OPW INTERVIEW -- Oct 16, 2007 -- Dating Direct is the UK's top straight internet dating site (Gaydar is #1 according to Hitwise, and PlentyofFish is #3) and was bought by Meetic back at the beginning of 2008. Here's the quick interview I did with Marc Simoncini, the day I heard they were to buy DatingDirect.com. And here's my recent interview with the CEO of Dating Direct, Alistair Shrimpton... - Mark Brooks
What is the founding story of DatingDirect.com?
DatingDirect.com was founded in 1999 and was, I believe, the first UK online dating service. It was created by an entrepreneur, Darren Richards, who went into this market because he was frustrated with the poor online dating choices available at the time. He thought he could better and did just that.
DatingDirect.com was the historical first mover in the UK and, in many metrics, has been the brand leader ever since. The company was running successfully when Meetic bought it earlier this year.
Could you tell me more about DatingDirect.com’s new platform?
When Meetic took over, we had to migrate the 5 million plus registered users on DatingDirect.com onto the standardized global Meetic platform. It was quite a challenge because millions of people who are used to the look and feel of one particular service are now presented with something completely new. But the product, especially in terms of features and usability, is an enormous improvement and consumer reaction has been phenomenal. Our growth since migration has been impressive. I can’t put figures on it, but I think all of our UK internal targets are higher than our best forecasts.
In terms of these new features, the word that I would use for the new DatingDirect.com on the Meetic platform is “live.” Dating is impulsive. Nobody knows why people suddenly get the urge to talk to somebody. But when members do, they can see right away who is online, who is available. Members can enter their post code, see who’s online in their area, and chat to them with an instant messenger that is built into the Meetic browser system.
I know a lot of sites offer this, but this is a really important feature for us and one our users really appreciate. When we did the research for the new platform, 82% of our users said that, of all the proposed changes, instant messenging is the killer application. And that has proven so in our post research results. Instant messenger is what’s really moving the needle for our business.
Are people in Europe making money from mobile?
In 2006, just under 7% of Meetic Group’s total global revenue was mobile revenue. The mobile solution provided by Meetic across its platform is probably the best execution that I’ve ever seen of a web proposition delivered to a mobile phone. It works really well and almost perfectly replicates the website functionality. Users can see new members, get messages, search for people who are local and online, and then chat with them in an instant via mobile. It’s really exciting and I believe the mobile-phobic UK is actually going to produce significant revenues for us in the years to come.
Across Europe, I believe we’re working with 21 operators. Within the Meetic Group, we’re already working with Vodafone, Orange, O2, and most of the other major operators. Within three weeks of launching our new platform, we signed a linking agreement with Vodafone and my commercial sense tells me that we’ll probably close out the other major operators in the UK by the end of 2007.
What are your thoughts on future online dating in the UK?
When I first looked at the UK market, I was amazed at the number of online dating companies. If I look at comScore numbers, there are hundreds of UK-focused online dating services. A lot of these companies are very focused, niche players and I think the niche players here have a great opportunity to make a very good business out of continuing to focus on those niches.
If we compare markets in Europe, we see that the UK is probably the one that has the lowest credibility for individuals who want to date online. People are still a little embarrassed to admit that they’re doing it, but there’s been a huge escalation in acceptability, particularly in the last six months. My belief is that this will continue and, as online dating becomes more of a mainstream industry here, there will be two or three major brands that will push through and be able to deliver scale operations. And it’s honestly pretty obvious at the moment who two of those companies would be.
What are your goals for DatingDirect.com for 2007 through the end of 2008?
I think that we have completed phase one, which is the successful migration of the current DatingDirect.com users onto the new platform. For the rest of the year, I think we’ll probably work on two key objectives. The first one is to continue to educate and help the DatingDirect.com users who joined from the older platform. We want to help them understand how the new site works and make them as loyal to the new DatingDirect.com platform as they were to the old. It is very important to us to reassure these millions of users and this will be our number one priority for the remainder of 2007.
Almost equal to that is our ambition to win more market share. I think a prime target market of 30-35 year olds is beginning to move more towards online dating in the UK and we want to grab the lion’s share of this new market. In 2007, we’ll have activities that are actually focused on us beginning to win that piece of the market.
In 2008, we are planning a pretty big offline media campaign in the first quarter that will involve a substantial investment above the line, i.e. TV media.