February 19, 2012
Last week I wrote about the difficulties startups have had cracking the online dating code. While there is definitely room for improvement, no one has quite gotten there yet.
During my research, I was introduced to Laurie Davis, founder of eFlirtExpert.com, who said the biggest problem she’s seen with online dating sites is the huge learning curve involved. “There are still a lot of people out there – busy executives mostly – who are not comfortable online and don’t know how sites work,” she said. “This is true for people just out of college too. They don’t understand the etiquette of online dating and how to go about it in the most effective way.”
Davis’ team of online dating coaches help people put their best pixels forward, offering everything from wardrobe advice to where to go on dates. Reminds me of the movies Hitch and Crazy Stupid Love (Ryan Gosling – sigh) – and even Cyrano de Bergerac a bit. There is such a huge need for this, apparently, that they have clients in 4 countries and all around the US.
While she was traveling on the West Coast last week, I talked to Laurie on the phone and via email, curious as to how she moved a very offline business online – successfully (40% conversion rate on Twitter!). Here are excerpts from our conversations.
Tech Cocktail: How did you start out, and where do you see eFlirtExpert going?
Laurie Davis: I was working in marketing and lost my job when the economy headed south. Around that time, a friend called and said he was moving in with his girlfriend – a couple I had introduced. I realized I had been naturally helping friends set up online profiles and get dates. Instead of marketing brands, I thought, well, why not markets singles? I am pretty good at it already.
Our certified eFlirters are trained in marketing as well as coaching. We are rebranding one of our service offerings into a concierge service to help people with their entire dating life – we cull through messages, plan dates for them, do their wardrobe – so we are much more like matchmakers in this space.
Tech Cocktail: Who are your competitors, and how are you different/better?
Davis: That’s a good question, but it’s tough to say, since we offer unique services. Of course, there are individuals who do similar things in the space, but there are very few companies. And even then, they tend to focus on specific dating demographics. Our approach is much stronger since it’s very personalized and extends beyond simply assisting with writing profiles or emails. We realize that profiles and emails are a means to an end. Daters don’t want simply a good profile; they want fulfilling relationships! The offline component of online dating is equally as important to our approach.
Tech Cocktail: How do you learn about your clients? How do you answer messages on their behalf while making it sound like them? (THAT has got to be hard to do!)
Davis: All services begin with a questionnaire where we get some basic information about the client’s lifestyle, dating history and ideal match. Then, we meet to discuss things in more depth – either in-person, on the phone, or via Skype.
All of our eFlirters have to be literary chameleons, able to switch up their writing style and phrasing to match a client’s voice. As you can imagine, this is not easy! They all have journalism degrees or experience, and are trained in marketing so they understand both the writing and branding elements of communicating on someone’s behalf.
With that said though, we do have best practices that are followed – what we’ve found yields the best response from a particular demographic online – so the client doesn’t always dictate our work. For example, one of our clients’ writes all lower case with minimal punctuation. As a tech founder, this is okay in business – she is well-known and respected so people appreciate her style as unique. But when online dating, her professional reputation doesn’t precede herself; it’s a true first impression.
Tech Cocktail: Tell me more about the concierge service – is it hard to conduct such a personal, in-depth, and sensitive job via Skype and the Internet?
Davis: Actually, the Internet makes eFlirt Concierge an efficient working environment. We’re able to provide more seamless service through tech: websites and cloud-based documents allow us to track progress, Skype allows us to meet virtually with clients anytime, virtual shopping gives us the opportunity to overhaul our clients’ wardrobes from 3,000 miles away, and mobile apps keep us connected to their dating accounts when trying to schedule a last minute date. We’re power users of pretty much all lifestyle tech.
But while there is an enormous tech component to what we do, it’s also incredibly personal and emotional for each client. Inevitably there are things that technology cannot facilitate, like the ability to reach through the phone and hug my client in San Francisco who is going through a breakup. But the advice has no less impact – she emailed me after our conversation to tell me what a huge help my “simple but perfect” words were. For daters, we’re often the touch-point between emotion and technology.
Tech Cocktail: Besides Twitter, what other forms of marketing work well for you?
We’ve had some great press recently as well as some excellent joint-appearances with dating sites and other industry experts. Our newsletter, blog posts and guest blog posts have been gaining more and more readers. I’m doing more speaking engagements and panels now, including one at SXSW that I’m very excited to be hosting next month. Word-of-mouth referrals make up a large percentage of clients, as well as good old fashioned networking. Most recently, we’ve begun offering our services to dating sites, helping optimize their users’ experience on the site.
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