OPW INTERVIEW - June 24 - One day dating sites will combine mobile, with location based services and hey…looks like Skout is doing this already. Keep your eyes on this young buck company. They’re innovating up a storm and gaining traction with younger hipper, social, iphone touting audiences. - Mark Brooks
What are some of the features that you’ve found that people have been using the most across your mobile dating apps?
Definitely the “See who is around” feature. If a guy is looking for Asian girls in San Francisco he can see who is active tonight and reach out to them with an instant messaging solution. There is also a lot of chatting as well as photo sharing. People can also publicly comment on the photos being posted. Those are the features that we feel are of the highest use.
With the location based service, one of the concerns that always comes up is safety. How do you safeguard the user’s privacy? When they want to be found how do you help them? When they don’t want to be found how do you make sure they’re not?
Privacy is something we have to address very carefully. Since we’re in the people discovery business we don’t show exactly where someone is. We would never show you on the map. We only display that you are within a certain distance of someone, so the service is very different from Foursquare, for instance. If you choose to connect with someone, you have to explicitly tell them where you are. It’s more than an opt-in solution for revealing where you are.
Given that the location based services are down to meters, wouldn’t it be more accurate to use a new term? Either vicinity based systems or district based systems?
Yes I think proximity is a pretty good word – proximity based dating. Nobody calls it GPS tracking. It’s good for tracking cargo on the sea, it’s good for down to the meter tracking of inventory but I don’t think people would need to track other people on the granular level. You can only locate them through cell tower positioning, which might be in a 0.5 mile radius. I personally think that’s close enough. If you can get to the person in a 10 minute cab drive, it is close enough. It doesn’t have to be down to the meter at all.
What kind of demographics use the service?
It ranges between 20 to 35; young professionals who live in large cities, LA, Bay Area, New York and so forth. They spend a lot of time in the bars having fun. They are very outgoing and social and not looking to commit tomorrow. They’re not there to get married but they are there to meet new friends and potential dates as well as expand their network.
Now that you run Skout and BoyAhoy.com, what would you say would be your top competitors?
For BoyAhoy, which is our gay brand, Grindr is our top competitor. They provide a similar service. There are some differences of course but it is still a location based service. For Skout, which is a brand for everyone, for straight and gay people, we don’t have any big threats that we can even track at this point.
How big are both services at this stage? How fast are they growing?
At Skout we’re seeing 200,000 new members per month and at BoyAhoy we see around 70,000 new members per month. The growth has been phenomenal. In the past 7 to 8 months we’ve seen 25 to 35 percent growth month over month. It’s through the roof.
What platforms are you on?
We are on the iPhone, and Mobile Web; we have a destination site as well. We’re launching Android shortly as well as Symbian.
How are you promoting the services?
It’s been a lean start up and we haven’t done a ton of ads. We get a lot of attention from the media. Then of course there is the traditional word of mouth where people recommend us to their friends.
Moving forward, we’re definitely looking into how can we leverage other social graphs to fuel the growth even faster. And we definitely plan expanding to new platforms that will give us better reach.
How are you making money at this stage? Are you break even?
We are profitable. The way we monetize is with a hybrid model. We offer premium accounts, we have a virtual economy where users can buy virtual gifts with virtual currency and we also have a feature where users can buy advertising for themselves.
We’re definitely looking into transaction versus subscription models and doing a lot of experimentation in those regards. So we’ll see in a few months what we have to settle for, if it’s going to be a hybrid model or be a transaction only or subscription.
Is there any advertising in the works?
There isn’t a lot of money in mobile advertising. It’s not performing really well.
You also have an iPad app in the works; can you tell us more about that?
Yes we have an iPad app and its core functionality is the same as the iPhone but it does have a really new cool feature coming out. We call it “hot map”. Depending on what type of people you want to meet tonight, we use historical data and real time data to figure out where you should go.