OPW INTERVIEW -- Oct 9, 2006 -- Meetic is the second largest internet dating company in the world, next to IAC’s Match.com. Here’s my first interview with the founder. - Mark Brooks
How did you get started with Meetic? What is the founding story?
I created a portal in Europe called iFrance in ’97 which was sold to Vivendi Universal in 2000 for $200 million dollars. Then I worked for Vivendi for 18 months. I looked for new ideas and wanted to launch a subscription based business. I spent a lot of time analyzing many business models and the dating business was the best one for me. Firstly, because it was subscription based and secondly, there were no serious competitors in Europe. So I launched Meetic in July ’02.
Why did you follow up with the launch of Ulteem? How is it better than Parship?
Ulteem was launched in its final version this summer, three months ago. We wanted to create a new kind of product and decided to analyze eHarmony or Parship. Ulteem is more modern. For one thing we are offering video on Ulteem. Users can record a three part video profile which is really important to know people better. Another key difference is that we don’t need to invest heavily in marketing across Europe as Meetic is already launched in 13 countries in Europe and according to comscore we’ve 8 millions UV, we have also 90 distribution partners including Yahoo in France, Italy and Spain, Wanadoo in France and Spain, Libero in Italy or AOL in Germany. So, to launch Ulteem, we just have to advertise on the Meetic pages, and ask our partners to plug it on their portals. That’s why after few months of activity in France, Ulteem is already bigger than Match.com and Parship! That’s how Ulteem is growing pretty fast.
Talking about Parship, it only really exists in Germany. They say they have 1.x million users but we estimate only one third of these users are outside of Germany. So for now we don’t see any serious competitors for Ulteem at the European level. In Germany, of course it is more complicated for us because of Parship, but outside of Germany, Ulteem will be probably the leading relationship website thanks to our Meetic audience and 90 partners network in Europe.
How does the pricing of Parship compare to Ulteem?
It’s close. The main difference is that on Ulteem you can initiate contact for free. If you want to read the message you have to become a VIP member, a Premium user. So you can send messages for free but if you want to read a message or, of course, to answer you have to subscribe. That’s the difference in term of model but in term of pricing, it’s close.
And you have a social networking service also?
Meetic has three brands. The first one is Meetic, of course, the second one is Ulteem and third one is Superlov. We launched it in France in its first version at the beginning of the year, and it will be launched in its final version shortly all over Europe. The model is based on mobile revenues, and you can use it both by web and by mobile. We have 19 partnerships with mobile carriers in Europe, you can access Meetic too through mobile carriers all over Europe. It took us three years to be able to sign these 19 deals.
How do you view Match.com’s recent announcement that they are spending 4 millions Euros to enter the market?
Meetic is dominant in Europe according Nielsen or Comscore. Meetic is #1 in France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Netherlands. A huge part of Match.com’s traffic comes from MSN. So, in fact, the Match brand doesn’t really exist, 32% of French people know Meetic and only 3% know match.com, according IFOP. The pride of Meetic is, Match was 26 times bigger than Meetic in 03, and this year Match worldwide is only 3 times bigger than Meetic. But Match is worldwide and Meetic is still only in Europe. So now Meetic is probably the second biggest casual dating website in the world in terms of revenues. Meetic has become a problem for Match because we are growing so fast.
So the answer for Match is to try to compete with Meetic in France as a substantial part of my revenues still come from our domestic market. Match already tried to take the French market in 04 and they decide now to invest 4 millions Euros on a brand nobody knows. And they say they will invest three times more than Meetic in France but they are making a mistake. Meetic invested close to 40 millions Euros in France over the last 4 years. So I don’t know why and how they could be able to take the French market with only 4 millions Euros. They say, “we want to add 7 million profiles”; to do that in one year, they have to invest between €50 and €60 million, it seems quite ambitious …. I think their strategy is to try to hurt our stock price to make our life more difficult if we decide to make a significant acquisition, which could be localized in a significant market …
The problem with Match is they had a deal with MSN worldwide, but the deal was ending, and Meetic was able to make an offer to MSN. With MSN, Meetic would be the dominant player forever in Europe, and without the MSN deal, Match would disappear from Europe. So they had to keep the deal, even if they had to pay a lot to keep it because they can’t lose the business. They certainly had to make a better offer than we did to secure the deal, and this could be seen on their 06 figures.
Some US companies were very successful in building internet business models, and we are really admirative about their success. But as for dating, we think we have developed a good, or maybe even better model.
Have you considered entering the USA market?
We’ve considered entering every market in which we think we have a chance. So we could enter the U.S. from scratch, or by acquisition as we made in China or Brazil. We never say never. We look for the right timing and the right way to enter each market, even in the U.S. We think we could propose a new kind of dating website in the US, as we have done in Europe, with a brand and spirit that could be fresher and younger.
Would you be disappointed if you didn’t have a presence in the US within the next 12 months?
No, we have to invest first in Europe, and then we will see if it’s possible, or not, to invest or to make an acquisition in the US. There are few US companies that are for sale.
What is your goal for the next 12 months?
The strategy is to become number one in Europe with Ulteem and to launch successfully our new Meetic product (V3) all over Europe.