OPW INTERVIEW -- July 20 -- Stephen Stokols is the CEO and Founder of WooMe.com, a next generation dating site that offers webcam based speeddating online. Since starting he’s provided 15 million live introductions, has 2 million users and ~10,000 new users sign up each day. WooMe has 4 million visitors / month and 3000 new videos are rendered on WooMe.tv each day. - Mark Brooks
What is the founding story?
WooMe was started about 2 years ago. The idea came from my sister. She and her friends had been out speed dating and they came back home and were talking about how fun speed dating was and how cool it would be if it was online. So that is where the initial idea came into play.
I had been working with a lot of voice and video technologies in the telecom arena and had been looking for a killer application that would leverage in browser voice and video the way YouTube has leveraged in browser video streaming and the two came together. At that point we started working and less than 2 years later we exploded and we’re here today.
Can you walk us through the user experience? What happens when you join WooMe?
A user hits the site and can either browser profiles, watch real live video of others, or start meeting people live. To partake in live introductions, There are tens of thousands of user generated speed dating sessions starting every minute. Users can either create their own session around any interest they want or they can browse existing sessions.
Once the session starts, they will talk to 3 people one-on-one via voice and video for a minute each. At the end of the session they can say who they want to add as a friend and who they don’t. If both parties want to add each other as a friend then it’s a match and they can then message and/or talk with no time limits.
This isn’t an entirely new concept because there are a couple of companies that have been doing this for a while. There is a company called Webdate that has been around and offering webcam-based dating online. Then Match.com tried it in 2004. What do you think that you’ve got right with WooMe that has helped it grow and what perhaps they didn’t get right?
The technology evolved over the last few years to the point where you can offer high quality video communication without a download. So when companies like Match tried this years ago, it required a client download making for a very clunky user experience. We have also broadened the concept to include casual introductions around all topics while letting users post their meetings on WooMe.tv as well. Also, we were fortunate enough to come out and launch in Techcrunch40 and get a bit of PR around the launch, generate some noise and build a critical mass.
This concept really does not work unless you have a couple of thousand users online at the same time. It is kind of like a bar. If you walk into a bar and it’s empty, you leave.
How are you different from SpeedDate?
SpeedDate came out with a different type of product. They’ve gone down the Facebook direction, so at this point they’re solely a Facebook app company and focused on a very narrow set of functionality.
What are your plans for mobile dating? Do you think you’ll ever include location based services?
Hopefully that’s where things will go. Video cameras are less ubiquitous in the mobile world so we’ll have to down play the video element and play up chat and voice. We’ll allow people to message each other and be able to talk live via the mobile app and from there you raise a good point around location based service. Getting mass on the location services is the key to its success. If you have zero people within 5 miles it is not nearly as interesting as having 300 people within 5 miles of you.
Are there any particular user behaviors that really surprised you?
We learned that males are far more comfortable than females when it comes to webcam. 95% of males on our site have cameras; whereas maybe 55 or 60% of females have cameras.
How do you police the community? Is it simply user flagging?
It is a huge challenge. The bigger we get the more policing is required. In the early days we did it manually with a couple of people who were on the site. We recently had to put in some automated tools. It is a huge issue trying to keep the site clean, especially when you introduce cams; just the word cam attracts a certain subset of people that we don’t want on the site.
People on the site can block users and if somebody gets blocked twice, that persons will be suspended. Also, if we see somebody scamming people with a bunch of friend requests or we see porn photos, for example, we automatically ban those users.
Do you have any plans of licensing out the technology to other dating sites or other sites at all?
Yeah, we have an API called “WooMe Anywhere” where you can leverage our technology on an external platform. We are now in the implementation phase with a couple of sites globally that will use it. So on a profile, there will be a button that says “meet me now” and if you hit that button you can have a 1 to 3 minute live introduction with that user. That is something we’ll do more aggressively with the domestic dating sites and other partners in the near future.