OPW INTERVIEW -- June 18 -- Zoosk is doing very well and are running primarily on Facebook, MySpace and Bebo. They just raised $6 million in a 3rd round. Here’s our interview with the founders, Shayan Zadeh and Alex Mehr. - Mark Brooks
What is your founding story?
Alex: Shayan and I were brainstorming different online dating ideas four or five years ago. At that point, we didn’t see the entry point. When Facebook opened their platform we started a few applications on Facebook. The one that became really successful was our online dating application. We build on that and developed Zoosk over time. Zoosk was launched in December 2007.
How does Zoosk work?
Shayan: To use Zoosk you can simply find it on Facebook and get started within minutes versus hours of filling up questionnaires and signing up on 3rd party independent sites. From there on it’s very similar to the experience people are familiar with. We are just trying to make it a little more fun and a lot less pressure.
How much information do you pluck from Facebook to fill into the profile?
Shayan: Users fill out their profiles themselves directly. We help them in the process by pre-filling some sections and they can choose to keep some of them or change them entirely. A lot of users want to have different personas. They don’t want their personas they set up for their friends to be exactly the same as they set up for online dating.
Do you allow videos?
Alex: Not at this point.
Talking of videos, congratulations on your recent round of funding. I see you’re a rather reserved bunch from the video you put up on Facebook.
Alex: Very much so.
That was like a hell of a party. Is your ‘awesomeness undeniable’ at this stage?
Alex: I think our numbers and our growth curve speak for themselves. Facebook users have shown time and time again that awesome stuff works on Facebook. Things that are not awesome don’t survive.
You’re also on MySpace and Bebo. How much would you say your traffic come from Facebook versus the likes of MySpace and Bebo?
Alex: Facebook is the largest component of it but Bebo, Hi5, MySpace, Friendster and Hyves are not negligible, they’re just smaller than Facebook.
What else would you say that you do is different from the rest of the industry?
Alex: We want to be as simple as iPhone or iPod’s interface, just a few buttons, very straightforward. The user can be matched within seconds after adding the Zoosk application.
Shayan: Another big differentiator is the users that actually make up the site and that’s what a dating community is all about. We have been fortunate enough to reach an audience that previously has been harder for online dating to cater too. 65% of our users are below 30 and 90% of our users are younger than 40 years old. It’s just a different thing that they’re looking for. Success is not defined as I want get married in 6 months. It’s defined as I want to meet great people that I can share stories and life with.
How would you say social dating and pure internet dating are distinct from each other?
Alex: On traditional online dating it’s just like walking into a bar alone. Social dating is like going to a bar with your friends and having fun. The circle of friends that are accessible to you through Facebook and other social networks, enriches the dating experience, it makes it more fun and more interactive.
What your users are saying?
Shayan: We get fascinating stories from our users from all walks of life. We have gone from zero users in December 2007 to over 30 million right now. That unprecedented growth is a testament to how people are responding to this and spreading the word for us through social networks.
How much do you charge?
Alex: $25 a month in US and then we have 3 and 6 month discounted plans.
Shayan: We are one of the few freemium dating sites. Unlike a lot of dating sites where you have members who can’t respond because they’re not paying, Zoosk’s users can respond even if they’re not paying members. There are certain privileges that require the premium membership. For example: initiating conversations, knowing who has contacted you or who has looked at your profile.
As you were looking at the industry and learning about other dating sites, were there any particular sites that inspired you?
Shayan: We have taken bits and pieces from all over the industry and not just from online dating sites but social networks as well. Zoosk is a marriage between a social network and a traditional online dating site. We have taken ideas and inspiration from the likes of Facebook, and we have also looked at market leaders like Match and Meetic.
How do you think the industry is going to shake out in the next 2 or 3 years?
Alex: Pretty soon, over the next few years, you will see that there won’t be any successful or growing online dating site that is a standalone. Everything is going to be dissolved into the new social operating system such as Facebook.
What would your advice be to the CEO of Spark Networks or Match.com?
Alex: My advice is to continue doing what they’re doing because we don’t want any competition.
Congratulations again on the recent $6 million raise. What are you going to spend it on?
Shayan: The main purpose of the funding is to further accelerate the growth for Zoosk and grab even more market share in the countries we are actively growing right now.
How are you getting on with the Brits?
Shayan: They love us. 1 out of 20 single people in the UK have been on Zoosk already.
How are the revenues looking at this stage? Are you able to disclose any revenue?
Shayan: We are not talking about exact numbers yet but what we can tell you that we’ve already surpassed revenues of multiple publicly traded online dating companies in the US.