How to Get Rich from Online Personals?

One of the pleasures of being an old lazy person is helping young energetic people achieve their dreams.  I’ve been working with a young very capable guy since around 1997.  He sold his last company, traveled a bit, and is now starting up a business centered around online personal ads.  I’m supposed to be helping him but of course being old and lazy it would be much easier to harvest good ideas from the comments section of this blog.  So let’s hear your creative ideas for some new business that is somehow related to online personals….

To frame the discussion a bit, a bit of background (but not so much that ideas will be constrained):

1) in a world where people won’t pay for online subscriptions, they seem to be happy to pay for online personal sites (a plus for a new business)

2) more or less everything that can be monopolized on the Internet has been monopolized, i.e., assume that Amazon owns retail, eBay owns classifieds, owns the underlying personals database, etc.  This means that you can’t start a business whose objective is to unseat or even compete with any of the established monopolies.  One’s goal must be to work within the environment that the monopolies have established.  (And possibly to get acquired by one in the long run.)


22 thoughts on “How to Get Rich from Online Personals?

  1. Making money off the internet? That’s so nineties <tt>:-)</tt>

    It’s a difficult one. Classified ads benefit from network effects where a larger sites is disproportionally more useful than a smaller one. (Same with auctions, which is why eBay dominates.) To differentiate yourself traditional economics suggests that you have two options. (1) You can compete on price – in this case by being the biggest, meanest site around so I get the maximum benefit from my investment in creating the ad. Or (2) you can differentiate yourself by targeting a niche audience. This is especially useful if you already have a content-rich environment (remember Philip’s old book and the ‘content is king’ arguments?) already runs classifieds for equipment; if you thought that photographers wanted to marry other photographers, then perhaps extending the ads to personals might work. The obvious candidate here is to look at relligious affiliations, but with all of these it is very easy for the general sites to compete by adding another field (‘religion’, say).

    One thing that might work is to aggregate. The personals market is still fragmented, so if you had a portal (I know: dirty word these days…) that could take a single ad and post it to multiple sites and also manage the responses, then you might be on to a winner. It would lower the cost for the people placing the adverts.

    (I wish there was a preview on these things….)

    (This system for posting sux :-()

  2. You are horribly wrong that owns the market. Go and do actual research. There are many sites, many of which have started in just the last year or so, that do this sort of thing and have hundreds of thousands of users. Plenty people to get started in big cities.

    Also note the fact that many people will post an ad on multiple sites. And that there are sites geared towards specific life styles.

    I think the best question is to you ask yourself what would it take for you to successfully use personal ads? What kind of people would you have to have on there and then how are you going to get them there?

  3. Just off the top of my head…

    Online personals is quite a niche market. A sound strategy would be to create personals websites geared toward specific microscopic, yet underserved demographics or hobbies, i.e. Couch Potatoes, Photograhers, Graduate Students, Stamp Collectors, Nerds, etc. An individual site may not pull in a significant amount on its own, but the collective amounts may be significant. You may in fact be able to suggest colisting on multiple sites if a registrant selects two of the micro-populations served.

    Another idea would be to focus on specific neighborhoods. Then, you could include advertising revenues from area stores and/or vendors trying to reach these folks.

  4. interesting article about this business in the nytimes today. makes $240,000,000/year — you can certainly get rich. If you want to see the cutting edge in features (beyond the “wink” mentioned in the article), start at the gay sites. They have taken this to a whole new level. I was introduced to by a friend last night and was flabbergasted, wishing myself that I had started in that internest business instead of recipes, LOL.

  5. I always thought that it would behoove online matchmaker sites to have a more community-aspect, in the sense that they might be targeted at a specific medium-to-large University or other communities where members self-select into. I think I would feel more comfortable doing something rather than a city- oriented matchmaking service(actually I think this relates to what Philip wrote about people in high school being thrown together because of geographic location, and then finding good friends at college because they self-selected into that school), and it makes it gives a natural topic of conversation. The comment above about is worthy, I think, and in the linked article to the NYT, there’s a blurb about a couple who met and bonded over a shared experience with a family member’s mental illness. Hell, there might have been couples who have met on and just no one knows! Although it seems a bit crass to set up a dating service on a community web site oriented towards mental illnesses 🙂

  6. There are a lot of losers on, etc. My single friends who use Match (female ones, for some reason there aren’t nearly as many weird women) have discussed who has responded to their ads, and it seems that they have all had experiences with the same people (the guy who emails them repeatedly, the one who queries about particular fetishes, etc.). When they actually go out on dates, some are really bad, and some are actually pretty good. All-in-all, they’re happy Match users but wish that the service would help them weed out the weirdos.

    After hearing this conversation, I asked them if they would like a service where they could post editorial content about particular people with whom they have met or corresponded. Then, others could view these opinions and decide whether they wanted to waste their time responding to a particular person. They all liked the idea.

    Would they pay for it? That’s a different question entirely. Maybe a pay-by-the-drink approach would be effective; users could query for a particular service and screen name combo and determine if any comments exist. If so, they could pay to read them.

    Would people post? Negative comments would be a form of revenge. However, I’m doubtful that anyone would bother with writing “He was nice but just not the right person for me.”

  7. How about an online personals site that can bridge the culture and language barrier? I mean a web site that connects people from different countries. They can email or chat with each other using their own native languages. A piece of software underneath does the translation. I am pretty sure you could make money off it. Just don’t know what they are going to do when they actually meet.

  8. create real communities.
    allow others that have interacted to comment on the user.
    bring real world elements into the mix. say something with mobile phone poximaty.
    application that manages one’s usageof multiple personal sites.

  9. I like the feedback idea! In fact, I think what you really need is to cross-polinate the existing monopolies, EBay and Match. When you date somebody, you give them a score in a few categories (funny, attractive, intelligent, good conversation, etc.) Once a person accumulates a high rating, they can opt for, where people bid for dates. Not cash of course, but they would bid with the date itself. 1st bidder offers a movie, 2nd offers theatre, 3rd offers a sailing date, etc.
    So now there’s an element of competition, and incentive to build up your score.

  10. actually, that last idea sounds pretty interesting and innovative. especially if it could be made to not just be about dating, but about meeting new and interesting people of any kind. you would have to make sure that the person picking the winner of the auction is the person going on the date, however, because not everyone would think that sailing is better than a movie and so on.

  11. These ideas all sound good but they all seem to be in the realm of “let’s start yet another database full of singles”, i.e., let’s compete with and its existing competitors.

    Isn’t there some kind of software or service that could be used in ADDITION to and its ilk?

  12. Isn’t there some kind of software or service that could be used in ADDITION to and its ilk?

    The scoring/voting idea could in theory be used outside the database, but it would be a lot easier (and more convenient) to implement in et al. Would be great if you could hook it up with Google to find information on the person, but that is hard.

    The portal idea I suggested would obviously be in addition to existing sites.

    Otherwise … is “no” a valid answer? I mean, what do you need for dating? Some basic description of the other person, some way indicating a shared interest, and a way of setting up a “real-world” meeting. The more validation you can do up front, and the more you can simplify the process, the better, but I can’t think of anything fundamental to add to the process. You have to meet to mate …

  13. I think you’re right in setting yourself realistic goals. Unseating companies that own a market is unrealistic, because it will never ever happen. Here’s another example for your list: Altavista owns the search engine market.

    Hm, dating sites. My experience with communities is that they’re often built from people outside the community, and then they don’t work. If you can somehow get under the skin of your potential users, you will probably build a succesful web site. I am probably saying nothing new here. It seems, however, that you’re looking for gimmicks, and gimmicks are often used (unsuccessfully) to replace an understanding of the community.

    I have not delved deeply in what dating sites have to offer (the only one I have spent some time on is , which does not deal exclusively with dating, but what I have seen so far is that there’s often a lack of information available. I guess this is as much the fault of the user as of the dating site.

    Perhaps you could hook up with a union of professional portrait photographers: part of the deal would be that the, … erm, victim would have several enticing photos taken by a professional. What I have seen so far are amateurish (in the modern sense, so meaning ‘bad’) portraits, badly lit, underlining all possible skin problems. The user would get prints of those portraits, and part of the money would go to the dating service. You could start this in a small area, and work outwards from there.

  14. Personals sites are integrating new technologies that the average user is not sure how to interoperate with, or it is expensive to get started.

    One service that has been gaining some respect in the San Francisco area is Vyze picks a bar and creates an event for the night which may be two or three hours long. Marketing is done through the traditional channels of online classifieds, Yahoo Groups, etc. and people show up to at least have a pint. A room is set up in that Real World confessional space sort of way for people to make a video about themselves. There are certain questions that prompt a response (hobbies, likes/dislikes, most embarrassing moment) and each clip should be about 30 seconds long. Vyze was charging $10 for the video service last month. I have not heard of anyone participating in the type of game they try to create on their site, but the content truly is king in this case.

    Take the video interview idea and give users an online repository for what they have created. Match, Yahoo, and others have video features, and Match gives you two weeks of free membership. At $25 a month, your $10.00 investment just yielded a $12.50 payout on a single site.

    Many companies have made a good business for themselves leveraging off of other site’s popularity. eBay spawned an array of seller tools to create an attractive ad, track views, and easily know what items you are currently selling and where.

  15. What if you built a personal information manager for tracking and storing key data on the people you interact with? Susie likes hiking and she is raising a black lab puppy. Her e-mail address is, her phone number is xxx-xxx-xxxx. You would be able to drag and drop pictures from the site onto the app and the image source is captured and stored. If the online dating thing is successful for you setting up dates with Susie in your information manager is important as well. Create a calendar entry, enter the address of where you plan to meet, or the software can suggest some good places to meet (based on area, noted interests of both you and Susie, or just a public well lit place).

    The application would be site independent and would be a prime acquisition target for a digital lifestyle company such as InterActiveCorp (Match’s parent). Yahoo already has a lot of the properties in place to create this service through its address book, yellow pages, and calendar features and somewhere down the line InterActiveCorp will need to make a build versus buy decision.

  16. is experiencing explosive growth in spite of poor design, poor performance, and needlessly restrictive policies. This service is suddenly a topic of conversation among everyone I meet between 19 and 40 years old. I have otherwise sane friends who are obsessed with Friendster. This suggests that there is tremendous opportunity for someone to come along and do a better job.

    Friendster succeeds because everyone in your “personal network” is connected to you through one or more people you know. Your friends can write testimonials about you, so it’s easier for others to figure out if you’re cool or not.

    The Friendster-killer would take advantage of the tremendous energy of the user community. Give users more opportunities to build the site. Incorporate well-understood technologies like blogging and invitations. Allow users to share photos, files, and stories of events around town. Make it easy to search, sort, and view all the interconnections among people in your personal network; There’s a lot of untapped potential for graph theory!

    The next generation of social networks won’t be tied down to the paradigm of newspaper personals. Adding a database was a good idea in 1994, but in 2003, network effects enable much more interesting social interactions. In particular, being able to meet someone through a mutual friend makes a HUGE difference.

  17. >Isn’t there some kind of software or service >that could be used in ADDITION to and >its ilk?

    I argue that the feedback system I proposed could be used in addition to Match and any other database-of-people style of online dating system. Just like paypal was used on top of ebay.

  18. If you could get people to cooperate, the rating/feedback system would be great. …Of course, there will be the people who create other accounts to give themselves false positive feedback, but that’s another issue.

    Have you seen Check it out. I was going to post a friend, but the questionaire is SOOO long!!!

  19. 50/50 ratio of men to women (for hetrosexual relations anyway and per demographic, ofcourse) What I hear from women who have tried the sites is that they are absolutely bombarded with responses from men, which leads me to believe they outnumber them 10:1 or so. That may be good for them, but it is not for the men. Why pay good money for a site where you have no real chance of finding a partner?

    I tried a long, long time ago and the main anoyance there is that you can send email to non-paying members, but they can’t read it or reply. And there is no way of telling if a user is paying. This is what I discovered when female colleagues were trying it out, without paying ofcourse. This is supposed to be an incentive to join for the recipient, but the senders are just wasting their time.

    If anything, I would take the off-line model on-line. Real people rate the profiles and let some people on, some people not, to keep the balance. Ofcourse this would be more expensive, but given the choice of paying $25 per month with no real hope of finding a partner or paying $100 and actualy having a chance, I know what I would prefer.

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