Just got back last night from the annual iDate Conference in Miami. Friends are often surprised to learn that this industry has its own conference, but when there are over 1000 online dating sites competing for a billion dollars in revenue, it makes sense for the players to congregate, network and exchange trade secrets.
This is my third conference and when I go down, I find that it’s as a representative for all the online daters out there who may not feel that the sites are listening to them. You may be shocked to learn that, in fact, they are listening to you – although they’ve been admittedly delinquent about taking action.
To illustrate the point, there were a number of businesses present that stand for cleaning up cyberspace. BackgroundChecks was a sturdy standbys from last year. But my favorite innovators were these two:
A group of East Coast mensches, led by husband/wife team Mark and Esther Ezra, Honesty Online is about verifying the most important characteristics – height, weight, martial status, employment, STD’s. By far, the most comprehensive background check I’ve seen, they’re hoping that by creating a more honorable code for online daters, others will step up and verify themselves. I sure hope they’re right.
What I enjoy particularly from these events, in addition to collecting 400 business cards in my wallet, are the speakers who dare to be provocative and say things that others might not want to hear.
Robert Fisher of Great Expectations is the best at this. A man with fifteen years of experience and no shortage of stage presence, Fisher always states his mind (which is usually right), consequences be damned. He’s currently working on a venture that merges online and offline dating that will shake up this industry (in a good way) when it launches.
Other speakers who struck me with their insights included the always entertaining Julie Ferman of Cupid’s Coach, who believes that if you listen to people’s needs, you’ll improve your bottom line; Mark Brooks of OnlinePersonalsWatch, who kept coming back to the forgotten concept of integrity and Dr. John Gray of Mars/Venus fame, who has as much wisdom as anyone about the dicey interplay between men and women. I got to join Dr. Gray and his staff for lunch after his speech and was impressed with his breadth of knowledge about an array of subjects from brain chemistry to dieting (although I can still teach him a thing or two about online dating!)
Other execs impress for their ability to be cool and diplomatic in all circumstances – notably Meir Strahlberg of Date.com. Both see the winds of change coming and are extremely open to partnering with others in order to strengthen their positions in the marketplace.
Finally, I probably learned more from a few hours drinking vodka with Drew Kossoff from David DeAngelo’s Double Your Dating than I’ve gleaned from a dozen business books. I may never become an online marketing guru like DeAngelo, but I do hope to speak at his seminar series and work with them in the future. Good people.
And that’s why I left Florida with a sense of hope about the online dating industry. The folks I’ve cited, and many more, really do care about the well-being of their clients. It’s only a matter of time before these suggested changes take hold. So if you’re a single person reading this, you should probably stick around. The best is yet to come.