OPW INTERVIEW - Apr 20 - Sparkology is an exclusive dating site for the upper crust. You have to have an Ivy league degree to get in. I interviewed Alex Furmansky to get the skinny on his new site. - Mark Brooks
What's your founding story? What sparked Sparkology?
A few years ago I had so many female friends in their mid-20's to early 30's. They were having so much trouble finding a man using traditional dating sites such as Match.com and eHarmony. They got over 30 messages a day from the wrong guys and ended up just ignoring them. I tried to experience this from a man's perspective. I spent the time to write a woman a long message only to find that my message ended up in the same inbox as the 29 other messages.
As a guy, your first interaction is proving that you're not a creep. This burden of proof is difficult.
So you're kind of on the matchmaking end of the market, I presume?
There are mass market dating sites, accessible and free for all and then there are the matchmakers that charge crazy amounts, but they're curative. I see us as a tech platform that allows us to do both. We're curative, we're exclusive. But at the same time we're scalable and self-directed.
What geographics are you going after first?
Since our market is educated young professionals, the most natural market is New York. After that it's the other large metro areas in the States, that includes San Francisco, L.A., Chicago, Boston, D.C.
Growing a dating site is a very costly affair. Are you looking for money now? How do you fuel the growth?
Last April we raised a pretty substantial friends and family round so capital is not an issue. Now that we are ready to scale even bigger, we've started to raise a seed round now.
If I were single, would I make the cut to get onto your service?
Most of our members are invited by existing members. If you're not invited by a member, then you can go to our homepage and apply. You supply your LinkedIn or Facebook URL and that's how we screen you. Everyone is a young professional. We do place a slightly higher standard on our men. All of our men are verified graduates of top universities.
So you're manually reviewing accounts then?
To verify your alumni status, there are two ways to do it. You can give us your lifelong alumni email forwarding address. We issue you a confirmation email to that address. Or our staff will call you and have a personal conversation with you to welcome you to the site and ask you questions about your college experience and verify that you went to that school.
We have a feature called Date Feedback that helps keep people honest. So after a date, you can leave feedback for your date that our concierges see. So far we've had 2 guys who have been false in their profiles and we've had no problem kicking them out within 24 hours.
What did they lie about?
About age and occupation.
How about the women? Women lie more often about their age.
So far we've had no complaints from guys and no negative feedback. In fact, I thought that this feedback would be used to flag the bad apples, but it's actually being used to share success stories.
I was very surprised about your price-point. It seems extremely low and fair. It's under the average of the industry. You're charging $10/month for women and $2-3 per initial communication for guys.
That's correct. I'm not here to usurp people, I'm here to deliver a fair service. The reason we require credit cards is to make sure the person is serious and committed. It stops the fake profiles. For me that's the core reason for charging people. Making guys pay to start a conversation is sort of a tax on spam. It's no longer cost effective to send out 30 messages a day. It's better to pick those two, three, four women that you like.
How are you finding new members to reach critical mass?
We have this thing called a Race to 1000 in every city. It employs some gamification where it gets everybody on board to create critical mass in order to start interacting. That's how you seed a city. As far as gaining new members, the beauty about our site is that it is exclusive and high touch. We do men-only events and women-only events. It is seen as more of a community that you are proud to be part of and talk about. We give cool rewards for people who refer their friends. We'll send bottles of wine or t-shirts.
Match.com has their Daily 5. Most dating sites send emails with matches. Are you going to be doing that?
I like that every email that you get from Sparkology, you view as a gift and you want to open it. So I think that barraging people with emails everyday is against our mantra.
How are you measuring success?
There are two elements of success. One is the business success, but I think the better sense of success is how happy the people are on the site. You can gauge that very easily with the number of messages on the site and how the message sending correlates with the output of the algorithm.