Startup Spotlight: Rate My Romeo

Interviewed by Saurabh Saxena and Penny Lin on Jan. 28, 2013
Q: Welcome to the Amoo office! It is very nice to meet you in person. We heard about your online dating business idea, which sounds quite similar to other dating websites at first, but is perhaps different from them. Let’s start with your team - your background, how you met?
A: As for myself, I was a 1st class student at the NSIE – a French polytechnic - learning Computer Science and Corporate Finance. Then I decided to move to the UK and enrolled at the University of Oxford, as a candidate of computer science, where I met the other co-founders and
classmates – Daniel Shi Ke and Leonid Fedorov. Daniel was reading for a degree in Information Engineering at Shanghai University in China and Leonid went to MIT for one year studying Computer Science. How did we end up working together? Sometimes you end up having a good relationship, and connection with certain people, and that’s what happened to us – the same optimism, the same direction. Before being co-founders, we were close friends.

Q: Why online dating business?
A: During our years at the university, there was an international competition held by Samsung which Daniel and I decided to be part of. We developed a mobile app targeted towards the student community. Then, we went to the finals and Leonid joined us. We decided to take this idea even further, and applied to Oxygen Accelerator, based in Birmingham. During the mentorship period, it appeared that it was difficult to start and maintain because we targeted students. It was apparently hard to monetize. So, we went out and looked at the UK. We figured out that more and more people are using dating websites. Whether it is in UK, US or worldwide, dating websites have not yet done well. Therefore, instead of helping students to meet, we can help people meet.
Q: Tell us more about RateMyRomeo, what makes it different?
A: This is an entertaining dating website. We try to focus the model on girls, and address the 4 major problems in the industry. Firstly, you need to spend a couple of hours to complete the profile and make it beautiful. However, no one likes it and does not keep it updated. Secondly, the industry doesn't seem to catch something. Men and women are actually different. When you look at the dating website, it assumes male and female users being equal in terms of behaviour. As a result, ladies are just bothered by thousands of messages, and men are just literally spamming people. They get no choices as they get really low responses rate. This is what happens in the industry. Thirdly, which is also very important in the dating industry, 81% of people lie in their dating profiles. Because they lie, that just makes all the matching either faulty, or just not worth it. If you work on the wrong data, they will give all results. This is the problem in the industry. RateMyRomeo has been designed to solve this problem by being instant, authentic, in the sense that no one can lie in it, and also having this gender peculiarities by focusing on girls.
Q: The account sign-in on RateMyRomeo is based on users’ social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin) in order to avoid the fake profiles. What if the user does not use any of those?
A: There might be a difficulty and it will be impossible to sign in to the dating website. We got some registrations by email. Actually it is possible to sign in to the dating website but not possible to do the match. You will active on it. The only difference from the other users who get their facebook/linkedin/twitter accounts is the trust score, showing how reliable the data is. If we manage to analyze facebook/linkedin/twitter data and to find the logic and consistency, the trust score of the users would be higher.
Q: Share with us the challenges and achievement you have faced so far?
A: The first challenge we had was all the non-technical parts! The three of us have expertise in computer science and have no problem with technology. For Financial side, I am fine with it due to the background in corporate finance. The challenge was the psychological side, marketing! RateMyRomeo focuses on girls but our team is full of guys. Even now, we have a female team working with us as a focus group and giving us a lot of feedback. Before that, we just decided to go out on the street at lunch/dinner time to reach random girls and ask for their opinions and feedback about online dating. For myself, it was a challenge to make the first move to talk to a girl on this dating topic. Well, eventually it was not that bad.
Q: So what's the opinion and feedback you got from them?
A: We discovered that, while we had yet realized before, unlike the men who act individually in dating website, women are usually acting with peers as a group. They tend to ask for opinions from each other “How do you think about this guy?” Most specifically in the dating industry, men are much more countable. They want physically interaction. They want to eventually meet someone. Girls are actually more looking for trust and security just to be sure on guy she met on the screen.
Q: Would RateMyRomeo go mobile app?
A: The mobile app is a different skill. Because we know that more and more people nowadays use the mobiles apps than use websites, we are trying to develop the new way to meet people in the best of conditions. We will do the live demo at Google Campus in London by the end of January.
Q: How would RateMyRomeo cooperate or compete with existing peers?
A: The dating market is massively crowded, but I would not say it is a problem. 8,000 dating website out there but no one actually works. When users subscribe on dating website, they won't just subscribe on one website. They will also subscribe on other websites. We did the market research, showing that the number of subscribed users does not mean you are successful in the market. Some massive social network turns into dating website, with 54 millions active users. For instance, eHarmony, very popular in UK, gets about 5 millions users only but generates great revenue. It is not because you are big and you are successful; it is not because you are early in the market, and you are successful. Take Zousk for example. This was a dating Facebook app, created in 2007 and got more and more popular, with 11 million users now. There is recent player in the market, Topface, created in Russia two years ago and has got 3 millions users now.
Q: How will you position yourself in this market?
A: We take gender particularly into consideration. We are fulfilling girls’ requirements and expectation for the security. eHarmony promotes to match the soul mates. However, if 81% of people lie, it would just lead to wrong results. I know some people get 800 soul mates, while it actually doesn't make sense. Badoo is for everybody, and when you look at the profiles, you find few details. Girls may not want to meet those guys because basically there is no information. How about trust? How about security? Therefore, we are not positioning ourselves at soul mate part, random part, but positioning ourselves at female users part.
Q: How do you foresee RateMyRomeo in the following 3-5 years, the goal? Geography focus?
A: We begin the market in UK as our technology is developed in English language. On the website, we are trying to give unique experience to the users, by the impression of celebrity magazine, where the stores are automatically generated. While this technology is only possible in English so far. Therefore, the potential markets would be US and UK, while UK is the biggest market in Europe. We began with Birmingham, move to London, and then Manchester, the city who counts as the most of single people in UK. In 3-5 years, we aim to have 30% of market share in the dating industry. We hope the idea itself behind RateMyRomeo will be much more relied, and to be the next favorite place for online dating users to meet the best of their conditions.
Q: What's your transaction model?
A: The transaction is based on interaction. Unlike the subscription model which charges users monthly fee, our model makes users to pay what they get, they pay for dates. So they can subscribe for free on the website, they can be matched, they can get the profile for free, and they can even communicate for free. Instead, we are going to charge this information, which may lead to dates, to physically interaction, searched by technology, from users if the two parties agree.
That’s very insightful information indeed. Thanks for taking out the time to speak with us.