February 17, 2011

The Business of Dating

A website launched by Balazs Alexa ’11 and Jean Meyer ’11 brings school connections to Internet dating — and has already tapped into a new population of online daters.


It started with a date. Balazs Alexa ’11 (right) went out with a Columbia social work student who mentioned how hard it was to meet students outside of her classes. Alexa reported back to his friend Jean Meyer ’11 and the two set out to create a dating site that could bring students from different departments — and universities — together.

On November 8, less than six months after Alexa’s fortuitous date, the two launched DatemySchool (“DMS”), which attracted more than 3,000 registered users in just two weeks. The site, which is free, is currently available to students at Columbia, NYU, FIT, and nine schools in the San Francisco Bay area. (Expanding access to alumni is also in the works.) Unlike most dating sites, DMS requires users to have a university-issued e-mail address, eliminating the presence of fake or “ghost” profiles. “No other dating sites do this kind of thorough authentication,” says Alexa.

“People are telling us that there are two websites that they visit very day: DatemySchool and Facebook,” says Meyer. “People love it.”

DMS may be gaining momentum among Facebook users, but Alexa and Meyer refer to the site as the “anti-Facebook”: “With Facebook you only contact people you know, whereas the purpose of DMS is to connect with people you don’t know,” explains Meyer.

To that end, DMS makes it easy to be invisible to people that you already know: the site’s default setting is to opt out people from your own school. You could choose to be invisible to the Columbia network and only date people from NYU, for example, or you could be visible only to registered users from Columbia Business School. It’s up to you. “According to current research on the industry, the number one reason people don’t try online dating is because they’re embarrassed — they’re afraid that their profiles will be seen by their friends and family,” says Meyer.

“I also think that everybody finds it useful to be able to exclude certain populations,” says Alexa. “For me, it brings a lot of variety to my life when I have a girlfriend who is not doing the same thing that I’m doing. I don’t really care about whether she’s a psychologist, a doctor, or a nurse — I just don’t want both of us to always talk about the same things.”

The site’s early reach — to date it has 6,000 registered users — has surprised even Alexa and Meyer, who are Internet start-up veterans: Alexa’s Belanski Films helped launch Hungary’s most popular movie streaming site and last year Meyer sold Bankexam — a website that helps French students prepare for academic exams and competitions — to one of France’s biggest media companies.

To market DMS on a shoestring budget, Alexa and Meyer plastered posters across campuses and also connected with student organizations like fraternities and sororities. Remarkably, DMS is already tapping into a new population in the Internet dating space: “We’ve found that more than 50 percent of the people on DMS have never tried an online dating site before,” says Alexa.

As Alexa and Meyer raise seed capital, they are honing plans to expand DMS to colleges and universities in other cities — and increase their staff of two. This semester they’ll also consult with technology experts through the Lang Center’s Entrepreneurial Greenhouse Program. “Our strategy is sort of akin to Facebook’s,” says Meyer. “We’re starting with big schools like Columbia and Berkeley and then we’ll expand. In the United States alone there are something like 18 million students in higher education and around 120 million people who graduated from some institution of higher education.”

As DMS grows, Alexa and Meyer are beginning to identify trends that can translate into advice for online daters. They’ve observed, for example, that women go on the website, check their e-mail, respond, and leave, while men go online and wait for women to connect and chat with them. “So my advice for guys is to write more e-mails,” says Meyer, “and my advice for girls is to try to chat more.”

Not surprisingly, the two urge everyone to try DatemySchool. “The profiles are amazing and people are eager to meet,” says Alexa. If it weren’t for his and Meyer’s policy not to date through the site, he says, he’d create a DMS profile, too.

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