OPW INTERVIEW -- Jan 14 -- Dr Song Li runs a leading dating site in China that offers telephone based matchmaking. We originally met at Beijing's iDate in 2006, then Shanghai in 2007 and then again at iDate in Tokyo in May. He's observed the best of the West and created the best of the East. - Mark Brooks
What do you charge for Zhenai (formerly 96333/SinoFriends) and how is it different from other dating sites?
We charge an annual subscription fee of 1,999 RMB, which is about $300. We have a unique business model, different from any dating site in China. It's a combination of online dating and telephone based matchmaking. By the way, we changed our domain name. We were formerly known at 96333.com and we have changed the name to Zhenai.com. "Zhen" means cherish and "ai" means love.
First you can do online dating like Match.com and if you find someone you would like to date, you can call our telephone matchmaker team. They will ask questions about your personality and then call the person, you are interested in, on your behalf and essentially try to package and sell you to your prospect. So that's the first service.
Then if there are some sensitive questions clients would like to ask but are afraid to be too intrusive, they can call our telephone matchmakers and, on their behalf, they can find out the answer from the other client. That's our second service.
Third is when our telephone matchmakers find out for clients whether the other side has an interest after the first date. They provide feedback post-date.
And, if they want more?
Right now we don't have that service but we are thinking of adding more.
Do you offer any coaching services?
No we don't do that. It's always very difficult to see the balance between providing more value added service and the cost. We choose what we think are absolute critical services that daters need and focus on those.
How do you recruit the matchmakers? What are the main things that you're looking for in matchmakers?
Mostly we hire university graduates who majored in psychology. We found psychology majors are very good at providing advice to people.
How do you do the matching? Are the matches delivered online or via a matchmaker?
It's a combination of online questionnaires and phone calls. All of this is done over the phone so there are no in person meetings.
A lot of matchmakers insist on in person meetings. It's rather interesting that you're doing it over the phone. But in person meetings they tend to charge a lot more as well.
That's right. In China, offline matchmakers charge from 6,000 RMB ($800) to 60,000 RMB ($8,000). So our price point is lower then the lowest offline matchmaking agencies. It doesn't make sense for us to provide face to face meetings. First of all, we're an internet company. We don't want to move into an offline franchising kind of a business because we would have to open offices in multiple cities and China is a very large country. It's like you do it nationwide or don't bother at all. With the phone we can cover the entire country. And we are the only company that focuses on this model. We want to be the very best in one space. That's why we are teaming up with FastLife Speed Dating because they provide professional offline speed dating service.
When did your launch event go with FastLife Speed Dating?
We had the first speed dating event on May 31st jointly with the largest print media group in Shanghai Xinmin Media Group. We designed this event for IT professionals, colloquially known as "Zhangjiang Men", who work for the technology firms located at Zhangjiang High-tech Park. FastLife's 's team was organizing and running everything. We got over 100 women and XinMin Group helped get 100 IT guys.