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DatingBuzz: Dave Burnstein

Local Internet dating site becomes international matchmaking wonderland

Juliet Pitman

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Dave Burstein of Dating Buzz

“I met my spouse online” is a phrase SouthAfricans will become more and more used to hearing if Dave Burstein and DuncanForrest, co-founders of online dating website DatingBuzz, have anything to dowith it. Forrest, who met his wife Melinda through DatingBuzz, is one of agrowing number of people who have proved that Internet dating is more effective– and mainstream – than people might initially have believed.

Forrest and Burstein, both electronicengineers with experience in interactive design, launched DatingBuzz in 2002.“There were a couple of overseas dating companies that were starting to doreally well, particularly in the USand Australia.Although the numbers were initially quite small, they were definitely headingin the right direction,” explains Burstein. He talks about the considerationsin setting up the website: “Functionality was a key issue – we looked at whatwould work from a user perspective. And we never looked at whether we could dosomething as well as everyone else; we wanted to do what other dating sitesdid, only better.”As the biggest dating site in South Africa, with 45 million pages and fivemillion user sessions a month, as well as formidable presence in the UK, Irelandand Australia,Burstein and Forrest have achieved that goal. DatingBuzz is differentiated fromits competitors on a number of important points. It was the first professionaldating site to offer a uniquely local feel; billing is in rands, not dollars,and it’s clear that the designers understand local geography. But moreimportantly, its key differentiator has been its approach to matchmaking. Thesophisticated matching technology (created in-house along with everything else)allows users to be highly specific about what constitutes their “ideal match”.

Burstein explains: “Once people set uptheir own profile, they specify what they are looking for in an ideal partner accordingto a range of characteristics. But our software allows them to weight each ofthese characteristics according to how important they are to the user. So‘non-smoker’ might be a non-negotiable while age range may only be moderatelyimportant.” DatingBuzz calculates as a percentage how suitable other membersmay be for that user and cross-correlates how suitable the user is for thesepeople, according to their “ideal match” requirements. Members can sendanonymous messages to each other through the site and decide from there whetherthey want to take things further. DatingBuzz’s confidentiality policy means itnever reveals anyone’s identity or details to anyone else.Scalability is a challenge for any businessbut particularly one so reliant on technology. “We reached a point fairlyquickly in the early days where we needed to make some technological decisionsregarding scalability,” Burstein says. “The model we now have is virtuallyinfinitely scalable; if the need arises we simply drop in more servers for morecapacity.” The company leases all its technology.

The site’s success is also due in part tothe business’s value capture model. As Burstein explains, “One of the biggestchallenges is marketing a website. Unless you have really deep pockets, youfind yourself in a bit of a catch 22 situation; you need the traffic togenerate revenue but you need the revenue to generate the traffic.” To overcomethe marketing challenge, he and Forrest took a decision early on to “whitelabel” (re-brand) the site. This meant that South African (and laterinternational) media sites with an existing presence and user base could offera dating service; they brand the outer “skin” of the site but the content isthe same as users would find on the DatingBuzz-branded site. DatingBuzz paysthese media partners a percentage of the revenue generated from each of theirsites. The result is that virtually every media company in South Africa,and many online companies overseas, offer an internet dating service that usesDatingBuzz.

The company’s other income stream comes inthe form of membership fees. Users can sign up for free, remain a non-payinguser indefinitely and enjoy all the services offered by the site, but to send amessage to another user, they need to become a member. Subscriptions aretime-based and range from R89,95 for one month to R649,95 for 12 months. Themodel not only gives users a risk-free chance to determine how well the sitemight work, but it also offers a strong incentive to subscribe.Having overcome the start-up challenges ofestablishing a successful dating site in what was an initially scepticalmarket, Burstein and Forrest are mindful of the challenges that lie ahead. “Wealways have to be aware that we are researchable by others, so we arecontinually improving the functionality and user experience on the site. It’sall about staying ahead of the game,” says Burstein.

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