How Sarah Beeny disrupted Valentine’s Day and online dating with MySingleFriend.com

Real Business spoke to the entrepreneur about how her matchmaking habit developed into a business venture, what’s changed during a decade of operating and what other SMEs can do to make the most of Valentine’s Day.

Read more on the impact of Valentine’s Day on business:

You’ve had a diverse job background – what did those experiences teach you about entrepreneurship?

I’ve always had a strong work ethic and have had every job under the sun. I’ve sold vacuum cleaners, had a window cleaning business, made sandwiches – I’ve even cleaned toilets. However, each job taught me something new that has helped me in later life. I’ve met so many different types of people, had successes and failures and all of that experience led me to where I am today.

What convinced you to make property your focus?

It was just a case of being in the right place at the right time. I’d been working in property development for a few years and I met a producer at a hen party one night. We got chatting and she invited me to audition for Property Ladder. I didn’t think it would last more than one series so it is all a bit of a surprise really.

Arguably, you’re best known for Property Ladder and other development shows, so how did you come to set up MySingleFriend?

I started MySingleFriend.com a decade ago simply because I love meddling in the love lives of my single friends. Since then, it has grown to the huge community of daters it is today, with thousands of singles connecting every day and taking their trusted wingman along for the ride. We just launched our new app and are looking forward to another decade of matchmaking.

How has the business changed in that time, and is the company mission still the same?

The company’s mission has always been to encourage singles to find their match and taking their friends along for the ride. Dating has always been social, and we’ve championed that element of it from the start.

Online dating has become much more mainstream and popular since we started out. People no longer feel awkward about it, but they will always turn to their friends for support, advice or to discuss a hilarious date. So while the dating landscape has changed, the social element of dating has remained the same.

Back in 2004, the dating landscape was very different to today. Online dating was relatively new, and people were often wary of writing lengthy personal profiles. MySingleFriend.com solved the problem and removed the cringe factor by asking friends to write profiles for them.

How did you fund the project?

I funded it with a friend of mine. Getting the first 100 people on the site was tough, I was offering to take everyone out for dinner to get them to sign up but after the first 100 it really took off.

Just as social media has enhanced our social lives by making it easier to connect with people, online dating has become naturally incorporated into the way we date today. The paradigm has shifted and we should no longer think of online and offline dating as mutually exclusive. Modern dating incorporates real life dating with tools for making it easier and more exciting.

Is there a dramatic change to web traffic ahead of Valentine’s Day?

Yes definitely. In February 2014, Sunday 9 February was the busiest day for MySingleFriend with a 51 per cent increase in sign-ups that day compared to the average sign-up rate that month. With Valentine’s just around the corner and romance on everyone’s mind, there has definitely been a rush of sign-ups and message exchanges. What better time to dip your toe into the world of online dating?

How do you manage the visitor spike?

We introduced a new seven-day subscription for £7 which has proved really popular so far, and late last year we also released the app. It was important for us to get the app out before January-February as we wanted to offer members an easy and accessible way to use our platform and check out other users.

Do you actively look to secure new users of the platform during this period?

We are always looking to welcome new users to the MySingleFriend community – any time of year. This year we organised a one-off dating event for new users inviting singles and their wingmen for a scenic boat ride and cable car trip with spectacular views of the capital – all for free.

MySingleFriend.com plans on sticking around for at least another ten years; we’re constantly looking into new growth areas so we can continue to develop the brand and encourage new users to sign up.

Do you have any advice for SMEs on how they can try to capitalise on Valentine’s Day?

Offer a service or product which is truly personal. There are lots of brands and SMEs vying for attention at this time of year so you need to offer something truly unique. Don’t jump on the bandwagon just for the sake of it though, Valentine’s Day is a great time of year but if it is not in line with your brand, stay clear!

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