OPW CEO INTERVIEW -- June 17, 2005 -- Online dating upstart, True.com, states on it’s home page that married people will be prosecuted, has driven online dating background checks legislation, and challenged the integrity of it’s competitor’s personality profiling systems. What will it do next? Mark Brooks, Editor of Online Personals Watch, interviews Herb Vest, True.com’s CEO and Founder.
Why the True employee layoffs August last year?
We got a little too big for our britches and were going in too many directions at once. We decided to cut back and focus our direction.
You're a newcomer, an outsider, you could have just been a VC without getting personally involved. What made you be want to be personally involved?
I'm an entrepreneur at heart and like to be involved in running the business. A VC is more akin to banking than entrepreneurship so VC's are not necessarily real good entrepreneurs, and vice versa. I'm more socially oriented. I want to make a difference. What does society need? One thing is money, the other is love. I handled the money with HDVest, and so I then decided to try my hand at love. I know we can lower the divorce rates. They're way too high. I believe True can do something about that.
In your book you mention revolutionary entrepreneurs. What is a revolutionary entrepreneur?
We tend to be social outcasts, not necessarily well liked in the corporate world. We are very good leaders but not very good followers at all. A revolutionary entrepreneur seeks to change society for the better by using their business powers.
And what are the top 'principles of war' you've applied to True.com?
The main principle of war, business, and life in general is the principle of the offensive. I think in general in life and business and in war you have to constantly be on the attack. That is the thing that I have learned in life. If you go on defensive you're going to lose. You always have to be out their stretching and pushing the envelope and digging at the competition. I like the competition to worry about me rather than me them. In my book, Instructions To My Officers: A Revolutionary Approach to Entrepreneurial Strategy, I talk about the race car driver, which is one of the better parables. It covers the principle of focus; focusing on the curves but being aware of other curves ahead. You have to set yourself up for the future curves otherwise you’ll slow down and give the competition time to regroup. This is the approach True is taking right now.
How is True different than PerfectMatch and eHarmony? How is the site better?
eHarmony is going after a particular group which represents around 20% of the market; those looking for a long term relationship. The people at True believe that love is a continuum. When you come off a relationship you may say, ”wow, I never want to do that again,” but it may not be too long before you wind up looking for another relationship. So, if you have people who are looking specifically for long term relationships without regard to where they are in life, they tend to fail. They are going into life with the idea that, “I'm going to find my partner.” I think, going in to a relationship to have a good time and ‘perhaps’ find a partner, makes more sense.
What would you say to Dr Warren and Dr Pepper?
eHarmony and PerfectMatch are actually trying to tout tests that purport to measure compatibility between couples when in fact there's no scientific evidence that they do. I think they are highly misleading. I would like the industry to look at compatibility testing on a more professional level. I’d like to see these tests certified against principles set up by professional psychologists. I think the public is going to wake up and feel duped unless we conform to professional standards. It’s going to completely destroy the industry. It’s a very serious situation. We need to establish generally accepted principles. We need to look at the methodology, conclusions, findings and algorithms used in these tests. Once independently verified, professionals should publish their testing manual on their site, as we've done. You can find that on True.com. We've also had Dr James Houran publish results in professional journals and invited criticism from other professionals. This is the way science has always been done; the generally accepted principle. I am appalled we're not applying that as an industry. We'd like to do something about that eventually. We’d like to poll all dating sites to adopt a professional method of testing that has been accepted by the scientific community, or, if they don't do that, then they need to label their tests as ‘fun’ tests. They can't imply reliability. It’s very dangerous for the public and we think something needs to be done about that.
How will True influence society over the next 5 years?
We plan to lower divorce rates in this country, and others, with scientifically backed matching. We also need to improve the courtship process. We will work on testing methods, dating tests and things like that. There’s a big difference between dating and long term relationships. For long term relationships it’s important couples agree about raising kids, finances, household chores etc. For short term dating, the relationship factors are not so important as sense of humor, mindset and interests. We want to facilitate both sides of the equation, for the long term and short term mindsets. You will see more and more testing on True; matching base upon users goals, whatever they are within the dating continuum.
What’s next on the agenda?
We have ambitions far beyond just online dating. As a relationship company, in the next couple of months we will introduce pre-marriage counseling, pre-commitment counseling and self help guides combined with a referral service to specialist counselors.
Can you give me an example of why this is needed?
My wife and I occasionally argue, as do all married couples. We stumbled on a technique where we become each other’s attorney. We’ll put each other on the stand and pretend to be each other, taking the others view. True will introduce conflict resolution techniques over time. Every year suicides occur because of failed relationships. People need to think through issues before they become hot issues. Many problems can be averted. I have had a lot of experience with conflict resolution over the years. There’s usually something that can be done.
Any plans to move True into Europe?
Definitely, but much more long term. We’re focusing on the US market. We have every reason to believe that couples problems in the US are the same as international problems, but, we want to research this more. We will be moving internationally. One step at a time.
What does the future hold for True?
In a short time, just one and a half years, we’ve already taken a substantial leading position in the industry. We will hold and gain. You’re gonna see a whole lot more of us, raising a lot of ruckus. We made progress with safer online dating. The industry needs to get more serious about full disclosure and doing a great job for the consumer.