What do you get when two Columbia Business School grad students apply their tech and business savvy to the age old problem of finding the right girl to date? You get DateMySchool.com. Co-founders Balazs Alexa and Jean Meyer got the idea for this innovative online dating service for college students and alumni, when they realized that they weren’t the only ones frustrated by how difficult it was to meet potential romantic partners in their overwhelmingly male department. Young women from the mostly female Teacher’s College felt the same way.
What started about a year and a half ago as an online platform designed to bridge the gap between the sexes at Columbia has since expanded to include every 4-year college in the country. As the website now tops 110,000 users, the company is currently poised to expand to the nation’s 2-year colleges.
This is clearly more than just a scheme to get girls.
Recently I spoke with Balazs Alexa, to learn more about this successful company. He explained that DateMySchool.com offers college students and recent alums a safe, fast and surprisingly effective method of meeting like-minded individuals for all kinds of relationships. Male, female, straight or gay, the service provides the tools to direct users to just the kind of partner they are looking to meet.
Some of the site’s features are quite unique. In order to make it very safe, sign-up requires strict data authentication via college email address, alumni database, FB or LinkedIn verification, or credit card authorization, all via a patented, seamless verification process. Only real people need apply.
It’s also quick and easy to use, taking less than a minute to set up a profile based on preferences in age, school affiliation, even major. With a unique “reversed social network” function, participants can actually exclude anyone they know, to make sure they meet only new people, outside of their regular circle. Only people fitting each other’s criteria are allowed to view one another’s profiles, so the line to direct matches is more direct and efficient. This function also allows for privacy, in case someone is shy about letting their friends know what they’re up to…
Within weeks of their beta launch at Columbia in November of 2010, 5% of the school was using the site. Now, approximately one third of the school is signed up, with over half of all reported campus dating tracking back to DateMySchool.com! Balazs told me that it’s his goal to achieve this kind of user-ship at schools nationwide.
He and his partner bring a uniquely suited skill set to the table. Alexa has worked as a strategy consultant for McKinsey & Company, and had co-founded a media venture in his native Hungary – kind of a “Hulu of eastern Europe.” In France, tech expert Meyer was known for his launch of Bankexam, a leading French education site. After becoming fast friends within months of meeting at Columbia, it was inevitable that the pair would create something big together.
Having launched DateMySchool.com with investor funding, their plan to monetize is based on the development of a huge, free user base. While continuing to offer the service at no cost to students, they are experimenting with charging a nominal fee to alumnae, as well as offering additional, paid services. So far, the site is ad free, and they’d like to keep it that way.
To date, says Alexa, their biggest challenge has been marketing. Although they have definitely developed their rich tech and architecture around the Silicon Valley mantra of “product, product, product,” they identify more as a marketing company than an IT company. Indeed, their particular business is ALL about relationships. Enlisting a huge team of highly motivated, campus-based ambassadors to help them sign up users, they have actually been able to scale guerilla marketing. If their planned expansion succeeds, their next printing order for posters will exceed the previous 16 million pieces to become one of the largest marketing campaigns in the country.
The most gratifying part of being an entrepreneur, for Alexa, is the freedom. He extends this philosophy to his employees, offering guidance and monitoring within an extremely flexible time structure that seems to be working. He reports great motivation and loyalty from his team, despite the absence of strict hours.
Alexa’s thoughts for new entrepreneurs are similar to the Nike slogan, Just Do It . “You have to start somewhere, and the best place to start is at the beginning.” He also cautions that this life will bring on “… way more problems to solve… compared to a traditional life.” But, since his experience has shown him that all problems have solutions, his advice is, “Solve them.”
Listen to the full interview:
Deborah Oster Pannell, a Smith Collee graduate, is a writer who specializes in the arts, media, holistic health, advocacy and events. As Director of Communications for the tech start-up eventwist, she also manages their blog. Some of her favorite work is featured on modernlifeblogs.com, lizkingevents.com, and her own blog,She Says Yes. Currently she is launching Project Mavens, a literary, editorial design collective, with partner & writer Lillian Ann Slugocki. On Twitter @projectmaven.