OPW INTERVIEW -- Mar 23, 2007 -- Marina Glogovac is the new CEO of Lavalife. Here's my recent interview with her... - Mark Brooks
What's your background Marina?
I moved to Canada from Belgrade, ex-Yugoslavia in 1987 where I had just completed a degree in Comparative Literature and worked as a free-lance journalist and writer. When I moved to Toronto I began my career in the advertising industry. From there, I found my way into ad sales and publishing; my first such job was with Toronto's alternative news weekly, NOW Magazine.
I spent the next several years with NOW, growing and expanding it and launching other alternative news weeklies and ventures such as the North by Northeast (NXNE) music festival and conference. During that time, Lavalife was an advertising client of mine, though at that time they were strictly operating their IVR Telepersonals system, known today as Lavalife by Phone. While at NOW I earned a Master in Organizational Learning and Change with a focus in Strategy Development from the University of Toronto.
I continued my career in magazine publishing, and worked on a variety of media outlets as well as events. Over the next 10 years, I oversaw the development of some of Canada's best-known media brands.
After I left the magazine world, I worked with CueBall, a U.S.-based consultancy to the international media and entertainment industries. In 2004, I did some strategy consulting work around direct marketing as well as ad sales for Lavalife.com which ultimately led to a full-time role with the firm, overseeing the company's online dating website. It was one of the first Internet dating sites to emerge and has been a leader in the industry since its inception. After joining this incredible team and working with them to expand the company's vision and services, I assumed control of other revenues streams and was named Chief Executive Officer in October 2006.
How is Lavalife differentiated in the online dating market?
Lavalife is more than a web-based business. We operate products and services on three consumer platforms or channels. The first is our voice business, Lavalife by Phone, launched in 1987. Actually, Lavalife invented technology-based dating. We have recently transitioned our voice business onto a VoIP-based platform, enabling us to acquire additional voice customers via web-based fused applications and earning a prestigious award for technical innovation from the Canadian Information Productivity Awards along the way. The second platform is our Web platform, Lavalife.com. The third platform is our Mobile platform, Lavalife Mobile, which is where we've focused much of our attention on this past couple of years. We are currently the North American Mobile dating leader with half a dozen mobile-based chat and entertainment products, and this will continue to be a high growth zone for us.
One of the key things differentiating Lavalife from its competitors is its strong brand. It is one of the most recognizable brands in Canada and is similarly well-established in most large U.S. cities and in Australia. Most dating sites do not have a brand. We have invested heavily in the development of the Lavalife brand over the last few years and we have developed a brand that resonates with downtown, cosmopolitan, liberated, open-minded, youthful singles. Brands are complex and highly valuable assets. The Lavalife brand is more about casual dating and celebrating singlehood. In the world of an abundant Internet universe with low barriers to entry and low differentiation due to new programming languages and other technological advancements, brand and branded content will continue to be important to consumers, suppliers, partners and other stake holders.
We have also been broadening the scope of our business through the development of new content. We recently launched LavalifeMagazine.com, which has received an incredibly positive response from both advertisers and, most importantly, from our members. The magazine has myriad regular features, including an interactive column titled the Profile Doctor. Every day, our members submit dozens and dozens of profiles to be evaluated and edited by our experts. We have recently acquired a ring tones company. Both of these new developments add additional content and services that help not only connect but engage and entertain our members and also attract a new audience and users to Lavalife.
We're especially lucky to have diverse and synergistic revenue streams, ranging from our different platforms, our broad product offerings, as well as advertising revenue. This is a key difference between Lavalife and almost all of our competitors, who are singularly focused.
Another differentiator for Lavalife is our highly successful Event series, which takes the online dating experience "offline" and allows us to come face-to-face with singles. For the past year, we have hosted monthly Flirt with Flavor events in Miami, Boston, New York and Chicago in some of the hottest, new clubs in partnership with Absolut Vodka. The events were a huge success. We also recently launched a large event series in Canada this fall called Click-at-a-Flick. I attend as many of these events as possible, because it allows me to see first-hand what singles are up to and to get to know our users – which I love.
How are you seeing the online dating and singles industry evolving, in your favor?
So much is happening in the world of online dating. The shifts have been quite similar to any new media or communication channel that first emerges, and then matures, expands, niches and fragments. The activity and the growth is fueled by an enormous increase in the time consumers spend on the web – not just younger people, but also the 40+ age group as well.
The Internet space and the online dating industry is very fluid. When an industry initially develops, there is usually one dominant business model. However, any industry will begin to diversify creatively and become more in tune with consumers – it's a type of collaborative learning together that is especially fast on the Internet. As the industry segments and matures, it diversifies its offerings and it develops deeper, more specific and nuanced bonds with its consumers
To that extent, we are seeing rapid popularity of free, ad-revenue based websites. This is supported by ever increasing online marketing budgets of advertisers. I believe that both free and paid models can co-exist, and that the emergence of the free model does not mean the demise of the consumer paid model. Consumers know the difference between the two and will view them differently. They may in fact have different expectations from each. I think it's safe to say that both models will find their place, and as the Internet continues to grow, there will be a greater variety of business models and their hybrids.
There are other trends developing in the online dating industry. We see more performance advertising and brand advertising on online dating sites. I think we will see more sites make a concentrated effort to bring in synergistic brand advertising that may be viewed as adding value to the member experience.
Another trend is niching. I think the industry is evolving in this direction, and I think all sorts of niche strategies and niche communities will emerge.
There are opportunities in Mobile dating. I believe the mobile web will grow to be even more important than the PC web. Everything that has to do with mobile will continue to grow exponentially for many years to come. Lavalife has been focusing on mobile and entertainment during the past couple of years and today we market half a dozen mobile-based chat and entertainment products.
What does the future hold for Lavalife?
With our historical product, marketing and technological know-how in all three consumer channels – and with the firmly established convergence of these channels in the market – we are in a great position to use this to our advantage going forward. We are currently working to introduce several exciting new products and services. I'll be back to fill you in and to talk specifics closer to those launches – but stay tuned for exciting new things for Lavalife.