The local founder of a extremely popular dating site shares the secret to becoming a matchmaker to thousands of Kiwis.
The New Zealand-owned website NZDating.com has been playing Cupid and romantically connecting Kiwis for 25 years.
Currently, the dating site has had more than 2.1 million profiles created and in its prime clocked up nearly 160 million page views and visits each month.
It continues to not only survive but thrive despite the threat of popular international dating apps like Tinder and Grindr. The bona fide Kiwi brand is a success story; as lucrative as some of our top online companies and provides the much-needed service of connecting lonely Kiwis with each other.
Then why isn’t NZDating.com a highly regarded brand like L&P or Air New Zealand?
“Because I think people don’t appreciate the value of an online dating community,” explains co-founder John, a father of two from Wellington.
“It stems from the early days when we were under the radar and people seemed reluctant or embarrassed. They didn’t want to be involved due to a lack of understanding of the service that something like an online dating website can provide. But once they joined, they didn’t feel that way because they found other people looking for companionship. It’s now normal and become mainstream.”
The site continues to have hundreds of thousands of daily page views and has maintained its more than two million profiles. That is the very reason why John, and his staff of two, want to keep their anonymity.
Established in 1997, this is the first interview John has given about the Wellington-based company, and only agreed to talk if we refrain from publishing his surname.
“We are all staff members with children. We’ve tried to stay out of the limelight and remain anonymous because you’re dealing with such a vast amount of our population. We don’t want our work spilling into our personal lives. Besides, who wants to be a Mark Zuckerburg?”
The 51-year-old was in his twenties and studying engineering and computer science when the internet and digital boom happened in the late-nineties. John and his friend wanted to cash in on the new technology.
“The things that we identified as being big were search engines, sports sites, start-up pages – and online dating. We wanted to build on all of these things.”
Initially, the pair worked on creating a local New Zealand search engine and then realised that they couldn’t compete with international companies like Google or Yahoo. They decided to focus on a local dating site.
They bought NZDating from another local company in 1997, which, at the time, had only 5,000 profiles. They further developed and expanded the site.
They offered free membership and an option of a paid premium subscription for additional functions. Their aim was to not only provide an online platform for people to meet and fall in love, but also build a community.
“We wanted it to reflect New Zealand because that was going to be our point of difference. It was for your neighbour, your family member, the farmers in small towns who would benefit from having an online place to hang out and make new friends.”
NZDating.com grew in popularity and became the second most visited locally-owned website in New Zealand, constantly maintaining more than 100 million page visits each month. With huge numbers of traffic, the site drew in huge corporate advertisers. They even turned down offers to buy the company from overseas entities toremain 100 percent Kiwi owned.
Ten years ago, the site introduced a function, asking people who left the site the reason why they cancelled their membership. More than 135,000 people said it was because they had fallen in love and met the person of their dreams.
“We couldn’t compete against the world, so we were trying to figure out what other Kiwis needed to find other Kiwis,” John explains.
“We had a key point of difference. Most mainstream dating sites were pitching to be the place where you could find someone to get married to in a very serious way. Kiwis are not like that. We want to make friends first and hope it develops. So, we wanted to create a space that’s accepting of all different personalities and all different types of people, where Kiwis can have fun. If something meaningful comes out of that, then that’s great!”
When the founders started NZDating.com, they were both in relationships and had children, so they didn’t need to use a dating site to find their own companions. In fact, coming from a computer science and engineering background, John admits that they weren’t very romantic.
“It’s really hard to define because romance and love are abstract concepts for engineers like us. What we were trying to achieve with NZDating is to facilitate interactions. ”
Any online service comes with pitfalls and dangers. Throughout the years, NZDating has appeared in media reports about people using the site to lure victims of crimes like fraud, dishonesty, and sexual assault.
“In NZDating’s 25-year history, and with the over 2 million accounts created in reality there have been very few cases of criminal activity. Any mention of NZDating in news articles is likely to relate to our involvement in assisting police in resolving situations occurring offline,” John explains.
He says member safety is their number one priority. They have implemented extra safeguards to protect their members.
“We provide comprehensive automated systems to prevent misuse of the service, and responsive administrators to action issues if they do occur. We also make it easy for members to cease interactions with any person they feel isn’t suitable or meet the traits they are looking for,”
“With so many members, however, we occasionally may get troublesome members attempting to use NZDating. In these cases, our reporting tools make it extremely easy for any issue to be brought to our attention. In addition, we have worked closely with police and other agencies whereby we share our technical knowledge to prevent issues before they happen and assist police where appropriate in their inquiries to identify or locate offenders.”
He says members are given additional tools to help protect themselves.
“At every opportunity NZDating provides members tips and advice around the ‘dos and don’ts’, to ensure sensible participation within all online communities.”
John says that his team constantly receives positive feedback from the thousands of people – straight, bi, gay, trans – who have met and fallen in love because of NZDating.
Hearing their stories makes John feel like a modern-day Cupid.
“My job makes me mindful about having good connections with people. It makes me appreciate how lucky I am to have been with someone for 27 years. There are a lot of lonely people out there in the world and it’s great to know that I am helping them.”