OPW INTERVIEW - Nov 4 - We’re extending our coverage on Online Personals Watch to more markets. I met Levent at iDate a few years ago. He now runs Turkey’s top dating sites. Here’s his story. - Mark Brooks
What’s your founding story?
We got into the dating scene quite late. We entered the market in 2006 and the concept was a local dating site based around city neighborhoods. It caught on quickly and within the first 3 or 4 months we had the 3 main cities in Turkey. Over the years we have expanded our network into different cities adding a new one this month.
We were lucky as there were not many Internet start-ups going after city names so we got high profile cities such as Instanbul.net easily. The city name helps with SEO rankings and marketing the site.
There’s about 35 million Internet users in Turkey at this time and about 1/3 are under 15. Have you found similar?
42% of the 35 million are under 35. Our subscribers are on average 33 years old so not that young at the moment.
What do you charge? What is the propensity for people to pay for internet dating in Turkey?
We’ve had over 5 million subscriptions to date. We don’t charge the female subscribers which helps us keep the male/female ratio balanced. On the male side we are converting about 15%.
How would you describe your dating positioning, in terms of being serious like Match.com or a little bit more casual?
There’s actually no real translation for the word ‘dating’ in Turkey. At the end of the day we are all called ‘friendship’ sites which has a lighter feel to it. You can mix being a member looking for dates with finding friends. So probably more casual.
Are you making use of Facebook?
We are but not as much as we would like to. Our users don’t want to really disclose their identity. Turkey has the highest Facebook usership in the world with over 90% of people using it. The challenge is to find ways to make Facebook users feel comfortable to load profiles to dating sites but still in an anonymous way. We are also trying to advertise with Facebook.
Overall would you say that the rise of social networking and Facebook is good or bad for your Turkish dating sites?
I think through Facebook everybody has a reason to be online. But the flip side is that people tend to be resistant to other things online.
Are there any other particular difficulties with operating in Turkey or challenges doing business as an Internet dating service?
We have similar challenges to all online dating sites. There has been a lot of abuse with mobile dating apps. We had to make sure we provide a very secure service with a money back guarantee to build user confidence in the market.
How do people usually pay? What are the modes that are most popular?
Credit card is the most popular. There are over 40 million credit cards in Turkey right now due to low interest rates with our banks. We also have a small portion of wire transfers. Paypal is on the rise.
We interviewed the CEO of Pemberpanjur recently and their main competitor is e-cift in Turkey. Do you think these more serious models have legs in Turkey?
People are still learning about online dating through the casual sites. As time goes on they will be looking for more serious sites. The good thing is that there is traction in the market but serious sites are not as popular are casual sites.
What aspects of your service will you be focusing on for the next year?
We want to introduce new features that you wouldn’t see in general dating sites. In terms of strategy there is still a lot of room for growth and we are looking into some more serious dating sites as well as wanting to explore new geographies.