OPW INTERVIEW -- Aug 23, 2007 -- RSVP.com.au is ranked the #1 dating site in Australia by Hitwise (see rankings). It was bought by Fairfax, an Australian newspaper group, in 2005 for $38.9 million. I interviewed Hannah Schwartz, the CEO. - Mark Brooks
What is RSVP’s founding story?
RSVP is Australia’s largest and most trusted online dating site. It’s been operating in Australia for over 10 years. In 2005, Fairfax Media – a large media group – purchased it from the original founder for approximately $39 million.
Right now, we have over one million members and can account for 2,500 weddings and 350 babies. And those are just the ones we know about. We believe there are more. We are a relationship-focused dating website, which means we’re helping to facilitate lasting connections. We have over one million monthly visitors to our site on any given month and are by far the market leader with a share of around 55%.
How would you say the Australian style of dating differs from the UK and USA?
I think in many ways the online dating experience on RSVP parallels a sort of older fashion approach to courtship. Online, we see the men tending to make the first move and the women responding. In this day and age, that’s very interesting because at parties and pubs people don’t necessarily act that way. Women are just as comfortable making the first move as men.
RSVP offers travel and event options that traditionally have not fared well in the industry. How do you make them successful?
We offer over 400 events annually and I think there are a lot of reasons for their success. We listen to our members and give them everything they want, from speed dating to large balls and parties to more intimate gatherings. The events are local and age specific and I think both of those are very important points. People will only travel a certain distance. And usually people who are in their 40’s or 50’s are more interested in meeting people around their own age group, as opposed to, say, people in their 20’s. We see members bringing non-members to the events, so there are always unique mixes of people. And we constantly work with our event managers to ensure high-quality experiences. For example, we instituted e-ticketing for accurate head counts.
In terms of travel, we’re really focused on expanding our offers this year. Again, we’re really listening to the customers and offering trips that are age specific, which is very, very important. Australians are great travelers and so, right away, the response has been good, especially for travel abroad. We’re also getting requests for shorter travels. Being part of a large media organization like Fairfax Media allows us to work with known and experienced travel providers, which is critical.
What are your thoughts on new methods of communication?
Our site is focused on relationships, so we spend a lot of time making sure the profiles are of high quality. We proof and review every single photograph and profile that is created or modified. We know our members trust us to provide them with credible profiles and take this into account every time we consider another mode of communication.
Right now, we facilitate online chat and email exchange. We are evaluating other modes, such as anonymous voice connection. We don’t disclose our members’ personal information upfront; it’s up to the members to do so. We have a lot of privacy controls in place and educate and encourage our members to really get to know somebody online before they actually meet face to face. So, we’re looking at technologies that can help us continue that same level of privacy, yet offer more immediacy and intimacy.
What are your thoughts on mobile dating?
We launched mobile over two years ago and were the first in the market to do so. What’s really unique about our offering is that we have been able to replicate the online experience. With your computer or phone, you can search the same profiles with the same parameters. We’re going to continue to innovate on our mobile offering. We believe mobile chat will be especially important to our younger audience members. I mean, we’re seeing all age groups using it, but we do see it skewing younger.
We’re working very closely with the Australian providers on determining the right pricing model. It’s important for the telco’s to manage the cost implications for the mobile user.
What are your goals for 2007 to 2008?
We will continue to educate consumers on the benefits of online dating. A lot of our marketing focuses on the fact that we’re safe and sensible and smart and modern. Our future growth will be in addressing the unique needs of our core members. So, we’ll be developing functionality for the changing needs of our members as they migrate through various life stages. Additionally, I think there are lots of ways to enhance the search result experience. Now, you can search on a variety of metrics such as height, salary, and education, but how do we take that deeper? Future searches will focus on interests and personality types.