In my career, I have worked on just about every business and technical aspect of the Internet.
Branding/Marketing and Media buys:
One of my biggest responsibilities as the founder of Matchmaker.com was to create an identifiable brand both on and off line. I accomplished this through a combination of radio, print, and online marketing. In 1997 I formed a relationship with Yahoo! and started buying search engine keywords on a CPM basis. I locked down words like "singles", "dating", "personals", etc in the Yahoo! inventory for many years. This was critical for the growth and branding of MatchMaker.com. It drove relevant traffic to MatchMaker.com and kept the #2 Match.com from getting to those interested users. The return on investment was so high with these early search engine buys I expanded this contract 300% in the first 6 months of operations. Since Yahoo! was returning over a 9% click through rate, I also began buying traffic from other portals like Yahoo, InfoSeek, Excite, AOL, Lycos, LookSmart, Goto/Overture, Classifieds2000, Northern Light, Altavista, DoubleClick, CupidsNetwork, American Singles, and Hotbot. As our relationships with the various online marketing companies grew, I negotiated some of the first CPA and CPC contracts these organizations ever had. Off line marketing including billboard buys in several cities around the country as well as banners on buses and trains.
One of the key issues I had to deal with on a daily basis was how to get people to convert to paying members. The marketing discussed above got people to the site, but the revenue model was based on those trial members becoming paying members. At our height over 22% of trial members were converting to paid members. Those paid members continued to pay on average for 4 1/2 months. I was able to achieve such high conversion and retention rates by manipulating trial and paying member benefits, increasing and decreasing trial periods, membership rates/specials and providing a very high quality and responsive service. It needs to be noted that an online dating portal is the only business in the world where you are "doing your job" right when you send your customer away in pairs.
First to form Matchmaker.com Inc, I had to convince multiple independent franchisees to give up their individual Matchmaker BBS systems to form a single Internet corporation. Over the course of 3 months I negotiated each franchise owner to trade franchise ownership for equity eventually forming a single unified Matchmaker.com Corporation. Once formed, I was the President and Chief Executive Officer. I also formed other strategic partnerships as the President of MatchMaker.com, including relationships with Blindgift.com, Savvis Communications, Nationwide Internet, CRL, Frontier / Global Crossing, and Freeside Networks, Worldcom, SWB/GTE.
MatchMaker was originally a BBS (Bulletin Board System), a text based dial-up on-line service similar to CompuServe from the eighties. It was my initiative to forge forward and get my network on the Internet and provide dial-up and telnet services to my users. I then rolled out the concept of "Metro" and "Special Interest" niche Matchmaking sites to better group and productize the enterprise service. As a rule, people want to meet others in their area, the Metro sites were domestic mainstream dating portals targeted for specific US cities. The Special-Interest niche sites were worldwide dating portals targeting specific demographic groups in Age, Religion, Ethnic and other various affinities. Simply put, "birds of a feather flock together", I figured by putting people together with more common interests I would yield higher membership conversions. The revenue literally tripled in only one month from the completion of this strategic grouping and remained about 50% of the company’s total membership revenue. It was this decision that set me apart from other matchmaker franchise operators in other cities and MatchMaker as a whole from other companies like Match.com in the on-line personals business.
The ultimate purpose of Matchmaker.com was two-fold; first to bring people together, second to make money. In order to make this second goal a reality I had to form both a long-term business strategy and a set of short-term tactical goals to grow the company and maintain profitability. Every venture we took on at Matchmaker.com had a calculated return on investment (ROI), and had to show profitability in the first 90 days or I did not approve it. As a startup company I also had to deal with the more mundane aspect of financing, including accounting, taxes, payroll, insurance, accounts receivable, etc…It was not until much later in the evolution of the organization I was able to have others handle these things on a daily basis. The advantage to working this way is I gained a working familiarity with all these issues, so I have a more critical eye looking at the financial organization of any corporate entity.
Matchmaker.com grew at such an exponential rate it was almost impossible to hire people fast enough to meet the ever increasing demand. In order to address these personnel demands I formed several major departments and staffed them with outstanding department heads. I then empowered these department head to go recruit and hire the people they need to run their individual departments efficiently and within the prescribed budget. The results were we had an outstanding staff and were able to grow from 5 employees to 124 employees in 2 years. I was able to recruit very high caliber people from much larger, well funded companies such as; Cisco Systems, Fidelity Investments, American Airlines, and Sabre, etc.
Alternative Revenue Sources:
As the Internet business model evolved I was able to have Matchmaker.com evolve with it, and take advantage of new revenue opportunities. Matchmaker.com created an affiliates program to increase both traffic and membership revenue. In addition, I added a new chapter to our business plan called Data Mining. The idea behind this is, singles creating profiles provide a tremendous amount of demographical information, including zip code, income level, profession, hobbies, living arrangements, and more. Sponsors and potential advertisers will pay much higher then standard advertising rates to serve ads and gather survey information from very targeted demographic groups.
Venture Capital and Funding:
In January 1999 I felt Matchmaker.com could grow even faster with an infusion of outside capital. In a very short 2 months I was able to secure $5 Million in venture capital through a private placement with investors in Dallas and the Silicon Valley. I was able to obtain this capital while only surrendering 22% of corporate equity and I maintained voting control with the original founders.