OPW INTERVIEW - Mar 7 - Tony is out of the gate running. He launched SparkStarter a couple of weeks ago and is growing gangbusters. We've seen this model before. Remember Engage.com. But Tony is onto something. His timing and product are better. - Mark Brooks
What's your founding story?
This journey started over 5 years ago. A friend of mine introduced me to my now wife with an introduction through Facebook. It was simple. It was safe. And best of all, it worked! A couple years ago I was sitting at a wedding of two friends who were also introduced by a mutual friend. It was the “aha” moment as they say. That’s when I thought, why not make an app that allows friends to play matchmaker for their friends? Why not make it easier for friends to meet through a friend? That’s when the idea for SparkStarter originated. SparkStarter has certainly been a journey. Many ups and downs. But what kept it going in one word is this: Love. One of the coolest feelings I’ve ever had is to be at a wedding where I had a part in “setting up” the couple. An even better feeling is when you are the couple. I’ve been lucky enough to experience both. If you are single, hopefully SparkStarter is a way for you to change that through introductions from your friends. If you are in a relationship, we are a safe way for you to play matchmaker and introduce people in your network.
You launched Feb 12th in the USA... How many members do you have now?
After a full 6 weeks, we are now at 11M users with 100k downloads. The 11 million is the total people in our network (including friends of users that download). The unique part of what we are doing is that any time there is a match, if the user is on SparkStarter, they are notified. If they are not on SparkStarter, they are invited to join.
How many core members do you have?
We have 100k downloads to date and are on pace to hit over 200k downloads by the end of April if not before then. Core is a different definition for everyone, but what we see as our core engaged users is the people that spend between 1 minute to 10 minutes on the app - this number to date is 65% of our users and we actually plan to increase that with a) better engagement and invitation tools through text/email notifications and b) a desktop version so that people can use outside of the iOS and Android app.
What's your personal experience with iDating, in the past?
Prior to this past year, I had no experience with iDating at all. In fact, I had never even been on an iDating website/app. I've learned a lot. I think it's a mixture of learning from others in the industry, but also paving your own path by your own insights, research, and really, let the users (and data from them) tell you the story of what's working or not. When we did our originally beta test, we had 17,000 page views in the first weekend with 500 users - we knew we were on to something.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs considering entering the market?
It's a very competitive market, so do your research first. Odds are that someone is already doing or has tried to do something like you are about to take on. However, whether it has been tried before or not - let the data do the talking. Focus first on what matters to you - for us it was truly about having more successful relationships. We weren't just focused monetization or how many page views you have - we wanted to make sure we have matches. Every website/app is different, but make sure you revisit the goal of what you are trying to accomplish. Lastly, don't get discouraged - there will be ups and downs. It certainly took us a few bumps in the road to get where we are at and there will be more bumps in the future. Learn from them. Instead of trying to driving over them, figure out where the bumps are and avoid them in the future!
Whats been your biggest challenge so far?
Certainly the biggest challenge has been communicating to people that are not single, that they can be on SparkStarter to play matchmaker for friends. We've been able to overcome this challenge by constantly updating our user-flow so right away people understand that SparkStarter is for everyone, not just singles. Why there is always room for improvement, we are very happy that about 54% of our users today are on SparkStarter as a matchmaker.
What will Sparkstarter look like in one year? What's your goals?
We want to continue to build SparkStarter with the main purpose of starting successful relationships. To do that, we will continue to add features and engagement incentives to help people connect with quality matches.
From a business perspective, we are building SparkStarter to grow and have impact in the industry. With our main goal in mind of helping starting successful relationships, we certainly see partnerships, joint ventures and acquisition (both acquiring and being acquired) as options to make sure we are helping people start better relationships.
Others have tried in this friends-introductions space. What's the piece that they missed?
Every product has its time and place. iDating has changed in the last few years with the increase in mobile activity as well to the information that is available to obtain (whether it be through social media or the user itself). Access to information makes it easier to obtain and build a user's profile and since dating has become more socially accepted vs even a few years ago when it was still consider by most as a taboo. These things and us spending a lot of time on our user interface and experience we believe has lead to the initial successful engagement and growth that we've seen even in the first 7 weeks.