Smooch free dating

Interview with Martin Bysh, \

Q: When did you launch your first online dating project? Please tell us more about it.

A: We launched in 2001. The idea was to run a free dating site and it was instantly successful in every way except the most important, it didn’t make any money. Online advertising was still very young; adsense didn’t exist and brands were only interested in advertising on other brand’s sites. We ran what ads we could get but couldn’t get even close to covering costs, so eventually we had to charge a subscription. This had the big downside that we also had to start seriously spending on advertising. Our biggest user base by far was in the US, but we couldn’t afford to enter that market with a subs based site, it was too big for the relatively small marketing fund we had, so we withdrew to the UK. Within a couple of years we were in the top 10 UK dating sites.

Q: What’s the current ranking for in UK and worldwide online dating?

A: A couple of years ago we noticed big changes in the dating market. “Free” was consuming market share, the largest players had begun to consolidate their share of the market and other companies were beginning to spend a great deal chasing them. We couldn’t compete with Match and Meetic, so we launched and moved the bulk of our marketing to Smooch, allowing MFO to move down the rankings. is now the fourth biggest straight site in the UK and probably the fastest growing. Meanwhile it sends loads of already monetised traffic to, so it’s a winner all round.

Q: What are the most challenging problems in switching from free to paid model in online dating?

A: As I mentioned before we really had little choice about moving to a subscription based model. Market conditions were good and we were very disciplined, ploughing all profit back into marketing for three years.

The greater challenge was going the other way, from subscription to free. We had to spend $400, 000 before was even operationally profitable (that was two years ago, it would be harder now), and it cost us more in cannibalisation. Many members that considered virtually their home until then moved to Smooch. They wouldn’t have moved to another free site, but when word got out that Smooch was an MFO site, they saw this as a recommendation and felt safe making the move to the less regulated environment of a free site. I predict that when DownToEarth grows Match will experience huge cannibalisation, but by then it may be too late. Making Smooch our main brand was always our intention, so we recovered after few months, but I don’t think Match have a similar plan. Rather than killing POF, they may kill Match.

Q: So, is going to stay free or you plan to introduce paid services on that site?

A: We’re doing that now. We’ve had a credit system, virtual gifts and premium search enhancements for a few weeks. Now that the virtual currency is in place we’re playing around with these and other new products, trying to figure out what works. We’re getting lots of interesting data and learning a great deal about the Freemium model. Ads are still by far Smooch’s main source of revenue for now, but it’s early days.

Q: What is your opinion on various white label dating solutions?

A: I have mixed feelings about White Label solutions. I’m not sure that they really offer the highly tailored solutions that niches require, and by making it so easy for people to enter the market they are pushing up acquisition costs for the rest of.

But they’re clearly a very good business for WL providers, who have experienced very impressive growth over the last couple of years. And they do offer opportunities to established sites who want to further monetise the existing databases. We are launching a few WLs ourselves. Upselling the huge traffic we have coming in from Smooch’s rapid growth to niches which we don’t or won’t cover.

What would you suggest for an online dating startup right now? Is it really worth trying to penetrate this market at the moment?

The short answer is not unless they have very very deep pockets, and even then maybe not. Member acquisitions are extremely expensive, retention has always been 3 or 4 months and still is, so the churn is horrible. It’s a highly fragmented market, the top few brands have become genuine household names and are gathering up more market share while the smaller brands are losing it to them and to the thousands of other small fly-by-night (but quickly replaced) sites out there.

There may be a few opportunities. If you can find a niche that isn’t yet saturated for instance, but that won’t be easy. We launched a gay site a year ago ( which has grown even faster than, but this year several other significant gay sites have also got traction. Every corner of the market is filling up so quickly.

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