future of online matchmaking is no longer the bastion
of lonely singles searching for love. According to market
research and consulting firm Marketdata Enterprises
Inc., as the dating services industry/continues its
stellar growth, reaching $1.14 billion in 2003, the
growth of online dating services that simply copy popular
sites is beginning to plateau. Innovative entrepreneurs
are now taking a look at the successful business model
and spotting new opportunities that, while still matchmaking,
offer a twist.
Finding a fresh niche is key to the success of sites
like Friendster.com, a virtual wildfire boasting more
than 2 million subscribers despite zero advertising.
Founder Jonathan Abrams was inspired by how his friends
met people--through other friends. "I wanted to
create an experience that was more reflective of real
life," explains Abrams, 33. The invitation-only
membership site offers a pool of potentially limitless
friends and their friends (up to four degrees) with
whom clients might make friends, network or, yes, date.
While the basic membership will always be free, says
Abrams, Friendster plans to eventually add a premium
subscription service, though the specifics have not
been worked out yet.
After a struggle to find a business partner earlier
this year, Craig Maiman, 43, started EntreMate (www.entremate.com).
Entrepreneurs post profiles and search an online database
to find prospective business partners or founding team
members. Criteria like industry, skills, location and
alma mater aid entrepreneurs in zeroing in on a match.
Some 900 members joined within six weeks of launching
the site, and Maiman expects over 10,000 registered
users by 2004.
With market research firm comScore Networks Inc. citing
online personals as the single-highest category of paid
content for Americans, people are obviously willing
to pay for connections, social or professional. "It
makes sense," says Bruce D. Weinberg, associate
professor of marketing for Bentley College in Waltham,
Massachusetts, and expert on the online consumer experience.
"[Online matchmaking] taps into what is the heart
of the Internet, helping people connect for some kind
of potential for exchange."