberal, Jewish and a democrat. However under the right circumstances I might. Just take James Carville, Clinton's campaign manager and Mary Matilin who was campaign manager for Bush. They were arch rivals but they fell in love and got married.
We work with a professor at MIT who explained to us something very interesting. If you look at relationships as a continuum, with the far left end representing never having met someone before, or talked, and the right end representing getting married, how far along the line do you thing online dating gets you? eharmony proposes they get you much further along. I would argue neither eharmony or Cupid get you far along. Meeting face to face is what gets you further along. eharmony suggests you can do more. Face to face is where it counts; how they smell, how they laugh. There are a lot of little things you cannot do online. Online dating allows users to learn a few things about each other. The eharmony concept is, in my view bullshit.
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