OPW INTERVIEW - Apr 28 - Jonathan runs a network of sites which include SinglesWarehouse, Trekdating, and OnlyDates. He's using private labeling, and a distributed workforce in combination with a home team in Surrey. Here's Jonathan Bird. - Mark Brooks
What's your founding story?
A few years ago, before the recession hit, I’d built a sizable portfolio of retail stores selling computers & stationary. It was a fantastic business that really grew when e-commerce took off. Then the UK recession hit so I started to look for additional revenue streams. Dating came along. I thought “Sure, that looks like fun.” I was completely unprepared for the depth of knowledge required but gave it my best shot. I’m glad I took the leap.
Do you run your own platform?
We actually operate using white label software. Our choice options at the moment are whitelabeldating.com and datingfactory.com.
How would you compare these private label platforms?
I think comparing them is simple. White Label Dating in my mind have always been market leaders but Dating Factory are not far behind. Now thats a personal view and I think it comes down to one thing. WLD deal with mainly English territories. Dating Factory covers more territory and multiple languages. Depending where you want to launch your site depends on who you launch with. We're also in talks with WhiteBoxDating.com which looks like another promising platform.
Which of your sites are category leaders?
BBW sites are a great hit. Shagafatty.com is a BBW category leader. I’m also proud of our Star Trek dating site TrekDating.com. It’s been talked about in the press loads and the hard core fans absolutely love it. As a Trekkie that makes me very happy indeed.
How many people are on your team?
The UK office now has 7 people covering business development, our digital magazines and daily operations. We also have a team of international editors and about 400 contributing writers across our brands. You can meet some of them here.
Are you a fan of outsourcing or distributed workforces?
Outsourcing can be seen as painful sometimes but it's often necessary. Every business at some point needs to expand it's workforce temporarily to deliver the latest update or gain a skill set that they don't currently have. We've certainly had times where outsourcing was the way to go.
I love distributed teams. In fact that's probably one of the reasons we're so successful. No matter what time of the day or what corner of the world you are in we've got someone on email who can help members out. Distributed teams certainly have their challenges (and costs) but in the long run they're great for my business.
What tools and techniques have you used to manage your distributed team?
Being a small team and operating on several time zones really does have it's complications. I remember back in the early days having to take a conference call with the USA during the middle of the night sat in my car so I didn't wake anyone up at home. Things have certainly moved on since then.
We use these tools...
- Google Drive - really does help keep our admin (the death of any business) in check. A place where the team can access company documentation and work on it together without the risk of damaging the original document really is important when using a distributed team.
- Skype / Google Chat - I'm online most of the time which means I'm normally available for the team when they need me. Luckily for my wife they are very respectful of 'home time'.
- Team Newsletters play a huge part in team communication. We send out several a week for our 'internal' customers. An editor's email, exec team email and writer update goes out every single Monday.
And here's some of our techniques for team management...
- We built a site called Silent Director for the team (and whoever else wants to read it) about way's to increase web traffic, how to write great articles...etc. It covers all things web.
- Regular catch-ups. We often schedule 'group' meetings so that everyone's voice is heard no matter where they are in the world.
- In-person meetups. Either I fly out or people fly to us. There's nothing better than face to face time.
- Great admin generates great results. We're now building our 'social' list to remember everyones birthday's & special occasions. Why? Because it costs nothing to send a tweet or an email and include everyone in the business as part of the family.
Do you have an office?
Yes. In fact today we're moving into our brand new UK headquarters in the historic town of Guildford, Surrey. I'll be swapping my keyboard to a paint brush for the day.
How do you hire people that can work effectively from afar?
This can be tricky for sure. We've got a three stage interview process which works very well for us. During our meetings we look for key factors. People who work remotely need to be able to self manage, have great get up and go and want to be a part of the business. If you've got those three attributes then you are in the perfect starting place to join our team.
What's your goals for 2015-2016?
This year's a stabilization year for us. We’ve grown a lot and need time to upskill our team to make sure we’re delivering the best experience for our readers. We plan on growing our social media further and growing our member base in the United States.
Post by Mark Brooks @