OPW INTERVIEW -- Sep 22, 2007 -- Mate1 is doing well. It's a casual dating site where women can join free. X-rated photos aren't allowed, but revealing photos are encouraged. Here's my interview with Liz Wasserman. - Mark Brooks
What is Mate1’s founding story?
It’s a family business. My father and I started it in 2003. The dominant sites then were very clean, corporate sites, like Matchmaker and Match, and sex dating sites, like AdultFriendFinder. We felt there was room for something in between. Something that wasn’t geared towards moral debates or fetishes and one-night stands. Rather, something that allowed users the freedom to express themselves and talk about sex in their profiles. A site that would let members use more slightly-revealing photos of themselves, if they felt like it. A more libertarian approach to the whole thing, but without anything X-rated.
So, we decided to start Mate1 with that in mind. We built it in 2003 and ramped up through 2004 to what we thought was a success.
How is the site different from other Internet dating sites?
It is an Internet dating site and in some ways it’s very similar to other ones of our size. But we do still occupy that middle ground between adult and conservative sites and I think others have even followed us in that regard.
A lot of our members are looking for shorter-term relationships, more casual ones. And people who are looking for that don’t feel intimidated by our site. We don’t ask a lot of deep, probing questions. Our questionnaire focuses much more on sparkly things, like your interest in music and food. The things that get conversations going rather than the things that go deep at the heart of moral and relationship-oriented questions. I think we really appeal to people in the way that social networks do – as a basis for networking with people who have similar interests as you.
How do you allow members to communicate on the site?
Right now, it’s still pretty simple. There’s email and chat. With email, you click on a link and fill out a form to email another user. The chat is more of a one-on-one, instant messenger feature where people chat privately with other users they find interesting (we’ve opted against group chats ). And if someone asks to chat with you, you have the opportunity to say yes or no.
Those are the primary ways that people communicate on the web. There have been some phone experiments, but nothing we made live. We did build a one-on-one, double-blind phone system a while back that we weren’t sure the public was ready for, but it’s something we’re still planning.
I think now is the time for a phone feature, partly because there are older people getting online. Kids, even on their phones, mostly send text messages. People in their 20’s and even 30’s are not big direct phone users in the way that perhaps people in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s are. I just heard that the average age of a person on a U.K. dating site is 45, which I thought was pretty amazing. I think that is a generation that is much more comfortable on the phone and more irritated by instant messaging. For some of those people, we could really have a lot of success with phone products that allow people to protect their anonymity. That’s something we’re planning, hopefully, for this year.
How would you define Mate1? Tell me more about your branding choice.
It’s an online dating site that allows users to talk about intimate things, as opposed to adult dating sites that are all about a sexual relationship. Intimate doesn’t mean sexual. We have a lot of very devout Christians on our site who are looking for marriage and a lot of single parents looking to meet other single parents. We have all kinds of people at different stages of their lives who are irritated with or not interested in sites that censor their profiles. People who want to be able to answer questions about sex. We have a multiple choice questionnaire where you can indicate what your sexual preferences are. Nothing too extreme, but basic questions about what you like and don’t like. So we offer people a safe, online way to meet and be intimate and interact in such a way as to decide whether to go to the stage of actually meeting in person.
What is the average age on Mate1?
The last time we did a check, it was 30 but that was quite a while ago. Since then, we’ve actually been targeting primarily older people, so I would say our average age is now higher than that. We have ad campaigns that target people over the age of 25 and others that target people over the age of 40. We’re interested in figuring out where our best demographic is. Social networking has really caught on so strongly with the 20 and 30 something’s that there’s a divide that’s starting in the industry. Maybe that is what’s accounting for the increasing average age or maybe it’s because people in later stages of their lives are starting to take dating more seriously and have more of an interest in meeting people outside of their immediate social circle.
Have you considered entering Europe or Asia?
Yes, and I’m very angry at us for not doing it yet. It’s something that we need to do, particularly Europe. Asia is more of a challenge, culturally and linguistically, for us. It’s going to be a much bigger undertaking. But, if I were to examine our staff here at Mate1, we probably have every major European language covered. We’re planning to tackle Europe and we’ve actually created a strategy for it.
What are your goals for Mate1 for 2007 through 2008?
Internationalization would be one of them. Another is more diversification of the communication mediums on the site. We want to add video chat. We think it is really catching on and is going to be big, if it isn’t already. People who have web cams use them. It’s a great way to verify the identity of the person you’re communicating with.
The other one is phone, which I’ve already talked about. We’re still trying to decide how exactly to do that. We haven’t come to any firm conclusions, but we want to give people the opportunity to communicate anonymously by phone before they exchange numbers.
Aside from that, we’re just going to improve the way we communicate with our members and get them more active on the site. We’re going to work on matchmaking applications and marketing to our members to make sure they understand the features available to them, the kinds of subscriptions plans available. We’re going to focus more on our actual members rather than acquiring new ones, in a sense.