OPW INTERVIEW -- July 14, 2007 -- Saïd Amin runs World Singles which operates several leading niche dating sites such as Eligible Greeks and Arab Lounge. I often inform prospective dating industry entrepreneurs to shoot for a niche, or plan on raising $10 million+ if they want to build a generic dating site. Saïd tells me that building a niche dating site is not that easy these days. Many search terms have been bid through the roof on the search engines. – Mark Brooks
What's your background Saïd?
I was born in Iran. I lived there for three years before moving to Paris. Five years later, once my mother finished her PhD work at the Sorbonne, we moved to the US.
Professionally, I worked at Fannie Mae in Washington DC for several years after graduating from Clark University in Massachusetts. My responsibilities at Fannie Mae ran the gamut from admin work, to project manager. While at Fannie Mae, I had the good fortune of getting lots of exposure at the executive level and learned a lot from the experience. It's really a top notch company with very talented and politically well connected folks.
From there I went on to work for a small telecommunications company specializing in Voice Over IP, with operations in over 45 countries. I was in charge of business development and implementation for East Africa and the Middle East. My work had me traveling extensively between Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, the UAE, Bahrain and Yemen.
The nature of the work was quite risky and illegal in the countries where we operated. It entailed getting a trustworthy partner, successfully getting our equipment into the country and then setting up hardware like a 2.4 meter dish at our partners' location without getting caught by the authorities. Man, the crazy stories I could share about this job. I loved that it was such an adventure and challenge.
Why did you start World Singles?
In my mid 20s I had an itch for connecting with like minded Iranian Americans and was tired of working for others. The Internet and all of its possibilities for bringing people together was blowing me away and so, after launching a few niche online sites for fun, IranianPersonals.com was born. There was very little competition in the Iranian market and I thought that I could do better than the Iranian dating service that many were using at the time. Having traveled extensively my whole life and as someone who embraces diversity, I thought to myself, why not offer a similar service to other ethnic groups.
World Singles was created in 2001. Michel, who at the time was my web designer for IranianPersonals.com and other sites, became my partner – he taught himself Cold Fusion and built our dating application from scratch; a rather brilliant dude if I may say so and more importantly, he's a great guy.
The first thing I looked to do with World Singles was target ethnic niches that had little to no competition from other niche dating services. World Singles was operating on fumes; I think that my initial investment was a mere 10 or 12 thousand dollars with even less in reserves. Bootstrapping it, we really had no choice but to go after those "blue oceans" and went at it for several years without pay. Heck, for a while we tweaked our business and offered a private label service because we could not afford to advertise on any of the niche sites that could drive traffic to our sites. Once money started coming in, we managed to reverse our deals with sites using our private label service in favor of pushing our own brands. To this day, we have not taken any outside investment.
What sites have inspired you?
The netzine Iranian.com was a huge source of inspiration. I first stumbled upon it back in 1999/2000 and I think that it was the first time that I came across a niche site that offered compelling content that brought Iranians worldwide together through articles and comments. I remember thinking, damn, where did all these Iranian Americans come from? Very cool.
Dating sites that inspire…mmm...despite rejecting my profile a few years back because I was deemed not pious enough, I generally like eHarmony's angle – they introduced a new way to find matches. The industry has not seen that sort of creativity in some time. I definitely like to check Match.com regularly. They are always up to something, testing this or that.
Other sites…hmm, I really take something from every site but the Internet as a whole is inspiring. It's alive, evolving and has amazing reach. The world is shrinking.
What is Nuzizo?
Nuzizo is a social network that my good friend Darren Romeo and I launched a few months back. It's an online city and culture engine that brings together dozens of ethnic and lifestyle communities. Rather than launching stand alone ethnic sites, we created a place that unites people from all backgrounds and celebrates culture. Operating as a portal, Nuzizo City offers a great opportunity to make connections with people from similar and different backgrounds. Again, the world is shrinking.
The site is still in beta, but we really believe that in time, Nuzizo City will be one of the most visited sites on the Internet. My mother, knowing how passionate I am about this project, enthusiastically asks me several times a week, "Has Nuzizo taken off yet? Does it have millions of users yet?" She's very cute but I politely remind her to exercise patience. After all, great cities like NYC and Rome were not built overnight.
What are your goals for 2007/2008?
Well, for starters I'm looking for us to more than double World Singles revenue in 2008. We have been giving away so many features for free. For example, it's currently free to read and reply to messages on all World Singles sites. We won't go as far as charging people to read emails, but members will soon be required to pay for some of the features that are currently free. Until recently we operated with only one programmer and limited staff. In the last few months we have hired some quality folks who are helping us get through our "to do" list faster. As a result, we're getting better at converting our traffic and the extra horses have freed me up to do more business development. In the next few weeks, we will be announcing several overseas partnerships with highly trafficked sites and I am looking to launch two ethnic niche sites that I feel are wide open and there for the taking. Life is good!