OPW INTERVIEW -- Mar 31, 2007 -- Baihe.com is China's 'eHarmony.' Baihe received funding last year from Mayfield's partner in China, GSR Ventures. They received $11 million of funding in 2005 after attracting 5 million free members. I interviewed Baihe.com's CEO, Jason Tian. - Mark Brooks
How and why did you start Baihe.com?
When Myspace started there were many companies similar to it in China and none of them had a revenue model. We found most users are actively seeking dating relationships, so we wanted to do something in the dating area and we wanted to be more focused. Then we researched the other online dating models and services and we found the eHarmony personality test based model to be the most effective, so we decided to do something like that. Then we launched Baihe.com in May of 2006. In Chinese, Baihe has three meanings: “one hundred years happy marriage”, “100% match”, “lily flower”.
How is it going so far?
We are the first in China to launch that type of service and we executed correctly so we’re growing very fast. We have more than 8 million users to date.
It’s a free site, isn’t it?
We have tried to collect membership fees for some time but we found that in China the online payment system is very weak, so out of ten people who want to pay only one can pay successfully. If we charged now it would delay our growth. In China, at this stage, online dating is in its early growth stages. So we decided to offer our service for free, and this should help us to grow fast.
In late 2006, we launched a VIP service offering for busy professionals. We trained love consultants to serve them, to filter and verify identification of potential candidates and to help them in communicating with each other. In Q2, 2007, we are planing to launch more automatic value added services which will generate revenue for Baihe.
How is Baihe.com most different from eHarmony?
eHarmony is a paid service and we offer a free service. We also offer search for the users. eHarmony doesn’t allow their users to search but we allow Baihe users to search. Also, we sponsored top psychological research centers in China to develop a personality test and matching system for Chinese people.
What do you think are the main differences between the Chinese online dating market and the American online dating market?
In the Chinese market, I think the people treat marriage more seriously in general. We have a lot of users that are seeking serious relationships and they are in their early 20’s. For girls, maybe after 25, they are very seriously seeking a husband. I suppose in the U.S., and on eHarmony, users will be about 30 but in China the age will be younger than in the U.S.
The second difference is, the serious online dating market in the U.S. already has 10 years of history. But in China there isn’t a dominant player in the market. We only started to enter the market last year, so we’re in the very early stages in China.
Have you ever considered offering your site in English and reaching out to the American market like Asia Friend Finder?
For us, we think the China market is large enough. Secondly, we don’t think we understand the U.S. market well. Compared with eHarmony, we haven’t found any competitive advantage besides the cost. Maybe our R&D cost is much lower than eHarmony. We can translate our website into English and launch in the U.S. but we don’t know how to market in the U.S. English is not our priority at least for the next two years.
Is Mobile Internet Dating big in China?
Yes. There are 400 million mobile phone users. This year there are 80 million new users in China, so we also launched a mobile service several months ago and we have around a half million users now. They are very active.
What do you hope to achieve through the end of 2007?
We want to establish our revenue model. It is our top priority for 2007, and to break even by the end of 2007 is our goal.