May 9, 2015
With an estimated 2,500 dating sites in the U.S. alone, the prospect of choosing between them can seem as overwhelming as finding “the one” amongst the approximately 41 million Americans who have tried online dating.
There are sites catering for most age and income brackets and a plethora of ethnic and religious groups, not to mention a constant stream of new and innovative takes on the dating site format.
The reason for this influx? According to businessman Justin McLeod “everyone recognizes that the traditional dating model is broken”, and it is this belief that has prompted many hopeful entrepreneurs to throw their hat into the online dating ring.
New ideas and untried formats always come with their fair share of risk, with new U.S. sites having to brave a 99 percent failure rate in addition to stiff competition. However, there are still several identifiable demographics as yet relatively untapped by the mainstream dating market.
The Disillusioned Daters
While dating behemoth Tinder goes from strength to strength with its ruthlessly aesthetic swiping system, many dating site users have grown weary of sifting through endless dubious candidates for any potential diamonds in the rough.
Christian Rudder, founder of OkCupid is unashamed to admit that running a dating site requires an element of trial and error, and that in the development stage “most ideas are bad”.
One example of this was in Rudder’s optimistic attempt to provide an alternative to the image-based focus of most dating sites. In 2013, OkCupid celebrated the launch of a new “Love Is Blind” app by temporarily removing all the photos from it’s main website. Here was the result:
The cynic’s view of dating sites was proved to be, to some extent, accurate. Users seeking a relationship based on more than looks, understandably disheartened by this finding, may well revert to more traditional dating methods.
Sites such as the UK-based MySingleFriend have attempted to circumvent this single-minded approach to dating by allowing users to create profiles on behalf of a friend. Not only does this help to build important trust between online users, but it also allows daters who have become disillusioned to leave some of the virtual heavy lifting to trusted friends.
San Francisco,CA-based site Coffee Meets Bagel uses a novel approach to target the apparently “oft-ignored under-40 urban crowd” by fighting excess with restraint, and providing users with only one match a day. The idea behind the site is that users unable to quickly dismiss potential partners will hopefully spend more time getting to know their match.
Preventing certain users from receiving an influx of messages is the central concern of several new sites, which aim to avoid copy-and-paste messages, and provide their users with options to filter out gratuitous bad language or inappropriate comments.
The Technophobe Daters
UK-based dating site datemy allows close friends and family to create a profile for their loved ones and seek out potential matches on their behalf.
Tech-savvy Millennials can help introduce shy or unsure family members and colleagues to online dating and provide guidance on navigating sites and communicating with potential matches.
Trust also plays a role for users trying out online dating for the first time. Sites like datemy rely on family and friends to legitimize the profiles of their loved ones which could help entice nervous users with the promise of a safe and social dating experience.
The Senior Daters
In 2013, the Pew Research Center found that while 22 percent of 25-34 year-olds in the U.S. had used online dating sites, that number falls to just 3 percent for those over the age of 65; however, it is worth remembering that fewer 25-34 year-olds are married or in a relationship.
Undeterred by the high start-up and failure rate, it seems sites with a clear sense of their target market and format continue to be rewarded. Consumers in the online dating world often have a clear idea of what they want, and the most successful sites are those that recognize and react to user needs and insights.
Whether targeting disillusioned daters, seniors, or those discovering online dating for the first time, there are still plenty of options for new sites. It’s a lesson that might be transferred to the startup world in general: there are still plenty more users in the sea.
Simon Davies is a London-based freelance writer with an interest in startup culture, issues and solutions.
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