OPW INTERVIEW -- Sep 15, 2006 -- Alexei Negin is the General Director of AnastasiaWeb, a top three Russian internet dating site. I was curious how his service works and how it's different from other dating sites. Here's my interview with Alexei. Please comment with your questions for Alexei. - Mark Brooks
What is Anastasia?
It's the fastest way to meet Russian women via the internet. It's an online dating website that allows people from Russia, North America, Europe and other parts of the world to connect and correspond with each other. People from different countries can write letters to each other in their native language and the letters are delivered and translated. We have a network of over 200 agents in the former Soviet Union who make sure the messages get delivered.
Who are your target customers?
Most of our male customers are based in the U.S. or Canada. We also have some male customers from the EU, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. We have female customers from all over the former USSR. We have slightly more women on the site then men, which is actually a part of why the site is successful. We currently have more than 10,000 active women profiles on AnastasiaWeb; however our overall database is much larger. We only display the profiles of women who are actively using the site.
We don't allow every applicant to become a member. We verify profiles and personal information and allow only those individuals that pass the verification process. We do everything we can to protect our customers.
What is the age range?
We don't allow men or women under 18 and I would say that the average female age would be about 24 or 25 years old. So these are rather young women. The male audience is older in general. The average age would be between 34 and 40, in that range. In Russia and Ukraine it's very common that women date and marry men that are older.
What's AnastasiaWeb's founding story?
We were founded in 1993 by a Russian/American couple, Elena and David Besuden. Elena and David met through an introduction service in 1992 and were married the same year. Initially, Anastasia used catalogs to introduce profiles to men in the US. This format was used at first, because the internet wasn't so well developed. The first AW web site was launched on Jan 21, 1997. Also, in 1997, Anastasia International formed a partnership with IT Online, to handle its business operations in Russia and the CIS. There are now more than 90 employees working in the US and Russian offices, handling web development, maintenance, marketing, customer service, verification and other administrative services. Elena and David grasped the idea of online dating rather early and succeeded.
How do you make money?
We make money on the correspondence. Each letter being delivered is translated. Most of the women do not have a computer or regular access to the Internet, so we formed a network of agents that could deliver and translate messages. We charge for a letter but we actually provide more than just a delivery service. We provide additional services that go along with the letter itself. One of the services is a direct telephone communication service, which allows clients to speak to each other with the help of a professional translator. It's like a conference call. Women don't pay at all. The cheapest correspondence service level is $3.99 per letter and the most is $8, but membership to the site is free. They can use a lot of other additional free services.
How do you protect the users from potential scammers?
There are many companies who used to say, "We don't have fraud. We're fighting fraud and 100% scam free." We can't say that, we are not 100% fraud free. But we realize the problems and we make every single effort to protect our customers. We have initiated a fraud fighting campaign and have invested heavily on investigation, protection and different ways of tracking fraud. We can protect the correspondence; we can make sure that the message is delivered and that it is translated in the proper way.
A women coming to an agency provides her personal ID that will be scanned and entered into the database. We verify that she's not under age and we also verify that she's not married. We verify information about her kids and other information. Then the agency will estimate the language ability of the women. It's a rough estimate but we like to provide this information to our members. The agency tries to verify that the photograph is definitely her photograph and that it's not an outdated photograph. Then they enter her profile on the AnastasiaWeb site. Our verification agents in the Moscow office will call her within three days. They will review all the information. We have a call center that is devoted to calling the women and further verifying that they're legitimate clients. They will verify identity, ask if the woman wants to participate, and verify other important information. The profile is then considered a checked profile and will be activated when our system updates in two or three days.
What are your goals for AnastasiaWeb for 2006 through 2007? What kind of partnerships are you seeking?
One of our goals over the next year is to expand our "offline" activities. To provide more organized opportunities for members to meet in-person. Regarding partners, we are looking for companies that provide great traffic. We have a good affiliate program with hundreds of affiliates. We are looking to expand that. We're also interested in speaking with other western online dating companies that would like access to our large database of verified profiles from throughout the former Soviet Union. Finally, we're looking to cooperate with companies that have know-how with mobile communications and video. Mobile phone dating will be a benefit for our customers, because it should speed-up the communications process. We want to take every step possible to help our clients really find someone special.