How An Influencer Is Building Personals Sites From An Island In The Mediterranean – with Mark Brooks

Posted on Sep 8, 2010 - 10:41 AM PST

Mark Brooks is living the good life and thinks a few Mixergy viewers should swipe his approach to build similar companies.

He did this interview from Malta, where he’s making a name for himself in the online personals industry through his blogs and consulting company. Listen to this interview and hear how Mark’s blog, Online Personals Watch, has made him the authority reporters and entrepreneurs turn to when they want insight into the personals space. You’ll also see how his reputation leads to consulting clients like Plenty Of Fish, which turn to him for help building their personals sites.

The FULL program


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About Mark Brooks

Mark Brooks is the principal consultant for Courtland Brooks, a boutique consultancy which exclusively serves Internet Dating and Social Networking companies. It provides media relations, business development and strategic advisement services.

He’s also the publisher of Online Personals Watch, which has become the #1 online resource for the business of online dating, and its sister site, Social Networking Watch.

*Raw* transcript


This transcript was prepared by SpeechPad. Readers (like you) are editing an updated version here.

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Here’s the program.

Andrew Warner: Hey, everyone. It’s Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. And you know what that means. That means that I’ve got an audience of people who know that there’s tons of other stuff they could be watching or listening to online, but with all that choice, what they picked is to listen to entrepreneurs talk about how they built their businesses, so that they can just pick up as many ideas as they can and take them into their business and grow their companies.

And hopefully, and I keep saying this, and more and more, it’s happening, hopefully, when they do build their businesses, they’ll come back here and do an interview with me on Mixergy and teach others the way that this interview is going to teach them.

So, who do I have with me today? I’ve got Mark Brooks. He is the founder of Courtland Brooks, which consults online personal sites. His client list includes PlentyofFish, True, and FriendFinder. He’s also the editor of Online Personals Watch and Social Networking Watch.

I invited him to Mixergy here to talk about two different things. First of all, I want to find out about the online personals business. Where is the money in that business? Where has it gone? How has it adjusted? Who are the guys who are the scrappy upstarts in that business, and how did they build up successful businesses?

And he is a guy who knows this industry, because he is not just a consultant in the industry, but he is also teaching people and publishing about where the money is. The second thing I want to talk to you about, I don’t want to get too lost, by the way, Mark, in where they money is. But, I’m looking at my introduction here, and I’m realizing there’s a whole lot of “Where’s the cash? Where’s the money?” But we’ll talk a little bit about that.

The second thing I wanted to talk to you about is how you are building a business with a distributed team, where you’re raising your profile, where you’re consulting all these companies and doing it in a way that just keeps helping you grow your business.

So, welcome to Mixergy.

Mark: Thank you, Andrew. I’ve been looking forward to the interview.

Andrew: Now, I get a lot of flack, by the way, when I ask entrepreneurs where they get their money. And I also ask them how much revenue they are bringing in. And people start to scream. But you, before the interview started, you told me your number. I want people to understand. I’m not browbeating my guests and trying to find out how much revenue they’re making. You volunteered it. Do you feel comfortable saying it in the interview?

Mark: Yeah, no problem. We typically are anywhere from 600 grand to 800 grand a year. Not broken a million a year, but we are in that bracket fairly consistently. I started Courtland Brooks in 2005. And I would say for the last couple of years we have been in that bracket now. And we are looking solid to stay in that bracket or increase.

Andrew: Why are you so comfortable saying that, telling an audience of strangers here what your numbers are?

Mark: The downside would be, could I inspire some competition? But I think we have such an efficient system that I’d be surprised if anybody could really compete at the same sort of level. We are very efficient on several levels: in terms of the technology we use; in terms of being tax efficient; in terms of just the build-up of knowledge that we’ve had over the last several years. I think it’d be hard to compete with us. But I would encourage the competition, because it would only inspire us further.

Andrew: [laughs] Oh, right on. That’s a great attitude. And I know people who are watching the video are going to be looking in the background trying to figure out where you are. Where are you exactly?

Mark: Well, I’m sitting in Malta right now.

Andrew: OK.

Mark: And I’d like to have had the front room. But we are right on the waterfront, and a band just picked up and started playing. [laughs]

Andrew: Oh, so we could have had that backdrop.

Mark: Yeah.

Andrew: That would have been awesome.

Mark: [laughs] But, I’m in Malta.

Andrew: And you are on your couch now, right? I’m sorry. You are on your couch now, right?

Mark: Yeah.

Andrew: OK. So, for the audience, we have a little bit of a lag with the Skype connection. We’ll just deal with it, and we’ll find a way to work out. And if you see that we are stepping on each other’s lines, it’s because of the lag. It’s not out of any kind of disrespect.

So, I wrote down here that you are doing it in a tax efficient way. How are you doing that? What does that mean?

Mark: Well, Malta is a very tax efficient place. This is actually one of the capitals of the Internet gaming business. There are a few hundred Internet gaming companies based here. And so they pay half a percent for their taxes. Malta is very aggressive towards issuing licenses for the Internet gaming industry, but they are also very lenient towards my type of business, consulting businesses. It’s very worthwhile being based here.

Andrew: So you are paying less than one percent taxes?

Mark: Pretty much, yeah, in my situation. And it’s actually half a percent taxes for Internet gaming companies up to a maximum of half a million Euros. Yeah, half a million Euros. That’s the cap.

Andrew: OK. That’s a pretty good deal. So, how are you managing your company from there? Your team isn’t in Malta, right?

Mark: We’re all over the map. What happened, actually, I took a trip to Shanghai. I was there for two months. There was actually an Internet dating conference in Shanghai, and I decided to stay there, just to look at the culture and look at the various matchmaking Internet dating services that were based there to learn from them.

And business grew, strangely enough. I learned that my customers, my clients did not care where I was based as long as the work got done. And so, up until that point, my mindset was that I needed to be in the USA. And I really found that the clients don’t care. You know, as long as you are in regular contact with them, and I tended to use Skype and e-mail on a very regular basis. They are happy as long as they are getting results.

My team, I brought 15 people on my team. We’ve got four full-timers, and 15 people who contribute towards the client efforts, client servicing. So, we use a service called MyIntervals.com to manage priorities, manage projects. And what MyIntervals really allows me to do is slice and dice what needs to get done down to the nth degree. Down to who is doing what, down to giving the clients access so they can see exactly what is going on. So, we don’t do reports, for example. The clients are able to see exactly what they are getting for their money before and after and 24/7, basically. So, I am a great fan of the MyIntervals system, after having looked at 25 different systems.

Andrew: I see. So, the same dashboard, essentially, that you see with your people, your clients get to see too, and they get to keep up with what’s going on as it happens.

Mark: Yeah. We see different things. But, ultimately, one of my team members can login. They can see exactly what they are supposed to do, what accounts they are working on, what projects they are working on, the progress that other people have made on those particular charts and projects. And it’s just quite a revelation being able to use that system and actually doing the building through that system as well.

Andrew: I said a little bit about what you do in the introduction. Can you add a little more substance to it? What exactly do you do when you consult online personal sites?

Mark: It’s very simple. We help Internet dating companies make more money.

Andrew: How?

Mark: And also companies that want to talk to them. We do PR, business development, and strategic advisement. So, we work quite nicely with startups who have an idea of what they should be doing . . .

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Mark: . . . and want to feel more warm and fuzzy about what they are doing. We can basically tell them, “Well, here’s what’s been done before. Here is what has worked. Here is what hasn’t. Here are our vendors to use. Here are companies to avoid. And here is a methodology that will help you make money, and companies that you can work with, partners, affiliates that will help you make money.”

So, that’s kind of on the business, strategy side. On the PR side, we tend to attract a lot of PR.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Mark: Just through my work with Online Personals Watch. So, I tend to get a fair number of call-ins from the press. I started blogging in June of 2004, and I’ve gained some notoriety as a go to person to talk candidly about the Internet dating industry. And that is an interesting point of inspiration, I think, for other people who may be in the same situation. They have got a knowledge base that they would like to utilize, that they think they would like to become a consultant on a particular specialty. There is a lot to be said for being very, very consistent over the long term and finding information that your target clientele want and need on a daily basis and serving it up online.

Andrew: I see. Sorry. There’s a stop there. We are both waiting to let the other person talk so that we don’t step on each other. OK. I see. So, the blog I always thought of as a way for you to find new clients. But you are saying it also helps you add value to clients. It helps you get PR for them. It helps you make introductions. So, can you tell people a little more about the blog?

Mark: Yes. What happened, in 2004, I actually was working with Cupid.com back then. I had actually worked with FriendFinder. And at FriendFinder, I had noticed that I was getting great snippets of information from the press. I was seeing the news. They were doing stories on the Internet dating industry. And I consistently didn’t have time to read all of the articles, and I thought that was a shame. And I thought it was also a shame for the executives of the industry not to have that. They probably also didn’t have the time, I’m sure, to read everything that was out there.

So, I thought it would be nice if somebody could summarize and extract the best intelligence out of what the press were writing about, and just take the bits that you can learn from, the bits you can use to make better decisions to make more money. So, when I went over to Cupid.com, I figured that’s enough. Nobody is doing it. I’ve got to do it. At least if I promise everybody I’m going to do it, I’m going to read these articles and learn from them.

So, June of 2004, I started OnlinePersonalsWatch.com. The idea is that we condense three hours of reading into three minutes of reading a day.

Andrew: I see. And, essentially, that’s what it is today, right? I went in and I checked it out this morning, just to see what was on the site. You take a long article that would be several screenfuls of information and you condense it into one paragraph plus a link to the article.

Mark: Yes.

Andrew: Essentially, that’s it.

Mark: Yes. And so it goes through three hands these days. Not just across my desk. Petra is in Prague. She picks up on the news in the very early morning, and then she forwards it to my wife Raina, who then reviews it and she’s got the same eye as I have. It’s very difficult to find anybody who’s has the same eye. And we’re married. We think alike. We have the same eye for what is useful and what is not so useful. So, she culls everything. Then I do final review and add commentary and that all goes online by mid-day, EST.

Andrew: Wow. OK. So, you were doing this just to learn at first. At what point did it become a business tool?

Mark: I went to the Internet Dating Conference in 2004, and I was quite enamored with Mark Lesnick, who runs it. He ran a good show, I think, the very first Internet Dating Conference, in 2004. And he said, “You’ve got to talk at one of my conferences.” I said, “Well, why not? Okay.”

So, I started talking at the conferences. And, you know, it’s nice to be up there first. It’s nice to be able to get people’s attention so you can talk to everybody. And if you deliver value, sometimes people want more. If they like what you have to say, they want to pay to give them more. And so I just built up some notoriety for being candid and giving good advice. And the press started calling and I basically had multiple job offers on the table. In January of 2005, I had three jobs offers on the table, so I decided to take all three. And that is how Courtland Brooks started.

Andrew: I see. Instead of working for, I’m sorry. Go ahead.

Mark: At a point from there, I knew a lot of people that I thought could do a better job than me. So, I hired them. And so the rule with Courtland Brooks hiring is I only hire people better than me. I’ve generally got a good idea of what needs to get done to serve the clients’ interest in helping them make more money. So, we work as a team. If I need a particular skill, I will reach out to a particular person or a particular knowledge base or connections. So, for basically the price of a marketing manager, they are getting access to a team of 15 people. And that’s the pitch. And it seems to work.

Andrew: Do you remember some of the candid advice that you gave out back in the early days? How did you get people’s attention?

Mark: Well, let me think. I am just thinking back to affiliate management, for example. You know, a lot of people would start up a dating site, and they do a very poor job with affiliate management. So, for starters, there are certain systems you can use, which are horrendous, and certain systems which are very useful. DirectTrack is a service that has been around for some number of years. I hated it back in 2004. But it is the only system that could do what the affiliates needed — a good tracking system.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Mark: So, just giving out information on what vendors to use, based on my experiences, is tremendously valuable. Essentially, when a startup comes up to us, typically they will say, “Look. I’ve built this site.” Typically, the conversation goes, “I’ve built this site. It rocks. I’ve spent 90 percent of my money. Now, what do I do?” [laughs]

Well, the inverse is true. Unfortunately, they should have saved 90 percent and spent less, perhaps, on the site. Ninety percent of their budget should have been spent on trafficking. And so that is the typical conversation. And then every so often, we have a client who has actually reserved enough money to do decent trafficking.

And where do they start? SEO? PPC? Do they go with an affiliate channel? And the typical response is, “Go with PPC, because you will have the ultimate in granularity, and you can minimize risk. You are not going to lose your shirt.” And part of our job is to make sure these new clients, these new startups don’t lose their shirt. And they get the benefit of ideas, of experience within the dating industry.

Andrew: Mark, is there still money, is there still business in the dating world? It seems to me like most people either go to one of the top sites that are already established and have a long track record, or they go to Facebook or one of the news social networks to meet people.

Mark: In terms of meeting people, the reason dating sites have a future is because it is one thing to be single. It’s another to be single and available. And it’s even another thing to be single and available and looking, motivated. And so, we are three levels deep there.

And you just don’t quite find that on Facebook. Yes, you can find people that say they are single. But are they really single? Are they dating? Are they really available? They might have just jumped out of a relationship and are really not interested. They might just want to have a casual relationship. They might not want to have anything too committed.

Andrew: But hasn’t Markus at PlentyofFish, hasn’t he blogged that social networks are taking customers away from dating sites? And even if you don’t know immediately when you land on somebody’s page on a Facebook, even if you don’t know immediately that they are single and looking, you can at least start a conversation. If something happens, then something happens and you start dating.

Mark: Yes.

Andrew: So, hasn’t it taken some attention away?

Mark: Yes. Is it taking attention? Yes, it is. But people want a more focused experience. There are two surprises that we have had in the dating industry. The first one is that social networking didn’t kill the dating industry. And the second one is that Internet dating didn’t kill the matchmaking industry. So, let me address both.

The matchmaking industry survived because people have come to realize that it is worth spending a few bucks to have service and to meet people. My screen has kind of lightened up. Sorry about that. Never before have people been so open to the idea of spending money to have help to meet the right people. And so, matchmaking has done okay despite the Internet dating industry rising.

On the social networking side, now more people are used to putting in profiles into social networks. Indeed, social networks are a superior place in some ways to meet people, because you can judge people by the company that they keep. And there are no more natural ways to meet a date than at a party. And a lot of the social networks are parties online.

Nevertheless, if you want a focused experience, then you still go to an Internet dating service because, as I mentioned, you meet people who are not only single, but available and motivated. They are going to show up to the date, because they have spent a few bucks.

Andrew: OK. What about the idea that there are already enough established players out there that it is really hard to come in with a new site?

Mark: It is. Without a doubt. I mean, there are thousands of Internet dating services, bona fide Internet dating services around the world at this stage. I rather think it is like starting a restaurant. It is a very attractive business, because it is a great service to mankind. Just as it is very fun and sexy and interesting to start a restaurant, it’s the same deal with an Internet dating service.

It’s actually easier to start a dating site at this stage, or so it seems. You know? It’s not that difficult, you would think, to start a restaurant either. But there’s actually a lot more moving pieces that go into building a successful restaurant than meets the eye. And the same with Internet dating.

And that’s why I have these conversations with startups. They’ve got a site. But, that’s just a fifth, a tenth of the story. Once they’ve got a killer website, then they’ve got to bring the people. And it’s rather like opening a shop and not having anything on the shelves. The real job is finding the real profiles of real people that will be active.

Andrew: I understand, with examples. Why don’t we try this? Let’s say Casey Allen, who I see here in the audience, decides that he is going to start an online dating site. What’s the first thing that you’d recommend that he do?

Mark: First question is, is he a marketer or a technologist?

Andrew: Hmm.

Mark: And if the answer is, “I’m a marketer.” If Casey is a marketer and he is really not a technologist and doesn’t want to be tweaking and playing around with programming or even coordinating a project team to build a site, then he should go down the white labeling route. And what that means is, he can use a service like White Label Dating or DatingFactory.com.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Mark: Or possibly Easy Date. Or if he has got some significant ability to drive traffic, either through a significant investment or an existing channel, he could actually go with a number of existing dating sites that quietly provide white labels. They don’t really publicize it, but a lot of the dating sites will provide white labels. Let me define a white label.

Andrew: Please.

Mark: A white label is an existing site that offers a back end. I’ll give you an example with White Label Dating. I just interviewed the CEO of White Label Dating today actually, so it is fresh in my mind. Singles365.com is one of their white labels. And so if you’ve got a site, and then you go to PlentyMoreFish.com, they are both the same user base. And yet they have a different front door. That is essentially the way white labels work. And they typically work on a percentage basis.

What they provide, typically, you will make 50 to as high as 65, 70 percent from a white label site. If you are sending a lot of traffic, you can negotiate your way up about 60 percent. Typically it will turn out 50/50 on reorders, renewals, and initial revenue.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Mark: Now, what the white label provides is customer service. So, you don’t have to worry, in theory, about providing customer service to the end users. You also don’t have to worry about the service, keeping the service running. You don’t have to worry about the cost for that and the technology. The only thing you need to focus on is marketing. So, that’s why I said the first question is are you a marketer or a technologist.

Andrew: Okay. And if you do go white label route, then can you ever take your users and build your own community in the future? Or are you always married to the white label service?

Mark: That is the golden question, and it’s, as we say in England, a bit of a sticky wicket. Because you would think from the mega affiliate basis, from the mega affiliate, from the partners’ ideal, you would be able to rip away those members and be able to start your dating site. Ultimately if you had enough people, you would want to be able to take them with you and start your own dating service running on your own technology, perhaps.

Now, that’s bad on two points. Number one, it’s not good for the user, if you were to take away paying members. Hey, they are paying on this user experience. They are used to that user experience. And then you rip them away. Well, that’s not very good for them. Really. I mean, it may be, if you do a really good job with your site.

But, ultimately, the white labels across the board have taken the same approach. They don’t allow affiliates, partners, mega affiliates, whatever, to take paying members. However, if you are a significant affiliate, then you may be able to negotiate the ability to take away member profiles and contact information. But that is as much as you will ever get out of a white label.

Andrew: And that way you can start. You can keep the members having access to the paid community that they want, but also give them another community that they can use to be the beginning of your community.

Mark: You have the ability to market through them. And, again, it’s not an optimal user experience, because, it would cause some confusion. Hey, they are paying on this site. And then, all of a sudden, they are seeing this site. But people do that, and that’s fine. There’s a lot of re-marketing going on in the dating industry at this stage anyway.

So, you basically, as an affiliate, you are not going to find anyone that is going to allow you to take their paying member if you start a white label. You really, all you can do . . .

Andrew: So, essentially, if you are white labeling, you are becoming a super affiliate. You are getting a bigger commission, but you are also sending your users over to somebody else’s system.

Mark: You have some brand equity, because you have the value of the domain, which is an advance over being an affiliate. However, you do not really have the equity from owning the paid members.

Andrew: Right. Okay. So, that’s one way to go. What if Casey Allen happens to be a technologist and he can code something up? What would you advise him at that point?

Mark: Well, there are two extra routes that he can take. Number one is to use an off the shelf software.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Mark: Like BoonEx. And in fact, actually, Online Personals Watch, I’ve got a whole page full of options. If you go to OPW1.com, which is a shortcut, and then on the right bar under, I think it is Links. If you look down on the right, you will see “Start your own dating site.” I’ve got a whole slew of options there. Some good, some bad. BoonEx is there. Dolphin is their product. There are a few other options there. But, generally, what I am hearing is there are a lot of options offered on these services, which just cause confusion.

Another option is build your own from scratch, which I don’t recommend at all. Another option is use a programming outfit that has already built dating sites in the past. And, actually, (________) out of Romania has done a good job with that. So, I’m happy to provide a referral for anybody who wants to attach with that company. They’ve done a good job for my clients in the past.

Andrew: So, you don’t recommend starting from scratch? There is no new angle in this space that is worth building a new site for?

Mark: You’ve got to have a fair amount of capital. I mean, what do they say? Build a dating site, I mean, if you are building something best in class, world class, you are looking at a couple of hundred grand. If you go offshore, if you go to the likes of Romania, then you are looking at really on a low end, 30 grand. On the high end, 60, 70 grand. Eastern Europe, for a group that’s already built dating sites before. And they are probably reusing some code at that price basis.

Now, doing it off the shelf, you are really looking at under a grand. You can buy software. You can actually get software for free. But, then, the amount of time that you spend tweaking it and fixing bugs and dealing with inconsistencies. If you are a technologist, then that is possibly a way to go. I’m not. I’m a marketer. So, I recommend against that approach. But, for some people, they want to spend time doing that and get it just right. It’s not a bad approach.

Andrew: Markus at PlentyofFish, I keep bringing up his name because I really admire what he was able to do from nothing. He bootstrapped that business and became one of the leaders in the space.

Mark: Yeah.

Andrew: And certainly one of the most hated by the established dating sites. He seems to have built his from scratch, right?

Mark: Well, Markus’ direction was actually very different, because he had to be super efficient. And there is some significant benefit to being a single programmer.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Mark: You know, he built everything himself, and made it very simple and made it very scalable as it works out. I mean, he did a good enough job with it. He is quite the genius. I must say. He has figured out a way to run millions of logins on just a handful of servers. I mean, he gets over 1.5 million logins a day at this stage, and he still has got just a handful of servers. Far, far less than any of the competition in the industry.

He is using another service to host pictures, which is a great point of efficiency for him. But, in his situation, he really had to build from the ground up because he knew it’s all about numbers, really. He knew, as a very strong mathematician, that he had to be super, super efficient. So, I don’t think he had too much choice. He had to build from the ground up.

But, for a paid site, the efficiencies are different. You can afford to be less efficient with the serving technology and put more money into marketing up front.

Andrew: Okay. And it seems in general marketing then is where you stand out in the space.

Mark: Perception is everything. And the pool of people that you bring together are what people pay to enter and swim around in.

Andrew: Okay.

Mark: So, in Markus’ case, he was one of the early free dating sites, the earliest and the most effective at marketing. I mean, he did a lot of marketing. No two ways about it. It was not all just word of mouth. But, he has worked the numbers. And he has been most strong at observing user behavior of his users, and not just how to look after them, but how to get them to multiply.

Andrew: I see. I want to come back and talk about how to get them to multiply. But let’s talk about how to bring them in. In fact, I’m going to write this down here, to come back to it. But, how do you bring people into a site today? How do you get new members?

Mark: All of the major dating sites, across the board, spend a lot of money on PPC, pay per click. So, Overture and AdWords are an absolute mainstay of the industry.

Andrew: Are they all competing in the same pool of Google search results? Essentially?

Mark: Yes, indeed. But, they are also going long tail. They’ll have hundreds of thousands of key words. But most of them will focus on Overture and AdWords. Some will go down to the second tier PPC engines as well. But then it really comes down to the efficiencies of managing relatively small returns from smaller PPCs. But some are worthwhile.

For example, PlentyofFish is a wonderful place to run ads. And PlentyofFish will allow other dating sites to promote on their, I think it is Ads.PPOF.com. So, you can type in a target, an age range, a demographic, a geographic area, and you can target and run PG dating sites advertising on PlentyofFish. That’s a second tier PPC engine, and a mainstay that I would recommend, because the nice thing with PPC is you have absolute granularity. And so you can really manage your risk very carefully.

Andrew: Okay. So, pay per click. How much are companies paying per user? What are they backing into with the pay per click costs?

Mark: Well, let me work the metrics through with you. Typically, 10 percent of registrants convert to paid members, and they stick around for three months.

Andrew: Okay.

Mark: A proportion of members will return after, say, 18 months on the order of, depending on how good the site is, really, 10 to 20 percent will return in 18 months. It is a good timeline to shoot for. Of course, that is difficult to measure. You have got to be around for a couple of years for that number to be statistically significant. But once you can really manage it, the lifetime value of your clients, then you know how much you can spend.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Mark: For a good dating site, if you are just starting up, you are going to see conversions around three percent and then eventually four, five, seven percent as you get to critical mass. And then once you are at critical mass, true measure of being at critical mass, providing a good service and having an efficiently converting dating website is that you are seeing 10 percent conversion from registrants to paid members, and they are sticking around for three months.

That’s the ideal. I see sites like eHarmony, I’m sure, convert better, because of the nature of their site, because of all the questions that they ask. It’s more difficult to get registrants, but I am sure they convert better than 10 percent. And they retain a lot longer because they, essentially, throttle back with communications continually. They kind of control the communications and slow them down. So, I am sure that the retention is considerably better.

Imagine the kind of numbers they must have shown to raise $110 million in capital. So, in terms of numbers, five bucks, six bucks. If you are talking to an affiliate network, you are going to be paying them five, six bucks per registrant. And then of course 10 percent convert out. And there you are seeing 50, 60 dollars. Hopefully you are seeing above your cost per paid member. Really, you want to be making 70, 80 dollars off each paying member. And the real trick is to know what the lifetime value is on your particular site, because then you can . . . hold on, sorry.

Andrew: Uh-huh.

Mark: Then, you have the ability to back up those numbers so that you can pay more. And it’s quite a nice edge. If you can pay an extra 50 cents to a network, then you can get 10 times more traffic.

Andrew: Wow.

Mark: So, networks, I’m mentioning CJ (Commission Junction). ShareASale has a very good reputation. They are difficult to get into, because they’ve got so many dating sites. They are not so easy to work with these days, because they are more restricted. They don’t want to have too many dating sites.

Andrew: Okay. So, we got pay per click, we got affiliates. What else brings people in?

Mark: Well, a lot of affiliates use SEO. So, there is kind of two schools of thought here. You can do SEO in-house. Or you can just say, “I am going to let the affiliates look after it,” because, the affiliates, ultimately, will run rings around anything that you can do running your own SEO because that is what they do. They much prefer to do SEO, typically, and tend to make more money with SEO than they will with them doing PPC expense.

Can you imagine how much more efficient they would have to be than you as a dating site owner to make more money on the same platform, but get paid 50, 60 percent? So, I’m a big fan of affiliates. The problem with affiliates, by the way, is there are rogue affiliates that will send junk traffic. So, if you are paying out on a cost per registrant basis, rather than on a revenue basis, then they can quickly help you lose your shirt. So, you have to be very careful when you are managing new affiliates, new networks, to catch the rogue affiliates, at least the affiliates that are sending lackluster traffic that doesn’t convert to paid so well.

Andrew: It seems, though, that a lot of what you get when you sign up for, it seems like a lot of the benefit of having an affiliate program is that they can go into a gray area where a dating site or any business can’t really go. And so, you want affiliates. You want them to experiment. You want them to go a little too far at times, or further than you, as a company, can. Isn’t that true?

Mark: It is. And, you know, it’s a very interesting point. Just this week we ran a post on Online Personals Watch and also on Frequent Flirters, actually. We have an extension community, called FrequentFlirters.com, which is just for affiliates and affiliate managers of Internet dating sites. And what happened is, we saw an ad on Facebook that said so and so website. I won’t mention the name, because they were kind of embarrassed when I did run the name. We pulled the name. So and so, 100 percent free Internet dating site. It isn’t free. It is definitely a paid site. There is no doubt about it.

But, they have an affiliate that is running those ads. And that is actually rogue affiliate, essentially. The affiliate will see far better click throughs from Facebook by saying that website is 100 percent free, because to a lot of people who are familiar with the brand, they will see that and say, “Oh, it is free now. Great.” So, they will click through. So, he’s going to tend to see slightly better registrants and slightly better conversions even though he is entirely misleading them. [laughs] So, it is good for the affiliate. Ultimately, it is good for short-term profits for the dating site. But it is rogue marketing behavior.

And I got in a conversation with the CEO on how to deal with these particular affiliates. And, ultimately, the only way to deal with them is you’ve got to understand their position. They want to make money. And affiliates tend to be short-term based. They don’t care too much about the brand, because they will just switch out to a different brand.

Andrew: Right.

Mark: So, the only way to really manage rogue affiliates is by laying down guidelines. Not guidelines, but by basically saying, if you run an ad which isn’t from our banner ad pool, it must be approved. If it isn’t approved, then we pull your account and we don’t pay you. That is the scariest thing to tell an affiliate. Because if they are spending money on Facebook and then they know that you will pull, if they know that there is a risk of them having their pay outs ripped away from them, then they will pay a bit more attention. Be more careful about what ads they are running.

So, that’s one of my concerns for the industry, is there is this behavior. Affiliates are rogue. There’s thousands, tens of thousands of affiliates out there. And in some cases, they are plundering the brands that they are working for.

Andrew: Yeah. What about multiplying? Saying you have got people in the door. And I understand. What I meant by you want them to go into the gray area isn’t that. What this guy is doing, and I saw that post on your website, is clearly lying, or clearly misrepresenting what is available at the end of the click.

But when you send affiliates out there to be a little bit gray hat when it comes to search engine optimization, when they are a little bit out on the edges of what they are experimenting with as far as bringing people to a website, it seems okay. Once they get into that territory, that’s clearly going to become trouble for the dating site.

Okay. So, now we talked about how to build the site. We talked about how to get people in the door. What about getting them to multiply? By multiply, we mean viral marketing, getting them to bring their friends in, right?

Mark: Yeah.

Andrew: Okay.

Mark: Well, let’s start with Zoosk for starters. And they are one of the great, recent, success stories.

Andrew: Who is this?

Mark: Zoosk, Z-O-O-S-K.

Andrew: Okay.

Mark: They are based in San Francisco. And, again, we look at efficiency. The dating industry, a lot of the success of a dating site is down to knowing the numbers, knowing the metrics, and knowing what you can spend to get a new member, what the long-term value is. But, also, the initial conversions to registrants is greatly improved with Zoosk, because they are writing on a Facebook platform. And they also allow, essentially, they don’t require a full registration, like a typical dating site.

A typical dating site, you sign up. You’ve got to put in all your information. With a Facebook based social dating site, some of that information can be sucked over. And so that really improves the initial conversions and efficiency. Plus, you know, the kinds of people that are on Facebook are going to be a little bit more social. They are going to have a few friends, at least. Otherwise, they wouldn’t consider being on Facebook. And, so, if you are bringing in that particular clientele, then you are going to tend to get more word of mouth.

People tend to talk about dating as a matter of course, Internet dating, because it is a great dinner subject, you know? And so, this is where I see the long-term future of the industry is in jeopardy. What I think is going on, is when people talk about a good or a bad experience they think of as Internet dating. They don’t tend to think of it so much as, it’s Zoosk. It’s Match.com. It’s FriendFinder or Fling or whatever.

They will tend to think of it as Internet dating as a whole. So, they want to make sure, I think the industry as a whole needs to make sure that they have a good experience. If they have a good experience, then they talk about it, and they’ll mention a brand. And that is a major way of getting word of mouth, just giving people a good experience. So, that means not allowing scammers. Scammers are actually very good for short-term conversions, funnily enough.

Andrew: How is that?

Mark: I spoke with Ross Williams from White Label Dating today. I interviewed him for Online Personals Watch, and he was talking about a stage that he was going through where they reviewed what users were looking for. And what they weren’t looking for were scammers. They want real people.

And so, he said, “Okay. I’m just going to raise the amount of money we are spending on customer service. Be more aggressive towards kicking scammers off the site.” And he took a manual approach to doing it. What we found is his short-term profits and revenues went down considerably, because the scammers are actually pretty good for conversions. But, ultimately, they are really bad for word of mouth.

Andrew: What are scammers doing? What kind of scams are they doing?

Mark: The typical ones, they will engage somebody for a period of months. A woman will come on the site, a gorgeous woman will be on a dating site, will lure you into a paid membership and will then talk to you for a couple of months, even on the telephone. And then they will come to the stage where they will say, “It’s time for me to come visit you. But, I don’t have enough money for a plane ticket.” So, you wire, send $100 or $1,000, and you are out $1,000.

Another one, which is particularly crafty, is a fellow that is communicating with a woman. He will tell her he is on a business trip in Nigeria and he has lost his computer. Needs another computer. But he can’t get one from the USA, because they won’t deliver it. Would she mind forwarding it? So, he will buy a computer on a stolen credit card and have it delivered to her. She then forwards it. But she is liable, because she has forwarded it. It is out of the country. They can’t do anything. He has got a $2,000 computer sitting there on a stolen credit card, and she is liable. So that is another scam.

These things happen. It’s unfortunate. The industry is very aggressive these days about beating scammers. But, the funny thing is, they are actually very good for short-term profits, because they are very active about communicating with people and getting them to convert.

Andrew: Because in order to communicate back and keep this conversation going, the person who is being scammed has to have a paid membership. And so, they buy the paid membership.

Mark: Yes.

Andrew: And when this stopped or reduced . . . do you have a sense of what percentage of sales these scammers are responsible for?

Mark: Very, very small. But it’s one of those things. Less than a percent. But in terms of sales, in terms of the activity, fairly low. But in terms of the revenues, I am not sure. I don’t know. I think for some sites, it is quite significant. For sites of integrity, it is very small, because they kick them off. Match.com is very aggressive about making sure that the user experience is real, is authentic, because they know that they are in it for the long term. But there are shorter term minded companies out there who are below critical mass and aren’t seeing conversions.

Andrew: Can it account for 10 to 20 percent of a new site’s sales?

Mark: For some startups, definitely.

Andrew: Wow.

Mark: But, as I say, not for a really large site of good repute.

Andrew: Right.

Mark: That is one of the things that Ross notices, that he noticed the revenues did go down in the short-term. Now they are back up. Conversions are healthy for him. And from what I hear from other executives, it’s a similar pattern. They get aggressive. They are surprised that their revenues go down and then they see improvements. And it is good for the industry overall if they do that.

Andrew: What else do people do to multiply? To get more users? I understand good customer experience, that always helps. But what else can you do?

Mark: I am a big fan of success stories. Christian Cafe is very good with success stories. So is Match.com. So is PlentyOfFish.com. I think an area that they have really not done a good job with is they have not realized that it is nice to put up a success story. But unless it is entirely relevant to the person looking at a website, it is kind of useless.

So, I have heard mixed reactions to success stories. So, here is the secret. I think what dating sites should do is serve up success stories of people just like the person that has registered. Same age, same demographic, same what you are looking for. Here they are. Here is a success story, whether it be a casual or a long-term relationship or a marriage. They have got somebody that, wow, is just like me.

Then they will see conversions improved. They will see people talk more. Which, if you think about it, where the industry is a victim, dating sites are a victim of their own success. Once they provide a match, that person is gone.

Andrew: Right.

Mark: But for how long? If they have had a good experience, they will come back. And that is why I say it is very important to monitor the reorder levels. And what I mean by reorders is there’s initial, which is when they come in. And then the renewal is the second and third month, or fourth and fifth, and maybe the sixth.

But then there’s reorders, when they circle out, they date, and they come back. And that is the real trick for a dating site to do well is to actually monitor the reorder levels. It is tough to do, because a lot of people leave a service and then they come back with a new user name. But a site that can monitor its reorder levels can complete the feedback loop and really see how much word of mouth they are getting.

Now, there is a bit more to be said for social media these days. I know there are a few sites doing a good job with that. Match.com.

Andrew: Tell me about that.

Mark: Sorry?

Andrew: I was going to say tell me about that, but you started to.

Mark: I can tell you also about mobile. I think being channel agnostic is more and more important these days as well.

Andrew: Can you give me an example of one company that’s doing social well and how they are doing it, and then one company in mobile and how they are doing mobile well?

Mark: Well, PlentyofFish does well as a social dating site in and of itself.

Andrew: Oh, your camera went out, but it will come back on in a moment. There it is.

Mark: There we go. Sorry about that. In terms of social media, well, actually, Zoosk is a good example. They have done some videos recently. They have had some music videos that have been featured, and so has PlentyofFish. Lady Gaga, PlentyofFish has been in a video on Lady Gaga. So, that’s quite a new thing for the industry. We have those two examples.

Andrew: And it is starting to get a little mainstream attention.

Mark: Yes. I think so. And so, when you are in a video, videos get forwarded, and so it is not just advertising. Advertising, these days in the Internet dating industry needs to have three things to be successful. Number one, it’s got to be a good ad in and of itself. And secondly, it’s got to get people talking and be something that can be forwarded.

Andrew: The ad? I’m sorry. Go ahead with number three, and then I’ll come back to the ad.

Mark: And the third leg on the stool for advertising, and this is a general rule, but really one thing I’ve observed of the best advertising in the dating industry at this stage. And the third area is it’s got to get the press talking, too. So, number one, it’s got to be a good ad. It’s got to get decent conversions in and of itself. But, secondly, it’s got to get people talking. You know, it’s got to be slightly outrageous. It’s got to polarize. It’s got to be the kind of ad that annoys and irks some people, perhaps. And, thirdly, it’s got to get the press talking, too.

And the ads that I’ve seen do all those three things tend to do well. Case in point, Match.com, actually, Chemistry.com ads against eHarmony. You remember those?

Andrew: Yeah, yeah, actually, I do. They would say something like, “Your gay friends don’t belong on eHarmony. So, check out Chemistry.com.” That kind of thing, right?

Mark: Yeah.

Andrew: So, if they are going to exclude your gay friends, you don’t want to be there.

Mark: Yes. There was a wonderful gay ad, actually, I thought it was really [inaudible 50:18]. There’s a fellow who is reading a magazine, and he is reading the magazine and reading the magazine. And then he turns it this way, and it looks like he is looking at a porn magazine, of course. And then he says, “Nope, still gay.” And then the rejected sign comes down, eHarmony. Very funny. So, that sort of thing gets people talking. It’s polarizing. Some people love it. Some people hate it. Gets the press talking. That’s the kind of advertising that works.

And, it is social media efficient. At the end of the day, we talk about social media and about viral marketing. At the end of the day, it is really down to have something that is worth talking about, and then making it efficient so people can.

Andrew: Do you have an example of a company that is using social media well? How are they getting their site to spread using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter?

Mark: Well, if we look at (________) Dating, in terms of the efforts that they are putting in, in terms of being prolific in social media and putting out, being very open. A lot of what (________) Dating is doing, they have done a great job with their blog and with Twitter. They are regularly updating.

But, in terms of actually getting business, I look towards Zoosk and PlentyofFish with those videos. Those are two of the shining examples, I think, that spring to mind. Most dating sites will put up some kind of blog, but they tend to be lackluster. One of my heroes for blogs is OKCupid.

Andrew: Yeah.

Mark: I think OKCupid has the best blog in the industry. And that’s very efficient. Again, they have got material that is extremely compelling, extremely interesting. And so they are getting the press talking about it. They are building their notoriety among the member base as well. I mean, it is a very efficient way. But, be interesting, be revelational, and then be prolific and out there. And we see sites like Twitter that help people get more followers. But, ultimately, you’ve got to put interesting stuff out there. So, OKCupid is a shining example.

Andrew: OKCupid is terrific. They are the ones who do all kinds of research on their members to find out what attracts people. And then, when they come up with something outrageous that attracts people, they put it out there on their blog with a lot of detail, with a lot of stats, and it gets people talking and it feeds reporters information that they can write about.

But you mentioned Twitter. When you sign up for Twitter today, and just about any social network, the very next step is, “Give us your address book, so we can email all your friends and tell them to come talk to you on this network.” Dating sites, do they have a technique like that, that helps them get their members to talk to all their friends and bring all their friends over?

Mark: There are a couple of sites that have attempted that. But, the problem with it is people are still not too keen on letting everybody know that they are single. On the one hand, the stigma that has traditionally been associated with Internet dating has gone away, by and large. People will admit to being on a dating site, but they won’t advertise the fact that they are on a dating site.

Andrew: Right.

Mark: Unless they’ve had a really interesting experience. You know, “I went on a date last week and I met them on this site.” And that is typically how they will mention it. But they won’t really advertise the fact. So, I worked with FriendFinder. I actually worked with Friendster in 2003, and I was hired away to work with FriendFinder.

And at the time, FriendFinder was split into two. Half of FriendFinder was FriendFinder.com. The other half was a social network. And I was very unpopular to start off with, because I said it will never work, simply because FriendFinder had a real and apparent commercial agenda. And so, the connectors won’t connect when there’s a real and apparent commercial agenda.

So, ultimately, FriendFinder, the social network, was bleeding FriendFinder.com, the dating website, dry. And there was some ability for people to invite their friends. But it’s useless unless you can get connectors to connect. You know, they are not going to see one plus viral magnifier unless they are getting connectors to connect. And they couldn’t effectively appeal to them with a commercial agenda.

I think what they should have done is introduced a social network which was nothing to do with FriendFinder. And if they had done that, then they could have had some control. If they introduced, back then it was MySpace and Friendster. Those were the two social networks. If they had introduced their own social network and then just used that as a kind of a controlled way to advertise, but introduced other advertisers, too, then they could have had some branding affinity and decent conversion from there. Looking back in time. [laughs]

Andrew: You know, the only person who is coming to mind who did it well, who got their users to tell their friends about the website is James from HotOrNot.

Mark: Ah.

Andrew: When I interviewed with him, he said it was naturally viral, HotOrNot, because you would post your picture up. You would want all your friends to come vote for you to raise your level, or you would want them all to see how hot you were rated. And in the process, you were telling them all to come to the website. And then, of course, that next step was to sign up. To get them to sign up.

Mark: That’s a great success story, and a real precedent in the industry. I don’t think anybody has had anywhere near that success. That’s a site that never did any advertising, from what I understand. I’ve never seen any advertising. And I can’t think of another example like that.

I know Jim and James from 2004. It is amazing what they did. You know, they switched from paid to free, and then they switched back to paid. [laughs]

Andrew: Yeah.

Mark: And then they sold to Avid Life Media.

Andrew: Yeah.

Mark: They sold for $20 million to Avid Life Media.

Andrew: So, do you have a success story, a more recent success story of an entrepreneur who built a dating site, who maybe kept his costs low in the early days and ended up building something significant? Significantly profitable or significantly valuable otherwise? And we can’t say Markus, because we keep talking about him.

Mark: Let me just explain. eHarmony is one of my success stories. And it is not that recent. But, in terms of going from X to Y on that sheer scale that they have achieved, I think they are a great success story. They took an alternative approach that nobody else was using at the time. And they still don’t have that much competition. Strangely enough.

You know, it started off with Dr. Neil Clark Warren. He started a dating site that offered a lot of questions. I mean, it’s quite the ordeal, especially for guys by the way, to go through so many questions. And part of the smart thing about what eHarmony achieved was that filtering effect. There is a saying that guys will lie about wanting a long-term relationship, and women will lie about wanting a short-term relationship. But he was looking for guys who were prepared to go through 200, back then it was 400 questions.

Andrew: Wow.

Mark: That is quite the ordeal for a lot of guys. So, the idea was that he would bring the ratios even, really. The reality of what he was achieving was that back then there were more guys than girls. Typically, there was a few more, the numbers aren’t even.

But, with his site, he was getting more girls than guys. Plus, I think, there is a sales effect which takes place. When people go through so many questions, they are far, far more inclined to convert and retain because the site knows them. They are better than any matchmakers because they really are getting to know their users.

So, it’s almost like a psychologist to start off with. But they know enough psychology that they know how to convert you, and they know how to gain your interest and your trust long-term. So, there’s a lot of things I love about the eHarmony business model.

I’m just amazed that there aren’t more competitors. There’s Chemistry.com. There’s Perfect Match. These aren’t new kids on the block, except for Chemistry. It’s fairly new. In terms of one site that has done very well recently, gained a lot of press and word of mouth and a lot of hatred from a lot of users, quite rightly, is Ashley Madison. You are probably familiar with that site.

Andrew: Can you say it again?

Mark: Ashley Madison.

Andrew: Ashley Madison. No.

Mark: Yes. Ashley Madison is for married people. And so, their advertising shows two people in the sack. TV advertising, shows two people in the sack going at it. And it says, “These two people are married. Just not to each other.” So, I mean, it gets people talking. It definitely polarizes, gets the press talking. Wonderfully efficient in that respect. What a horrible business. [laughs]

Andrew: [laughs] I do want to interview them now. I want to interview the founder.

Mark: Noel Biderman, and he is very public about running the site. And he has been on a number of guest shows and been torn apart on most of them. But there are great social issues . . .

Andrew: Apparently people know the site. I see Pedro in the audience included a link. I see Casey Allen says he has found a huge niche. Dan O is saying their radio spot is similar. Just listen to Mad Dog Radio and you will hear them. So, it does get the point across. People remember them.

Mark: Yeah. So, that’s a success story.

Andrew: You are, on the one hand, consulting these companies, and on the other hand, you are reporting with the blog.

Mark: Yeah.

Andrew: Any conflicts of interest there? Are there people who say, “Hey, why are you publishing stories that are negative to us or stories that embarrass us?”

Mark: Well, I have taken myself out of the loop. So, the first person loop is Petra. And she sits in Prague and she reviews the news in the morning. So, she does a search on top level brands and also dating and Internet dating. Online personals, some general words. And she just uses Google. So, she collects the news each day and she reviews them and she does the first cut. So, she looks for news that is interesting, that is compelling.

If it is from a top level outlet, like “The New York Times,” we are going to run it. If it is really interesting from a lower level outlet, maybe we will run it. If it is a blog, if it is a press release, it is far, far less likely to run. So, we are looking for the top three to five items that we think the CEO of Match.com should read.

And then Raina summarizes it. And then I look over it, and typically the only thing I’ll do is correct it to make it tighter so that it is even more summarized and also add a comment in. When I mention a client or a company that I have worked for or that we have worked for in the past, in any capacity, any time in the last ten years, I’ll mention full disclosure. Courtland Brooks, so and so, has worked with this company.

So, we operate under full disclosure. Am I biased? Please. You could accuse me of that. You would not be wrong in saying that I am biased. I try not to be, though.

Andrew: Okay. Fair enough. And then when you are on vacation, does she do all the writing herself?

Mark: We don’t take vacations. We’ve got to take one next week, actually. There’s one fellow on the team that’s very good. You know, it is very tough finding people who have the same eye. And we are really trying to sort the wheat from the chaff. I’ve got one other fellow on my team who used to be a military analyst, and he has got the same eye for good information. So, we’ve got somebody, and there is another fellow on the team who is a Dartmouth MBA, Glenn, out of San Francisco. So, between the two of them, I know the job is going to get done.

But we have not taken a holiday in years. We make good use of the weekends, though.

Andrew: What is your life like? Describe your life. Since we can’t look outside the window and see that view, maybe you could describe it for us.

Mark: Well, Malta is a wonderful place. I like it because it is great for families. The crime rate is very low. I’ve got two babies, two daughters. And I looked around the world and I wanted to find somewhere that was beautiful, that was safe, that was easy to fly from and into. That I can get to from everywhere. Somewhere in Europe, really, because somebody needs to sit in Europe. And all my team are in the USA pretty much, in North America, Canada.

So, it seemed like someone needs to sit in Europe, so that we can take calls from the press, if nothing else. Funnily enough, my client base has really moved toward Europe since I’ve been here. It’s more 50/50 now, whereas it used to be 20, 30 percent European.

So, let’s describe today. I got up. I walk my daughter to school every morning. I drop her off at 8:30. She goes to day school, day care. Lovely little place called (________), just off Sliema Waterfront. Then I walk up to Cioconat, which is my favorite cafe. And I will sit there and drink coffee. [laughs] I am actually working on a master’s degree in media psychology. So, that steals some of my attention these days. Gets my brain working in the morning. And I’ll sit there and I’ll cover email, and I’ll work on some tasks literally through until 1:00. And what I figure is, I can cook or I can pay somebody else to do work that I could be doing. I just basically have somebody else make coffee for me and cook lunch.

Raina will join me around 10:00 a.m. She’ll bring (________) up with my other daughter. And we’ll just sit there and we’ll chat, through until about 1:00. Then, from 1:00 to 3:00 I have kid time. So, I come back home, play with the kids. And then at 3:00, the nanny picks up the kids, and she’s got the kids from 3:00 to 8:00. So, I am working from 3:00 to 8:00. From 8:00 to 10:00, that’s kid time again. And then from 10:00 to midnight, I am going to do more work. And, at midnight, it’s “House” time. We watch “House” and have a glass of wine. And that’s the end of our day.

Andrew: And when you say you take advantage of the weekends, how do you do that? What are some fun weekend things that you are doing now?

Mark: We like to go walk. I mean, we are right on the promenade. So, we will typically walk over to the Intercontinental and sneak into their swimming pool. They’ve got the best swimming pool in all of Sliema, all of Malta. It’s right on the top, several floors up. And it’s a beautiful pool. It has a foot of water on one end, so it’s perfect for our kids. So, we go into the Intercontinental pool for a couple of hours.

I might sneak off and watch a movie, because I like to watch movies that my wife isn’t so keen on. I like the action movies, and she is not so keen. So I might go and see a movie with another friend here, perhaps, if I can talk him into it. We’ll have more coffee. We’ll walk on the beach. We’ll go for a swim. And then we’ll walk back. And, literally, it is about two hours walking, there and back. And, really, it’s just walk, play in the water, and socialize.

Andrew: It seems like a very pleasant life. I am asking because I am looking from the outside and it seems like you have got a pretty good life. You have got a big reputation in the space. You have got customers that are with you day in and day out. I think you require a year long contract with each customer.

Mark: We actually do quite the opposite. We always stress to clients that we don’t do project work, and we do require a one year contract.

Andrew: Right.

Mark: However, they should have the ability to fire us. So, they can always fire us within 15 days notice. If they are not happy, they can fire us with 15 days notice. And I think that is very important. I see other agencies that don’t allow that. They require 30 days. I am confident. It’s 15 days, it’s fine. We also provide a 90-day action plan at the end of the first week. So, we give people the flexibility, but we don’t do project work. And that’s important to stress.

Andrew: Casey Allen in the audience apparently likes your lifestyle a lot. He is asking if there is any other niche worth analyzing like that, like online dating. Where should he consider jumping in?

Mark: You know, I look at this model, and it really is so duplicatable. That’s why I was really looking forward to talking with you, because there are people that have expertise in a specific area. I talk to them.

I have got a friend who is an expert in security. I mean, she really knows security. I’ve got another friend who is an expert on sustainability. So, he is just starting out in his career. He did a master’s degree in sustainability from San Francisco. And, in her case, she switched careers and she is now an ex-personal security RSA, I don’t know anything about security. But, she knows the tech side and consults. She is a consultant. So, both of these adults, both of my friends could do the same thing. I think you could pick an area that you have a bona fide experience and knowledge in, that you can really help.

And then, there’s a certain combination that is very, very critical, I think, in being an effective marketier. Most consultants just don’t rain make enough. They don’t bring in the business. And what we’ve done right is combined me being mentioned in the press, talking at conferences, and being under everybody’s noses every day of the year with useful information.

And, I think if you can combine those three things, get in the press, and that is the consequence of talking at conferences, and putting out information that is notable. And one of the reasons, we just push out summaries. And I looked at this a few years back and I thought, “Well, I want to get the attention of the industry. I want to do something useful.” And it seemed like the best thing to do was just look at the summaries of Internet dating articles.

It is the same thing. You could do exactly the same thing for either of those industries. And I have appealed to my friends to do this, and they haven’t done it yet. I would love to see them do this.

Andrew: And most people seem to want to actually write new articles. You are saying don’t. Just create summaries. You can do three or four of those a day and still deliver a lot of value.

Mark: Well, the trick is we are a, what is the word, we are an illumination blog.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Mark: We illuminate the news. And we are seeing this now with new media. There are a lot of blogs that come out with wonderful information. And two or three times a week, they will write something tremendous. But that’s not enough, I think. You’ve really got to look at that and complement it with more information. And it is just very time consuming to come up with original information.

I think what is useful all the time is to illuminate. If you are really trying to pitch and sell to the, what’s the book? VITO. Remember that? “Selling to VITO,” great book. Selling to a very important top officer. You have got to get the attention of the CEOs if you are a consultant. You’ve got to win their favor and their attention. Because once the CEOs say, “Look at this fellow. See if he is worth hiring.” That really improves the conversion of getting hired into a company.

So, I was looking for the best way to provide information to VITO. And if you look at the efficiencies of that, the best way is to come up with information that CEOs should be reading every day. And what is that? What is that information that is already out there. “New York Times,” academic papers even.

You know, we are just about to start a new blog. I am really excited about a new blog we are going to start in January, which takes what we have done with OPW and extends it one step further. I’ve noticed that there is some fantastic information in academic papers. Now that I am doing this master’s degree in media psychology, I’ve actually got the patience to sit down and read some of these papers. Professor Dan Ariely. Professor Michael Norton, from Harvard. Dan Ariely, who wrote Predictably Irrational.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Mark: They started the industry. Great information completely overlooked by most of the industry. So, we are going to start InternetDatingScience.com in January. And what we are going to do is look over these luminaries, these fantastic academics, who have really done a good job of pulling out great intel but have presented it, by and large, in a more academic format.

And really, it’s pushing that out to the industry then, as well. So, they can learn from that, make better decisions, serve clients better, and make more money. So, again, we are kind of taking a piece of something useful and serving it up in summary format.

Andrew: All right. So, I feel like we are at the end of this interview, and I have already taken up more of your time than we agreed to. But I would like to do a whole interview just on that. You were right in the pre-interview to say, “Andrew, this is where you should be spending your time.” Because, you’re right. There is a whole hour long conversation teaching how to build a business the way that you have.

Would you be up for coming back here in the future and doing an interview on that?

Mark: Yes, I’d love to.

Andrew: I’d love it. I’d love it. And, plus, I’ve got to say. Your accent, classing up the interview.

Mark: [laughs] Thank you. What, this American accent?

Andrew: Hey, he is from Texas. But, before the interview, we agreed that he would put on this European accent and really impress the audience and it’s working.

Mark: Thank you, Andrew.

Andrew: All right. Well, thank you so much for doing this interview. I have known you now for a long time via email. And it is great to finally talk to you and to see you and to meet you this way.

Mark: Likewise.

Andrew: You bet. And let’s direct people towards your websites. I am going to give them. Online Personals Watch and Social Networking Watch, and of course, one last website, Courtland Brooks. And you can Google all of those if you can’t spell them properly. Thank you all for watching. Check it out, connect with Mark, and come back and give me feedback. See you.

Mark: Thank you.

This transcript brought to you by www.Speechpad.com.

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  • http://jarinudom.com Jarin Udom

    My pal Brad Boyd launched a dating site (http://setformarriage.com) earlier this year, and Mark Brooks has been completely invaluable in helping him grow the site. Awesome to see him on Mixergy!

  • http://twitter.com/jasonbickford Jason Bickford

    I love Mark Brooks business model. I think that would be worth learning more about and applying to different industries.

  • http://girlstartup.com Simone

    Fascinating! I learnt a lot from this interview, even though I’m not interested in “dating sites”.

    Mark’s a very good communicator.

  • http://kozancity.10001mb.com Kozan City

    This is great really. Thanks for sharing.

  • Anonymous

    Terrific article about Mark Brooks.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Thanks for the feedback Jarin.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Thanks.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Yeah. Could be duplicated in many different areas.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Thanks Julie. Always good to hear from someone in the business.

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