OPW INTERVIEW -- Feb 9, 2007 -- The online dating industry is working towards offering higher end matchmaking services. Match.com is developing a VIP service. The company that owns Vintacom is buying The Right One/Together Dating. LoveAccess has a matchmaking service. Here’s an interview with Julie Ferman of CupidsCoach.com. She is a crème de la crème, gorgeous, charismatic, A-list, Los Angeles matchmaker. Julie brings the personal touch to the personals business. – Mark Brooks
What’s your background?
I married the guy who sold me my dating service membership at Great Expectations back in 1990. That was 16 years ago and his name was and is Gil Ferman. So first he took my $1,450, maxed out both of my credit cards and then 2 weeks later I asked him out on a date and 5 weeks later we got engaged and 5 months later we were married, and shortly thereafter, 8 months pregnant with our first child, and I started working for my husband.
Gil and I owned and operated two of the Great Expectation video dating services, the ones in St. Louis and Kansas City and I always loved this business. I think I fell in love with the business at the same time that I fell in love with Gil Ferman. I ended up being Jeffery Ullman’s National Director of Events and Promotions for Great Expectations and later I was the Executive Director of the Great Expectations Licensee Association.
We sold our two Great Expectation centers when we moved to California and then I launched Cupid’s Coach in 2000. It really wasn’t intended initially to be a matchmaking company. I was going to be producing a lot of events and writing a lot of books and doing a lot of media and speaking appearances. But everybody was asking me, “Julie who do you know? Who do you know? Who can you introduce me to?” So my web developer and I began privately inventorying all of my favorite single friends, members, clients, students and I was delighted to discover how inexpensive it was to do so. I also consulted on the Greater Relations project with Jeffery Ullman right before I started Cupid’s Coach. That project was really the first hybrid. People would go into a bricks and mortar office, buy a membership and then they would access the membership online privately.
Greater Relations didn’t make it for the same reason a lot of these companies don’t make it. They typically start out big without thoroughly testing the sales, service, and technology concepts first. So when Greater Relations failed, I launched Cupid’s Coach and it just kept growing organically into what is now the largest and fastest growing personal introduction service probably in the country.
How does your service help singles meet their mates? How do you assess people?
Anybody can register with me, it’s free, it’s private to be registered and nobody can be browsed. I really like working with people who are highly desirable and highly selective. People I can naturally relate to. I know what it feels like to be that great girl who can’t seem to find the right guy. So whereas there are other services which are really good for people who are struggling with dating, they might not have a competitive edge visually, or they might be somewhat challenged from a social skills perspective, the system I’ve developed works particularly well for people who feel they really have a lot to offer, who want to be really selective, and who are uncomfortable posting themselves online for all to see.
How much do you charge?
I inventory my members privately and the people for whom I’m working actively, my clients, pay me fees ranging from $495, for a consultation and one active search, and then $500 increments all the way up to about $6,800. That’s about as much as I like to charge. I only want to work with somebody for 3 to 6 months on an active search. I present the candidates to my clients; I typically refer my top 5 candidates. We use detailed resumes with current, flattering face and body photos. I spent $27,000 last year on photography. Photos matter a lot. I like to have as few surprises on the first date as possible.
I present the candidates to my clients privately, so they have a log in and they get to see which candidates I personally selected for them to study. A simple search works like Great Expectations where Jack picks Jill, Jill studies Jack, they both decide if they’re interested and attracted. When they are both interested and attracted then the system instantly reveals last name, email address and phone number.
At a higher service level, which costs twice at much, the client lets me know who he or she is interested in. I then pick up the phone and call and say, “Okay Jack, stop everything and run, don’t walk to your computer; there is somebody I want to talk to you about.” It doesn’t guarantee that the secondary person will be interested and attracted but we run two to three times the match rate on that program.
Where do you find people?
Everywhere. I have a big lasso and I use it all the time. This week, I’ll have over 100 new people filter into my system because I’m producing a big Valentine party. I’m teaching a class for the Learning Annex at night and 1 in 10 people from my classes become clients. Rather than roping everybody in for a big appointment and trying to get a credit card out of their wallet, I would rather book them for a small program first; a $495 in person consultation with me and then I’ll up sell the appropriate people.
I turn away a lot of people after $495, they’re just not the right clients for me and my service might not be the best place for them to invest significant dollars. At a higher level I provide concierge service. I run a search for them, and give them five candidates. They tell me who they’re interested in and when they’re available and don’t hear from me again until I call and say, “That lady Jackie that you want to meet, fabulous, she wants to meet you too and she’s free on Tuesday night. I booked your reservation at 7pm at Ivy, and, don’t be late. Wear that good looking blue tie that I like you in.”
Match.com and other dating services are introducing high end matchmaking services. What will be their major challenges?
They’re going to have tons of challenges. One major challenge is that Match.com does not specialize in telemarketing. If you’re going to sell $1,500 programs, you better do some pretty serious telemarketing. Great Expectations, Together Dating, It’s Just Lunch… these folks have been doing this type of sale for a really long time. They’re good at it but they’ve been getting thousands of dollars from people in person, in consultations in an office and it takes an awful lot of telemarketing to make that happen. So that’s the first challenge.
The second challenge is they’re only able to work with the people who the client can already find on their own. Today I met somebody at Starbucks and I think this guy is fabulous. Whether he’s paying me or not I want him in my community so I can introduce him to my clients. Anybody can do a search on Match.com and look for the best candidates within a 20 mile radius of where they live. Getting Jack to say yes to Jill and to do all the right things. I think that every one in the industry underestimates what it takes to not only get both people to say yes to each other, but so many matches fall apart at the email or phone call stage. I deal with that all the time. I have people on my staff who do nothing but make sure people are responding and make sure that Jack knows to pick up the phone and call Jill and not interview her, not grill her to death but invite the woman out on a date. And who should pay for the date and how do you behave and where to you meet, and all that coaching.
It’s Just Lunch clients complain to me all the time that they don’t get any feedback, they don’t get any coaching, and they don’t get any guidance. That’s part of what my clients are paying a lot of money for. If they have a 3 month program with me or a 6 month program with me, they’re typically getting unlimited email and phone coaching and that’s no small thing.
What are your goals for 2007?
Keep making money, baby! And also I will continue to evolve my software system. I am really excited about the industry and doing this thing we call converging. I think it’s really exciting that the chasm that existed in previous years between the online dating and offline dating companies is beginning to be bridged. And what excites me more than anything is that it’s being bridged by people who really care about the end user.
The people who are alive and doing well in this industry right now, the Paul Falzones of the world, the Paul Ziters of the world, the reason they’re still healthy and strong, running concepts which really you might have thought as being archaic a couple of years ago, the reason they’re still doing well, and in many cases better then ever, is because these guys actually care about their members having a good experience. They have discovered that it’s good business to let your heart be engaged in the process of selling and serving the customer.
My business is strong and healthy enough and growing that if somebody wanted to have me working side by side with them consulting on their project they would most likely not be able to afford me. I would have to charge an amount of money that would not make any sense for them to pay. Cupid’s Coach is really strong in Los Angeles and this model could be developed throughout the country. That notion, I would entertain, with the right partnership.