Startup Interview: Sonia Hully of The First Exclusive Dating Site, Love Definitely
If you have a read through the archive of our posts over the last year, you will find many articles related to online dating. From mysinglefriend, where friends compile profiles; to the original online dating site, Match, to dating for the rich and beautiful on Seventy-Thirty and toyboys on toyboywarehouse, and even finding a founding business partner through FounderDating, you wouldn't believe there were any variations left. Yet here, Sonia Hully, founder of Love Definitely talks about producing the first exclusive dating site, getting her website built and her plans for the coming year.
How did you come up with the idea of your start-up?
About a year ago, I was looking for a new venture.
Having worked in capital markets for 7 years, 3 years in the film industry followed by a bit of property development, I developed a taste for new challenges and working for myself. Two years ago I tried online dating myself and realised there were no sites for eligible bachelors. That's how my idea took place. It took me about two months to find the right developers and programmer to build my site. I didn't want to build something from a template as I wanted a differentiated site with a feeling of quality. Six months later, in June 2009, Love Definitely was launched.
How did you form your team?
I am lucky to be well connected from my previous jobs. Apart from two shareholders, a few interns and me it is a one woman show at the moment. I take regular advice from my friends entrepreneurs, lawyers etc... and I am actually starting to build an advisory board. The site, PR and other usual administrative duties are outsourced. I have also just negotiated a deal with McCann Erickson, a leading advertising agency, to manage my account. They will be developing my campaign for 2010. It is very exciting.
How did you fund it, with how much money, and what is the business model?
I have done quite well over the past few years, I was working in property development and decided to leave in 2008 before the crash. I founded most of the company myself with the help of two friends who also advise me on the financial side of the business. Since starting we have invested £55 000 into the business and launched an invite only membership section of the site called the Lounge.
The income is coming from registration fees even though it was free until very recently. It is £20 per month, £40 for 3 months and £60 for 6 months. I don't believe in having advertising on a site especially a high end site. I always find it confusing when you have too many adverts on a page. I like the site to be simple and elegant.
As I was mentioning I have also a newer membership called the Lounge, by invitation only. This one will be more expensive eventually but at the moment it is free for the people invited.
What differentiates you from other players in your sector?
The idea is to be exclusive, elegant and fun for the eligible single. There can still be a stigma about online dating and that is where I am hoping to break the ice.
I also realised that many of us find it difficult to write about ourselves, really enjoy meeting friends of friends, but lack time and prefer like-minded crowds to mass gatherings.
In that respect I decided to involve a friend to help users register and write their profile. If you wish, he can even set you up for a blind date which is innovative in the world of online dating and makes it really fun. The Lounge, which is the premium membership section of our site, is by invitation only and has a calendar of events organised by the members themselves or by Love Definitely and other exclusive event organisations.
What was your biggest challenge during the development process and how can other start-ups learn from that?
I still consider the business as being in the development stage.
However, if you need to build an internet site, I would definitely advise someone to take their time and go for lots of different quotes. They vary a tremendous amount, ie I had quotes from £6000 to £60 000. You need to be sure they understand your needs and even though lots of companies have their sites developed in countries where the cost is very low, I was very pleased to have chosen a company in the same country. Going for regular meetings with the developers and discussing your needs or following the progress means you are more hands on and keep good control.
Another big challenge is to get the word out, which is why I have been concentrating on doing a deal with McCann Erickson. I have been doing lots of events in London to start building a good reputation and lately have been approached by the press. I would say it is essential to have lots of people talking about your product.
Are you profitable?
I cannot say I am profitable at the moment as we started the registration process only a few months ago and we are still carefully building the Lounge with selected members. Hopefully I will be very soon once the campaign has launched this spring.
Where do you see the company in a years time?
In one year I hope to have a successful and profitable site in the UK and in a few hip cities abroad. I would like Love Definitely to be known a friendly, fun and sophisticated site where you can date like minded singles in a more exclusive environment. The first exclusive dating site...
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