OPW INTERVIEW - Oct. 14, 2005 - Jim Safka just celebrated his first year as CEO of Match.com. Jim came to Match.com from AT&T Wireless, where he served as VP and GM of E-commerce. Prior to that he spent five years at E*TRADE, most recently as VP Marketing, growing the customer base from 200,000 accounts to over four million. He held brand and product management positions at Intuit (Quicken), Warner Bros, and Paramount Pictures, and he has an MBA from Northwestern University and a B.S. Accounting from U.S.C.
Nielsen and Hitwise show Yahoo as being the top online personals site? Is there anything you'd like to say about this?
I believe Yahoo does a terrific job in the category of traffic. However, I think of the online dating category as a subscription business measured in terms of subscribers. If measurement is based on traffic and unique users alone, I don't think that is a clear indicator of who has the most market share. Yahoo! has the #1 site for direct traffic in the U.S (Match.com is #1 globally). However, Match.com has unparalleled distribution through partner sites that also bring people to Match.com; such as AOL and MSN. Here at Match.com we consider such things as: How many paid subscriptions do we have? How many new subscriptions are coming in? How much is each subscriber paying? How many people are visiting and subscribing? Measuring traffic is a great metric if you're running an advertising business. If you look at the number of subscriptions, we have twice as many subscriptions as our competitiors and to me that's the true mark of leadership.
Jupiter Research ran a survey this January and found 35% of online daters were somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with personals sites.
We're constantly doing things to improve our site and to make the member experience more meaningful and successful. In terms of satisfaction, when you take a step back and look at relationships in general and you consider that people have been dating or courting , forever, you'll see that dissatisfaction levels with dating and relationship experiences have always been high throughout history. As the Internet has become part of our daily lives, it expands peoples' possibilities. Now, a lot of people know someone who has met their spouse through Match.com. It's terrific in that respect. At the end of the day, though, people are people, and relationships are relationships. The new medium is a wonderful, fundamentally different way to meet, but it doesn't change the human dynamics.
What kind of paradigm and technology shifts will Match.com and the industry go through in the next 5 to 10 years?
The main thing happening is that online dating is becoming a mainstream way in which people meet people in this generation. It is just the way things work, so there won't be a real adoption curve future generations have to jump over. It will be completely natural for them. Online platforms will be a completely normal experience. It will be much more romantic when integrated voice and video are added. That will make it more natural and exciting. We're looking at location- based services as part of our wireless product, Match.com Mobile. It's interesting when we talk to our customers about these services, but they're not clamoring for it. So we'll see how it goes.
How will Chemistry.com stand distinguished from the likes of eHarmony and TRUE and PerfectMatch?
Chemistry is a breakthrough new product. We have been working at this business and helping people find love for 10 years at Match. It was the original company that started the online dating category, and we've studied single people in great depth. We commissioned what's considered to be the most extensive research identifying the relationship needs, attitudes and behaviors of single people in America, and we've gained important insights from the hundreds of thousands of Match success couples. We worked on Chemistry.com with a world reknowned anthropologist, Helen Fisher, to combine the best of real world interactions with online services. Take the Chemistry Profile. This profile very quickly figures out the types of people we should match you with - people you're most likely to have chemistry with. Users then go through our 1-2-3 Meet process. We do our best to facilitate a face-to-face meeting, because that's the true test of chemistry between two people. After the first meeting, users tell us how it went. We put this feedback back into the matching system, and Chemistry.com takes it into account to help deliver even better matches. We're reinventing this category the way we first did when we started Match.com 10 years ago...
Does a personality profiling system for an online personals site really need to be validated?
I think the personality profiling products need to be evaluated by the market and validated through successful customer experiences. We ask the questions that really matter to consumers. Is it delivering value? Is it facilitating the right kinds of relationships? Are our customers ending up in enduring relationships? For our products, we have a lot of proprietary data and patented technology that our customers tell us is working for them. This information isn't something we would feel comfortable turning over to a third party given the competitive nature of our industry.
What will be Match.com's position on singles events in 2006? You learned a lot from matchlive I'm sure - is there some potential to bring it back to life?
We're very interested in events. We still do events in the UK and as part of broader marketing partnerships. Events have been a terrific learning experience. I know for certain at Match, we're a company that really knows how to get people together, and we are terrific at building software! When it comes to a live events, we need to find the right partner. We would love to pursue singles events in 2006 and beyond! We're all about connecting people, and events are just one more way to do that. Events can also introduce people to online dating that may not otherwise consider it. As the category leader, we have a vested interest in growing the category, because we grow when our category grows.
When a man meets a woman he's interested in for the first time, he has to communicate two things to her, 1. he's interested, 2. he's safe. What is match's position on safety going to be in 2006?
The privacy and security of our members is our #1 priority at Match, and safety has been built into the site from day one. Since 1995, Match.com has used a patented, double-blind email system to help members communicate without revealing their personal contact information until they're ready. We have dating safety tips and advice right on our home page. The online dating category is becoming a part of how America operates -- how they meet. People also meet at the office, through family and friends, at restaurants, bars, and so on. No matter how you meet someone or how you were introduced, there are risks. And we believe that a bit of caution and skepticism is appropriate until someone proves themselves trustworthy. The most important thing is common sense and trusting your instincts. The same caution should be used wherever people meet. They should do that online just like any other environment.
Match.com is 10 years old, what would you like to achieve in 2006; or, what does the future hold for match.com?
This is a growth category. Jupiter predicted the online dating category would grow by 9% this year...and yet Match.com grew by 26% in the second quarter (year over year). We're the category leader. We have to continue to innovate. If you stall or trip as the leader of the band, you end up back in the tuba section. We will continue to grow this category by doing 3 things: 1. We will be the #1 player in the online dating category by continuing to innovate; and help build the category to more than $1 billion globally. 2. We believe the customer has all the answers, so we'll keep listening to them. Something that I do and every employee at Match.com does is stay close to the customer. Every person is trained on the customer service system. We're all involved in reviewing profiles, approving photos, and providing customer service. It's a requirement for everyone here at Match, from our receptionist all the way to me, as the CEO. We're all listening to our customers. 3. Continue providing a superior customer experience; we want to open up new possibilities for people and give them the tools they need to connect and build loving, lasting relationships. I get emails from literally hundreds of Match customers every month sharing their success stories; I even get invited to their weddings! We also stay in touch with Match couples that met years ago and are now sharing their baby stories with us. At the end of the day, that's what it's really all about, helping people find someone that they can build a life with.